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

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

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.

Patrick’s predecessor, Mitt Romney, backed away from the agreement in 2005. 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.

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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 www.rggi.org.)

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 this 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 – this 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.”