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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

States Tackle Global Warming

Air Date: Week of

As talks progress in Montreal on global climate change, Living on Earth takes a look at combating greenhouse gas emissions on a state-by-state level. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, attempted to create an emissions cap for power plants in 9 Northeastern states. But this plan has recently been on the rocks. To find out the latest developments on RGGI, host Steve Curwood talks with Beth Daley, a reporter for the Boston Globe who's been covering the initiative.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. As thousands of diplomats from around the world meet in Montréal to negotiate the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the United States remains on the sidelines, in firm opposition to mandatory caps on emissions of global warming gases.

But back home that hasn't stopped some states from moving to enact limits on CO2 from power plants. The most ambitious plan is called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, and it involves Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The states were expected to announce a cap and trade system, similar to the Kyoto Protocol, during the Montréal meeting. But, at the last moment, Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney put on the brakes, saying as the deal is presently written a cap and trade regime might be too costly. Joining me is reporter Beth Daley who’s been following this story for The Boston Globe. Thanks for coming in, Beth.

DALEY: Thanks for having me.

CURWOOD: So, Beth, how would a cap and trade system work here with these power plants in the northeast?

DALEY: What happens is that every power plant will get a certain allotment of how much pollution they can emit into the air. If they use up that allotment then they’ll have to buy more allowances from cleaner burning power plants that haven’t used up their allotment of pollution credits. And so, basically, the dirtier plants will buy the right to pollute from cleaner plants.

CURWOOD: And that price would float whatever the market would bear?

DALEY: Exactly, the price would float. And the understanding is that the price would rise the dirtier the power plant is, and the closer to the overall emissions cap they’re reaching. So, the price can fluctuate greatly from, you know, zero to way up there.

CURWOOD: Now, what has Governor Romney, the Massachusetts Republican governor, proposed? I gather he likes the notion of having a regional cap on carbon dioxide emissions but he doesn’t want to have this cap and trade system?

DALEY: Exactly. He likes the idea of a cap but he doesn’t seem to like the uncertainty it will provide to businesses of how high it will cost to emit a ton of carbon dioxide. So what he’s proposed is, let’s place a price cap saying the price of a ton of carbon dioxide will never go over a certain amount. And businesses like this very much because it provides certainty for them when they’re trying to pollute, that they’ll know they’ll never have to pay over a certain amount. Now, environmentalists dislike this intensely because they feel it will give a power plant the right to pollute even more than they’re allowed to.

CURWOOD: As I understand it, Governor Romney of Massachusetts, is considered to be a possible presidential candidate. To what extent do you think his presidential ambitions might have to do with this reversal now or this slowdown on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative?

DALEY: Certainly, a lot of what Governor Romney does is viewed through the prism of him running for the national office. But we don’t have any direct knowledge that he’s getting any pressure from the White House, for example, or this is anything but his decision.

CURWOOD: What will the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative do to consumer bank accounts in those northeastern states when it comes right down to it?

DALEY: Well, it’s interesting, in part, because Romney said three weeks ago that prices would only rise one or two percent under RGGI. And, in fact, RGGI’s own analysis shows that the average household bill will increase three dollars to 33 dollars annually over the next 15 years. But if energy efficiency programs are enacted, it would actually decline over 100 dollars a year.

CURWOOD: How much would this initiative actually reduce greenhouse gases?

DALEY: Actually, that’s a really good question. Hardly anything. I mean, global warming, as we all know, is a global problem, and the northeast states getting together to reduce climate change is really seen as a symbolic move to the rest of the world. And it meant so much that the RGGI organizers have worked incredibly hard to get it done in time for the Montreal Conference to say, ‘Hey look, world, you know, President Bush may not be doing anything but we certainly are, and we’re committed to making this happen.’ And there’s also a belief that if RGGI is done soon enough other states might start grappling with the same issues. If RGGI fails, it’s unclear what is going to happen.

CURWOOD: Beth Daley is a science and environment reporter at The Boston Globe. Thanks for this update.

DALEY: Thanks for having me.



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