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New national carbon emission standards builds on Pataki era cap-and-trade program

Kate O'Connell
Dunkirk power plant in Western New York

President Barack Obama’s plan for national standards to curb power plant emissions is based, in part, on a type of cap-and-trade program already existence in New York.  

Conor Bambrick, with the group Environmental Advocates, says he thinks the president's plan , billed by the White House as the “first-ever national standards” to curb carbon pollution from power plants has some of its roots in New York.

Known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or Reggie -- New York and eight other states participate in a cap-and-trade program to buy and sell pollution credits, with the aim of lowering power plant emissions. It began under then Gov. George Pataki in the mid 2000s, and Bambrick says it is considered to be a success.  He says opponents of the new Environmental Protection Agency rules, should take note of that.

“New York has already proven this can be done,” said Bambrick, who said jobs have been created and energy bills are going down.

“And the lights have stayed on,” he said.

New York still has a handful of coal burning plans, worth 4 percent of the state’s total power, and some aging natural gas plants that occasionally use oil as a fuel.  The plants continue to operate, but must pay a fee for each ton of pollution that comes out of their smokestacks.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a statement, called the president’s plan a “visionary step," and agrees that New York has already “embraced the challenge of climate change."

Cuomo’s energy department recently released new goals for the next few decades, including reducing greenhouse gas emission to 40 percent below 1990 levels in the next 15 years, and increasing renewable energy to half of the all of the state’s power sources by 2030. In addition, energy consumption in all buildings would be decreased by nearly 25 percent.  

Bambrick, with Environmental Advocates, says in order to reach those goals, the state will also have to act to encourage more public transportation and less car and truck traffic.

“That means incorporating mass transit into major infrastructure projects,” Bambrick said.

Even with New York’s participation in the regional cap-and-trade program, and if the EPA regulations remain intact after expected court challenges, the climate’s future is still somewhat grim.

More heat waves, sea level rises and flooding are predicted in the coming years.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.