Massachusetts Joins Northeast U.S. Greenhouse Pact
BOSTON -- Massachusetts Thursday joined seven other northeastern U.S. states in the nation's largest pact to control greenhouse gases, bypassing a White House refusal to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
The pact adopts a market-based approach that would cap and allow the trading of carbon dioxide emissions in the eight states beginning in 2009 to fight global warming.
The move by Massachusetts was the latest example of state-level efforts against climate change in the face of what critics say is the White House's unwillingness to act.
President Bush is expected to outline some adjustments to national climate-change policy in his State of the Union speech next week, but retain his opposition to mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the regional pact, power plants that emit more heat-trapping carbon dioxide under the set limits could then buy credits from cleaner plants. Each would pay for emissions allowances in a market with proceeds going to the state.
"We can make Massachusetts a global center in green technology," Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick said after signing the agreement. Money collected from the plants would be invested in energy-saving technology and conservation, he added.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose landmark law to slash greenhouse gases from all sources put his state at the forefront of the national battle against climate change, may join the Northeast initiative, a Massachusetts official said.
Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont also have signed on. Rhode Island withdrew in 2005 but its attorney general, Patrick Lynch, urged the state's Republican governor in December to rejoin. Maryland and Washington, D.C., are expected to join within the year.
The initiative would cap carbon dioxide emissions from electricity plants at current levels until 2015 and then reduce emissions by 10 percent by 2019, forcing power plants to cut back on the burning of fossil fuels.
Former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who is exploring a White House run, in 2005 withdrew Massachusetts from talks on joining the pact, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, citing concern it would raise energy costs.
"Massachusetts has stepped back into a process that is critical in parallel with what Governor Schwarzenegger is doing in California to bring the U.S. into a national emissions cap," said Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.
Many scientists say greenhouse gases are responsible for a warming Earth and, if not reduced, could lead to storms, floods, heat waves, droughts and a rise in sea levels.
Frumhoff said that if the Northeast's nine states were treated as one country it would rank 7th in the world in greenhouse gas emissions -- behind Germany and ahead of Canada and Britain.
Energy regulators in four western U.S. states said last month they also cannot wait for Bush to act on climate change and will tighten efficiency and cut power plant emissions.
Massachusetts energy officials estimate that costs related to the new pact would drive up electricity bills for an average household in the state by $3 to $16 a year, from $950. But Patrick said green investments funded by the pact would reduce annual household electricity bills by $21 to $68 by 2015 and shave $160 million from the state's $8 billion electric bill.