The Murphy administration is being urged to ratchet down on greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants when it rejoins a regional initiative to limit climate-harming pollution.
In a letter to two Cabinet officials, several environmental organizations recommended an ambitious cap on carbon pollution in 2020, when New Jersey re-enters the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate program aimed at combating climate change.
New Jersey had been part of RGGI until 2011, when former Gov. Chris Christie pulled the state out of the initiative, citing cost to utility customers. Lawmakers sought to rejoin the program but were blocked by repeated vetoes by Christie. Gov. Phil Murphy already has signed a law authorizing the state to rejoin RGGI and negotiations are ongoing.
The size of the cap is considered crucial to clean-energy advocates who argue that if it’s too modest it could undermine some of Murphy’s most significant environmental policies and the overall effectiveness of RGGI.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has analyzed the situation; it and other groups have recommended the state adopt a cap between 12 million and 13 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2020. In 2017, New Jersey’s in-state power emissions were 18.6 million tons of CO2, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Adopting a cap of 12 million to 13 million tons is consistent with the state’s current trajectory, achievable and economically reasonable, according to the letter sent to Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe and Board of Public Utilities president Joseph Fiordaliso.
In addition, the groups urge the RGGI program be strengthened by additional pollution reductions of 3 percent per year — the same rate adopted by the other states — through 2030.
RGGI sets a regional cap on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants. The cap declines yearly — reducing the annual pollution level — and is enforced by selling a decreasing number of permits, known as allowances, via quarterly auctions.
Owners of plants emitting carbon pollution must purchase allowances. States participating in the program use revenue from the auction to fund energy efficiency and renewable energy-programs, which proponents say have saved customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their energy bills.
Besides negotiating to rejoin RGGI, the BPU and the DEP jointly announced last month they would initiate an economic analysis to evaluate the costs and benefits of having New Jersey re-enter the regional initiative. The analysis is intended to assess the potential impact on ratepayers.
“Bottom line for New Jersey: The most critical and immediate decision facing Gov. Murphy in the coming weeks on climate policy is how ambitious to be in setting New Jersey’s RGGI power-sector carbon pollution cap,’’ said Bruce Ho, NRDC’s energy expert.
Besides the NRDC, others signing the letter included the Acadia Center, Environment New Jersey, the Sierra Club and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.