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Christie Takes Another Tack to Get Out of Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Administration will follow formal rulemaking process, making it virtually inevitable that New Jersey will not participate in RGGI

power plant smog

The Christie administration yesterday followed through on plans to repeal a rule that would confirm New Jersey’s decision to opt out of a regional program aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

A state appellate court found in March that a unilateral decision by Gov. Chris Christie to pull out of the nine-state program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) failed to follow the law when he neglected to go through a formal rulemaking process.

In a proposal published in the New Jersey Register, the state Department of Environmental Protection proposed a regulation that would pave the way for the state to pull out of the program once public hearings on the issue are held and input from stakeholders is heard. The process is expected to take 60 days.

The issue has been a contentious one between the administration and lawmakers, who have twice voted to have New Jersey rejoin the program, only to have Christie veto the measures.

The regional program has long been backed by environmentalists who claim it not only helps reduce the carbon pollution from power plants contributing to global warming, but also provides revenue to states to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The goal of the latter is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels emitting greenhouse gases.

Christie announced the state would pull out of the program at the end of 2011, saying it was ineffective and amounted to another tax on utility customers.

In a letter to the appellate division in late May, acting Attorney General John Hoffman said the rule proposal “satisfies the department’s obligations pursuant to the court’s opinion and order.’’

While not unexpected, the rule proposal came under fire from environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment New Jersey, which brought the legal challenge to the appellate court.

“Despite all of the warning signs -- and the chorus of New Jersey residents and government leaders urging him to stop -- Gov. Christie is continuing down a path that ends on the wrong side of history,’’ said Dale Bryk, deputy director of programs for the NRDC. “Christie can keep burying his head in the sand, but the people of New Jersey -- and the nation -- will not.’’

Earlier this spring, the Obama administration proposed a new rule to curb emissions from power plants, giving states flexibility on how to achieve those goals. One course suggested by the federal government was to adopt regional initiatives, similar to the RGGI program, although not mentioning it by name.

“Gov. Christie keeps putting the interest of big out-of-state polluters ahead of the health of the New Jersey public,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of the Environment New Jersey. “Gov. Christie’s proposal is shortsighted. Instead of repealing these rules, Gov. Christie should be helping to protect our children and future generations from the worst impacts of global warming.’’

Even with the criticism, it is unlikely to change -- at least for now -- the outcome of the debate.

If the proposed rule is adopted, the Legislature could vote to say the measure is inconsistent with laws allowing New Jersey to join the RGGI program. However, that would not force the Christie administration to join the program as even proponents of the program concede.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said overturning the rule, if adopted as is likely, is still important.

“For the next governor, it will make it easier for us to get back into RGGI,’’ he said. In that case, the state would not have to go through another formal rulemaking process, which can extend to months.

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