Mass. signs N.E. greenhouse pact; eyes turn to R.I.

BOSTON – Gov. Deval L. Patrick, speaking Thursday afternoon at the University of Massachusetts–Boston, has declared that Massachusetts has rejoined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

At the signing of the pact, from which predecessor Mitt Romney had backed away in 2005, Patrick also pledged to use the proceeds of the sale of emissions allowances to fund an aggressive program of energy savings for households and industry, his office reported. He said he also will prioritize the purchase of renewable energies for state agencies.

“Today, my administration takes its first step to set Massachusetts on a new course toward a clean energy future,” the governor said. “Joining this pact and using the auction proceeds to fund an aggressive new energy-efficiency and peak-management initiative will pay dividends in three ways: We curb our greenhouse gas emissions, we create new economic development opportunities and we cut our energy costs.”

Ian Bowles, the Bay State’s secretary of environmental affairs, said: “Changes in the electricity market are creating new economic incentives for large scale energy efficiency initiatives and programs that cut electricity demand on peak days – the hottest days in the summer when lots of us are using air conditioners. The Governor wants to use these incentives – along with those created by RGGI – to drive down greenhouse gas emissions, drive down electricity costs, drive up energy efficiency, and strengthen reliability of the power system.”

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At a briefing with climate scientists and the CEOs of Bay State energy-technology companies, held at UMass–Boston early Thursday afternoon, Patrick heard about the rising threat of climate change and how technologies developed by Massachusetts entrepreneurs can combat global climate change, provide savings to electricity consumers, and create jobs at the same time.

After the briefing, Governor Patrick signed the RGGI MOU on behalf of the Commonwealth, and also signed letters to the governors of the other RGGI states announcing that Massachusetts had rejoined the regional effort.

“Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time,” he said. “On this day, we want everyone to know that Massachusetts will not stand on the sidelines.”

“The challenge of climate change illustrates vividly the need to integrate energy and environmental policy,” added Patrick, who has begun a sweeping Cabinet reorganization that combines energy and environmental affairs agencies into a single secretariat.

Seven states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont – have been signatories to the RGGI since it was launched in December 2005. And Maryland is to begin participating by June 30.

At present, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only New England states not participating in the initiative, though Gov. Donald L. Carcieri last month hinted that Rhode Island may join.

Both states had participated in the development of the RGGI plan, which calls for states to use a fee-based “cap-and-trade” system to limit emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants of 25 megawatts and more, starting in 2009. The caps then would be gradually reduced, beginning in 2015.

Initially, under the free-market system, emissions levels would be capped and each power plant would be required to buy one pollution allowance, or credit, for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The RGGI then would allow the plants to buy or sell emissions credits. It also would allow them to use “offsets” from greenhouse-gas reducing projects in other sectors, such as reforestation or landfill gas recovery in any participating state, to account for up to 3.3 percent of their own emissions. (Details of the pact are available at

The move was lauded by Bay State environmentalists, and embraced as a call to action by those in the Ocean State.

“This is an important step for climate protection, and a bold move by the governor,” Frank Gorke, an energy advocate at the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG), said in a news release Thursday morning. “It’s certainly good news for the environment that he is rejoining Massachusetts in this regional plan to start cutting global-warming pollution from power plants. And it’s good news for consumers that he appears to be getting the details right.

“It’s crucial that we prevent windfall profits for power-plant owners by requiring them to pay for their pollution permits,” he continued. “That is the only fair and effective way to operate a system like this. …

“Scientists are saying we need 75 to 85 percent pollution reductions by the middle of this century if we hope to avoid the worst impacts of global warming,” Gorke added. “This regional plan for power plants, one of the biggest pollution sources in the region, is an important first step. We’re glad it looks like we’re going to get this step behind us, so we can start down the path toward a climate-friendly future.”

In Rhode Island, several environmental groups – including Clean Water Action, the Conservation Law Foundation and Environment Rhode Island – Thursday afternoon urged Governor Carcieri to move quickly to rejoin the program.

“Left unchecked, global warming will have a serious impact on Rhode Island’s coastline and beaches as well as the health of Narragansett Bay,” said Matt Auten, an advocate with Environment Rhode Island. “It is extremely important that Rhode Island join the rest of New England in this historic program.”

“A regional pact to reduce dirty emissions and curb global warming makes environmental and economic sense for Rhode Island,” said Cynthia Giles, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island Advocacy Center.

The groups noted that the plan would allow Rhode Island to auction its pollution allowances to power plant operators, creating a fund that could be used to benefit consumers. Studies have indicated that careful use of this fund – for example, to implement energy efficiency measures – could result in reduced energy costs to consumers.

“We simply can’t afford to let this opportunity pass by,” said Denise Parrillo, the climate campaign organizer at Clean Water Action. “If Rhode Island doesn’t join RGGI, our consumers will be missing out on funding for energy efficiency and pollution reduction measures. We urge Gov. Carcieri to join RGGI without further delay.”