NJ in New Regional Effort to Cap Vehicle Emissions

TOM JOHNSON | OCTOBER 7, 2019 

NJ Spotlight

The proposal is for a cap on emissions from the transportation sector

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In what could amount to the most significant regional effort yet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 12 states have issued a draft policy framework to create a cap-and-trade program to reduce global warming pollution from vehicles.

The proposal, developed by the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI), is modeled somewhat after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program that for the past decade has helped clamp down on carbon pollution from power plants.

This draft framework, while sparse in details, proposes to put a cap on emissions from the transportation sector by requiring state fuel suppliers to buy allowances, which would be auctioned off for the right to emit carbon.

The draft does not describe what the level of caps would be, precisely who would be regulated, how much the allowances could cost, or how quickly the caps would go down. The transportation sector has replaced the power industry as the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions. In New Jersey, the sector accounts for roughly 40% of the state’s carbon pollution.

Motorists will likely pay at the pump

In the end, the cost will likely end up being paid for by motorists at the pump, a difficult choice for New Jersey and other states already pursuing new clean-energy solutions that are expected to be reflected in higher energy bills — at least for the short term.

Still, the announcement drew praise from clean-energy advocates.

“Taking on the largest source of pollution will require bold solutions, and the TCI framework offers a solid foundation for a bold regional cap-and-invest program,’’ said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at Acadia Center. “The TCI states need to build on that by establishing an ambitious cap on emissions — aligned with the latest science — and forward-looking investment approaches to deliver better, cleaner, more equitable transportation options across the region.’’

New Jersey is among 12 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region that have joined the TCI. The other states include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

Trump could do away with stringent standards

Many of those states, but not all of them, also have pledged to adopt California’s stringent tailpipe emissions and its zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) initiative, both of which could be eliminated under new policies being adopted by the Trump administration.

“It is more important than ever for states to take action and move forward with policies to reduce air pollution from mobile sources,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He said the Trump administration’s decision to roll back car emissions standards and the California ZEV program will make it more difficult for states to reduce pollution from the transportation sector.

Most climate activists say states have to step up efforts to electrify the transportation sector if meaningful reductions in carbon pollution are to occur. “We need to accelerate the transition to zero-emission cars, and that means getting charging infrastructure on the ground in our communities as fast as possible,’’ said Morgan Folger, director of the Clean Car Communities campaign for Environment America.

States can sign on to TCI in spring 2020

The TCI is looking to come up with a final memorandum of understanding by next spring, at which time states would have to decide whether to sign on to the plan and participate in the regional program.

Like RGGI, proceeds from the auction of carbon allowances would be allocated back to the states participating in the program, which will be targeted to other clean-energy and transportation initiatives to help address climate change.

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