BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – As governors from Maine to Maryland consider the future of a regional carbon cap-and-trade program, Gov. Charlie Baker is facing calls from over 130 state lawmakers, academics and business leaders to lead the effort to double the emission reduction goals through 2030.
A group of coalition leaders delivered a letter to Baker on Wednesday urging the governor to work with other Northeast and mid-Atlantic states to double the annual rate of reduction in carbon emissions across the region to 5 percent a year.
The request comes as the governors of the nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are debating the future of the regional compact, including where to set the reductions targets beginning in 2021.
“The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is hugely successful at slashing global warming pollution, investing in clean energy projects that save money and bringing Massachusetts residents healthier air to breathe. It’s time to make it twice as good,” said Meghan Hassett, of Environment Massachusetts.
Hassett was joined at the State House by Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge, Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative Executive Director Elizabeth Argo, Broad Institute biomedical researcher Andres Colubri and Boston University computational biologist Stefano Monti.
In the letter, officials asked for the new, post-2020 carbon emission caps to fall by 50 percent over a decade to build on the success of the regional compact that formed in 2009. The letter has been signed by 546 public officials, academics and energy companies, including 130 in Massachusetts.
“The Baker-Polito Administration remains committed to working with our Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative state partners to achieve a combined objective of reducing carbon emissions while stabilizing energy bills, preserving electricity system reliability, and creating local jobs and economic growth,” Peter Lorenz, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement when asked about the group’s 5 percent request.
In August, the Boston Globe reported that Baker was pushing his fellow RGGI states to adopt the 5 percent annual reduction goal, but was facing some pushback from states like Maryland.
Lorenz said the administration is “still committed to working with other RGGI states to reduce carbon emissions while achieving the greatest levels of greenhouse gas reductions” to meet the state’s own targets under the Global Warming Solutions Act and Baker’s executive order on global warming.
According to the letter, RGGI has generated nearly $3 billion in regional economic growth and created more than 30,000 “job years.”
Connolly said proceeds from RGGI have also helped deliver funding to the 155 “green communities” in Massachusetts. In Cambridge, Connolly said, grants have been used for school and youth center energy conservation and in Somerville the city has used RGGI funds on a street-light audit, an energy management system at the high school and five new electric vehicle charging stations.
“All of these are just individual examples of how this program can work to help limit carbon emissions and help address the emergency that is climate change,” Connolly said.
Argo said RGGI has helped Cape Cod communities install 28.5 megawatts of renewable power.
“But it’s not enough,” she said. “We also are witness to what’s happening to the beaches on the Cape, in the South Shore, all of our shoreline. It’s being eroded and it’s changing the face of tourism.”
While Massachusetts may support stricter emmission targets, the future of RGGI will depend on getting buy-in from all nine states, including mid-Atlantic states that worry about their economic competitiveness with neighbors that are not part of the compact and rely on cheaper fossil fuels.
In his annual address this year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a 30 percent reduction in the carbon cap between 2021 and 2030, or 3 percent a year.
Hassett acknowledged that some states may not want to go as far as 5 percent, but said Baker could play a leadership role in negotiations by supporting the stricter cap, which she insisted was achievable.
“In 2016, we actually cut pollution from power plants in the region by 4.8 percent, so to do less than that just makes the program not as effective as it could be and not as effective as it should be,” Hassett said.
The push for more aggressive carbon-reduction goals within the compact comes as analysts take stock of the Trump administration. Environmental groups are fearful that Trump’s team will walk back progress toward a cleaner environment. Trump this month signed a joint resolution that his administration said “blocks an overly burdensome regulation from harming the coal industry” by reducing coal production. According to the administration, Trump pledged as a candidate help the coal industry by rescinding a coal mining lease moratorium and an “excessive” Interior Department steam rule.