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A new proposal would tighten the cap on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 40 percent in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast region.

The proposal by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would affect Maryland and the eight other states that participate in the mandatory cap-and-trade emissions program.

Following the RGGI recommendation, the next step would be for the Maryland Department of Environment to lower the cap through regulations, which would be forwarded to the Committee for Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, said MDE spokeswoman Samantha Kappalman.

According to the department, the changes would cut carbon dioxide pollution by 3.6 million tons by 2020, the equivalent of removing 500,000 cars from the state’s roads for one year. The state is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by one-fourth by 2020.

In Maryland, proceeds from auctioning RGGI carbon credits go to the state’s Strategic Energy Investment Fund, which is used for programs promoting clean energy, energy efficiency and conservation and energy bill aid for needy families.

“Even before Superstorm Sandy, public concern about extreme weather fueled by global warming was on the rise,” Tommy Landers, director of the group Environment Maryland, said in a news release. “Now, it is even more urgent that Maryland and the other states in our region do all they can to tackle global warming and ensure that RGGI substantially reduces carbon pollution.”

The lower cap would take effect Jan. 1.

Margie Hyslop