Thursday, March 08, 2018

'Reggie' States Addressing Transportation Emissions

Tailpipe Exhaust (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
The Transportation and Climate Initiative, TCI, is an underwhelming name for what could become a groundbreaking model to cut transportation-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

Its formation is in progress in the Northeast as something of a companion to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, which is itself groundbreaking as the first regional greenhouse gas emissions cap and invest program in the U.S.  But RGGI – universally pronounced “Reggie” – only covers power plants in those 10 northeastern states where it has been operating. (New Jersey had been a Reggie state until then-Governor Chris Christie pulled it out of the effort; Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has taken steps to re-enter, and final action on that effort is likely soon.)

Transportation emissions of course are more pervasive than those from just power plants, and in fact constitute the largest source of CO2 emissions nationally, and nearly half of those in the RGGI states.

“When you look at the success the states have had with RGGI in the electric sector, in some way it’s an obvious leap to get to the point where you say, ‘We should have a similar policy for the transportation sector,'” says Jordan Stutt, a Boston-based policy analyst for Acadia Center, an advocacy group in New England and New York that has watch-dogged RGGI since its formation.

Transportation emissions tough to ‘wrangle’
But it’s a lot more challenging to create a program around transportation emissions.  The TCI states – the RGGI states, which run from Maine to Maryland, plus Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia – have been talking about how to do it for nearly a decade, and they still have a long way to go to come up with what essentially would be a RGGI for transportation.

“It’s a hard sector to wrangle,” Stutt acknowledges.

California offers the only U.S. blueprint with a cap-and-trade program for all emissions.  But even without the complications of coordinating among a dozen governments, transportation posed the greatest challenges.

Under RGGI, the couple of hundred power plants in the region essentially pay for the right to pollute based on how much carbon dioxide they emit.  Plant owners buy allowances from the states through quarterly auctions.  Consumers do pick up the cost of those allowances on their electric bills.  It’s not much, and it’s barely noticeable to most ratepayers.

Since RGGI began operating in January 2009, power plant CO2 emissions have dropped by more than half, and nearly $3 billion has been returned to the states.  Much, if not most, of that money has gone into state energy efficiency and clean energy programs as required through RGGI’s reinvestment framework.

But transportation is massively diverse with people traveling from state to state.  Socio-economic levels vary widely, and state political leaderships shift.  All of which is a lot harder to standardize across a dozen jurisdictions than is the case involving power plants that just sit there and whose emissions are more easily measured.

To Kathleen Theoharides, assistant secretary of climate change in Massachusetts, the key challenge of transportation is “the amorphous nature of it and millions of people making millions of small decisions daily, and also the need for most people to get in a car each morning and drive somewhere.”

Regional cooperation necessary
That said – the states involved recognize that the only logical way to pull a program together is to do so regionally.

Read more at 'Reggie' States Addressing Transportation Emissions

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