Deb Markowitz

The U.S. is poised to take an important step to curb carbon pollution that contributes to climate disruption across the globe, after decades of denial and lawsuits. The EPA’s newly announced regulations will prevent our country’s largest carbon polluters -- coal burning power plants -- from polluting our air with impunity. These plants account for a third of the carbon pollution emitted by the U.S. The reductions contemplated will cut pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels. This, according to the EPA, is equivalent to removing two-thirds of all cars and trucks from our roads.

When taken in combination with regulations announced earlier this year to limit carbon emissions from new power plants and to cut emissions from cars and trucks by 2025, these executive actions will go a long way toward meeting our national goals for reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

It is surprising to many that we do not already regulate carbon pollution. After all, we have long regulated other pollutants like arsenic and mercury that cause acid rain and contribute to health problems. And cutting carbon pollution matters. Science shows that because of carbon pollution we are experiencing environmental changes and climate disruption across the globe that threatens our economy, our communities, our ecosystems, our health and the safety of our families. In 2012 climate disasters cost the United States economy over $100 billion.

Not surprisingly, naysayers argued that the new rules would raise energy prices and cost jobs. The Congressional Budget Office disagrees. While there will be short-term job losses in states whose economies rely on fossil fuel production and energy use, these will be offset by the new jobs created in the clean energy sector.

Our experience in Vermont can be instructive. We lead the nation in green jobs, fueled by our renewable energy industry and our investments in energy efficiency, and we have the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

EPA’s proposed rule gives states flexibility to design their own programs. Vermont is exempt from the new regulations because we do not have any large fossil fuel plants, but the EPA rules recognize that we are taking important steps to reduce carbon emissions, and notes that our energy efficiency utility, Efficiency Vermont, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that created a regional carbon market, are approaches that could be used by other states and regions to help meet their carbon reduction goals.

Because the rules encourage states to consider regional approaches, Vermont is poised to benefit. We expect other states will be interested in following the example set by the RGGI, which has helped Vermont and eight other states reduce carbon pollution from the power sector while increasing our use of clean energy. Carbon pollution from states participating in the RGGI program has declined by 29 percent since 2009. RGGI has generated more than $12 million to support energy efficiency programs in Vermont, including grants up to $2,500 for homeowners, and $5,100 for businesses to pursue efficiency investments.

Vermont and other Northeast states will benefit from reduced smog and acid rain as a result of EPA’s new standards. Vermonters will be able to breathe easier and our Green Mountains will be healthier thanks to less air pollution from upwind coal-fired power plants. We may see real progress in reversing the increased frequency of increased extreme weather events in Vermont.

We can have our cake and eat it too. We can have an affordable and reliable energy system, reduced air pollution, and lowered carbon emissions, all contributing to the struggle against global climate disruption. I am pleased that EPA is showing leadership and a willingness to tackle tough issues that have long plagued the nation. Now states are being given the opportunity to demonstrate that we are up to developing creative solutions necessary to meet EPA’s new standards. I am confident that state leaders and our citizens will bring the kind of problem-solving attitude and resolve that reflect America’s history of overcoming challenges through innovation and global leadership.

(RGGI is the nation’s first mandatory GHG pollution reduction program for power sector CO2 emissions. Composed of individual CO2 budget trading programs in nine states, the program creates a regional market for the purchase and sale of CO2 allowances, each of which permits a power plant to emit one short ton of CO2. Vermonters benefit from RGGI both from the emissions reductions from declining regional cap for CO2 emissions from power plants in the region, and by the investment of RGGI proceeds. Vermont currently invests the majority of its RGGI proceeds to enable Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric Department to expand their electrical energy efficiency programs to include thermal energy and process fuel efficiency programs.)

Deb Markowitz is Secretary of Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.