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DEP Says ‘No Way’ to Rejoining RGGI; Dispute May Head to Court -- Again

Legislature could force state agency to rescind rules that violate previously approved laws concerning greenhouse gases

power plant

The Christie administration is standing by its decision to pull out of a regional multi-state initiative to curb greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global warming.

In a partisan vote, the Legislature earlier this year approved a resolution aimed at bringing New Jersey back into the program, which environmentalists argue can reduce power plant pollution while funding a variety of clean-energy programs. But the state Department of Environmental Protection yesterday said it has no intention of rejoining the program, dubbed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Gov. Chris Christie withdrew from the nine-state program early in his first term, saying it was ineffective and merely a tax on utility customers.

The dispute, already litigated in the courts, appears headed that way again. In passing the resolution, lawmakers exercised a rare legislative tool that could force the agency to rescind regulations that violate the intent of previously adopted laws. The vote marked the first time the Legislature use its oversight authority to challenge what some view as a concerted effort by the administration to roll back environmental laws.

The next step in the standoff is likely to be the Legislature once again passing a similar resolution. At that point, clean-energy advocates will probably go to court to force the department to rejoin the RGGI program, which requires power companies to pay for carbon pollution and then pass on the costs to ratepayers.

Bob Considine, DEP’s press director, said the state legally withdrew from the program over four years ago.

“New Jersey, thanks to policy decisions, has lower carbon emissions than most of the states that are in the coalition,’’ he said. “The carbon-trading rules were also officially repealed. So we do not intend to respond.’’

That inaction disappointed Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), who sponsored the resolution.

“I’m saddened to see Gov. Christie once again allow New Jersey to fall from a leader in responding to climate change to, at best, playing catch up and, at worst, purposefully allowing us to fall behind the curve,’’ he said. “Instead of responding to the Legislature as required by law, the governor has allowed his DEP to block any attempt to return New Jersey to RGGI.’’

In the long run, clean-energy advocates say it is almost inevitable New Jersey will eventually rejoin the program, which has been cited by the Obama administration as a model for helping states reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The Clean Power Plan adopted by the Obama administration requires states to dramatically reduce pollution contributing to global warming from power plants.

To date, New Jersey has been effective in curbing such emissions, but environmentalists say it is because of the state’s reliance on nuclear power for much of its electricity.

“The Christie administration needs to comply with the Clean Power Plan, and RGGI is the best way to do it,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, which already has sued New Jersey over its decision to withdraw from the program.

But the Christie administration is part of a lawsuit brought by more than two dozen other states challenging the authority of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to adopt the Clean Power Plan.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, also called on the Legislature to once again oppose the administration for pulling out of the program. “Without the Legislature acting, the Christie administration will move forward with its anti-climate change and anti-environment agenda,’’ he said.

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