Not as powerful as expected, RGGI still a useful climate tool

Aside from death and taxes, what else can Rhode Islanders be sure of? Some would say sea-level rise.

So it is more than a little discouraging that at its present pace, Rhode Island is expected to reach its aggressive carbon-emissions goal – 80 percent of 1990 levels of said emissions by 2050 – in 2208. That’s right, the Ocean State is 158 years behind schedule.

One of the tools that was supposed to help Rhode Island reach a nearly carbon-free future is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade regime put in place in 2007 that includes nine New England and mid-Atlantic states. It’s not that carbon emissions haven’t been declining, because they have. Just not at a pace that is even remotely close to what is needed to reach the goal. And it is not clear that RGGI has played much of a role in the drop.

In fact, the only thing that is certain about RGGI is that Rhode Island has received $57.6 million since the program began its carbon-emission credit auctions, money which the state has used to support renewable-energy projects.

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What to do, then? First off, keep RGGI in place. It is a powerful tool to encourage renewable-energy projects. And as time goes on and the caps continue to come down, the price of carbon will go up, forcing more efficiency into the market.

But more importantly, if the state is serious about its carbon-emissions goals, it needs to develop a plan to reach it, one that continues to invest in efficiency and renewable-energy projects. Otherwise, Rhode Island may literally be the Ocean State by 2208.