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Marathon Legislative Session to Address Critical Energy Issues Facing New Jersey

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions looms large on agenda, especially since environmentalists and some lawmakers feel that Christie is not doing enough on this front

sweeney
Credit: Newsworks
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester)

How well is New Jersey doing in its attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? That question may be answered today when a legislative committee holds a marathon session on key energy issues in the state.

The hearing in the Statehouse will focus on four topics, including whether New Jersey is achieving the goals of the Global Warming Response Act, a law signed by former Gov. Jon Corzine in 2007.

The issue has moved to the forefront with a recent proposal by the Obama administration to require 30 percent reductions in emissions from coal power plants by 2030. The state law, however, is even more stringent, saying carbon-causing pollution has to be cut by 80 percent by 2050.

It also is one of rising concern among environmentalists who fear the Christie administration is not doing enough to deal with the effects of climate change.

A study done by the Department of Environmental Protection on how New Jersey can achieve the goals of the global-warming-response law identified three strategies to reach the targets -- participating in a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants; the state’s Energy Master Plan; and a program to usher in zero-emission vehicles to New Jersey.

But New Jersey pulled out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, now a nine-state effort to reduce pollution from power plants, with Gov. Chris Christie calling the program ineffective and a tax on utility customers. The program imposes a tax on power plants to discourage greenhouse gas emissions. The costs are passed on to utility ratepayers.

Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, have twice passed legislation to get New Jersey back into the program, but both have been vetoed by the governor. A state appeals court ruled the administration pulled out of the program illegally without scheduling public comments on the proposal, but the DEP proposed a new rule that would comply with the court’s order by holding public hearings on the issue.

At a press conference in Trenton today, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) will announce plans to try to get the state back into the regional program. Under the Obama administration rule unveiled this spring, regional initiatives were encouraged as a way to meet the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

They are expected to introduce a bill that would repeal the DEP proposal to exit the RGGI program -- if it is adopted as expected.

The state’s Energy Master Plan also is not producing the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions once envisioned. The plan calls for the creation of more than 1,000 megawatts of pollution-free electricity from offshore wind farms by 2020, but not one wind farm has been approved. In fact, regulators have yet to approve a financing mechanism to encourage their development -- nearly four years after the law passed.

As far as zero-emission vehicles are concerned, the state has less than 200 plug-in charging stations available to the public, which does little to assuage concern among motorists about range anxiety -- worrying about where they are going to charge their vehicles when batteries run low.

To some degree, however, New Jersey is in better position to achieve the Obama administration’s target than many other states. That is because more than half of the electricity produced in the state comes from nuclear power plants, which emit no greenhouse gas emissions. The state also has fewer coal-powered plants than neighboring states, and even those run less frequently because they cannot compete with lower-priced natural gas generating stations.

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