R.I. warms to program to cut CO2

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -Rhode Island will become the final state in New England to join a regional program to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, Gov. Don Carcieri said Tuesday.

Carcieri announced his decision to sign the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in an annual address to lawmakers. That decision marks a reversal for the Republican governor, who earlier balked at signing the deal because it will likely raise electricity bills.

The initiative is the nation’s first multistate program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It requires power plants to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2019. Scientists call carbon dioxide a key pollutant responsible for global warming.

Rhode Island joins eight other states in the Northeast whose governors have signed the agreement, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. Maryland lawmakers have passed legislation requiring the state to join by June 30.

Supporters began drafting the agreement in 2003 and call it necessary because federal environmental authorities under President Bush have refused to implement similar restrictions nationally.

Under the agreement, which takes effect in 2009, each state is given an allocation of carbon dioxide credits, which are distributed among power plants. Those plants must bid for at least 25 percent of the credits. The rest can be distributed as state authorities see fit.

But forcing power plants to get cleaner comes with a cost.

National Grid, which distributes electricity to roughly 477,000 Rhode Island residents, estimates the anti-pollution compact will increase electricity bills by 1 to 3 percent, or up to $2.18 per month for a typical home that faces an electric bill around $72.50, said Joseph Kwasnik, the company’s vice president of environmental affairs.

Pressure had been building on Rhode Island to sign the deal.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican who like Carcieri earlier declined to sign the agreement, left office earlier this month and his Democratic successor, Deval Patrick, signed the agreement.

Rhode Island also imports most of its electricity from out-of-state. If Carcieri refused to sign, customers here would have been paying increased prices caused by the anti-pollution agreement, but received none of the rebates or incentives.

If Carcieri held out, power plants in Rhode Island might have been forced to buy carbon dioxide credits from other states if they wanted to sell power beyond Rhode Island.

“It’s better to participate in the auction and get some money back to customers,” Kwasnik said.

AP-ES-01-30-07 1925EST

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