Lawmakers Hope to Steer State Back into Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

As is becoming increasingly common with environmental efforts, backers are looking beyond Christie administration for success

Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen)
The Legislature is taking another run at putting New Jersey back into a regional program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Without debate and along partisan lines, the Democratic-controlled Assembly yesterday voted to require the state to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to combat climate change by curbing carbon pollution from power plants.

The approval sets up another potential veto by the governor, but even if that occurs, backers of the legislation (A-4701) are banking on a new administration that will reverse course and join the nine-state cap-and-trade program early next year. The bill still needs to be passed in the Senate.

Gov. Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of the program six years ago, calling it ineffective and a tax on utility customers. Since then, he has blocked legislative efforts to rejoin RGGI with vetoes.

Fighting global warming

Clean-energy advocates, lawmakers, and environmentalists have advocated the program as one of the most effective ways the state can fight global warming, and pay for less polluting ways to produce electricity.

“The governor’s withdrawal from RGGI blatantly disregarded the importance of our participation in RGGI to reducing greenhouse gas emission in our state,’’ said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen). “A return to the RGGI pact with full participation will get New Jersey back on the right environmental track.’’

In urging colleagues to vote for the bill, Eustace argued it is important for the state ‘’to step up to be a regional leader in making sure greenhouse gases are handled.’’ The bill passed 46-27-1 in a party-line vote. Among those voting against the measure was Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerset), one of two candidates running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, the other Republican seeking the nomination, supports rejoining the regional initiative, as do all four major candidates seeking the Democratic nod for governor. Not so GOP lawmakers, however.

A changing world

“The world has changed the last six years,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, which has lobbied extensively on the issue. “Republican legislators are still shackling themselves to Gov. Christie, the most unpopular governor in America. RGGI is a common-sense way to fight carbon pollution.’’

But business interests also oppose the state participating in RGGI, saying New Jersey does not need to join the initiative. “We are a leader in our own right in curbing emissions and producing clean power,’’ said Sara Bluhm, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “Do not penalize our generation sector for their good work by additional compliance costs.’’

RGGI is a cap-and-trade program placing a tax on carbon emissions; the money it raises is put in a special fund distributed to participating states to finance a variety of clean-energy programs. New Jersey received over $100 million from the program, but much of it was diverted to fill budget holes or fund other programs.

Environmentalists argue, with the Trump administration dismantling programs to fight climate change, it is important for states to take the lead in battling global warming.

“You are seeing at the state level more people are looking at a carbon tax or some other proposals to deal with the issue,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

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