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RGGI's Role in the Massachusetts Climate Law

At a webinar last week, New Perspectives on RGGI and the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act,” Synapse’s Dr. Elizabeth A. Stanton hosted Senior Associate Pat Knight and Mass Energy Consumer Alliance’s Larry Chretien for a discussion of Synapse’s RGGI modeling work and the recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision on the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.

Throughout 2016, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is bringing together state policymakers, advocates, and members of the public as part of the 2016 RGGI Stakeholder Process. This process is meant to explore possible changes or updates to the current cap-and-trade system. In order to inform this process, Synapse prepared “The RGGI Opportunity 2.0” report, examining what it would take to get the nine RGGI states to their state-specific 2030 emission reductions targets of around 40 percent below 1990 levels. In this analysis, Synapse examined six strategies—or shifts—that could lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions. While some of these shifts addressed emissions in the transportation and buildings sectors, other shifts involved a decarbonization of the electric sector. This decarbonization could be accomplished by expanding the reach of RGGI—lowering RGGI emission caps by 5 percent per year from 2020 to 2030.

Meanwhile, as the ongoing 2016 RGGI Stakeholder Process continued, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued a decision concerning the enforcement of the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act. In May 2016, the courts found that Massachusetts law unambiguously directs the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to set sector-specific, declining emissions caps which lead to an aggregate 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The Massachusetts DEP is charged with both setting annual reduction target numbers, and developing policies and strategies to achieve these specific reductions.

One interesting component of the SJC decision is its treatment of RGGI: although the Massachusetts DEP had argued that RGGI was a strategy the Commonwealth is currently employing as a means to meet its legislated emissions reductions, the SJC found that because RGGI does not guarantee emission reductions within the borders of Massachusetts, it cannot be counted as a strategy which would directly lead to decreased emissions. However, RGGI (both as it exists today, and in a future with a 5 percent declining cap) is a complimentary policy that can be used to help make compliance with the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act easier. In addition to being a cap-and-trade program, RGGI’s auction mechanism provides valuable funding that can be used to support energy efficiency and renewable energy programs—two policies that likely could be used by the Massachusetts DEP to meet GWSA requirements. Furthermore, RGGI can support decarbonization through its effects on near-term energy prices, and its longer term impacts on capacity prices. While an expanded RGGI cannot serve as a direct compliance option for the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act in and of itself, there is great potential for it to help Massachusetts meets its carbon dioxide reduction mandate.

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Eager for more information on the future of the Clean Power Plan, integrated resource planning, and renewable energy generation? We invite you to join us throughout June as we continue our Spring Webinar Series. Each week, Dr. Elizabeth Stanton will moderate a conversation with Synapse experts about a pressing topic in the electricity sector. Visit our webinars page to register.