By Jake Blumgart
Yesterday New Hampshire Governor John Lynch stepped up and defended America’s only policy initiative against climate change. Lynch vetoed Republican legislation that would have removed his state from the continent’s functioning carbon dioxide pollution cap-and-trade system, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI.)
The program puts a price on carbon pollution, one of the principal causes of global warming, thus disincentivizing such emissions and providing funds for clean energy projects. RGGI functions by auctioning off a set number of carbon pollution allowances, each representing a ton of carbon, and setting a cap on the number of these allowances (currently 188 million tons per year). Companies will be fined if they emit more carbon than the number of allowances they purchased. The cap will be ratcheted down by 2.5 percent annually for four years, beginning in 2014. The majority of RGGI proceeds are earmarked for renewable energy or energy efficiency projects.
The general cap-and-trade model described above is incremental and market-oriented (and a Republican idea). RGGI itself was originally championed by a Republican governor. But the recent demonization of cap-and-trade policies by Republicans and the Dirty Energy lobbies has turned the program into a partisan flashpoint. RGGI, which includes ten of the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states (Pennsylvania hasn’t joined), has suffered similar political attacks in other states, most notably New Jersey. In late May, Governor Chris Christie promised to pull his state out of the system by the end of the year.
The hard right and their industry allies, in this case the dirty energy sector bankrolled Americans for Prosperity, have employed their usual brand of fear-mongering rhetoric. One industry front man breathlessly described RGGI as “the biggest conspiracy between the public sector, big banks and government that Americans have ever seen” and “threat to our economic future.”
Thankfully, Governor John Lynch recognizes such messaging for what it is: Grossly misleading hyperbole. “I am vetoing this legislation because it will cost our citizens jobs, both now and into the future, hinder our economic recovery, and damage our state’s long-term economic competitiveness,” Lynch said.
According to a February 2011 analysis of RGGI’s impact on New Hampshire, the program hasn’t harmed the state’s economic competitiveness at all, it hasn’t killed jobs, and it hasn’t placed any real burden on consumers. In fact, the “marginal net benefit of NH participation” in 2009 was $12 million (originally the benefits were estimated to be a third of that) and there is “no evidence that NH has lost a major employer because of RGGI.”
The program has been successful throughout the region. According to Eric De Place, it has raised $861 million to date, the vast majority of which goes to creating or sustaining jobs in the fields of energy efficiency and renewable energy resources. One study found that regional emissions dropped 25-35 percent in 2009, due in part to RGGI.
The other participating states should take heed of these facts and Lynch’s rational position. No one should emulate Chris Christie’s submission to the mindless demagoguery of the dirty energy-backed Americans for Prosperity.