BOSTON — Massachusetts, one of nine states participating in a seven-year-old regional emissions cap and trade program, is well ahead of the proposed greenhouse gas reduction goals rolled out Monday by the Obama administration in an attempt to curb pollutants blamed for climate change nationwide.
The Environmental Protection Agency, helmed by Massachusetts native Gina McCarthy, on Monday released a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels over the next 15 years. The federal regulations would give states the ability to craft their own plans to meet the goals, including regional cap and trade programs like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) which Massachusetts participates in.
“This very much validates the effort we’ve been taking with RGGI the last 10 years with all the planning,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Cash told the News Service.
While the EPA rule would require a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2030, Cash said Massachusetts is already 40 percent below 1990 levels and on track to have cut power plant emissions by 50 percent by 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions were relatively flat in Massachusetts between 1990 and 2007 when the state joined RGGI.
“The initial numbers are looking like we are well on the path to compliance,” Cash said.
Cash said the new EPA rules could spur more East Coast and mid-Atlantic states to join RGGI, which he said would create a larger market that could drive energy costs down further. “We don’t really know, but we’re curious who might be calling now to join,” Cash said.
In 2011, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled his state out of the compact, which currently includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts.
Electricity prices declined 8 percent across the region and 11 percent in Massachusetts since RGGI started in 2008, according to a report published by Environment Northeast.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and the author of climate change legislation in Congress, met last week with Pope Francis and Vatican leaders to stress the importance of fighting climate change globally. He praised the EPA rules as both an economic opportunity for his home state and a win in the fight against pollution.
“This is the beginning of the end of America’s long, dirty power plant era. These new carbon-cutting targets will shift the American clean energy revolution that has already started into overdrive, creating jobs and cutting the pollution that threatens our health, our environment, and our future,” Markey said in a statement Monday. “Massachusetts is already a leader in developing and deploying clean energy technology and these new rules will increase the demand for businesses in our state.”
The Patrick administration celebrated the move on Monday, noting that overall statewide greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 16 percent since 1990, and the cap-and-trade program has generated $252 million in proceeds from the sale of carbon credits that the state has reinvested in energy efficiency and clean-technology programs.
“I applaud EPA’s new carbon rules, which will unleash clean energy innovation and reduce energy costs while protecting our environment and public health. This is a critical step in moving the nation toward a clean energy future, one that we’ve already embraced in Massachusetts with great results,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement released as he was traveling in Dubai on an international trade mission.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week warned that the EPA rule would lower the country’s gross domestic product by $51 billion annually and lead to higher energy prices and a quarter of a million fewer jobs created annually through 2030.
“Today’s regulations issued by EPA add immense cost and regulatory burdens on America’s job creators. They will have a profound effect on the economy, on businesses, and on families. The Chamber will be actively participating in EPA’s input process on these regulations, and will be educating our members and affiliates about their impacts,” the Chamber said in a statement Monday.
Massachusetts energy officials said gross state product has grown nearly 70 percent since 1990, including continued growth since the end of the recession despite the implementation RGGI.
Under the Global Warming Solutions Act, Massachusetts has its own target for reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. While Cash said the state appears to be on track to meet the federal goals for Massachusetts under the proposed EPA regulation, the administration has been pushing for legislation that require utilities to solicit long-term contracts of 20 to 25 years for renewable energy and open the market to large scale hydro-power project.
Opponents worry that the legislation would open the door for Hydro-Quebec, a large-scale hydroelectric generation facility in eastern Canada, to export large amounts of energy to Massachusetts, clogging the market for locally produced wind and solar projects.
The Patrick administration is also participating in an eight-state effort to put 3.3 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025, which includes rebates for consumers to purchase electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles and efforts to build out electric vehicle charging stations.
Cash said he believed Massachusetts would be able to meet its targets without the statutory changes proposed for long-term contracting and hydro-power, even though at a hearing in April Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia described the bill (H 3968) as essential to meeting future energy demands with clean sources that would allow Massachusetts to hit its emission reduction goals. “Massachusetts is at an energy crossroads and we need to secure our energy future,” Sylvia said.
Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships said that in its first three years RGGI led to $1.3 billion in lifetime energy bill savings for utility customers, helped train 2,400 workers in clean energy job skills, and generated $545 million in auction proceeds that went directly to state efficiency programs.
“We believe programs like RGGI present strong evidence that aggressive actions on climate and clean energy can result in significant economic growth, job creation, cleaner energy deployed in their region, and an improved environment,” said New England Clean Energy Council President Peter Rothstein.