Report Urges NJ to Rejoin Regional Greenhouse-Gas Initiative

Tom Johnson | March 27, 2013 | Energy & Environment
Warns unchecked climate change may unleash damage along Eastern Seaboard far exceeding Hurricane Sandy

People who were stunned and sobered by how much damage was caused by Hurricane Sandy ought to be even more worried about global climate change, which could cause up to $2 trillion in damage along the stretch of the Eastern Seaboard from Boston to Baltimore, according to a new report.

“In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and Irene, the Northeast must double down on its commitment to lead the nation in reducing pollution that’s warming the planet and changing our climate,’’ said Doug O’Malley, author of the report and the interim director of Environment New Jersey.

The report, the latest by the organization which has been lobbying heavily to get New Jersey back into a regional 10-state initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming, argues that reducing such pollution is consistent with a growing economy.

Between 2000 and 2010, the economies of the 10 Northeast states grew twice as fact per capita as other states, while carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 25 percent per capita, according to the report.

That view is disputed by the Christie administration, which pulled New Jersey out of the 10-state initiative nearly two years ago, saying it did little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and simply amounted to a tax on utility customers.

Environment New Jersey’s report claimed the state may be hit in the future by so-called 100-year coastal floods every 15 to 35 years. The changing climate threatens at least 496,000 residents living in coastal flood zones and could lead to at least $38.9 billion in losses in storm-related damage by mid-century.

Along the Eastern Seaboard, the report suggests, trillions of dollars in damage could occur if there is a 2.1-foot sea level rise by 2050.

That projection is more aggressive than some estimates by global-climate scientists.

Nevertheless, Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to pull out of the 10-state program, dubbed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), has been a source of contention among clean-energy advocates, lawmakers and the administration.

Critics say dropping out of the program deprives the state of millions of dollars available to promote cleaner ways of producing electricity and to curb energy consumption.

In addition, the RGGI program was identified by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in a December 2009 report as one of three crucial components the state would use to meet very aggressive goals for greenhouse-gas emission reductions.

The loss of those dollars hurts the state’s economy, clean-energy advocates contend.

“By promoting clean energy and energy efficiency programs, RGGI helps keep energy dollars in our local economy while reducing the risk of climate change-related costs,’’ said Pat Stanton, senior vice president for policy and advocacy at the Conservation Services Group.

According to the report, New Jersey bucked the region’s trend with per capita emission reductions that were lower than the national average and per capita economic growth that was on par with the national average. Strengthening RGGI would produce an additional $8 billion in economic growth for the region, the report said.

To critics of the program, however, the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions were more a reflection of the slumping economy and historically low natural-gas prices, which have led to a decline in electricity production from coal-fired power plants, the biggest sources of pollution contributing to global climate change in the production of electricity.

Since New Jersey pulled out of the regional initiative, the other nine states have announced an agreement to make deeper cuts in power plant carbon emissions that would lead to a 20 percent reduction over the next decade.

“Reducing emissions from power plants has a direct positive impact on the health of communities, translating into less asthma, less respiratory disease and less allergies,’’ said Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm, which works with the healthcare industry to promote sustainable practices.