On the eve of the second RGGI auction, it is reasonable to ask what the trend is in CO2 emissions in the RGGI states. Environment Northeast just issued a report which seeks to answer that question. According to ENE, which utilized data from EPA and the RGGI states, CO2 emissions in the RGGI states through the third quarter of 2008 are trending 16 percent below the RGGI cap.
As ENE notes, both oil and coal prices were extremely high during this period, so there is no guarantee that these low emission levels will be reflected in data for the fourth quarter 2008 or in 2009. However, the cause of the recent price drop – lowered demand resulting from the contraction in economies worldwide – suggests that emissions will probably be low in 2009 as well. If total purchases of oil drop, it does not matter whether the cause is a shift along the demand curve due to higher prices or a shift in the demand curve due to lower economic output (though it is certainly true that, even with lower demand for energy overall, decreases in oil and coal prices will lead to shifts towards coal and oil).
The critical point to remember in all this is that businesses which have significant CO2 emissions cannot be expected to reduce those emissions efficiently unless clear and stable price or regulatory signals are sent. Therefore, I for one hope that the ENE report does not lead regulators to conclude that the cap is too high and should be reduced. If we do that, do we then raise the cap again if emissions exceed the cap for more than the expected amount? What is needed is as stable a downward trajectory in greenhouse gas emissions as we can manage.