Christie Administration Looks to Roll Back Limits on Power-Plant Emissions

Move to abolish restrictions on climate-changing pollution can be traced to administration's decision to pull out of RGGI

power plant smog
In a response to a court ruling, the Christie administration plans to repeal regulations to control climate-changing pollution from power plants.

The decision, announced without any fanfare last week, addresses an appeals court ruling in March, which found the administration failed to follow the law when it unilaterally ended New Jersey’s participation in a multi-state initiative to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

By repealing the regulations, the administration would comply with the court’s decision that said the state failed to follow proper procedures in pulling out of the program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Environmental groups contested the administration’s action, saying it could not do so without going through a new rulemaking process and public hearings, a stance endorsed by the appeals court.

The action by the administration comes as no surprise. Gov. Chris Christie has often criticized the RGGI program as ineffective and merely another tax on utility customers.

Still, the decision angered environmentalists who note two recent reports documented the threats posed by global climate change, including one released by the Obama administration. It found that New Jersey and the rest of the nation already are experiencing the effects of climate change and can expect more downpours, floods, and storms in the future.

Next week, the Obama administration also is expected to issue new rules to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. At one time, the original backers of RGGI hoped the program would serve as a model for a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that prospect has little or no chance of being approved by Congress.

“Gov. Christie is headed down a path that ends on the wrong side of history,’’ said Dale Bryk, deputy director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Our nation is moving full speed ahead to cut pollution from dirty fossil fuel plants — and New Jersey’s neighbors are already ahead of the pack thanks to RGGI,’’ Bryk said.

The administration’s decision to pull out of RGGI has been opposed by clean energy advocates and Democratic lawmakers, who control both houses of the Legislature. They have passed two bills to require New Jersey to rejoin RGGI — both vetoed by the governor.

“This time the people of New Jersey will get their say,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, one of the organizations that challenged the administration’s decision to pull out of RGGI.

“We want all of our leaders to protect us from the impact of global warming, and we will make sure Gov. Christie hears us loud and clear,’’ he said.

Whether that will have any impact on the administration’s move to repeal the rules is another question.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said efforts should be focused on blocking the administration from repealing the rules, which would allow a more environmentally friendly administration to quickly rejoin RGGI. “Right now, it’s the best we can hope from this administration,’’ he said.

Among other things, Tittel suggested the possibility of more litigation on the issue, focusing on a global warming reduction plan adopted by the Corzine administration. The plan identified three key components for dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey, including its participation in the RGGI program.

The RGGI program imposes a surcharge on power plant pollution with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The money raised by the program is used to fund a variety of clean-energy programs, such as solar and wind projects, as well as helping to finance energy-efficiency efforts, which reduce consumption of electricity and natural gas.

“Right now, we’re leaving at least $60 million on the table,’’ Tittel said.

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