Democratic wins in U.S. state elections boost hopes for carbon trading

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. voters picked climate change advocates in a handful of gubernatorial and state legislature races on Tuesday, providing a potential boost to state-level efforts to fight global warming through carbon trading schemes.

Phil Murphy, Governor-elect of New Jersey, and Shiela Oliver, Lieutenant Governor-elect, wave to supporters at their election night victory rally in Asbury Park, New Jersey, U.S., November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

Democratic-led state and local governments have already promised to act as a counterweight to the administration of President Donald Trump, which is seeking to unwind climate change regulations it deems too costly, and remove the United States from a global pact to reduce emissions.

Democrat Phil Murphy won his race on Tuesday night to succeed New Jersey’s outgoing Republican Governor Chris Christie. Murphy ran on a platform that included a pledge to “immediately restore New Jersey’s place in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI),” a northeast carbon market from which Christie withdrew in 2011.

In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespe and pledged to carry out outgoing Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive directive to reduce carbon emissions and “allow Virginia to become trading-ready.”

RGGI Chair Katie Dykes said its officials had been communicating with Virginia as it developed greenhouse gas regulations, and welcomed the “potential dialogue with New Jersey.”

In Washington state, a victory by Democrat Manka Dhingra in a state Senate district flipped control of the legislature to Democrats, a boost to Democratic Governor Jay Inslee’s plan to join California, Quebec and Ontario in a carbon trading scheme.

RGGI and the western state carbon market were formed more than a decade ago to help develop market-based approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The addition of Virginia and New Jersey to RGGI would be significant. In 2016, New Jersey emitted 22.1 million short tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) while Virginia emitted 38 million. RGGI’s current nine states emitted 90 million short tons in 2016.

RGGI holds quarterly auctions for carbon permits, which have yielded $2.8 billion in proceeds to date, intended for use to finance clean energy and energy efficiency projects.

Environmental advocates said state-level developments could help counter the Trump administration, as its seeks to revive the U.S. coal industry and roll back environmental protections enacted by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

“We are seeing growing momentum on climate action at the state level,” said Jackson Morris, an official at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A White House official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Tom Brown