One Reason Why Barr Is Behind a Regional Climate Push: The Economic Benefits

Without a doubt, the Barr Foundation wields a lot of influence in the city of Boston, and so what matters to Barr often matters to the rest of the city as well. Which is why I connected the other day with Barr Director of Communications Stefan Lanfer to get a clearer sense of where local grantmaking has been shifting lately and where it may be headed for the remainder of 2015.

One of the very first things that came up was Barr’s focus on climate change. A report recently came out about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that highlighted the local economic benefits of reducing emissions. Barr funded the report, and in turn, the report underscores Barr’s commitment to the cause along with the distinctive frame through which it views an issue that is often discussed in global or national terms. We wrote about that outlook recently in the context of a new round of Barr grants related to climate change.

Related: Barr and Climate Change: Think Globally, Partner Nationally, Act Locally

The Analysis Group report found that the nine Northeast/Mid-Atlantic states that participated in RGGI between 2012 and 2014 enjoyed a $1.3 million economic boost, $460 million in electric and heating bill savings, and 14,000 new jobs. These states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions fell by 33 percent between 2008 and 2014. Those are some impressive figures.

RGGI is a market-based greenhouse gas emissions reduction programthe first of its kind in the country. It began about six years ago, encouraging states to set carbon emissions caps for the power sector and then to sell them through auctions. Sale proceeds are determined by each individual state and invested in things like efficiency and renewable energy. According to Lanfer, most of Massachusetts' net benefits are reinvested in energy efficiency right now, as opposed to some states, like New Jersey, which put money away into a general fund.

Barr funds helped pay for this report and analysis of RGGI, along with other funders like Merck Family Fund, the Sandy Buck, Fritz and Susan Onion, Seal Bay Fund, Anna Marie and John Thron, Peter Lamb, and the Orchard Foundation. But it’s become clear that Barr isn’t only supporting climate change efforts for the environment’s sake.

According to a recent blog post by Barr’s climate change officer, Mariella Puerto, RGGI has helped more dollars circulate in the local economy by reducing the amount sent out of state to pay for fossil fuels. Proceeds from RGGI have paid for everything from solar panels to labor for energy efficiency retrofits in and around Boston. There are proven local benefits of RGGI that are impacting Bostonians in real ways.

Related: Read IP’s profile of Mariella Puerto, Barr’s climate change officer

However, Barr’s collaborative support for climate change at the local level is nothing new. Back in 2010, the foundation announced a $50 million commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of the city and state. And in 2013, Barr worked with City Hall to commission a climate change report that emphasized the need for networks and partnerships among Boston’s business and civic sectors across industries like healthcare, real estate, financial, construction, and tourism.

Related: Barr Foundation Emphasizes Networks in Climate Change Report

But what makes this recent support stand out is that the RGGI is now regarded as a national model. Carbon emissions from the power plants in the nine RGGI states are on track for a 50 percent reduction by 2020, compared to levels in 2005. 

However, not everyone is cheering the RGGI, and some governors, like Chris Christie, have already pulled out of the program. Although a smaller number of states participates in the program now, Boston and Massachusetts are still convinced of its merits. Mayor Martin J. Walsh even made a recent trip to the Vatican to discuss energy issues with the Pope and other national and international leaders.

Aside from RGGI, Barr has supported plenty of other climate change causes in the area, too, including a recent grant to the Acadia Center, a policy advocacy group that works in the fields of energy, climate change, power generation, consumer-side energy resources, transportation, land use, and carbon emissions.

We've written a lot in the past year about funder support for local efforts to fight climate change. For example, we looked recently at how the Mott Foundation has put money behind a regional effort focused in home region of the Midwest.

Related: Global Stakes, Local Fights: A Funder Takes on Climate Change In Its Home Region

But there's no question that Barr stands out as a regional funder taking a leadership role in climate change. Now it's able to document the fruits of that work with new evidence. 

More about Barr’s climate change initiatives, clean energy, and transportation and smart growth, can be found on the foundation’s website