Numerous news stories have documented how the pandemic and resulting economic crisis have reduced air pollution around the world , bringing emissions down globally by 17%. As Americans have been forced to shelter in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, the air around us has become noticeably cleaner and climate pollution has fallen. While no one would seek to lower emissions in this way, a recent article in the Boston Globe explored the extent of the pandemic-induced pollution reduction while highlighting opportunities to rebuild a cleaner, more equitable economy.
“[E]missions from cars, trucks, and airplanes have declined in metropolitan Boston by about 30 percent, while overall carbon emissions have fallen by an estimated 15 percent,” writes David Abel, the author of the article. That level of pollution reduction is unprecedented but offers a challenge to better envision and implement an economic recovery pathway that delivers a just transition to a sustainable future.
That’s why Acadia Center is pushing harder than ever for policies that will make that transition possible. One of the efforts discussed in the article is the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI). Through TCI, 11 states from Maine to Virginia are working to develop a regional program to reduce vehicle pollution and spur investment in a cleaner, modern, more equitable transportation future. In the Boston Globe, Acadia Center’s Jordan Stutt described it as “a public health program and an economic stimulus program wrapped in one.” The program would generate billions of dollars each year for investment in transportation infrastructure, helping the local workforce rebound while delivering better transportation options and cleaner air to communities across the region.
Acadia Center has long championed the point – supported by data and research — that well-designed efforts to reduce climate pollution provide many benefits for all citizens: improved public health, greater economic opportunity, safer, more efficient buildings, lower energy bills, and more accessible, less-polluting ways to get around. Those benefits are more important now than ever before, particularly in the communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Those communities must be front of mind and at the head of the table as we look to build a resilient, sustainable economy. Acadia Center is committed to doing the research, providing the data and making the case for the large-scale reforms and investment in a cleaner future that will improve the quality of life, health and economies of this region.
In an unprecedented time of change and uncertainty, the suspension of many functions of government and imposition of social distancing has resulted in a surprising amount of creative and effective interactions among stakeholders, government agencies, and coalitions. Moving to online, virtual meetings has presented opportunities to interact with new audiences and deepen relationships with stakeholders.
Acadia Center’s experience with online collaboration across its offices has prepared the organization well for this transition to virtual public hearings and stakeholder processes. The crisis has reinforced our commitment to advance effective, equitable reform solutions across the region and has prompted our staff to generate new ideas for innovative virtual engagement opportunities where physical barriers may have previously been limiting.
In Connecticut, just as the historic health and safety directives were put in place in March to cancel all in person events, Acadia Center and allies shifted a long-planned forum on the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) to an online webinar format. The result was excellent: the forum was attended by over 80 diverse participants, including business, community leaders, legislators, and administration officials. The event focused on how the TCI program structure could work, how to extend its benefits to all people in the state, and emphasized economic and employment benefits, exceeding its goal to move the discussion forward on implementing a sound transportation and climate policy for the state.
Official government work also shifted to online formats. In Rhode Island, Acadia Center RI Director Hank Webster participated in an “Energy 101” panel for members of the recessed General Assembly and spoke to Leadership Rhode Island’s first ever virtual “Government Day” about the legislative process and climate/energy issues. Hank also commented during the first-ever video conference meeting of the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Committee. An important state stakeholder process designed make recommendations to Governor Raimondo on ways to transform building heating in the state to cleaner resources also moved online, allowing stakeholders including Acadia Center the opportunity to provide verbal and written comments ahead of a final report. And in Maine, the Governor’s Climate Council process – an ambitious effort to engage numerous stakeholders to recommend an effective climate plan for the state –shifted rapidly online as the state phased in social distancing requirements, allowing the tight schedule for the process to remain in place. Acadia Center responded by working remotely with coalition partners on policy development, outreach, and communications strategies related to buildings, energy, forestry, and transportation.
