Murphy or Guadagno: There’s Likely RGGI in New Jersey’s Future

Tom Johnson | October 3, 2017 | Energy & Environment
After six years on the outside, after being yanked by Gov. Christie, the Garden State is almost certain to rejoin regional initiative in near future

power plant smog
No matter who wins next month’s gubernatorial election, it is a near certainty New Jersey will be rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the multistate coalition trying to clamp down on pollution from power plants.

Both Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno have pledged to have the state rejoin the initiative, an idea embraced by many in the environmental community but disparaged by those who see it as just another way to boost utility bills.

In its eight-and-a-half years, though, RGGI has driven down carbon dioxide emissions quicker than in other regions and funded more than $1 billion in clean-energy initiatives among its participating states, according to its advocates.

Gov. Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of the program six years ago, calling it ineffective and just a tax on ratepayers. Since then, he blocked on three occasions, the most recent being this past July, efforts by lawmakers to rejoin the program.

The initiative, a collaboration of nine states in the Northeast, is a cap-and-trade program placing a tax on carbon emissions eventually passed on to electric customers. Money raised from the program is put into a special fund, divvied up among participating states to fund clean-energy projects.

Already, policymakers in New Jersey are banking on using the money to finance projects to help clean the air. Sen. Bob Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, is talking about using funds from RGGI to help provide incentives to motorists to buy electric vehicles as well as pay for charging stations to power the cars.

RGGI critics argue New Jersey already is achieving significant pollution reductions from its power sector. A recent report by the Rutgers Climate Institute found that carbon pollution in 2015 had dropped 42 percent from power plants since 2005.

“We’ve gotten high emission-reductions already,’’ said Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, who wants to see more information before the state rejoins RGGI. “The economics, at the end of the day, just don’t work out.’’

Because of its high reliance on nuclear power, the state’s electricity sector generates only 20 percent of New Jersey’s greenhouse-gas emissions, well behind the transportation sector at 46 percent.

“Rejoining RGGI is a baby step,’’ acknowledged David Pringle, campaign director of Clean Water Action. “It needs to be packaged with a whole lot of other things.’’

Indeed, the recent report by the Rutgers Climate Institute found the state is far from achieving its goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent to 1990 levels by 2050.

By rejoining RGGI, however, New Jersey will end up partnering with other states on regional efforts to tackle climate change, such as those to promote electrical vehicles jointly through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.