Little known fact, which bears repeating: We in the northeast USA are under a cap-and-trade program right now — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It has put an ever-increasing price on carbon emission, and spreads the proceeds around to conservation measures, like the terrific MassSave program, which gives big incentives to get your house insulated, sealed-up, and otherwise energy-efficient. (I’ve taken advantage of it personally — they subsidize 75% of insulation work, up to a cap of $2000. It’s a big savings and makes the house more comfortable. What’s not to like?)
And the program has been good for the economy. And why not? The local insulation contractors benefit, obviously; and then the money you’re not spending on oil, gas, or electricity goes into your pocket. Better to take the family out to dinner, bringing that money into the local economy, than to have it go up the chimney.
Well, apparently there are plans to weaken the program — or at least to set goals lower than they could be:
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.
Part of this is because of the low price of natural gas — the good news side of the revolution, with the manifest ugliness of fracking being the bad side.
In any event, now is absolutely not the time to back off on carbon pollution, which is a direct threat to … well, everyone on the planet, but certainly those of us who live near the ocean and in the line of hurricanes.
Gov. Patrick needs to lead, loudly and firmly, on strengthening RGGI. Hell, get Christie involved — he might take a call these days. This is a success story. Let’s build on it.