Maria Gallucci, InsideClimate News

In a letter sent Thursday, more than 300 businesses, environmentalists and community groups in 10 Northeast states urged governors to adopt tougher targets for power plant greenhouse gas emissions under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program.

The newly formed coalition said that forcing fossil-fuel power plants to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020—up from the current requirement of 10 percent by that time—would not only help the region achieve substantial climate benefits but would also bring more money and economic growth to the participating states.

"Governors and other officials [should] keep their states on a path to a cleaner, more prosperous energy future by improving RGGI," the letter said.

It also called on states to invest all cap-and-trade proceeds in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. States including New York and New Hampshire have dipped into the money to help balance state budges.

From 2008-2011, RGGI generated $912 million in 13 auctions, which spurred $1.6 billion in economic benefits and 16,000 new jobs in the region, according to an independent analysis released late last year.

Nine states currently participate in RGGI: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie removed his state from the pact last December. That didn't stop the coalition from sending Christie a version of the letter, said Peter Shattuck, director of market initiatives for Environment Northeast. "We believe [New Jersey] may well be part of the program going forward," he said in an interview, citing a June lawsuit against the governor filed by environmental groups alleging that Christie's exit from RGGI was unlawful.

Shattuck said the message to all the governors is simple: "RGGI is important, RGGI is succeeding and it needs to be improved. We really just want to show them there is broad political support for taking those necessary steps."

Environment Northeast organized the coalition a few months ago. The signatories include national, regional and state clean air and water groups, nature conservancies and public health associations, as well as renewable energy developers, energy-efficient design firms and cleantech investors. The companies stand to benefit economically if the emissions target is raised.

Under the four-year-old scheme, power plants pay for every ton of CO2 they emit by buying pollution allowances from states in quarterly auctions. Tougher emissions targets would force some power plants to buy more CO2 permits, increasing demand for the emissions allowances. The increased demand would drive up prices for permits, generating more RGGI revenues in auctions, and sending more money into state coffers and into the clean energy economy.

Most states have devoted nearly all their RGGI money to clean energy growth and energy-use reduction.

While not stated in the letter, Shattuck told InsideClimate News that he believes RGGI states should also regulate smaller power plants as well as imported electricity, and reign in non-CO2 global warming gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane.

Participating states are now reviewing the program and could announce changes in early 2013.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the coalition endorsed changes to the program not included in the letter, such as regulating smaller power plants. These have not been explicitly endorsed by the group.

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