In Massachusetts, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Katie Theoharides hosted an online briefing and coalition communications have continued without significant interruption. Acadia Center steered advocacy within coalitions such as the Alliance for Clean Energy Solutions (ACES), the Global Warming Solutions Project (GWSP), and the Massachusetts Offshore Wind Power Coalition. Acadia Center continued to lead input in shaping the Baker Administration’s approaches to offshore wind and state carbon targets. Acadia Center and a broad coalition have been focused on ways to strengthen the Global Warming Solutions Act, leading to passage of a strong Senate bill and a commitment from the Baker Administration in January of 2020 to a net-zero carbon target in 2050. Acadia Center will closely track and comment on the forecasts and roadmap development that continues to progress as stakeholder engagement uses remote formats.
The New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), the governance body engaged in overseeing the region’s electricity grid, maintained its regular schedule using virtual tools. As a member of NEPOOL, Acadia Center is engaged in the upcoming Transition to the Future Grid analysis being undertaken to address the barriers faced by clean energy resources in the current electricity grid design. Acadia Center’s Deborah Donovan coordinated with other clean energy advocates to ensure NEPOOL’s rejection of a flawed proposal to modify energy markets in ways that would harm consumers and further bias clean energy.
Acadia Center also raised its voice to address directly ways the crisis was affecting key programs. For example, all residential energy efficiency and weatherization work was ordered to be stopped early in March in Connecticut, causing a wide range of impacts including on the vendor community performing the efficiency installations. No resources were being offered to assist the contractors or workers but as chair of the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Board (CEEB), Acadia Center Connecticut Director Amy McLean was able to raise questions about ways to relieve the burden of the contractors and keep them from going under during the pandemic. As a result of action at the CEEB, the state issued a formal ruling on April 24, 2020 outlining compensation eligibility for energy efficiency vendors.
TCI is a cap-and-invest program similar to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that Vermont participates in to reduce carbon pollution from electricity generation. In 2005, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas signed on together with six other Northeast states. Vermont is still a part of it today, and it has been successful in multiple ways. Analysis from Acadia Center shows that since 2008:
GDP of the RGGI states has grown by 47%, outpacing growth in the rest of the country by 31%;
Electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 5.7%, while prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6%;
RGGI states have generated $3.4 billion in allowance auction proceeds, the majority of which have been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, including incentives for advanced wood heat and solar panels;
CO2 emissions from RGGI power plants have fallen by 47%, outpacing the rest of the country by 90%.
“We were expecting action on TCI soon, but at this point, given that governors’ attention is elsewhere, I think we’re unlikely to have an announcement this spring,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director for the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group in Boston.
Stutt remained optimistic that states will ultimately look to TCI with a “renewed sense of urgency,” as the program could serve as a source of much-needed revenue and jobs to a region with surging unemployment claims and depleted financial reserves.
“It’s a public health program and an economic stimulus program wrapped in one,” he said. “The billions of dollars generated could be invested in infrastructure programs and high quality jobs.”
Speaking on behalf of OTF, Jordan Stutt, carbon program director, Acadia Center said: “For elected officials who have been waiting on the close of the comment period to gauge public sentiment, the outcome could not be clearer: Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Americans want to fix our dirty and broken transportation system. No amount of oil industry-funded propaganda will change the fact that there is overwhelming public support for the important goals of the Transportation & Climate Initiative. It’s a big hit.”
Read the full press release from Our Transportation Future here.
“Usually, the bigger the problem, the more attention you need to pay to get to solutions,” said Jeff Marks, Maine director at the Acadia Center, a regional group working on climate change issues. “And transportation is it.”
Acadia Center supports the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaboration of states from Maine to Virginia working to reduce carbon emissions on the road. But part of that effort envisions raising money through a surcharge on gasoline and diesel fuel, with some of it going to EV rebates and new charging stations. That’s a non-starter for opponents such as the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which said the tax would hurt low-income residents.
Read the full article from Portland Press Herald here.
Jordan Stutt, the carbon programs director of the Acadia Center, an environmental research and advocacy nonprofit, said states understand the need to address transport emissions. The initiative could also help improve air quality, boost economies and improve transport, especially in rural areas, he said.
According to information on the TCI website, modeling has showing public health benefits of as much as $10 billion annually by 2032, including over 1,000 fewer premature deaths. It would also generate up to $7 billion annually that could be invested into expanding transport choices for rural, urban and suburban communities.
