Will Republican Wins Put a Damper on New Jersey’s Aggressive Clean Energy Goals?

Some environmentalists worry that election results will slow efforts to curb global warming

With a shift in political power, clean energy advocates are questioning whether Tuesday’s election will affect New Jersey’s plan to revitalize its economy through green jobs and renewable energy.

That agenda, which calls for 30 percent of the state’s electricity to be generated by renewable sources of energy by 2020, is already under review by the Christie administration as part of its revisit to the state’s Energy Master Plan.

But some environmentalists worry the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in Washington might further slow efforts to develop cleaner energy sources that do not contribute to global climate change.

Skeptical Attitudes

“Overall, it is probably a setback,” said Dolores Phillips, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group representing solar installers and firms. Given the skeptical attitude toward global warming among some candidates, Phillips said it probably would make it more difficult to enact a nationwide Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), similar to New Jersey’s 30 percent target.

“The U.S. will never get to where Europe and Asia are without an RPS portfolio standard, which includes a solar requirement,” Phillips said.

Others suggested that the state probably will see less federal funding to promote cleaner sources of energy. Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, cites the election of West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who ran an ad showing him shooting a bullet through the global climate cap-and-trade bill. Any new legislation promoting renewables, Tittel said, would probably include equal incentives for coal.

“I also think we will see the Obama administration cutting deals for clean coal projects,” said Tittel, a prospect he believes could revive a controversial proposal to build a new coal plant in Linden, which wants to pump carbon dioxide emissions into the seabed.

The Handwriting on the Wall

But other clean energy advocates were not so sure there are any conclusions to be drawn from the election.

David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, said he doesn’t believe the results change anything. “The handwriting was already on the wall that climate change legislation was not going to move anytime soon,” he said.

Dena Mottola Jabroska, executive director of Environment New Jersey, noted that 81 percent of the House members who had voted to support climate change legislation were re-elected. Of those who voted against the bill, 61 percent lost their bid to return to Congress, she said. “We all know this election wasn’t a referendum on climate change,” she said.

Conservationist concerns are heightened because the Christie administration earlier this year diverted more than $400 million in clean energy funding to help balance the state budget. What’s more, business lobbyists have been pressing the state to roll back some of the surcharges used to fund both renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

Given the mood of the Republican party, Tittel believes it will put the Christie administration in a difficult position to retain the state’s aggressive goals for clean energy.

Pringle argues otherwise. “What the Legislature and the Christie administration do or do not do about the Energy Master Plan is the $20,000 question,” he said. “Things may change, but it has nothing to do with what happened yesterday.”