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April 2011

What can create jobs, lower energy bills, and curb emissions?

True Energy Solutions in Rochester, New York checks for drafts with an infrared camera as part of a free energy audit it provides to qualifying households. The company is reimbursed with funds from polluter-purchased emissions credits through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Polluter-funded investments in the clean energy economy, that’s what.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a binding agreement between ten Northeastern states including New York, has generated more than $777 million from auctioning emission allowances to polluters. The money has been used to support large and small job-generating and energy-saving weatherization, retrofitting, and other programs.

“This program works because the sale of emission credits generates millions to improve energy efficiency and accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies. When people and businesses then use less energy, power plants don’t have to produce as much of it, and consequently they emit fewer harmful greenhouse gases,” says Daniel Sosland, executive director of Environment Northeast (ENE). But in order to keep the program functioning properly, “you need to put the cap in the right place to continue generating funding for programs to decrease the demand for dirty fossil fuels.”

“Because there is no federal climate change policy, action by states and regions to limit our contribution to global warming is even more essential,” says Pat Jenny, program director for the environment at The Trust. “That’s why we supported the creation of RGGI in 2007—the only cap-and-trade program operating in North America. So far it’s been a big success that we would like to see strengthened and replicated.”

The RGGI accord is scheduled to be updated in 2012. Grants of $100,000 each to Environment Northeast and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will be used to strengthen the accord. In addition to pressing for tighter emission caps, the organizations will try to broaden the plan to include industrial facilities, as well as homes, businesses, and vehicles.

NRDC is also running a media campaign to get out the good news about RGGI and publicize stories about how retrofitting, weatherization, and energy audits have translated into jobs, cleaner air, and a boon for local economies. “We need to get the stories out there about the real benefits that people see when their states adopt policies like RGGI,” says Dale Bryk, director of the air and energy program at NRDC. “Our media team will work to place stories in regional media markets, and make sure elected officials are armed with stories of real impact.”

“RGGI is a model for other regions considering similar multi-state accords,” Pat Jenny continues. “Plans are underway to expand the agreement among the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to include other sources of greenhouse gases. As the first program to limit greenhouse gases, it is the foundation on which other accords can be built.”

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