Compromise on carbon pollution better than RGGI exit

Maryland is staying in a strengthened multistate pact to reduce greenhouse gases in electric power generation. It's a compromise, but much better than sulkily pulling out. The pact has been (mostly) holding together for many years and “The [RGGI] program has a track record of cutting emissions fairly painlessly across a densely populated section of the country,” observes Inside Climate News.

/PM BlogSpace Report/ Maryland has agreed with eight other states to improve the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced in providing power to the state’s customers.

It wasn’t easy.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a compact of nine states that have for years been trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a cap-and-trade approach. Fossil-fueled power plants pay to pollute and the revenues are used to promote clean-energy solutions such as retrofitting inefficient housing (building jobs and skills) and bill assistance for low-income customers.

“The [RGGI] program has a track record of cutting emissions fairly painlessly across a densely populated section of the country,” observes Inside Climate News.

Maryland was one of three states (along with Maine, with a genuinely wacko GOP governor, Paul LePage, and New Hampshire, with a moderate-ish anti-Trump GOP governor but a mad-dog GOP state legislature) that threatened to pull out of the RGGI framework if emissions were capped as tightly as Massachusetts (with a very anti-Trump GOP governor) wanted to shoot for. In fact, five of the nine RGGI states have GOP governors, and there is a Christie-sized hole in the otherwise contiguous Maine-to Maryland seaboard map where that GOP governor pulled New Jersey out in 2011.

The results are described as a compromise that pleased many environmental groups in and out of Maryland, including the state’s League of Conservation Voters and Maryland Climate Coalition, The Sun reports.

Inside Climate News said  “…the RGGI states agreed to pursue one of the more ambitious proposals on the table…”

Not all agreed, reflecting the debate within the environmental community over whether cap-and-trade models will reduce emissions fast enough to stave off the worst effects of climate change versus the more stringent application of hard caps on fossil fuel use. Again, from Inside Climate News:

“ ‘The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is based on the dubious notion that a market-based system can reduce the carbon emissions that are driving the climate crisis,’ said Jim Walsh, renewable energy policy analyst for Food & Water Watch, in an emailed statement. ‘The states participating in RGGI must create real energy programs that tackle emissions head-on with hard caps on pollution, instead of tinkering around the edges with corporate-friendly pollution credit schemes.’ "

Indeed, most of the states in the RGGI framework have either always had corporate power ownership or, like Maryland, deregulated a public power system by privatizing power supply so that the managers of the grid, like Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric, got out of the generating business and got their power from other, sometimes out of state sources.

As Maryland makes the shift from fossil-fueled power to renewable sources, much of the (mostly wind) renewable power that state law requires the grid operators to purchase to meet the caps comes from out of the state. Only when the state’s long-awaited offshore wind program in the close-in Atlantic Ocean gets under construction will even a significant fraction of the state’s renewable power come from local sources. But the explosive growth of household rooftop solar -- and the state Public Service Commission’s co-ahead for “community solar” that allows consortiums to assemble around opportunities for unshaded solar access (like large-building rooftops) -- should boost a different renewable source. Both local wind and local solar are Maryland job-creators.

Conservative critics of renewable energy sources have said they cause the decommissioning of other power sources, including fossil fuel and nuclear plants, without really replacing the power they provided – and that the intermittent availability of wind  (calm periods) and solar power (clouds and night-time) – threatened the reliability of the electric grid.

But on the same day as the RGGI pact was announced, an Energy Department study was released that found cheap natural gas the cause of these plants losing traction and closing, and said that increasing reliance on renewables overall was no threat to the grid’s stability.

The increase in Maryland’s use of renewables has to be a win-win, then, though ratepayers should still look carefully at the decision, years ago, to turn over the public grid and power supply to corporations whose loyalty might be more to CEOs and stockholders than to the health of the household budget.