And the carbon-cutter award goes to …

New York, the state that has reduced its carbon footprint the most in recent years

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans last week to require big reductions in carbon output from coal-fired power plants. But some states are well on their way to meeting the administration’s goals. No state has made more progress than New York.

The proposed rules would require states to cut emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. As of 2011, the last year for which data are available, New York’s carbon emissions were 23.5 percent below its 2005 levels. 

New York is one of nine states that belong to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 2006 cap-and-trade agreement aimed at cutting carbon emissions. Those states hold auctions to sell emissions allowances and invest the proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other programs to cut emissions. Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maryland, all initiative members, also are among the nation’s 10 most-improved states. Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island are the other three.

“The states that are addressing carbon emissions directly are the cap-and-trade states,” says Kyle Aarons, a senior fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

New York also benefited from deregulation of its electric power system in the 1990s. When new owners bought old coal power plants, federal rules required them to make costly changes or switch to cleaner-burning natural gas; most opted to move to gas, contributing to a decline in emissions over the subsequent decade.

The Empire State emits less carbon dioxide per capita than any other state, 8.1 metric tons per person, according to data from the EPA. Only the District of Columbia emits less per capita, though D.C. has been slower to cut its carbon emissions. On the other end, emission levels in energy-producing states and Midwestern states are increasing. Nebraska’s carbon emissions rose 21 percent from 2005 to 2011. And Wyoming creates 112.8 metric tons of emissions per capita, far higher than any other state.

The EPA’s proposed rules would require each state to cut its emissions even further. Already on its way, the Empire State can breathe a little easier.

Reid Wilson writes for The Washington Post.


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