On a day when the state was pummeled by a spate of unusually severe thunderstorms, Gov. Chris Christie, as expected, vetoed a bill that would have required New Jersey to participate in a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In vetoing the bill (S-1322), identical to a measure he also rejected last year, the Governor said in his message to lawmakers that it would only “foist higher costs on New Jersey’s ratepayers.’’
The issue has emerged as a contentious dispute between the Republican administration and business interests against Democratic lawmakers, allied with clean energy advocates over the costs of a 10-state initiative to stem pollution from power plants contributing to global warming.
As he has said in the past, Christie said the program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), “did nothing more than impose a tax on electricity to be borne by New Jersey’s overburdened taxpayers and ratepayers who already pay some of the highest energy costs in the country.’’
The regional initiative, begun in 2005, requires power plants to pay a surcharge on greenhouse gas emissions. Those costs, ultimately passed on to ratepayers, are used to fund various efforts to promote alternative energy, as well as an energy efficiency project that saves customers money by reducing consumption of gas or electricity.
A report by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners found that New Jersey’s participation in RGGI created $151 million in economic value and 1,772 jobs in the state. Throughout the 10-state region, the program saved customers $1.1 billion on their electric bills and $174 million on gas bills, offsetting the $912 million paid by customers.
The veto, though expected, outraged lawmakers and environmentalists.
“Climate change is a reality as demonstrated in the severe weather conditions, rising sea levels, and drought that we have been experiencing all across our country, including in New Jersey,’’ said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), a sponsor of the measure. “Global warming will continue to create havoc and threaten our economic well being if we do not take responsible action to mitigate its impact.’’
Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey, noted the veto comes as the state suffers from a number of heat waves and when temperatures have hit record numbers in several cities.
“By signing this bill, Gov. Christie could have cut that air pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants and moved us forward on clean energy,’’ Elliott said. “Instead, he’s put politics before public health and the environment.’’
In his veto message, Christie, however, defended his administration’s record, which he argued has already lowered the state’s carbon emissions below the limits established by a law passed by the Legislature. Critics contend those reductions are largely a result in the slowdown in the economy brought about by a recession.
“Indeed since my prior veto of this bill, my administration has continued its aggressive efforts to curtail emissions, improve air quality, promote clean energy, and protect the environment,’’ Christie said in his message.
Environmentalists disputed that view.
Elliott noted the administration last week began floating a draft proposal that would cut clean energy funding by nearly one-half from what the state initially proposed in December.
Others faulted Christie for diverting funds from the RGGI program and the state’s own clean energy program for undermining New Jersey’s efforts to promote cleaner energy and reduce energy consumption. Since Christie took office, he has diverted more than $600 million in funds targeted for energy programs.
“We would have actually been able to get more done, save people more money, and create more jobs if Gov. Christie didn’t hijack the money that came from RGGI for the budget and if New Jersey participated in the most recent carbon allowance auctions,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.