Coalition Calls for Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program Across Northeast, Mid-Atlantic

Tom Johnson | March 13, 2020 | Energy & Environment
IKEA, Hackensack Meridian Health among signatories to proposal for ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize and decarbonize our region’s transportation system’
Credit: eutrophication&hypoxia (CC BY 2.0)
The transportation sector is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for roughly 40% of carbon pollution in New Jersey.

It is time across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for the region’s governors to adopt a cap-and-trade program to reduce global warming pollution from vehicles, according to a coalition of investors, trade groups and nonprofit organizations.

In a letter to 12 governors, the more than 100 signatories called a proposal by the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to modernize and decarbonize our region’s transportation system.’’

TCI’s draft proposal is modeled somewhat after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program that has helped to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. In this case, however, motorists at the pump, not utility customers, would pay the cost.

If adopted, the plan could boost prices at the pump by as much as 5 cents to 17 cents a gallon, according to TCI estimates, but could slash tailpipe emissions by 25% over 10 years. The transportation sector is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for roughly 40% of carbon pollution in New Jersey.

“Legislation like the Transportation and Climate Initiative is a critical piece in achieving the scale and rate of change needed to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change,” said James Goudreau, head of climate at Novartis, one of the signatories on the letter.

The 12 states and Washington, D.C. are all members of the TCI, which is seeking to finalize a Memorandum of Understanding this spring to move forward with the cap-and-trade program.

Companies supporting the plan

Among the New Jersey-based corporations to sign the letter were DSM North America; Hackensack Meridian Health; IKEA North America Services, LLC; and Unilever.

Under the program, TCI would establish a regional cap on carbon emissions while auctioning emissions allowances. Proceeds from the allowance sales would be sent back to states and used to pay for electric vehicle incentives, public transit and rural broadband to support telecommuting.

In the letter, the signatories said “the existing transportation system has a chokehold on our economy and our climate goals. We feel an urgency to create a transportation future that enables economic growth and substantial decarbonization.’’

The push to move forward on the proposal comes as New Jersey recently adopted a comprehensive plan to build the infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicle charging stations as well as a program to provide rebates to customers to buy zero emission vehicles.

None of the states have committed to the plan, but will decide whether to commit to the program’s goals by this spring. If enacted, it could be operational by 2022, according to the draft proposal.