Climate change is taking its toll

Last year was recently declared the hottest year on record — for the 15th time in the past 16 years. New England is warming faster than any other region in the United States except for Alaska, and we're already feeling the effects of climate change, from severe drought taking its toll on the iconic dairy farms of New Hampshire, to stronger storms and hurricanes battering the Coney Island boardwalk.

Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Herbert 

The pollution that contributes to climate change also hurts our health — especially in the densely populated Northeast. In 2015, residents of Baltimore, Boston, New York City, and Wilmington, Del., all experienced 89 or more days of elevated levels of smog. Air pollution is even affecting smaller communities, like Norwalk, Conn., and Berlin, N.H.

We know we need to do much more to tackle the climate crisis. Climate scientists agree that to avoid the worst climate impacts, we need to stop burning virtually all fossil fuels and transition to clean, renewable energy by 2050.

Luckily, the Northeast is already well on its way to becoming a leader in cutting global warming pollution. Here, nine states including Massachusetts are taking part in America’s most successful regional clean air and climate protection program: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The best regional clean air and climate program you’ve never heard of

Over the past decade, RGGI has helped cut regional power plant pollution in half — the equivalent of retiring 22 coal-fired power plants — and it has invested $2.6 billion in clean energy and energy efficiency programs across the region.

The way the program creates these benefits is ingenious. It ratchets down the emissions from power plants each year and makes polluters pay to pollute. That revenue is then invested in clean energy and energy efficiency, which has led to healthier communities and thriving economies.

The program has helped clean up our air, preventing 600 premature deaths over its first six years in effect. It has helped make the region more energy efficient: Electricity use is down by five percent since 2005, even as the regional economy grew by 10 percent. And it has boosted renewable energy in the region, where solar and wind power generation have more than doubled in the past 10 years.

These benefits matter for our communities. For example, the Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, Conn., retrofitted its lighting and cooling systems with support from RGGI funding. The project saves the hospital more than $23,000 per year in electric bills, enabling them to keep energy costs down and cut back on carbon pollution — all while expanding its core mission of keeping kids healthy.

Here in Massachusetts, the towns of Swampscott and Wenham installed energy-efficient street lighting with revenue from RGGI, reducing the towns’ electricity costs by more than $100,000 per year. At the same time, the towns are able to cut as much carbon pollution per year as contained in 33,000 gallons of gasoline.

Cummings Properties via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Doubling down on climate progress

As the president and Congress push to repeal our best federal policies for reducing global warming pollution, like the Clean Power Plan and federal clean car standards, it’s up to us to lead the way forward. Now more than ever, we need to make even more progress to combat climate change here in Massachusetts.

The good news is that we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference. We can double the strength of RGGI (so the cap on emissions declines 5 percent each year), which has a proven track record of protecting our clean air and climate.

By setting RGGI’s sights higher, we could prevent up to an additional 100 million tons of pollution over the next decade, and help the region invest twice as much money in clean energy.

Doubling its strength would cut pollution faster, provide cleaner and healthier air for our families, and show the rest of the country and the world that our region is committed to doing what it takes to address global warming.

Christopher Crews

Massachusetts can lead the way

Gov. Charlie Baker needs to act today to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The program has halved global warming pollution in the Northeast the past decade alone, and it can cut pollution in half again by 2030 while investing more money in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Environment Massachusetts and our national network have been on the ground for decades. We shaped RGGI from the very beginning, helping to lead a coalition that built the grassroots support needed to design the program, and the political willpower to put it in place.

We need to tell Gov. Charlie Baker to act. It’s up to us to lead — because climate can’t wait.