For the third consecutive year, greenhouse gas emissions fell in the nine Northeastern states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI (pronounced "Reggie"), a market-based cap-and-trade program. Carbon emissions in the states dropped six percent between 2012 and 2013, from 92 million to 86 million tons.
States in the RGGI program turned to lower emitting electricity sources in 2013, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Nuclear generation rose 7 percent, while hydroelectric and other renewable energy also rose. But the use of natural gas for electricity actually declined 16 percent, while coal use, which has dropped in recent years, rose by 5 percent.
The nine states - Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont - last month approved a change to the program from 2014 that would cap emissions at 91 million tons, a 45 percent reduction from the original cap, to encourage more trading.
The five-year-old cap-and-trade market had been flooded in excess carbon permits thanks to the unexpected boom in low-emissions natural gas, improved energy efficiency and a sluggish economic recovery. New Jersey’s decision to quit the cap-and-trade program also contributed to emissions reductions, which slowed this year compared to the two previous.
Regardless, the RGGI program has shown that it is doing the job it set out to do. As the federal Environmental Protection Agency gets set to roll out carbon emissions regulations in June, the Reggie states are showing other states how they might prepare strategies to comply.