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Opportunity exists for Northeast States to improve climate leadership and public health--make RGGI stronger

Posted by Richard Clapp, D.Sc., MPH on June 27, 2017

Background

RGGI is the first regional (Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states) carbon dioxide (CO2) cap and invest program in the United States. It has been effective in implementing real changes to reduce a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions: fossil-fuel-fired power plants. RGGI states have reduced their CO2 emissions by 37% as well as other harmful air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, particulate matter and ground-level ozone. Since 2009, RGGI states have saved $5.7 billion in health costs. Right now, RGGI states are determining how strong the cap (or ceiling) on carbon emissions will be through 2030. That decision will determine how much and how quickly their communities benefit from cleaner air, improved health, and reductions in climate change threats. PSR is advocating that the cap on emissions be reduced by 5% yearly, AND that funds earned through RGGI be heavily invested in communities that disproportionately face the harmful health effects of air pollution and climate change. The blog below is written by Greater-Boston PSR member Richard Clapp, D.Sc., MPH, who is one of our leading activists on RGGI.

We have an opportunity to make important headway in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving public health in the Northeast states. This can be done by requiring a 5% annual reduction in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap for the years 2021 to 2030. This would be a more ambitious annual reduction than currently being contemplated by the RGGI states. The rationale for this step has been laid out in recent reports by Synapse Energy Economics, Abt Associates, Acadia Center, and others and was summarized in a June 9, 2017 letter to the Governors of the nine participating states. The letter was signed by 51 organizations representing a wide range of constituencies. As the letter points out, the health and economic benefits to the region, based on greenhouse gas reduction experience over the past ten years and projections to the year 2030 are undeniably substantial.

As a member of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and Professor Emeritus at Boston University School of Public Health, I strongly support the recommended 5% annual reduction and related cost savings mechanisms and reporting features in the June 9 letter. The importance of reducing fossil fuel combustion in order to slow the global temperature rise and changing climate becomes more pressing every year. The public health dimensions of climate instability and extreme weather events are already dramatic on a global scale, and we have had our own experience of this when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast in 2012. We also know that poor air quality as a result of fossil fuel combustion increases rates of asthma, heart attacks and lung cancer in vulnerable front-line communities, along with costs of health care, lost workdays and stress on families.

Now, more than ever, we need the RGGI states to provide leadership by proposing a more ambitious cap on emissions from fossil fuel plants. A 5% annual decrease in the cap on greenhouse gas emissions, and community involvement in how the funds earned by the states through the trading mechanisms, will be a major step forward in the coming decade. For example, RGGI funds can be used to subsidize energy efficiency jobs and weatherization services to low-income families, provide assistance for a just transition for workers displaced by retiring fossil fuel plants, and support for community solar projects. The success of the RGGI program to date provides the foundation we need to speed up this part of the greenhouse gas reduction effort. It also joins the Northeast region's states with the growing global movement to fight climate change and reduce the public health burden on future generations. Let's go on with it!

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