Progress on Greenhouse Gases Should Help NJ Meet New EPA Rules

Enough variables and challenges remain to make conformance less than a sure thing

BL England Power Plant

Since 2005, New Jersey has cut its greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 24 percent, according to the Georgetown Climate Center, a nonpartisan organization that is part of Georgetown Law in Washington D.C.

So when the federal government released what many are calling the nation’s most ambitious efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions yesterday, it appeared as if New Jersey would not have much trouble meeting the goals and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Of course, New Jersey has much more aggressive goals, hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, according to a law enacted in the Corzine administration.

Taking a shorter-term view, however,the state may be able to meet the new EPA rules. A number of the state’s remaining coal-fired power plants, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, often burn cheaper and cleaner natural gas instead. More than half of the electricity used by customers in New Jersey is generated by nuclear power plants, which contribute zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“For many states, it will be a heavy lift,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, commenting on the much anticipated rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. New Jersey has done a lot to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

But with at least three new natural gas power plants being built in New Jersey, environmentalists are concerned those gains could be eroded.

The EPA’s new rule will likely be subject to extensive litigation from various parties in the energy sector, allows states like New Jersey a lot of flexibility and time to achieve the goals set out by the proposal.

But critics argue that it will spike electricity prices, cost tens of thousands of jobs, and potentially impact the reliability of the nation’s power grid by shutting down many coal-fired power plants, which provide about 40 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Not only that, some argued the rule would do little to reduce global warming.

“The hard reality is that the EPA’s new rules . . . will have little, if any, impact when it comes to soaring global demand and surging carbon dioxide emissions,’’ said Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute.

Some industry experts disagreed. “We see this as an important first step to achieving meaningful greenhouse gas emission reductions,’’’ said Edward White, a vice president at National Grid, a power supplier.

Michael Bradley, president and founder of MJ Bradley, an energy consulting group, said the energy sector already has achieved impressive reductions in carbon dioxide emissions since 2005. “The bottom line is the markets are achieving the reductions.,’’ he said.

Under the proposal, states can reduce emissions by investing in more aggressive energy efficiency programs that reduce the need for more power plants; provide price incentives to nuclear power plants; and invest in cleaner sources of electricity production, such as renewable energy.

The rule also suggested that multistate initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants through a cap-and-trade program could help achieve the goals. New Jersey was once part of a 10-state initiative to do that, but Gov. Chris Christie pulled out of the program in his first term, calling it just another tax on utility customers.

“I know the fight has just begun,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) and the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “I’m looking forward to the day when we have an administration in Trenton when we can show how it is done.’’

Smith has repeatedly sponsored legislation to require New Jersey to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which has been vetoed by Christie.

The administration not only pulled out of RGGI, but it also diverted more than $1 billion in clean energy funds to plug holes in the state budget in recent years. The Democratic-controlled Legislature has gone along with the diversions.

Both Smith and Tittel argued that the critics’ complaints about higher electricity prices and reduced reliability could be addressed by increased investments by the state in energy efficiency programs that reduce energy consumption by both businesses and residents.

Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Middlesex) said such investments would not only create new jobs in New Jersey, but also improve the health of its residents.