New Jersey Steers Clear of New Initiative to Reduce Transportation Pollution

Tom Johnson | November 30, 2015 | Energy & Environment
Despite participation of five states in region, state DEP dismisses program, claiming it will increase costs for motorists

Another initiative to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from the largest source of carbon pollution in the region is taking shape among five states and the District of Columbia — but not New Jersey.

The agreement to develop a cooperative regional approach to cut emissions contributing to climate change from the transportation sector builds on clean-energy strategies developed by the 12 Northeast and mid-Atlantic states through the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI).

According to a report from the Georgetown Climate Center, clean transportation policies could curb carbon pollution in the TCI region between 29 percent and 40 percent from 2011 levels by 2030, depending on what strategies are selected and how states comply with aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The options include expansion of measures already being pursued to one degree or another by various states, such as incentives to encourage use of electric vehicles, efforts to reduce traffic congestion, and effective land-use policies, the report said.

The greatest reductions in the transportation sector could be achieved through a market-based program or pricing policy, such as an emission budget program, carbon fee, or mileage-based user fee, according to the report.

To some officials from the six jurisdictions that have launched the effort, one scenario that ought to be explored is to use the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a cooperative effort by nine northeastern states to cut carbon pollution from power plants — as a model for the transportation sector.

If the RGGI program did not exist, greenhouse gas emissions would be 24 percent higher today, said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumin, whose state is signing on to the effort. “I hope our efforts in moving to a cleaner transportation system can built on this successful model,’’ he said.

At one time, New Jersey was part of the RGGI program but early in his first term Gov. Chris Christie pulled the state out of the effort, calling it ineffective and merely a tax on utility customers. Clean-energy advocates and legislators criticized the move, but despite several attempts have been frustrated in their efforts to have New Jersey rejoin the program.

New Jersey is part of the TCI, but like other six other member-states opted not to join the latest initiative announced last week. Bob Considine, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection said he is supportive of the TCI and that New Jersey is “very much’’ a participating state.

“We declined to join in on this particular agreement because we feel the reduction of air pollution from mobile sources can come without imposing additional costs on drivers,’’ he said.

The decision irked clean-energy advocates who already have argued the state is failing to do enough to reduce carbon pollution from vehicles, trains, airlines, and other sources in the transportation sector. More than one-third of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions come from mobile sources.

“New Jersey can and should be doing more,’’ said Chuck Feinberg, coordinator of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, an organization working to promote the use of alternative-fuel vehicles. “The real focus on this issue is at the state level: There’s no leadership.’’

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed. “When it comes to mobile sources, New Jersey is stuck in neutral. We’re missing out on an opportunity here,’’ he said.

Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, said there is an opportunity for other states to join the initiative. “This analysis shows significant progress in curbing pollution from the transportation sector is not only possible, it also would provide net economic benefits,’’ she said.

According to the analysis, over 15 years businesses would save $28.7 billion to $54.5 billion and consumers would save $3.6 billion to $18 billion. The savings stem from reduced fuel consumption and congestion, among other factors.