Showdown in New Jersey Over Climate Pollution Pact
In response to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s announcement that he would pull out of a multi-state agreement, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to reduce global warming pollution from power plants, the state legislature has passed three separate bills to prevent RGGI withdrawal. While no one expects Governor Christie to sign the bills that reach his desk, environmentalists such as Jeff Tittel, Director of New Jersey Sierra Club, say the votes indicate that the legislature would support legislation blocking the regulatory changes Christie will need to pull out of the agreement.
“The Legislature has acted to protect New Jersey’s environment and green economy and to prevent the governor from pulling out of RGGI and abandoning the funding from RGGI,” Tittel told the Associated Press.
States participating in RGGI import 98.6 percent of the coal, oil and natural gas that utility companies burn to generate electricity to power homes and businesses. Over the last decade, forward thinking policymakers in New Jersey have helped make the state a leader in solar energy development. Such clean energy alternatives keep more of the electricity dollar in the local economy than dirty fossil fuels. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which requires utilities to pay for each ton of carbon pollution emitted, has raised $113.3 million in revenue for New Jersey for solar development loans among other things, according to an analysis of the agreement’s benefits so far by Environment America.
Unlike many Republicans making national headlines on global warming issues, Governor Christie has concurred with the scientific consensus that global warming is real, caused by human activity, and potentially disastrous. The governor’s stated reasons for pulling out of RGGI is that the policy “simply doesn’t work.” Among Christie’s objections are that the price imposed on carbon pollution is too low and the cap on allowable pollution is too high to affect behavior.
Bill Wolfe, founder of the New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, argues that by pulling out of RGGI, Christie is revealing his true ideological agenda: “If the Governor really wanted RGGI to be effective, change behavior, and reduce emissions, he would be working to: a) lower the cap, b) expand it to other sectors (not just the electric sector), and c) mandate implementation. But he’s doing none of that, strong evidence that he wants to simply kill it, not fix it.”
Environment America is calling on Christie to strengthen RGGI and to limit the revenues to clean energy and environmental spending, rather than scrapping it completely. Since the pact went into effect in 2009, nearly 32 percent of revenues have been used for state deficit reduction and general spending, uses that don’t have the environmental benefits the agreement was set up to achieve. The group’s analysis also debunks other myths prompted by a Koch Industries-funded campaign to persuade states to withdrawal from the pact.
“State leaders, including Governor Christie, know that RGGI has been an important element of the region’s efforts to promote clean energy and cut pollution,” said Rob Sargent, Energy Program Director for Environment America, who was part of the stakeholder group that helped shape the program. “Thoughtful people are seeing through the misleading information from out-of-state fossil fuel interests and rejecting efforts to scuttle this important program.”