The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans Monday to require big reductions in carbon output from coal-fired power plants. It may sound drastic, but advances in technology mean that some states are well on their way to meeting the administration’s goals. No state has made more progress than New York.
The proposed EPA rules would require states to cut emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. As of 2011, the last year for which data from the Energy Information Administration are available, New York’s carbon emissions were 23.5 percent below its 2005 levels. (The EPA rules would require New York to reduce carbon levels by a total of 44 percent by 2030.)
New York is one of nine states that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 2006 cap-and-trade agreement aimed at cutting carbon emissions. Those states hold auctions to sell emissions allowances and invest the proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other programs to cut emissions. Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maryland, all RGGI members, are among the nation’s 10 most-improved states.
“The states that are addressing carbon emissions directly are the cap-and-trade states,” says Kyle Aarons, a senior fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
New York also benefited from deregulation of its electric power system in the 1990s. When new owners bought old coal power plants, federal rules required them to make costly changes or switch to cleaner-burning natural gas; most opted to move to gas, contributing to a decline in emissions over the subsequent decade.
The Empire State emits less carbon dioxide per capita than any other state, 8.1 metric tons per person, according to data from the EPA. Only the District emits less per capita, though D.C. has been slower to cut its carbon emissions.
On the other end, emission levels in energy-producing states and Midwestern states are increasing. Nebraska’s carbon emissions rose 21 percent from 2005 to 2011. And Wyoming creates 112.8 metric tons of emissions per capita, far higher than any other state.
The EPA’s proposed rules would require each state to cut its emissions even further. Already on its way to that goal, the Empire State can breathe a little easier.