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New Jersey Signs On to Suit Challenging Legality of EPA Clean Power Plan

Christie administration argues rule change unlawfully extends power of federal agency

EPA building
Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

Back in 2007, New Jersey joined what proved to be the winning side of a lawsuit that forced the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

This past Friday, however, the Christie administration joined 23 other states challenging the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, saying it is an unlawful extension of the federal agency’s authority.

The challenge was not unexpected. New Jersey has opposed the proposal ever since the EPA released its draft in 2014, calling the plan fundamentally flawed and claiming that it places an unfair burden on states that have already significantly reduced carbon emissions. Between 2001 and 2012, New Jersey cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by one-third.

“This plan also will burden New Jersey residents with higher electricity costs, and it infringes on the state’s own authority to oversee its energy future,’’ said Gov. Chris Christie in a statement released Friday announcing the lawsuit.

To environmentalists, the Clean Power Plan, as incorporated in the state’s Energy Master Plan, relies too heavily on natural gas to meet energy demand in New Jersey.

Despite some progress, clean-energy advocates say the battle over the new rule could jeopardize the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, an ambitious target set by the Corzine administration, which joined the 2007 lawsuit.

If New Jersey fails to comply with the Clean Power Plan, it also could lead the federal agency -- rather than the state -- to decide how to meet the goals of the program. Nationwide, it seeks to reduce carbon pollution by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

“The obvious downside is the Federal Implementation Plan is one-size fits all,’’ said Doug O’Malley, executive director of Environment New Jersey. “It’s not going to be the best plan for New Jersey.’’

Unlike most other states, the biggest source of global-warming emissions in New Jersey is the transportation sector rather than power plants. Half of the state’s electricity is generated from nuclear power plants, which do not emit greenhouse gases. Only four percent of the state’s electricity comes from coal-fired units, the nation’s biggest source of carbon emissions.

In a declaration accompanying the lawsuit, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said the new emission limits established by the federal plan will place existing fossil-fuel plants in the state at a disadvantage. The rule sets a New Jersey target emission rate that is well below the “technologically feasible emission rate for existing’’ units, he said.

In another declaration filed by state Board of Public Utilities, President Richard Mroz said the plan fails to credit the investments made by New Jersey ratepayers in renewable energy and energy efficiency from 2001 through 2012.

The latest lawsuit was filed on the same day the final rule to carbon pollution was published in the Federal Register, the first day legal challenges could be filed.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, argued that the Christie administration arguments for filing the lawsuit are not justified. “Gov. Christie is filing the suit because of his national ambitions and he is aligning New Jersey with the Koch brothers and Texas by trying to overturn these rules instead of trying to protect our state from climate change and air pollution,’’ he said.

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