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Clean Air Saves Money


February 11, 2013 - It's time to put it in writing: I've had a lifelong love affair with the Scandinavians. Oh, don't be shocked - they don't even know about it. They're completely innocent. What else, though, can a person do? First there are the Danes, the happiest people in the world. They don't go around bragging about it, the way we would. They're too busy having a great time! Next come the Swedes, perfectly content with their amazing social welfare system and its cradle-to-grave healthcare and education benefits, all paid for by their government. Not that I intend to write about either of these nations, however spectacularly pragmatic they may be. No, my heart skips a beat these days because of those rock-solid, straight-ahead Norwegians. Ogle, ogle, sigh, sigh.

What did they do when the little South American country of Guyana came knocking on their door, asking them to foot the bill if Guyana agreed to halt deforestation? After thinking about it carefully, and realizing that what happens to one happens to all, Norway agreed to do it. You see, Guyana experienced the worst flooding in its history in 2006. With over half of his country lying below sea level, Guyana's president, Bharrat Jagdeo, had what you might call an epiphany. The connection between deforestation and climate change (the fact that one helps to cause the other) suddenly became crystal clear to him. Put simply, trees clean the air. Dirty air causes climate change. Sea level rise is caused by climate change, so Jagdeo decided to leave his country's forests - 80% of which were still intact - just the way they were, for a price. It made sense.

In 2008, Guyana went looking for a sponsor. By 2009, Norway and Guyana had the details ironed out. Norway would pay Guyana up to $250 million through the year 2015 if it would halt its greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation. So far, Norway has made good on $115 million of its pledge. With the money, Guyana is installing fiber optic cable, in order to further IT employment, and it's building hydroelectric projects, as well. Electricity produced by the movement of water is expected to save businesses and residents $3.5 billion over a period of 20 years. President Jagdeo may not have known much about planning for climate change seven years ago, but I'd say he's pretty well got it nailed by now. Good thinking, Guyana. Well done, Norway.

In my own country, the beleaguered population of New England is making a solid contribution toward reducing global warming gases. Chances are, there aren't many people who reside in the Northeast who need further convincing about the toll climate change is exacting, and will exact, from everyone - no matter where they live. Nine states in all, comprising much of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, have agreed to further limitations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), to which these nine states belong, will lower the cap on CO2 emissions from 165 million tons to 91 million tons in 2014. This will constitute a 45 percent reduction from 2005 levels. During the period from 2015 - 2020, the cap will be lowered an additional 2.5 percent a year. The word "cap" is used because these limits are part of a cap-and-trade program. Power plants that generate more than 25 megawatts must purchase an allowance for each ton beyond that amount. The allowances can be bought and sold amongst participating power plants.

Each member of RGGI must ratify the proposed limitations. Because emissions have declined since 2005, in part because of the switch from coal to natural gas, the new limits should be relatively easy to achieve. Member states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. The money to be saved in healthcare costs alone should be impressive. The money that will be saved by all of us due to mitigated warming and the lower repair costs resulting from weaker storms could run to millions and millions.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdrew New Jersey from the program in 2011, saying the agreement was a burden to taxpayers. (Remember that come 2016, voters!)

 

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