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Climate auction pays dividends in MD

Climate auction pays dividends in MD

Cap & trade may be a dead letter in Congress, but the carbon-dioxide emission auction set up by Maryland and other northeastern states to combat climate change has yielded millions of dollars for cleaner and more efficient energy - all without destroying the region's economy, as critics have claimed it would if applied nationwide.

I'm reminded of that by today's announcement from the Maryland Energy Administration that it's awarding another $2 million in grants to local governments and nonprofits for improving energy efficiency in low- and moderate-income households. The agency's doling out 41 grants across the state for everything from home energy upgrades in Caroline County to weatherization in Montgomery County.

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The money comes from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Inititiative, in which Maryland and other states have imposed caps on carbon dioxide emissions from their power plants and regularly auction off credits or permits for emissions of the climate-warming gas.

It's a market-based pollution control, giving power companies flexibility to buy and sell carbon credits so they can find the most cost-effective way of reducing their emissions. And the revenues from the auction have been plowed back into energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, though some also has been diverted to help the poor pay their utility bills.

Critics of cap & trade call it a tax scheme that'll ruin the nation's economy by raising the cost of energy, since most of our heat, light and fuel comes from burning carbon-emitting coal, oil and gas. But the auction's impact on energy costs in the northeast has been negligible. That's no doubt because the carbon-dioxide emission caps imposed by the states have been very loose and auction prices for emission credits relatively low as a result.

But the regional auction was originally set up in expection and hope that it would serve as a model for national action - which now seems unlikely, at least in the near term, with skeptics of climate change gaining seats in the November congressional elections.  As Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said last week while attending an offshore wind announcement in Baltimore, prospects for climate legislation emerging from Congress are "going going gone."

(Civic Works members install energy-saving lightbulbs, faucet aerators and water heater blanket in 91-year-old resident's home, 2010 Baltiimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna)

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