Environmental groups praise cap-and-trade pact on greenhouse gas, but seek wider scope, equity

Environmental groups are cheering extension of a program that could cut pollution from Northeastern power plants by 30 percent over a decade, but are calling for emissions caps to be placed on more facilities, especially those in poor communities of color.

Representatives from Maryland and eight other states met at the state’s Public Service Commission on Monday to discuss an agreement announced last month to set emissions goals for 2020 to 2030 — extending the program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The initiative, which auctions off greenhouse gas emissions allowances to large power plants and spends the proceeds on renewable and efficient energy projects, had been set to expire in 2020.

Organizers held the Monday hearing to get public comments on the plan before revising it, analyzing it and passing it along to the states for each to consider adopting under its own statutes.

Environmental groups said they are glad to see the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative extended, but at a rally outside City Hall they said it still could be improved.

“Although we thank Maryland officials for their work on creating this plan, we urge them to work to ensure that the communities most affected by environmental degradation are getting the benefits from RGGI,” said Johana Vicente, a community organizer with the Latino environmental advocacy group Chispa Maryland.

Plants that burn fossil fuels to generate at least 25 megawatts of electricity are currently subject to the program’s caps.

Groups including Chispa, the Sierra Club and Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility are calling on the program to cap emissions from smaller power plants as well, and to consider environmental justice in its decisions.

Sheryl Musgrove, an attorney with the Pace Energy and Climate Center at Pace University in White Plains, N.Y., gave an example of two power facilities in the Sunset Park community of Brooklyn. The plants aren’t big enough to face emissions caps under the existing program, she said, yet they still foul air in the diverse neighborhood.

The initiative’s emissions caps “have been extremely successful,” Musgrove said. “That’s a good start, but more needs to be done.”

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have netted $2.8 billion through the emissions auctions since 2008, spending the proceeds on energy programs. Maryland’s share has been $573 million. New Jersey left the program in 2011.

A report released Monday found that power plant emissions across the Northeast have fallen by 40 percent since the program launched, and were 8 percent below the cap last year.

The Acadia Center, a clean-energy-focused nonprofit research group, said it also found that in states that joined the partnership, emissions have fallen 15 percent faster and economic growth has progressed 4.3 percent faster than in states that did not join.

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