Op-Ed Submission by Deb Markowitz, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
The United States is finally poised to take an important step to curb carbon pollution that is contributing to climate disruption across the globe after decades of denial, hand-wringing, foot-dragging and lawsuits. The EPA's newly announced regulations will prevent our country's largest carbon polluters – coal burning power plants - from polluting our air with impunity.
This is no small thing. Coal burning power plants account for a third of the carbon pollution emitted by the United States. The reductions contemplated in the new rules will cut this pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels. This, according to the EPA, is equivalent to removing two-thirds of all cars and trucks from our roads and highways. When taken in combination with regulations announced earlier this year to limit carbon emissions from new power plants and to cut emissions from cars and trucks nearly in half by 2025, these executive actions will go a long way toward meeting our national goals for reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
It is surprising to many that we do not already regulate carbon pollution. After all, we have long regulated other pollutants like arsenic and mercury that cause acid rain and contribute to health problems like asthma and heart attacks. And cutting carbon pollution matters. Science shows that because of carbon pollution we are experiencing environmental changes and climate disruption across the globe that threatens our economy, our communities, our ecosystems, our health and the safety of our families. In one year alone (2012), climate disasters cost the United States economy over 100 billion dollars.
Not surprisingly, even before the rule was announced, naysayers argued that the new rules would raise energy prices and cost jobs. The Congressional Budget Office disagrees. While there will be short-term job losses in states whose economies rely on fossil fuel production and energy use, these losses will be offset by the new jobs created in the clean energy sector. Our experience in Vermont can be instructive. We lead the nation in green jobs, fueled in part by our renewable energy industry and our heavy investments in energy efficiency, and we have the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation.
EPA’s newly proposed rule gives states flexibility to design their own carbon reduction programs to meet the new federal requirements. Vermont is exempt from the new regulations because we do not have any large fossil fuel plants, but the EPA rules recognize that we are taking important steps to reduce carbon emissions, and notes that our energy efficiency utility, Efficiency Vermont, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that created a regional carbon market are both approaches that could be used by other states and regions to help them meet their carbon reduction goals.
Because the new rules encourage states to consider regional approaches, Vermont is poised to benefit as other states consider ways to meet their carbon reduction requirements. For example, we expect that other states will be interested in following the example set by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has helped Vermont and eight other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states reduce carbon pollution from the power sector while increasing our use of clean energy. Carbon pollution from states participating in the RGGI program has declined by 29 since the program launched in 2009. Over the same period, RGGI has generated more than $12 million dollars to support energy efficiency programs in Vermont including grants up to $2,500 for homeowners, and $5,100 for businesses to pursue efficiency investments.
Vermont and other Northeast states will also benefit from reduced smog and acid rain as a result of EPA’s new standards. Vermonters will be able to breathe easier and our Green Mountains will be healthier thanks to less air pollution from upwind coal-fired power plants. We may also begin to see real progress in reversing the trend towards increased extreme weather events and the increased frequency of large rainfall and flood events that we have seen in recent years in Vermont.
In the end, we can have our cake and eat it too. We can have an affordable and reliable energy system, reduced air pollution, and lowered carbon emissions, all contributing to the struggle against global climate disruption. I am pleased that EPA is showing leadership and a willingness to tackle tough issues like coal plant pollution and carbon emissions that have long plagued the nation. Now, states are being given the opportunity to demonstrate that we are up to developing the kind of creative solutions necessary to meet EPA’s new standards. I am confident that state leaders and our citizens will bring the kind of problem-solving attitude and resolve that reflect America’s history of overcoming our challenges through innovation and global leadership.
RGGI is the nation’s first mandatory GHG pollution reduction program for power sector CO2 emissions. Composed of individual CO2 budget trading programs in nine states, the program creates a regional market for the purchase and sale of CO2 allowances, each of which permits a power plant to emit one short ton of CO2. Vermonters benefit from RGGI both from the emissions reductions from declining regional cap for CO2 emissions from power plants in the region, and by the investment of RGGI proceeds. Vermont currently invests the majority of its RGGI proceeds to enable Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric Department to expand their electrical energy efficiency programs to include thermal energy and process fuel efficiency programs. http://www.rggi.org/docs/Documents/2012-Investment-Report.pdf