RGGI’s Results: Good For Our Climate, Economy And Consumers

N. Jonathan Peress

Photo courtesy of kriswho @ flickr. Creative Commons.

If you listen to the word on street, or read the headlines, you’ll have heard that our times are hard times. Joblessness remains stubbornly high, markets remain volatile and credit is tight. Most people agree that what we need is a program to creates jobs, generates money, and reinvests each of those in our communities to make them stable, healthier and happier.

According to a study by The Analysis Group, it turns out that’s exactly what the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) – the country’s first market-based program to reduce power plant carbon emissions – has done. In its first three years, it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, created jobs and fostered increased economic activity proving that addressing climate change is boosting the region’s economy. Simply put, efforts that increase efficiency and reduce fuel use benefit consumers, manufacturers and employers.

As the first regional program in the country, how well it is functioning is being observed by many: how much money will be generated, if any? Who does that money benefit? And, are customers bearing the brunt of this program in already hard times? The Analysis group answers these questions in full. In case you want them in short: $1.6 billion, customers and definitely not.

Outpacing now stalled negotiations on a national greenhouse gas trading program, ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states formed RGGI in 1999, setting a national precedent. The importance of the program is a combined function of its timing and its location: in addition to gaining first mover position, RGGI states are both populous and productive as they account for one-sixth of the population in the US and one-fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product.

These consumers, and this regional economy, now reflects a price on CO2 emissions. And after three years, the results are in. There are a few points to highlight.

First, the program is economically and environmentally effective. As power plant owners have spent roughly $912 million to buy CO2 allowances, emissions have gone down, as a consequence of both RGGI and larger economic trends. At the highest level, then, RGGI has proven to be economically productive while meeting its emission objectives.

Given the way RGGI dollars interact with local economies – through energy efficiency measures, assistance to low income customers to help pay their electricity bills, education and job training programs, and more – the dollars have multiplier effects. Once amplified by these local and regional programs, RGGI’s $912 million in allowance expenditures “produced to $1.6 billion in net present value (NPV) economic value added to the ten-state region.”

This money has created jobs and, in turn, kept money local. By generating a market, and a need for labor, RGGI created approximately 16,000 new job-years, or about 20% of the 73,000 civilian jobs lost from September 2010 to September 2011. Moreover, due to reduced demand and investment in energy efficiency, RGGI reduced the 10 states’ payments to out-of-region providers of fossil fuels “by just over $765 million.” New England in particular benefited greatly from this program.7,200 new job-years were created in New England alone, while the region reduced its payments to out-of-region fossil fuel providers by $210 million.

So too are the benefits to energy consumers. As a consequence of energy efficiency programs implemented by RGGI funds and focused on reducing consumption of oil and natural gas heat in homes, energy consumers across the region have saved nearly $174 million through RGGI programs. Furthermore, energy consumers came out ahead of power generators. “Of the three regions, only in New England do the savings to electricity consumers outweigh the reduction in revenues by power generators,” says the Analysis Group.

This benefit is most notably due to New England’s much-higher “level of investment in energy efficiency with RGGI allowance proceeds than the other regions.”At a time when jobs are scarce and the cost of heating a home is an ever rising burden, this is undoubtedly a good thing for New England.

As our country, and New England, faces tough times our politicians and people are calling for programs that create jobs, save money, and protect our environment. RGGI does all three.

Before you go… CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.

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