New England is a leader in fighting climate change

Region sets an example for the nation

NEW ENGLAND STATES once again find themselves in the vanguard of our national efforts to stop climate change. The region has long been a leader in driving forward progress in the clean energy economy:

  • Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont all have regulations stimulating growth in renewable generation. These policies have helped the New England electric power pool achieve some of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in the country.
  • New England states stand out in their adoption of energy efficiency measures. Massachusetts has been ranked the No. 1 state in efficiency for the past five years, with Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont also consistently among the highest-ranking states.
  • All six New England states are founding members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) together with Delaware, Maryland, and New York. RGGI sets a limit on carbon dioxide emissions from the electric sector and raises money for renewables and efficiency by charging polluting generators for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

These accomplishments are the result of policy measures and legislative mandates put into place in the late 1990s and 2000s, effecting long-lasting change in the character and composition of the region’s electric generation, supply, and use.

Today, New England states are once again stepping up to the plate to show the nation how to achieve still greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Here are just a few of the critical opportunities for progress that are playing out in the region this summer:

  • The Kain Decision: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has determined that the Global Warming Solutions Act sets emission reduction targets that are binding and not merely aspirational. Environmental advocates are meeting with the Baker administration to decide how best to meet the letter of the law with respect to a 25 percent reduction from 1990 emissions by 2020 while building a strong foundation for the deeper reductions required in decades to come.
  • Contesting the ANE Pipeline: Electric utilities have made requests of several New England states’ public utility commissions regarding permission to invest in the construction of new natural gas pipelines and recoup these costs through increases to customers’ electric bills. Known regionally by opponents as the “gas tax,” environmental and consumer advocates are fighting against this funding mechanism for pipelines in public dockets, and the Senate version of Massachusetts’ 2016 energy bill specifically prohibits charging electric customers for pipeline investments.
  • The RGGI Program Review: Representatives from public agencies in the nine RGGI states, along with other stakeholders, are meeting to reevaluate the initiatives’ emission reduction targets. In part, the goal of this review is to ensure that states’ emissions fall at least quickly enough to comply with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon dioxide reduction requirements under the Clean Air Act. Program review meetings and modeling efforts also include investigation of setting emission reduction targets that go well beyond the Clean Air Act mandate, aiming at aligning with the New England states’ individual climate goals.
  • Aligning NEPOOL Markets with State Policies: Members of the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL)—a stakeholder group made up of electric system representatives including generators, utilities, advocates, and end users—are meeting with state officials and the electric grid operator in August to discuss adjustments to the region’s electric power and capacity markets. The goal is to better align these markets with states’ policy objectives. Solutions identified in New England will set an important precedent for building the types of power markets needed to support state climate laws around the country.
Meet the Author

Liz Stanton

Principal economist, Liz Stanton Consulting, Arlington
Throughout the United States, policymakers and advocates are searching for tractable, affordable solutions to greenhouse gas pollution. New England states provide numerous examples of policies that work, reducing emissions and lowering costs to consumers. Perhaps even more importantly, New England states are poised to take the next steps towards the rapid, far-reaching emission reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

Other states should take note. And New England states should take heart. These precedent-setting changes to state policies and market structures will not be easy, but New Englanders have both the experience and the public will to lead the nation to a climate solution.

Liz Stanton is principal economist at Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge.