Legislators Look to Push Administration to Reduce Greenhouse Gases — Again

Tom Johnson | January 16, 2015 | Energy & Environment
When will New Jersey rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative? Not until there’s a new governor, say some environmentalists

Credit: philly.com
power plant smog
Once again, legislators are trying to force the Christie administration into a regional initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a gambit that even some of its backers concede will probably not be successful until there is a new governor elected by voters.

In a narrow 3-2 vote along partisan lines, the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee approved a bill (A-1763) that would require the state to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to reduce pollution contributing to global climate change.

Gov. Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of the program in 2011, saying it was not effective and simply amounted to a tax on utility customers. He has twice vetoed legislative efforts to have the state rejoin the initiative.

The issue could become more critical in the wake of the Obama administration’s efforts to slash greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, the primary effort of the regional initiative. In a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state called the proposed rule fundamentally flawed.

If the state fails to enact a federally mandated plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the EPA could impose its own program on New Jersey, a process that potentially can cause the loss of federal aid for a variety of other initiatives, not to mention the money raised by RGGI to support clean-energy efforts.

“The governor’s removal of the state from the RGGI program has cost the state millions of dollars allocated for clean energy projects and will continue to do so until we go back,’’ said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), a sponsor of the measure. “This bill makes clear the intent of the Legislature when it proposed legislation to partake in the RGGI, and mandates that New Jersey rejoin the program,” he said.

Not everyone agreed. Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Passaic), a member of the committee who voted against the bill, said it was time wasted by lawmakers who should be considering more pressing issues.

“Releasing this bill shows that history has taught us nothing,’’ he said “We should be putting this kind of effort in addressing tax reform and job creation.’’

But others, like Dave Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action, acknowledged the Legislature would never force this administration to rejoin

“It is important to move forward to put the governor on the hot seat,’’ Pringle said.

Some opponents of the bill agreed with the governor that the program has raised bills for energy customers, an argument disputed by Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He said the cost of the RGGI initiative only increased the average residential bill by about $3 per year for the typical household.

The RGGI program was originally envisioned as a prototype to extend beyond the 10 states signed up for participation, possibly serving as a model for the rest of the nation.

“The state’s participation in the regional initiative can help lower energy bills for taxpayers, lower pollution levels and allow for greater investment in green projects,’’ said Assemblywoman Vanieri Huttle (D-Bergen). It is imperative for this and future generations that we rejoin the other states in the RGGI.’’

When the state pulled out of RGGI, some environmental groups challenged the decision, saying it failed to follow procedures allowing for public participation in the process. A state appeals court agreed, sending the issue back to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which is now seeking to repeal rules requiring participation in the RGGI program.