United States Success Project

United States—The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a cooperative effort between the Northeastern states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to reduce emissions from the power sector through a mandatory cap-and-trade program at the state and regional level. Following an agreement signed in 2005 by the governors of participating states, the mandate took effect on January 1st, 2009 and has shown tremendous success over the past eight years of its operation.

Requirements of the RGGI include a regional emissions cap that is lowered through legislative action as emissions levels in the region are progressively reduced to meet the cap level. States sell emissions allowances through quarterly auctions, and invest the revenue in such areas as renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate-related programs, and others.

According to a report released by the Congressional Research Service in May 2017, RGGI states generated 33% of their electricity from coal and other carbon-intensive fuel sources in 2005, but only 7% in 2016 after the first seven years of the implementation of the program. In doing so, the program has also contributed to a reduction in consumer electricity costs of $460 million across the region, according to a 2015 article from Thinkprogress.

The RGGI is important because it is an agreement between governors and reflects a commitment at the state level to climate change-mitigation policies that operate irrespective of the federal government’s stance on renewable energy and climate change policy. In the United States, this is especially relevant following President Trump’s recent announcement that he will withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and his continued lack of support for— and in some cases outright opposition to— renewable energy and emissions reduction policies. The RGGI symbolizes a strong commitment from the Northeast region to reducing emissions, while serving as an example to other regions that this kind of policy can be both effective and economically beneficial to the region.

The RGGI could be scaled to include more states, or expanded to include an entire nation. Its success lies in its operation at the state level, and in its cooperative nature between multiple states which hold each other accountable to implement the program and share best practices.

In times with little federal support for climate change mitigation policies, it is increasingly important for strong, decisive action to be taken at the state level. The RGGI is a program that does just this, and its success over the past eight years of its implementation shows that it is a reliable program choice.

Learn More

RGGI website: https://www.rggi.org
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions page on RGGI: https://www.c2es.org/us-states-regions/regional-climate-initiatives/rggi
RGGI 2016 program review: https://www.rggi.org/design/2016-program-review
ThinkProgress article on electricity bill reductions through RGGI: https://thinkprogress.org/the-northeasts-electricity-bills-have-dropped-460-million-since-they-started-paying-for-carbon-67e8c4ccd211