Leibowitz: Congratulations, RGGI, now hit the gas

Slow burn: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is working, says Environment New York's Heather Leibowitz, but maybe not fast enough.
By HEATHER LEIBOWITZ //

Officials and stakeholders from nine northeastern states gathered this week in Baltimore to discuss a new plan to cut pollution from power plants by another 30 percent by 2030 – an improvement of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, building on the RGGI’s success by further limiting pollution and investing more in energy efficiency and renewables.

The nine states – New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, five led by Republican governors, four by Democrats – stand in stark contrast to actions by the Trump Administration to let polluters off the hook and weaken core national environmental laws.

Despite inaction and denial at the federal level, states are showing that we can work together across party lines to cut pollution, clean our air and protect our climate.

We congratulate Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his colleagues for reaching consensus around a plan to do more to cut dangerous pollution from power plants. But we are going to need much more of this kind of cooperation at all levels of government in order to solve the climate crisis.

Scientists agree that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to stop burning virtually all fossil fuels and transition to clean, renewable energy by 2050. This agreement moves us in the right direction, but we need to do more.

The hurricanes battering our coasts these past weeks are only the latest reminder that the task is urgent. The major uncertainty in how serious the impacts of climate change will become is us – how much pollution will we allow into our atmosphere? How quickly will we move to clean, renewable sources of energy?

Heather Leibowitz: The environmental clock is ticking.

The faster we move, the better. Every additional ton of pollution we prevent can help slow the warming of our planet and protect our communities from harm.

What’s more, we have already proven that acting with greater ambition will bring more benefits to New York and its citizens. Consider: Our region has already cut power plant pollution in half since 2005. Under this proposal, we will have cut power plant pollution in the region by at least two-thirds by 2030.

The first six years of cutting power plant pollution through RGGI helped to clean up our air and saved 600 lives. Making it stronger will save us more than $1 billion in healthcare costs by further protecting us from pollution.

Already, the region has raised almost $3 billion for clean energy through this program. Making it stronger as proposed will generate on the order of $7 billion more.

We can and should make this proposal stronger by taking a deeper bite out of pollution from power plants. And looking forward, we need to build off of the progress we have achieved and do more to tackle pollution from our transportation system, our buildings and our industry. Ultimately, we need to move to 100 percent clean, renewable energy for all uses.

We look forward to working with Gov. Cuomo and with leaders across the country to improve our health, protect our climate and secure our future by eliminating pollution.

Heather Leibowitz, Esq., is the director of Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization.