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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 26th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Republicans, including even New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, allow themselves be led by the  Pied Pipers for the upper 1% – of the so fake Americans for Prosperity – the Koch Brothers fighting any notion of American progress, that are even more extreme then the Romney vision was, will dismantle whatever already got initiated on the front of Climate Change. Even this can be viewed as a political fight.

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Op-Ed Contributors

Northeast Faces Stark Choice on Climate Pollution.

By PETER SHATTUCK and DANIEL L. SOSLAND
Published The New York Times on-line: January 24, 2013

BOSTON

EIGHT years ago, a bipartisan coalition of Northeast and mid-Atlantic governors joined forces to reduce pollution from electric power plants. They agreed to cap overall emissions of carbon dioxide, the major pollutant driving global warming, and require the more than 200 power plants in the region to buy permits to emit the greenhouse gas.

The governors reasoned that plant operators would have an incentive to clean up their emissions if they had to pay for the carbon dioxide they discharged. Over the first three years of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, average annual emissions were indeed 23 percent less than in the previous three years, and auctions of allowances — or permits to pollute — raised $952 million, much of which has been invested in clean energy programs.

But the future effectiveness of this market-based cap-and-trade system, the first but not the only one of its kind in the nation, is now in question. The nine states in the initiative are preparing to reset the emissions cap — or the total amount of carbon dioxide that power plants can emit — and some of the proposals would allow power plants to increase the amount of carbon dioxide they dump into the atmosphere.

Cap-and-trade programs are designed to lower emissions gradually by reducing the cap and the allowances that are available. Polluters get flexibility in cutting emissions by being able to trade allowances among themselves. The idea is to achieve the reductions at the lowest cost through market forces rather than through direct regulation.

But of the four cap-adjustment proposals under consideration, three would reset the cap above current emissions and allow pollution to rise through 2020. Only a fourth option would continue to drive down pollution by resetting the cap at 91 million tons, the current emissions level, and then reducing it by another 2.5 percent a year through 2020.

Opponents of the initiative, known as R.G.G.I., argue that lower-cost natural gas has eliminated the need for the program by reducing the use of dirtier coal and oil. Growing investments in energy efficiency and renewable electricity have also helped to reduce emissions by cutting demand for electricity from power plants that burn fossil fuels.

But those developments don’t argue against R.G.G.I., which determines what electricity generators may not do — namely, discharge unlimited quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. If market forces deliver emissions reductions cheaper and faster than anticipated, then states should lock in that progress with a binding cap to ensure that emissions don’t rise and that incentives for reducing pollution remain.

The proposals that would allow emissions to increase reflect the success of opponents of efforts to slow climate change, who have fought against initiatives like R.G.G.I.

Americans for Prosperity, an organization backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, has been at the forefront of this effort. The group sought unsuccessfully to repeal R.G.G.I. in Maine and New Hampshire, and A.F.P. members sued but failed to extricate New York from the initiative. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey did pull his state out of the initiative last year, arguing that low-cost natural gas made the program unnecessary.

R.G.G.I.’s economic performance tells a different story. Auctions of allowances pay for energy efficiency programs that curb power plant emissions, bring down energy prices and save consumers money. These savings flow back into the economy, increasing growth and employment in the region. An independent report published in 2011 by the Analysis Group, a consulting firm, said that electric customers would save $1.1 billion on their bills over 10 years from energy efficiency measures paid for by the sale of allowances. These savings would generate an additional $1.6 billion in economic growth, as money that otherwise would be spent on electricity generated with imported fossil fuels is instead spent in the local economy.

This initiative carries broad significance. President Obama’s reaffirmed commitment to address climate change will move forward in part through regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, and R.G.G.I. could serve as a template for other states seeking to comply with new federal requirements.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York recently committed to ensuring the program’s continuing effectiveness, and we encourage all of the participating states to make the program as strong as possible and put the public good over interests vested in the dangerous status quo of unchecked pollution.

Peter Shattuck is director of market initiatives and Daniel L. Sosland is president at ENE an environmental research and advocacy group focused on the Northeast.

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