Everything you need to know about RGGI

Everything you need to know about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

The only way to tackle climate change is to reduce carbon pollution. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a successful effort by multiple states to fight together against harmful climate change. By requiring utilities to pay for their carbon dioxide from burning polluting fossil fuels, RGGI creates a financial incentive for utilities to invest in clean energy, including energy efficiency, solar and wind, — and generates real money for states to tackle the impacts of climate change being felt at home. 

What is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative?

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cooperative effort to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions. RGGI has been benefiting the states that participate for over a decade. Current members are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

RGGI’s goals

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector
  • Spur investment in clean energy technologies
  • Create jobs and economic growth

How does RGGI work?

RGGI gets at the root cause of climate change, heat-trapping pollution. When a  state joins the regional effort and a power plant emits carbon dioxide, the plant’s owner has to pay for each ton of carbon dioxide pollution it produces. Allowances can be bought and sold in a regional auction, which helps to keep costs down. The number of available allowances is reduced over time to reduce pollution. 

Every state that participates in RGGI may decide, in accordance with its laws,  how to use the money it raises through RGGI auctions. Some states like Virginia invest the money that utilities pay when they burn carbon dioxide back into  energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, creating jobs and spurring economic growth. 

What Southern states are in RGGI?

Virginia is currently the only state in the South to be a member of RGGI. By participating in the cooperative program, Virginia is proving that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand, and demonstrating its role as a leader in the South. 

RGGI is open to other states and jurisdictions interested in joining, and as climate change continues to harm our region, it’s critical that states in the South consider programs like RGGI that cut carbon pollution. 

North Carolina took important first steps towards tackling climate change when its legislature enacted bipartisan legislation that requires steep cuts in heat-trapping carbon pollution from fossil-fueled power plants and a state environmental commission voted to develop a rule that will achieve those reductions and join RGGI. 

Virginia and RGGI

Virginia joined RGGI in 2020, and Virginians are already seeing the benefits. In just two years, Virginia’s power plant emissions have dropped by more than 22%, and the state has already received $872 million through its participation in RGGI. That’s money for communities on the frontlines of climate change to solve real problems that too often they can’t afford to tackle alone. 

Virginia devotes about half the proceeds of RGGI auctions to communities along the coasts and rivers that are in danger of flooding. The other half goes to new energy-efficient, affordable housing, reducing pollution and cutting families’ utility bills at the same time. In fact, in Virginia, more than 60 percent of RGGI funds go to Virginians earning a lower or fixed income who have historically borne the brunt of climate change in the state. 

Since taking office, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has targeted RGGI and sought to remove the state from the program. But Virginia’s participation in RGGI is required by law. Only lawmakers would have the authority to change the nature of Virginia’s relationship to RGGI—which lawmakers have repeatedly declined to do. But that hasn’t stopped the governor from misguided attempts to remove Virginia from RGGI. In December 2022, the state’s Air Pollution Control Board advanced a proposal to remove the state from RGGI.

On June 7, 2023, the Air Pollution Control Board decided in a 4 to 3 vote to remove the state from RGGI.

North Carolina 

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is developing a rule to reduce heat-trapping pollution from power plants at the direction of the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission, which granted a rulemaking petition submitted by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of CleanAIRE North Carolina and the North Carolina Coastal Federation. The rule under development outlines a proven, cost-effective approach in which North Carolina would set a declining limit on carbon pollution from dirty coal-fired power plants and join RGGI. 

A study by Duke University and the University of North Carolina found such a policy to be a highly cost-effective approach to help North Carolina meet its carbon-reduction goals. 

North Carolina businesses and entrepreneurs, environmental and clean energy organizations, policymakers and youth activists support this action to address climate change.  

What impact has the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative had?

RGGI has been successful in reducing emissions and boosting investments in clean energy. The 11 states participating in RGGI have seen their fossil fuel emissions drop 90 percent faster than anywhere else in the country. From 2009 to 2014, participating states reduced their power sector emissions by 40 percent. Utilities’ customer costs dropped with it, and their public health has improved by an estimated $5.7 billion. 

States already participating in the regional effort saw carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector drop 47 percent over the last decade as well as fewer premature deaths, hospital visits, and lost work or school days, associated with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, strokes, and heart attacks. 

RGGI will no doubt continue to play an important role in addressing climate change. By working together, the participating states can make significant progress in reducing emissions, protecting the environment, boosting jobs and improving people’s lives.