Will Christie Walk Away From Another Clean Air Initiative?

Tom Johnson | September 2, 2011 | Energy & Environment
Environmentalists urge governor to stick with effort to cut pollution from cars, trucks and other vehicles

Only months after New Jersey pulled out of a regional initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions, environmentalists are urging the state to remain in an 11-state effort to reduce climate-changing pollution from automobiles.

According to an analysis done by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) on behalf of northeast and mid-Atlantic states, creating a so-called clean fuels standard would help strengthen the region’s economy while reducing America’s reliance on oil and exposure to volatile oil prices.

Whether the Christie administration pulls out of the initiative remains to be seen. Much to the dismay of clean energy advocates, the administration earlier this year said it would exit a regional effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, saying the program was ineffective and simply amounted to a tax on utility customers.

That step spurred protest from environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers, who have tried to reverse the action by legislation, which cleared both houses but has yet to be acted on by the governor.

Under a clean fuels standard being considered, oil companies would make their fuels 10 percent cleaner on average when it comes to carbon pollution, allowing them to do this any way they choose (such as boosting sales of electricity for electric vehicles, advanced biofuels or natural gas). This means billions of dollars would be reinvested in the states to develop clean, local alternatives to gasoline and diesel — rather than sending them overseas, according to proponents of the proposal.

NESCAUM has been instrumental in negotiating other clean air initiatives by the Northeast states, including helping coordinate a regional effort to mandate low-emission vehicles as a way to curb pollution contributing to ground-level ozone, or smog, one of the biggest healthcare concerns in urban areas.

Under the yet-to-be defined clean fuels standard, the analysis claimed greenhouse gas emissions would be curtailed by shifting to low carbon fuels, such as biofuels, electric cars and natural gas vehicles. If fully implemented, it would reduce greenhouse emissions by 12 percent to 29 percent, according to the analysis.

In December 2009, governors from eleven northeast and mid-Atlantic states signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to develop a mandatory, multistate clean fuel standard (CFS). Not Gov. Chris Christie, however, who pulled out of a similar regional initiative to reduce pollution from power plants signed by his predecessor Gov. Jon Corzine.

The CFS is a market-based, technology-neutral policy requiring gradual reductions in the carbon content of fuel. It will promote a regional market for cleaner alternative fuels, delivering greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, local economic development and technological innovation. The CFS is designed to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels used for transportation in the region by 5 percent to 15 percent over the next 10 to 15 years.

A new analysis of the program shows that shows that it will achieve the intended goals, delivering thousands of jobs to the region, saving billions of dollars, and reducing oil consumption, according to Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey.

“It show there is a positive impact, particularly on the economy,” said Elliott, who cited the analysis, which claimed the shift to less carbon-intensive fuels would create up to 50,000 jobs and increase disposal income by up to $3.2 billion.

Under a revised Energy Master Plan proposed by the Christie administration, it recommends promoting greater use of natural gas vehicles by fleets owner by companies with many vehicles and a push to develop an infrastructure system for electric vehicles for residents.