For Immediate Release
Imported Coal Power Could Undermine Northeast Global Warming Cap-and-Trade System
Northeast states can ensure regional agreement maximizes carbon emissions reductions by preventing dirty electricity imports
WASHINGTON - The Northeast's cap-and-trade system for global warming
pollution-the first of its kind in the nation-will be compromised
unless utilities are prevented from importing additional coal-fired
electricity, according to a report released today by the Union of
Concerned Scientists (UCS).
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which applies to
power plants in 10 Northeastern states, does not preclude the utilities
that supply electricity to Northeast homes and businesses from buying
more electricity from coal-fired power plants outside the region. That
could increase the carbon dioxide emissions from those plants outside
the region, offsetting emissions reductions under RGGI.
"RGGI sets a national precedent for addressing global warming," said
John Rogers, a UCS clean energy analyst and co-author of the report.
"To ensure the initiative fulfills its potential, however,
participating states must make sure that the region's utilities don't
buy additional coal-based electricity from outside the region."
(For the report, "Importing Pollution: Coal's Threat to Climate Policy in the U.S. Northeast," go to: http://www.ucsusa.org/importingpollution).
Beginning January 1, a cap will go into effect on the total carbon
dioxide emissions from power plants in the 10 RGGI states: Connecticut,
Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey,
New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. The total amount of emissions
allowed from all plants-approximately 188 million tons-will remain the
same each year through 2014, followed by a 10 percent decrease over the
next four years.
Under the program, each power plant has to obtain a permit, or an
allowance, for each ton of carbon dioxide it emits, which the RGGI
states plan to auction quarterly. The first auction of pollution
allowances, held in September, included six states and sold 12.5
million allowances. At $3.07 per allowance, the auction raised $38.5
million for participating states to fund energy efficiency and
renewable energy projects. The second auction took place earlier this
week and is expected to raise approximately $100 million for clean
energy and efficiency programs.
Since the RGGI program does not require local utilities to purchase
allowances for electricity imported to the region, its design could
trigger more coal electricity imports -- and significantly more
emissions from coal plants in states bordering RGGI. If plants just
outside the region generated electricity at full capacity, for example,
the resulting emissions would equal 350 percent of the amount the RGGI
program aims to cut in its final year, the UCS report found. In another
scenario, nearby coal plants currently under construction and near
development could emit global warming emissions equal to 140 percent of
RGGI's planned 2018 reductions. Proposed new transmission lines,
meanwhile, would deliver even more "dirty" electricity.
"Fortunately, RGGI states have several options to close the door on
increased coal electricity imports," Rogers said. "States could prevent
local utilities from contracting with dirty energy sources. They could
require utilities to account for global warming pollution from all of
the electricity they sell, not just from RGGI power plants. States also
could make sure that proposed transmission projects not serve as
pollution delivery systems."
New Jersey is the first state to tackle this threat to RGGI
reductions. Legislation enacted earlier this year requires the state's
public utilities board to develop a plan to reduce the risk of
increased coal-fired electricity imports and implement it by next year.
"Climate change is already affecting the region's character and
economy, which is why this historic agreement is so important," said
Rogers. "But RGGI states can't rest on their laurels. Importing
additional coal pollution would undermine the region's progress on
climate change, which is why states now must build on RGGI and put
measures in place to prevent any increase in coal-fired electricity
The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.