We need a RGGI for transportation

Cap emissions, sell credits, and invest to reduce congestion

AS WE CELEBRATE EARTH DAY and the worldwide movement to protect our environment, it’s heartening that sustainability and an appreciation for clean air, water, and land have become mainstream values. We have come a long way from the first Earth Day in 1970, when, too often, environmental consequences were an afterthought. And while many hurdles remain, we should be poised to take bold, positive action as our generation’s legacy.

So far, Massachusetts has been among the states leading the way in protecting the environment. For example, while President Trump has shirked responsibility and declared his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, Gov. Charlie Baker stepped up to join a group of governors and reiterated the Legislature’s commitment to honor the Paris Accords, and to meet the Global Warming Solutions Act targets of a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, and 8 percent reduction by 2050.

The Commonwealth is a leader in clean energy policy, having made strong commitments to solar and the prospects for wind power. We now get more than 9 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, a number that grows each year. The last coal-fired plant in the state is history, and oil has decreased to 13 percent of electricity production. We just need to turn our policy into practice.

Progress does not happen by accident or chance. Part of our success can be attributed to science-driven policy choices that a succession of Massachusetts leaders have made over the years, including the Global Warming Solutions Act, a legislative initiative.

Massachusetts’ decision about a decade ago to join the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has been a huge success. An Analysis Group report, led by Sue Tierney and a team of independent economists, confirms this. Since 2009, CO2 emissions have been cut 51 percent, prices have come down over 6 percent for consumers, we’ve generated more than $400 million, and the economy has grown by 30 percent.

RGGI is a cap-and-invest system. It requires power plants in Massachusetts and other participant states to buy credits to offset the pollution they create. The proceeds from the sale of those credits are used to support energy efficiency and innovative energy technologies, from popular programs like Mass Save to clean tech startups funded through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

In energy production, RGGI is working. But while we have made a lot of progress on electricity, there is one sector of our economy where we are stuck in place: transportation. Our vehicles now pollute more than our powerplants. If Massachusetts once again leads the way, we can help create a RGGI for transportation that would help us solve two enormous challenges at once.

The first challenge is the emissions that contribute to climate change and create costly and unhealthy local air pollution. Consider the health of children living near highways: they have a higher probability of asthma and other respiratory diseases than the population as a whole because of airborne pollutants.

The second challenge is the poor condition of our transportation network. We rank 45th out of 50 states in infrastructure, and the average driver in Greater Boston wastes $2,000 per year in congestion. Bipartisan reports indicate we are not investing enough just to maintain what’s broken – not to mention to improve our transportation system to meet a growing economy.

Massachusetts is home to the most talented workforce in the entire country, yet we make that workforce sit in traffic, wait for a delayed train, or stay at home entirely because of cuts to regional bus services in places like Springfield and Worcester.

A RGGI for transportation would look a lot like the existing, successful RGGI program, with emissions caps set at a regional level. Revenue from the program could support transformative investments that make our communities stronger and healthier, with smart, clean transportation networks as the backbone.

From active transportation – people-powered modes like walking and biking – to electrified public transit, to a future of shared, electric autonomous vehicle fleets to solve community transportation challenges, there is a lot we can do to better serve our diverse state while helping to solve an urgent climate problem

Given the success of RGGI, we know RGGI for transportation can help Massachusetts build a legacy of protecting our planet while also fixing our infrastructure.

Meet the Author

Jody Rose

President, New England Venture Capital Association
Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Chris Dempsey

Former head / former candidate, Transportation for Massachusetts / State auditor
Now that is an Earth Day Resolution worth making.

Jody Rose is president of the New England Venture Capital Association, Tim Brennan is the executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and Chris Dempsey is director of Transportation for Massachusetts.