Research Report

IMPORTING POLLUTION: COAL’S THREAT TO CLIMATE POLICY IN THE U.S. NORTHEAST

JOHN ROGERS
CHRIS JAMES
ROBIN MASLOWSKI
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2008
Pages: 44
https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep00007
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Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. FIGURES AND TEXT BOXES
    (pp. iv-iv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. v-vi)
  5. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
    (pp. 1-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-4)

    The Northeast has long been an environmental leader. With strong energy efIciency standards and renewable energy policies, and a business climate attractive to clean technology companies, most states in the region have managed to keep growth in global warming emissions much lower than growth in the economy and population¹—and far lower than in the country as a whole.²

    The region took an early lead in climate policy when 10 states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont—agreed to cap carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants under the Regional Greenhouse...

  7. CHAPTER TWO THE CONTEXT FOR COAL
    (pp. 5-10)

    Understanding the outlook for coal in the Northeast depends on knowing why coal matters, particularly given climate change, and the variety of influences that will help determine whether its use will rise or fall.

    Coal fuels half of our nation’s electricity supply. Unfortunately, its environmental impacts are substantial and alarming—and much worse than those of natural gas, the second most commonly used fossil fuel for electricity.⁵ Coal burning is the second-largest source of nitrogen oxides (NOx), for example, which create smog, and the largest source of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which causes acid rain.⁶ Coal burning is also the largest...

  8. CHAPTER THREE THE THREAT OF MORE COAL-BASED POWER
    (pp. 11-14)

    The Northeast could rely on a variety of technologies and fuels—and efforts to enhance energy efficiency—to meet rising demand for power. However, coal from outside the RGGI region is well positioned to expand its role because of excess capacity in existing coal-fueled power plants, and because of new plants already in the pipeline. The resulting rise in CO2 emissions would greatly undercut the region’s efforts to combat global warming.

    Excess capacity in existing coal plants in and near the Northeast is a significant and ready source of power (and global warming pollution—see Figure 4). Coal plants serving...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR THE IMPACT OF TRANSMISSION BOTTLENECKS
    (pp. 15-18)

    Transmission bottlenecks now prevent a significant amount of electricity from flowing west to east, to serve the Northeast. Those constraints reduce the availability of energy in certain areas at peak times, and raise its cost. However, if advocates of new transmission projects get their way, expanded capacity of the electricity grid will allow greater use of existing coal plants, and spur construction of new ones now on the drawing board.

    Information on the amount of electricity each state imports and exports strongly suggests that much power now flows eastward—especially to the RGGI states of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE AT A CROSSROADS: COAL AND CLIMATE POLICY
    (pp. 19-20)

    Climate policies have important implications for the use of coal. If wielded wisely, they will reduce global warming pollution, as electricity providers and customers respond to emission caps and rising costs by moving to low- or no-carbon options such as energy efIciency and renewable energy—and away from dirty coal. Used poorly or implemented incompletely, however, they may lead to rising emissions in one region or sector, offsetting reductions elsewhere.

    In the absence of federal leadership, states across the country have developed comprehensive short-, medium-, and long-term action plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California and the RGGI states were...

  11. CHAPTER SIX BLOCKING POLLUTION IMPORTS
    (pp. 21-24)

    While RGGI could contribute to the expansion of coal-fired electricity elsewhere, there are several options for reducing this risk.

    One option is to curb rising demand for electricity. Many northeastern states have done so by supporting both energy efficiency and renewable energy. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, for example, require utilities to develop plans to capture all cost-effective opportunities to boost energy efficiency. Vermont has a dedicated non-profit organization funded by ratepayers statewide focusing specifically on energy efficiency. New York is working to cut electricity consumption in the state 15 percent below predicted levels by 2015. Maryland’s developing plan...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN CONCLUSION
    (pp. 25-26)

    Even as the Northeast blazes a trail for other regions and the federal government in fighting global warming, its pioneering efforts could unwittingly contribute to the growth of coal elsewhere. By adding to the price difference between electricity produced within the region and outside it, RGGI could drive some demand to uncapped sources, particularly nearby coal plants. While the cost of RGGI allowances will be just one factor in the purchasing decisions of local utilities, even a small amount of leakage—a small shift to out-of-region coal plants as a result of the emissions cap—would offset expected cuts in...

  13. APPENDIX A CARBON PRICING AND COAL PLANT DISPATCH
    (pp. 27-28)
  14. APPENDIX B COAL PLANTS WITH THE GREATEST POTENTIAL FOR ADDITIONAL POLLUTION
    (pp. 29-30)
  15. ENDNOTES
    (pp. 31-33)
  16. PHOTO CREDITS
    (pp. 34-35)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 36-36)