In the wake of a historic agreement to curb global warming, New Jersey lawmakers yesterday voted to take aggressive steps to reduce carbon pollution while delivering a rebuke to the Christie administration.
In a vote largely along party lines, the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a bill (S-2444) that aims to ramp up significantly how much electricity is generated from renewable sources, such as solar and wind.
Also, the Assembly passed a resolution (SCR-125) that seeks to have New Jersey rejoin a regional initiative to curb emissions from power plants contributing to climate change, an effort the Christie administration pulled out of early in the governor’s first term. The vote was 46-32, with all Republicans voting against.
The approval by the Assembly is significant because it is the first time the Legislature has exercised its oversight authority to challenge what many view as a concerted effort to roll back environmental laws by the administration.
The resolution finds that New Jersey’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) violates the legislative intent of a 2007 law allowing the state to join with other states in a greenhouse-gas reduction program. The resolution will make it easier for New Jersey to rejoin RGGI, which even supporters say is not going to happen under this administration.
“Three years after Sandy, Gov. Christie says that our climate is not in crisis,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “It’s time for the Legislature to remind Gov. Christie he can ignore climate science, but he can’t ignore legislative intent.’’
In withdrawing from the program, Gov. Chris Christie said it was ineffective and merely amounted to a new tax on utility customers. RGGI requires power companies to pay for pollution contributing to global warming; those funds are divided among participating states to finance clean-energy efforts.
Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), the sponsor of the resolution, said the governor cannot ignore state regulations and ‘’just change them to suit his anti-environmental agenda. We aren’t going to stand by and let Gov. Christie run roughshod over our pro-environmental legacy.’’
Other resolutions challenging new regulations adopted by the state Department of Environmental Protection are pending in the Legislature, including one seeking to overturn proposed rules dealing with water quality and flood protection.
With the accord reached earlier this month in Paris among world leaders to jointly tackle global warming, and the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants, environmentalists said it is crucial for the state to rejoin RGGI.
“Without participating in RGGI we will not meet those goals,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “By passing this resolution, the Legislature has stood with the people of New Jersey by demanding action on climate change.’’
The ambitious renewable-energy bill, approved in the Senate without any debate, would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from such sources by 2050, a goal that would be among the most ambitious in the nation to phase out dirty fossil fuels with clean energy.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), is promoted by a broad coalition of clean-energy advocates and developers of renewable-energy systems, who say it will not only reduce unhealthy air pollution, but also help spur the creation of thousands of so-called green jobs.
“The Senate’s passage today us a strong first step for New Jersey in making the shift away from our state’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels like natural gas and echoes the world’s unanimous vote in Paris that it’s time to adopt forward-thinking clean-energy policies,’’ said Tom Gilbert, campaign director for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ.
With the current legislative session ending early in January, it is questionable whether the bill will win approval in time to make it to the governor’s desk. Even if it does, however, advocates do not expect Christie will sign it because Stefanie Brand, director of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, opposed the bill in committee, questioning its impact on ratepayers in a state that already has high energy costs.