CT ahead of the game on Obama climate plan

President Obama’s big climate action plan announced with great fanfare in a major speech on Tuesday is likely to be a piece of cake for Connecticut, especially on one of its three main components –- cutting carbon pollution.

As a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first power plant emissions reduction and trading program known as RGGI (and pronounced Reggie), Connecticut has been reducing carbon emissions along with most of the rest of the Northeast since Jan. 1, 2009.

In fact, while not mentioning RGGI specifically, Obama did note: “Nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market based programs to reduce carbon pollution.”

That would be us.

According to ENE, the environmental group that has been the chief watchdog of RGGI, since the program was first announced in 2005 emissions among member states have declined 44 percent -– though much of that is due to power plants switching from dirtier fuels to cheaper natural gas.

Even so, through the auctions used to sell emission allowances, ENE said more than $1.3 billion has been raised for energy efficiency, as mandated in the RGGI rules. And with the recent approval of new lower carbon caps beginning next year, carbon emissions are expected to drop even more dramatically while the money generated should increase.

The prevailing wisdom is that once the Environmental Protection Agency does what Obama said he would ask it to do — “Put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants and compile new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants” –- the RGGI states will be in the clear.

“I think particularly with the improvements to RGGI, the region is clearly out in front of the nation as a whole,” said Peter Shattuck, ENE’s director of market initiatives. “The region should be able to withstand whatever comes out of EPA.”

The president’s initiative may also give rise to a RGGI parlor game of what New Jersey will do. It famously opted out of RGGI after two years and with federal mandates now on the horizon: “It’s going to have to do something,” said Shattuck, who also wondered whether other states will be asking to join RGGI. “This refreshes some of the debate about market-based programs versus command and control.”

Other parts of the carbon cutting initiative in the president’s plan also include energy efficiency and clean energy efforts –- both areas that Connecticut has taken on in major ways over the last two years — something Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pointed out in a statement.

“Connecticut is emerging as a national model for what it takes to build a clean energy future that is responsive to ratepayers and the need to grow our economy and create jobs,” he said. “The initiatives that the President has offered today will support our efforts and put Connecticut and the entire nation on a path to a more secure and sustainable future.”

Another portion of the president’s plan addressed climate change, seeking to move toward more regulatory-friendly ways to make climate-resilient investments and improvements.

While much of the 21-page document functioned more as an outline, the climate change portion geared to areas hit by storm Sandy contained some of the more specifically delineated programs. It included $5.7 billion for four of the hardest hit transit agencies; a $100 million competitive grant program to promote resilient natural systems, not unlike efforts underway in Connecticut; and another $250 million for coastal restoration and resilience across the region.

It’s not clear, however, how much of this and other funding are likely to make their way here.

 

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