New report says RGGI a success but still needs tweaks

A leading environmental group is calling on lawmakers to defend the state’s participation in a regional greenhouse gas reduction coalition, citing a new report that shows the initiative is cutting pollution and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Gov. Chris Christie announced late last month his intent to remove the state from the regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a coalition of 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states whose aim is to reduce CO2 emissions.

“RGGI has been a key part of New Jersey’s plan to reduce pollution and move toward clean energy,” said Matt Elliott, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment New Jersey.  “Pulling out of RGGI would be a tragic retreat on New Jersey’s clean energy leadership.”

According to the study conducted by researchers from The Frontier Group and Environment America, in the two and a half years since taking full effect, RGGI has largely been a success.

“It has achieved its goals of sparking investment in clean energy solutions in the region and demonstrating the workability of a program that caps emissions and requires polluters to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide,” the report said. “The program’s pollution cap, however, will need to be lowered for it to reduce emissions as intended.”

In New Jersey, RGGI funds have been used to create the largest solar energy system at a university anywhere in the country. Overall, the program has led to more than $35 million in clean energy investments leading to nearly $90 million in energy savings and contributing $209 million growth in economic activity in New Jersey, the report says.

In addition, the marketplace that allows companies to purchase and sell pollution credits has functioned smoothly, the report maintains, free from any manipulation or excessive concentration.

But the cap and trade program does have some weaknesses that are pointed out in the report.  First, the cap is too high to achieve any lasting effect on global warming.  At 180 million tons, the cap is well above what the states are currently emitting.  The declining economy has had more to do with the reductions in CO2 over the past five years than RGGI.

“Recent analyses find that emission from RGGI states will remain below the RGGI cap until 2030.  That means that, while clean energy investments made with RGGI funds will continue to drive down emissions in the RGGI states, the market based cap mechanism that sits at the center of the program will have only a slight effect on emissions,” the report said.

Also, several states, including New Jersey, have begun to allocate RGGI funds to fill budget gaps rather than to clean energy programs as is intended.

New report says RGGI a success but still needs tweaks