It’s time for a new Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord.
by Caitlin Cullman
When most people think of Ohio, they think of cornfields, astronauts, football and the Cleveland Cavaliers. What they don’t always think of is the ingenuity of its people or the vast resources provided by a land rich in both space and biodiversity. With freshwater lakes, rivers, forests, and plentiful game it’s no wonder indigenous nations established themselves here. The fertile topsoil brought agriculture, the industrial revolution brought manufacturing, and coal and gas deposits attracted the mining industry. In the past 100 years, Ohio has provided an invaluable source for food, energy, and innovation. Ohio is also part of the great Midwest, which comprises 19 states connected through borders, culture, politics, and often, the weather. What people also don’t realize, is that a little over ten years ago some of these states united to form a bipartisan alliance of governors that pledged to combat climate change (Cusick, 2018). Known as the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (MGGRA), it included participants from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Kansas, Minnesota, South Dakota, and the Canadian Province of Manitoba (Midwestern, 2007).
This seems like a stretch in today’s polarized political climate. However, the MGGRA paved the way for smart climate policy and economic stimulus in later legislation like the Paris Climate Accord and the Green New Deal (Cusick, 2018). The Midwestern Governors Association (MGA) worked cooperatively across party and state lines, much like the Green New Deal would a decade later (Smiley, 2019). Signed on November 15, 2007, the accord established clear greenhouse gas reduction targets, developed a tracking and credit system for emissions, implemented a market-based cap-and-trade mechanism, and proposed detailed steps in order to achieve these goals (Midwestern, 2007). Midwestern leaders and policymakers were well ahead of the curve in creating a guidebook for maximizing regional economic advantages while reducing greenhouse gases (Smiley, 2019). Despite providing a cogent response to climate change-induced environmental disasters and man-made economic collapse, the action plan was shelved in 2012 before realizing its potential (Cusick, 2018). What is most disheartening about the collapse of the MGGRA is also perhaps its greatest asset – the leadership that changed, not the accord’s feasibility or efficiency (Cusick, 2018). Arguably, the best part of the accord was its foresight in bringing together a region of the country that has much to give, much to gain, and much to lose in the years to come. For Ohio, it is imperative that lawmakers, policy contributors, and Governor Mike DeWine revisit these climate goals.
The same month that the MGA signed onto the accord, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) completed its Fourth Assessment Report which concluded that “[w]arming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level” (Baldwin, 2009). It is safe to say that the U.S. has known about the damaging effects of climate change long before 2007. President Nixon’s domestic affairs chief, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, warned that “man has begun to introduce instability” in the atmosphere “through the burning of fossil fuels” (Board, 2019). The prolonged disregard for the environment coupled with a stubborn refusal to address the direst crises has left a significant gap in both adequate policy and sustainable progress (Board, 2019).
Ohio may have tried and failed to achieve the MGGRA’s initial goals but recent events have created an opportunity for a more equitable, effective approach to clean energy. Much of the climate-based issues affecting Ohio including flooding, drought, and pollution are deeply interwoven with the economic pressures felt by communities (Tumber, 2019). The oil and coal industries have either shrunk or moved overseas. Fertile soils that yielded huge soybean crops now suffer from severe water shortages. Toxic runoff puts small towns at higher risks of illness and cancers (Tumber, 2019). The major manufacturing hubs that once employed both urban and rural populations have also largely migrated to cheaper labor sources, resulting in an underserved and underemployed Middle America (Tumber, 2019). Regardless of political affiliation, all parts of the Midwest have felt the burden of growing income disparities. If Ohio is going to solve the trifecta of climate justice, economic justice, and racial justice leadership it will have to apply an intersectional lens through whatever means are available. For vulnerable communities, the implementation of climate policy should always reflect returns on the highest social-value while incurring the lowest social-cost (McHarg, 1969). A modern, renewed interpretation of the MGGRA is one path that can provide a sustainable solution to 2020 problems.
The idea that clean energy is a viable option is more plausible than it was 13 years ago, and regional clean energy policy makes sense for the Midwest. “State politicians and leaders should act toward implementing impactful regional clean energy policy for several reasons: renewables are cheaper than coal, utilities are showing increased interest for sustainable energy programs, industry foundations exist ready to grow and support good jobs, and it’s much better for air quality and the climate” (Smiley, 2019). Ohio may heavily rely on fossil fuels like oil and natural gas, but in the last five years the marketplace of renewable energy technology has proven that we can reduce our carbon footprints while strengthening the economy (Smiley, 2019). Considering the unique nature of current events, addressing both environmental and economic concerns should be a top priority for Governor DeWine and the state legislature.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that regional collaboration and governor-led initiative is critical to providing safe and effective guidance during times of crisis. The MGA can work together to implement policy that mitigates the circumstances that cause widespread disease and reduces the chances of another pandemic. It has been proven that pandemics like the coronavirus can occur more frequently when climate change is unabated, with warming and changing weather patterns shifting the vectors and spread of disease (Gunn-Wright, 2020). Ohio has a huge livestock market, and heavily polluting industries like factory farming can also contribute to disease transmission (Gunn-Wright, 2020). Research has linked unchecked factory farming — one of the largest sources of methane emissions — to faster-mutating, more virulent pathogens (Gunn-Wright, 2020). As the coronavirus shuts down states, unemployment has also skyrocketed (Gunn-Wright, 2020). Much like the New Deal under FDR, a massive shift in how leadership addresses this economic downturn will have to take place. The Great Depression created an opportunity to save the workforce, and a Green New Deal – and the policies it will have to include – stands poised to do the same (Ocasio-Cortez, 2019). Despite the MGGRA being a small piece of a much larger puzzle, adopting strong policies on fossil fuels while adapting to renewables can provide the jobs and healthy environment Ohio’s citizens need.
The chances of adopting a new MGGRA are higher now than they have been for several years. Ohio is already enacting smart, planned energy investments like those proposed in the Green New Deal, such as the PowerForward program by PUCO, Ohio’s public utilities commission (Tomain, 2019). PowerFoward aims to turn Ohio’s electricity plan into a two-way smart grid that relieves use of fossil fuels and introduces renewable resources like solar and wind (Tomain, 2019). The design and execution of extensive plans like PowerForward proves that positive change can be made in how Ohio produces, stores, and maintains its energy output (Tomain, 2019). Like PowerForward, a modern MGGRA can increase competition and consumer choice. Ohio is also not alone in its approach to creative solutions, as shown by the 2007 Western Climate Initiative, Inc. (WCI) (Western, n.d.). The WCI created a similar regional agreement amongst western states and Candian provinces, composed of both partners and observers (Western, n.d.). Both the MGGRA and the WCI proposed ambitious multi-sector, market-based programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while reconfiguring state economies (Western, n.d.). The WCI also laid the foundation for a North American cap-and-trade program that relies on initiatives like the MGGRA to help support and enforce climate change mitigation (Western, n.d.).
As Ohio moves forward, the goals of policy makers and local leaders will have to adapt to modern obstacles and solutions. The unique physio-graphic makeup of Ohio’s resources and climate, if properly utilized, could create a thriving economy and a healthier ecosystem. If greenhouse gas emissions are reduced through regulations like the MGGRA, that means other industries will have to replace lost revenues and jobs. Ultimately, effective transitional policy will have to be enacted in order to implement a more sustainable, equitable future for everyone.
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