A handful of states are already proving that economic growth and environmental protection can go hand in hand – and they’re using market forces, price signals and economic incentives to meet their goals.
These results are particularly salient as states consider how to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to limit dangerous pollution from power plants.
So let’s take a closer look at what’s happening on our two coasts.
California: 4% cut in emissions, 2% growth
California’s landmark cap-and-trade program is closing out its second year with some strong results. Between 2012 and 2013, greenhouse gas emissions from the 350+ facilities covered by the program dropped by 4 percent, putting California solidly on track to meet its goal to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
During the same period, the state’s gross domestic product jumped 2 percent.
What’s more, the climate change and clean energy policies ushered in by California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 helped slash carbon pollution from in-state and imported electricity by 16 percent between 2005 and 2012.
All this while attracting more clean-tech venture capital to California than to all other states combined.
Northeast: GDP rises as emissions and power prices drop
Those who would rather turn east for inspiration can look to the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system stretching from Maryland to Maine.
Since the RGGI program launched in 2009, participating states have cut their greenhouse gas emissions 2.7 times more than non-RGGI states, while growing their gross domestic product 2.5 times more than non-RGGI states.
The states have experienced these dramatic win-win benefits while also seeing retail electricity prices across the region decline by an average of 8 percent.
With 70 percent of Americans supporting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan – and given that everyone warms up to the notion of a sound economy – can these carbon markets be replicated elsewhere?
States choose their own path
The EPA’s rules aim to cut power plant pollution by 30 percent by 2030, giving states individual reduction targets along with great flexibility to meet that national goal.
Hitting the sweet spot of supporting economic growth and environmental protection will be a primary objective, and the options are virtually endless. Energy efficiency, renewable energy, power plant efficiency and cap-and-trade are all good bets.
Expanded markets offer new options
Not surprisingly, the EPA mentioned RGGI numerous times in its proposed power plant standards as an efficient way to cut carbon pollution. Since then, experts have suggested that regional markets, or even a single national market in which all 50 states participate, may be a way to make the plan affordable.
States still have some time to ponder their options.
The EPA is expected to finalize the rule in summer 2015, and states have another year after that to submit plans to the EPA detailing how they intend to meet their targets. Those entering into multistate agreements have three years.
The good news is that they wouldn’t be starting from scratch. The experiences of California and the RGGI states can provide useful, real-world insights as states plot their path toward a clean energy future.