When my son was young, his asthma affected his ability to play, especially on hot and humid days. It always broke my heart to have to make him slow down and even to stop playing.
Here in Maine, on the tailpipe of the U.S., we know that air quality is important to our health. We have an opportunity through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a mandatory market-based program that works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector – to support a 5 percent emissions cap that will reduce exposures to air pollution and help slow the progression of climate change that also threatens our health.
The RGGI cap on carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) represents a regional budget for carbon emissions from the power sector in the nine participating states. Strengthening the emissions cap from 2.5 percent to a 5 percent reduction in emissions per year, starting in 2021, will build on RGGI’s previous success and ensure that Maine is doing its part to clean up air pollution and protect health well into the future.
Maine residents, no matter where in the state they live, are and will be affected greatly by increased asthma and respiratory illness, heart attack and stroke as a result of air pollution and climate change. Reducing carbon emissions through RGGI reduces the rate of climate change, improves the health of millions of Americans by clearing the air of toxic co-pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate matter and even returns economy-boosting dollars to our state. It’s a win-win-win.
When we reduce carbon emissions in the electric sector, harmful air pollution declines. Our kiddos with asthma can avoid scary emergency room visits; they can play safely and participate in sports outside without fear of an asthma attack.
Workers stay healthy, on the job and productive, earning the wages they need to support their families. Elders are healthier and live longer, with more time to help their adult children and enjoy their grandchildren. Taxpayers save billions on the health costs of pollution-related disease.
RGGI states, including Maine, adopted aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals to combat climate change – a 35 to 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and a 75 to 90 percent reduction by 2050. These admirable goals are essential targets that we must meet to avoid allowing Earth’s temperature to increase more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, which, scientists agree, is required to prevent severe environmental collapse.
Maine must help choose a plan for RGGI that will propel us toward these important goals. There is little time left to debate how to control climate change. We already have the information needed to be confident that a 5 percent carbon cap reduction in the RGGI program can be achieved and will produce health and economic benefits.
RGGI’s success has been valuable for Maine, producing benefits to consumers while reducing electricity demand and supporting clean renewable energy. However, the funds from auctioning allowances are only a small part of the economic bonus that the RGGI states receive for reducing emissions.
Air pollution is so deadly that the monetized health co-benefits of reducing carbon emissions are enormous, as are the indirect economic benefits of keeping students in school and workers on the job.
A recent paper in the journal Nature Climate Change quantifies the health and economic benefits that will accrue from the changes that the electric sector must make to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees. These required emissions reductions are roughly equal to an annual cap reduction in RGGI of 5 percent.
If all states reduced carbon emissions by this amount, we would see dramatic health benefits nationwide, with thousands fewer asthma attacks requiring emergency room visits in children under 18, and potentially millions of fewer missed work days. In this scenario, we could also prevent thousands of premature deaths each year.
Even the most conservative economic models show that the benefits of the emissions reductions required to meet the goals of the RGGI states are five to 10 times the costs of implementation.
RGGI is the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions from the electric sector and to make the future healthier for Maine citizens. We urge the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the leadership of RGGI to seriously consider an annual cap reduction of at least 5 percent.
Families and children in our state are relying on the DEP and RGGI leadership to choose a plan that will adequately control climate change and improve public health so that no matter where we live in Maine, we can breathe easier for many years to come.