With the administration of President Donald Trump reversing actions of the prior administration on climate change, state governments are taking new measures to cut pollution and protect people from harm.
One of the best examples of state leadership on climate change right now comes from nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, five led by Republican governors and four by Democrats. These states were to have finalized by the end of the year a new plan to cut pollution from regional power plants by at least two-thirds below 2005 levels by 2030. Minnesota has an opportunity to join this Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, becoming the first Midwestern member and setting the stage for even wider success.
Even if Minnesota doesn't join, the initiative provides a model for cutting pollution and raising revenue that our state can and should follow. Under the initiative, power plants that produce carbon-dioxide pollution must purchase allowances for each ton they emit. Over time, the state limits the number of allowances given out, putting pressure on the utilities to reduce emissions. At the same time, states reinvest the proceeds from auctioning allowances in clean-energy improvements, from wind and solar energy facilities to building renovations that improve energy efficiency. This auction revenue both helps reduce emissions and invests more parts of our society in the transition to clean energy.
This multi-state plan does much more to cut pollution than the President Barack Obama-era Clean Power Plan would have required. Under Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative rules put in place in 2013, its nine-state northeastern and mid-Atlantic region would have achieved its 2030 Clean Power Plan target at least 10 years early. The new rules for the initiative finalized in 2017 exceed the requirements of the Clean Power Plan by at least 30 percent.
So far, in those nine participating states, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative already has helped cut carbon dioxide pollution from power plants in half since 2005; has helped to clean our air, saving 600 lives over six years and preventing 9,000 asthma attacks; has generated $2.7 billion for states to invest in clean energy, energy efficiency, and programs that benefit consumers; has given a boost to clean energy, helping to increase solar-power generation by more than 75 percent since 2012 while also helping to more than double wind power since 2008; and has helped to reduce electricity consumption by 5 percent since 2005, even as the regional population grew by 7 percent and the economy grew by 10 percent. That's a major reason why electricity prices have gotten cheaper in that region.
The initiative also has locked in more than $4.6 billion in savings on energy bills for citizens and businesses over time, an incredible return of $3.50 in energy-bill savings for every dollar spent on clean energy. And it has boosted the regional economy by almost $3 billion with more than 30,000 jobs created.
Minnesota could lose big by staying on the outside. New Jersey dropped out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative during Gov. Chris Christie's tenure and lost out on roughly $240 million in revenue that state could have invested in clean energy. In contrast, rejoining the program could provide New Jersey with almost $750 million for clean-energy programs from 2019 through 2030.
Scientists agree we need to stop burning virtually all fossil fuels and transition to clean, renewable energy by no later than 2050. Minnesota can replicate and expand upon the example that the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states are setting, do more to advance clean energy, cut global-warming pollution, and secure a safe future for our children and for people across the world.
Tim Schaefer is director of Minneapolis-based Environment Minnesota (environmentminnesota.org).