Ten northeastern states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) held a second auction on December 17, less than three months after their first (see our post).  A total of 31.5 million allowances (permits for emitting tons of CO2) were sold at the current market price of $3.38 (higher than expected, but low compared with prices in Europe), yielding $106.5 million in cash, now being divvied up for the states to spend as they wish under agreed-upon conditions.  A report tallies state-by-state expenditure plans: with the exception of NY and DE still undecided, states have opted to fund mitigation (emissions reductions through carbon-cutting energy programs) but not adaptation measures to help their residents be better prepared for harmful climate change impacts.  We ask, why?

Post by Anne Polansky

The northeastern region of the US is vulnerable to a variety of climate change impacts; a July 2007 report, Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA) organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists is a comprehensive assessment of the many ways this heavily populated region will feel the effects of climatic disruption.  One would anticipate these states would be taking concrete steps to prepare for these impacts, and to use a portion of the proceeds from these auctions to help pay for them—but this is not the case.

Seven RGGI states—- Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont—will be spending their auction proceeds primarily on programs to stimulate greater energy efficiency, reliance on renewable energy, and assistance for low-income residents in weatherizing their homes or subsidizing their energy bills.

Two RGGI states—New York, with the largest take of $42M, and Delaware—are still determining how best to direct the proceeds.

New Jersey gets the closest to funding adaptation by allocating about 9% to “support programs that enhance the stewardship and restoration of the State’s forests and tidal marshes that provide important opportunities to sequester or reduce greenhouse gases” (per terms in the state’s Global Warming Response Act, P.L. 2007).  Yet, this is primarily a mitigation measure.

The disparity between apparent acknowledgment of projected impacts on the one hand, and very limited attention being paid to adaptation measures on the other, is underscored even more with the recent release of a draft plan to implement the Global Warming Response Act (GWRA), prepared by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that until just recently was headed by President-elect Obama’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson.  A few excerpts make the point:

Not only does climate change threaten New Jersey’s shoreline and ecology, the socioeconomic impacts of global warming stand to be profound and costly.

Natural ecosystems in New Jersey will also be impacted by warmer temperatures and associated changes in the water cycle. These changes could lead to:

• loss of critical habitat and further stresses on some already threatened and endangered species. Climate-related habitat loss could lead to the extinction of some species.
• impacts on water supply and agriculture, including the possibility that New Jersey’s climate will become much less favorable to blueberry and cranberry growing.
• more intense rain events, since warm air holds more water vapor. However, warmer temperatures also lead to greater evaporation and transpiration of moisture, causing drier
conditions in soils. In much of the Northeast, extended periods of dryness are predicted to become much more frequent.

Sea level rise due to climate change is a major concern for New Jersey. The State is especially vulnerable to significant impacts due to geologic subsidence, the topography of its coastline, current coastal erosion, and a high density of coastal development..

A key impact, sea-level rise, puts the State’s coastal dependent, $35 billion tourism industry statewide ….in jeopardy, with potentially dire repercussions on its economy.

In addition to threatening New Jersey’s tourism industry, climate change also creates economic risks to New Jersey’s ports and agricultural tradition.

Every year’s delay in reducing CO2 emissions will increase the final bill to New Jersey, including expenditures on adaptation.

Cutting GHG emissions globally, nationally, and locally is imperative, but the science is telling us that some degree of climate change impacts is inevitable.  The sooner states begin planning and preparing for them, and building in resiliency, the better off they will be.