‘President’ Christie Would Call for National Energy Policy — Details to Come

Tom Johnson | February 19, 2015 | Energy & Environment
Governor has made few friends in environmental camp, while business and industry are glad to have cheaper natural gas, reduced subsidies to pay for greenhouse-gas initiative

Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
Gov. Chris Christie
If elected president, Gov. Chris Christie says he wants to develop a comprehensive national energy policy, according to what he told reporters in New Hampshire earlier this week.

Christie did not offer any details on what the program will entail, other than saying his policy must take “full advantage of all resources available’’ in the United States.

But his tenure as governor provides some details on what strategies he might pursue.

His administration has aggressively promoted expansion of natural gas pipelines in New Jersey, a fuel that has lowered heating costs for both residents and businesses. It has also reduced the price of electricity in a state with some of the highest energy costs in the nation.

His other energy policies, however, are not without critics.

Christie — and the Democratic-controlled Legislature — approved a bill to have utility customers’ subsidies promote the development of new natural-gas power plants to lower energy bills. The policy was blocked by the courts, but three new generating stations are still being built — without subsidies.

Christie — along with strong backing from the Legislature — developed a bill to promote offshore wind farms along the Jersey coast. Four years after the law was enacted, the administration has yet to put in place crucial rules to make that goal happen.

Christie pulled New Jersey out of a regional initiative to curb greenhouse gas emissions, calling the program simply a tax on utility customers. The program provides millions of dollars to states to fund energy efficiency and other clean-energy programs.

Christie’s decision has led to criticism of the administration’s commitment to combating climate change, an issue particularly important to New Jersey in the wake of a series of extreme storm, such as Hurricane Sandy,

With agreement from legislators, the administration also has diverted more than $1 billion in money from a clean-energy program financed by surcharges on utility customers’ bills to plug deficits in the state budget over the past few years.

His administration’s push for more natural gas pipelines has also has irked environmentalists, in part, because the new structures traverse lands previously set aside for open-space and farmland preservation with taxpayers’ dollars.

Yet in a move supported by many, Christie also has vowed to prevent any new coal plants from being built in New Jersey and has taken legal action to close down a facility in Pennsylvania considered one of the biggest causes of pollution in the state.

Asked to elaborate on Christie’s proposal for a national energy policy and his actions shaping New Jersey’s energy policies, the governor’s office declined to respond.

Others, however, were more vocal.

“They haven’t been very cohesive, particularly transitioning to renewable energy,’’ said Lyle Rawlings, an owner of a solar development firm and longtime advocate of increasing the state’s reliance on renewable energy. “The last thing they need to do is subsidize the construction of natural-gas plants.’’

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said the Christie administration is failing to make progress on promoting offshore wind farms and not doing enough to promote energy efficiency, which can reduce utility customers’ bills.

“Gov. Christie’s energy policy has been to double down on fossil fuels and ignore climate change,’’ he said.

Some business advocates were more positive about the state’s energy policies.

“We have been able to see government-imposed fees dropped,’’ said Sara Bluhm, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, citing the decision to drop out of regional greenhouse gas initiative and surcharges associated with the state’s decision to deregulate the energy industry.

Unlike environmentalists, Bluhm supports the effort to produce more domestic energy. “Natural gas has been lower over the last few years and that has lowered the costs to businesses,’’ she said.