“Without any viable alternative to this program, the states will not be able to achieve their climate goals,” Stutt said.
Read the full article from Adirondack Daily Enterprise here.
January is a great time to start fresh. Whether it’s signing up for a new gym membership or cutting back on social media, the New Year is an opportunity to envision a better future and eliminate bad habits. And the Northeast has one that can’t be ignored for another year: an ongoing, dangerous reliance on fossil fuels. In 2020, Acadia Center’s resolution is to help the region break up with dirty energy.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) served up a harsh reality check: the world has until just 2030 to act to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. In the Northeast, we risk severe storms, declining public health, the destruction of our scenic coastline, and upheaval in important regional industries like farming, fishing, and tourism. Fossil fuels are like smoking: hard to quit, but unmistakably bad for you. The IPCC report makes it abundantly clear that it’s time to quit.
Acadia Center is committed to Making the Next Decade Count—using the next ten years to advance ambitious climate policy that will transition the region to a stronger, cleaner, more just energy economy. The good news is that states around the region have set unambiguous climate pollution reduction goals, and there are policies and programs available to meet them. These solutions can also improve public health and strengthen the economy for the future by keeping our dollars in the region instead of flowing to other states and countries. Even better, if designed conscientiously, these policies and programs can also address the financial and health disparities between our communities that the fossil fuel economy has exacerbated.
Acadia Center recommends that each Northeast state embrace these three bold but achievable actions in 2020 to make real progress on its climate pollution reduction goals:
1. Require that state agencies assess the long-term climate impact of their decisions. Empowering state agencies to act in ways that support state climate goals will unify the agencies that regulate utilities, transportation, buildings, and more in addressing the defining challenge of our time. For example, public utilities commissions might begin to reject fossil fuel energy projects in favor of clean energy options like solar and wind. New York has taken steps to do this in its 2019 Climate Change and Protection Act, and other states should follow their lead, with specific and immediate deadlines for action.
2. Phase out fossil fuels, including gas. Natural gas is a fossil fuel. It consists primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas at least twelve times more potent than carbon dioxide. It leaks out of poorly maintained pipeline networks, creating safety hazards and more emissions. It releases carbon dioxide and other harmful gases when burned. And as this region knows all too well, it can explode—with dire consequences. Fortunately, the Northeast has economically beneficial alternatives that can replace fossil fuels now, including efficient electric heating systems and real potential for a significant amount of offshore wind energy. The region must immediately halt the expansion of gas infrastructure—including power plants and pipelines—that consumers will be paying for decades from now and start embracing better alternatives.
3. Implement the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). The transportation sector is our region’s largest single source of emissions. This regional policy will reduce transportation emissions while raising revenue for states to invest in cleaner, more equitable transportation solutions, such as public transit, walking and bicycling, and vehicle electrification. TCI is the most effective way to address the climate impacts, health repercussions, and horrendous traffic congestion of our transportation system. It should be designed to provide real alternatives for those most adversely impacted by our past transportation decisions: communities of color, lower-income communities, and rural communities.
Now is the time for states to move forward on these bold solutions. Like any transformational goal, the path to success will require discipline and persistence. But as the IPCC report makes clear, the Northeast must lead the way toward a cleaner, healthier, more just, and more vibrant economy. Acadia Center will be working to make this future a reality. Will you join us?
A recent Acadia Center report shows that by capping transportation carbon dioxide emissions, auctioning allowances, and investing proceeds — much like Connecticut already does for power plants emissions — the state could generate $2.7 billion in auction proceeds through 2030. Reinvesting these funds across the state’s transportation system would generate 23,000 long-term jobs; $2.2 billion in new wages; $7 billion in new business sales; and $4.3 billion in other benefits, including reduced air pollution.
Read the full article from the Hartford Courant here.
“When we’re going backward at the federal level, for states to step up and take action on climate, take steps to modernize our transportation system, it’s just an unprecedented opportunity,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center, a research and public interest group in New England that is pushing for cleaner energy. “If designed well, this can be the most significant sub-national climate policy ever.”
Read the full article from The New York Times here.