RGGI emissions reductions can be attributed to several factors, including the post-2008 recession, complementary environmental programs (e.g. renewable portfolio standards), and low natural gas prices. It is challenging to assess the effect of each factor on the emissions reductions in the region, however, a study from Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Solutions found a significant impact. The study found that “after the introduction of RGGI in 2009, the region’s emissions would have been 24% higher without the program, accounting for about half of the region’s emissions reductions during that time, which were far greater than those achieved in the rest of the United States.”
In 2017, RGGI announced program changes that reduce its emissions cap 30 percent by 2030, relative to 2020 levels. In order for states to join RGGI, they must set an emissions cap that is consistent in stringency to that established in the RGGI states. For Pennsylvania, this could be translated into bringing up to $6.6 billion of auction proceeds between 2020 and 2030. New Jersey and Virginia (which are also expected to join RGGI) could also bring up to $1.4 billion and $2.3 billion respectively.
According to Wolf’s executive order, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) should develop a regulation that will cut carbon pollution from power plants and enable the state to participate in RGGI. The DEP must submit its proposal to the state’s Environmental Quality Board by July 31st, 2020. However, the legislature could potentially delay the process—similar to what happened while drafting regulations to fulfill the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan—by proposing legislation with new rules to limit how Pennsylvania can participate in RGGI.
As Pennsylvania and the other new members join RGGI, policy coordination will be important in cutting emissions leakage in the Northeast. This happens when power generation, especially from coal, is diverted from RGGI states to the surrounding non-RGGI states.