Environmental advocates across New England are pushing for a more ambitious cap on carbon pollution.
Nine states, including Rhode Island, are reviewing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nonbinding agreement that puts a cap on carbon emissions and requires power plants in the nine states to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit by 2.5 percent each year.
Environmental groups say that’s not enough.
Erika Niedowski, policy advocate for the Acadia Center, said the groups are pushing for a three percent reduction each year starting in 2019, which is the most ambitious scenario.
“We would avoid almost 100 million tons (more) of (carbon) emissions (than the 2.5 percent scenario) all the way out until 2031, and that’s more than a full year of emissions for the region,” Niedowski said.
A report from the Acadia Center found carbon emissions from power plants in RGGI states in 2015 were 37 percent lower than 2008 emission levels.
A RGGI expert at the Acadia Center also compiled data that shows between 2009 and 2014, RGGI accounted for $65 to $148 million in health benefits in Rhode Island.
Niedowski added RGGI states have also been able to invest more money into energy efficiency programs by selling permits to power companies who need to emit more carbon than the cap allows.
However, Mike Stenhouse from Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a conservative think tank, said programs like RGGI have hurt local families and businesses.
“It’s harmed the business climate, it’s harmed the pocket books of Rhode Island families, there is no justified cost-benefit analysis that I have ever seen and we’ve got to stop this bad public policy,” Stenhouse said.
Stenhouse pointed to a report his center did that shows any energy mandate in the state that interferes with the free market and puts a price on carbon will raise electricity rates, making it harder for businesses to run and lower-income families to afford power.
Niedowski said electricity rates in Rhode Island have gone up 6.3 percent since RGGI's start in 2008, but the increase is less than the rate of inflation. She said it's important to look at energy rates on a regional basis, which have gone down more than three percent since RGGI.
The Acadia Center's report also found from 2008 to 2015, the economies of RGGI states grew 24.9 percent versus 21.3 percent in states that don't regulate carbon emissions.
RGGI states include Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Delaware and Maryland. They're expected to finish their review of the program by September.