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Patrick’s foes fuel debate over greenhouse gas compact

State’s backing could be on line

By Kyle Cheney
State House News Service / August 31, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick’s chief rivals for the corner office declined yesterday to embrace a multistate compact aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, raising the possibility that they would pull Massachusetts out of the effort after four years of participation.

“I’m willing to participate as long as it doesn’t cost Massachusetts jobs and money,’’ Republican Charles D. Baker said during a morning appearance on WRKO radio. “I don’t know if I’m against it or not. I view that as something that needs to be reviewed.’’

The compact, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, requires the 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that are participating to cap carbon dioxide emissions through 2014 and reduce them by 10 percent by 2018. Under the plan, Massachusetts may sell allowances to energy companies to produce up to 26 million tons of carbon dioxide, which brings in about $50 million. Those funds, under state law, are then applied to energy efficiency programs.

Patrick signed Massachusetts on to the compact in one of his first acts as governor in 2007, reversing a decision by the previous governor, Republican Mitt Romney, who argued that the plan would burden businesses and increase energy costs for consumers. At the time, Patrick called the compact part of an effort to help “save the planet.’’

“Our short-term expenses are expected to be minimal, about three dollars per thousand-dollar residential bill,’’ he said. “Three dollars buys up to $70 per year in savings in as short a period of time as 10 years, and of course also helps save the planet. No small thing.’’

Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, running for governor as an independent, issued a statement to the News Service yesterday voicing skepticism about the value of regional compacts.

“While a cap-and-trade system may ultimately be successful in reducing greenhouse gases, I question its effectiveness when implemented only on a regional level,’’ Cahill said. “Additionally, we run the risk of imposing undue costs on individuals and businesses. Climate change, and greenhouse gas emission specifically, must be addressed on a national and international level because individual states’ measures have little effect on overall greenhouse gas emissions.’’

Pressed for specifics about Cahill’s view of the initiative, a campaign spokeswoman said, “We would have to review it to see if it makes financial and environmental sense.’’

Asked about the comments by Baker and Cahill, a Patrick campaign spokesman singled out Baker and reiterated the governor’s support for the compact.

“Just like he is wrong when he questions whether climate change is real, Charlie Baker is flat out wrong to suggest that we should walk away from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,’’ said Alex Goldstein.

“This is yet another example of what is at stake in this election, and the glaring difference between the governor’s interest in creating a healthier, greener Commonwealth for a generation to come, and the shortsighted views of his opponents who want to turn their backs on the progress we have made to become a national leader in environmental policy and green job creation.’’

Baker, once quoted saying he was “not smart enough’’ to know whether manmade global warming is real, reversed course during a gubernatorial debate this month, saying he believed the world is warming, “partially’’ as a result of human impact.

Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein, called the compact “commendable as a first attempt’’ and that “despite its limitations, it is moving us in the right direction.’’

“But I do feel that RGGI is deeply flawed by the politics that has shaped it, and we have to move beyond it to more serious programs,’’ Stein said. “It doesn’t move nearly fast enough toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

“I am also concerned about 90 percent of the revenue being given to the big utilities. We need greater clarity on how that money is being spent, and whether there are more effective ways to use the money to create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. . . . Eventually RGGI needs to be superseded by a more comprehensive and serious pollution control program — hopefully one that would extend to the federal level.’’

Environmental groups have long supported participation in RGGI, and one Beacon Hill advocate said Congress’s failure to act on climate change legislation underscored the importance of compacts like RGGI and a similar effort taking shape on the West Coast and into Canada.

Robert Rio, senior vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said the business community, like Cahill, would prefer a national or international approach to emissions reduction.

“We agree that greenhouse gas policy should be a national- or international-based program,’’ he said. “It would put us on an equal footing with the rest of the world.’’

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