U.S.’s first mandatory, market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions reports 23 percent reduction

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is undertaking a review of its first compliance period, which ran from 2009 through 2011 and saw successful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below its initial targets. The power sector of nine Northeast and North Atlantic states reported annual average carbon emissions of 126 million short tons during the three year-period, representing a 23 percent reduction compared to the previous three-year span of 2006 through 2008. 

Overall, 206 out of the 211 power plants within RGGI's jurisdiction achieved their compliance objectives. Emission levels in the first compliance period were 33 percent below the program's annual cap of 188 million short tons.

The decline in carbon emissions was achieved without a comparable decline in the total quantity of electricity consumption, which dropped just 2.4 percent during the same timeframe. The reasons for the emission reduction include a greater use of natural gas for electricity generation instead of coal, investment in energy efficiency, and the increased use of renewable energy as part of states' renewable portfolio standards.

RGGI includes nine states of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and is the United States' first mandatory, market-based program to reduce carbon emissions through cap and trade. Regulated entities are required to purchase and hold one allowance, or credit, for each short ton of carbon dioxide they emit. The program limits the total amount of emissions by issuing a set number of allowances (the cap). Entities whose emissions exceed their allowances can purchase more from those that emit less (the trade), creating an incentive to reduce emissions for those that can do so cheaply. The cap can be decreased each year to reduce overall emissions.

In addition, RGGI has created many benefits for participating states, generating 16,000 job-years of work and $1.6 billion worth of economic activity over the three years, according to an Analysis Group study. Energy efficiency improvements funded through RGGI allowance auctions will also help customers save $1.3 billion on their electricity, natural gas, and heating bills over the next decade.

The second compliance period extends from 2012 through 2014, with an annual emissions cap of 165 million short tons. Starting in 2015, the cap will be reduced by 2.5 percent each year, for a total reduction of 10 percent from 2009 levels by 2018. But because the program has already outperformed this target, six out of the nine RGGI states are now considering tightening the cap for even further reductions.   

For more information:

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)

Emissions Caps for Electricity

RGGI: 97% of RGGI Units Meet First Compliance Period Obligations

Analysis Group: New Analysis Quantifies Economic Impact of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in Ten States