New Jersey clean energy advocates turned out today in New Brunswick to hear Gov. Chris Christie talk about the state's efforts to be a leader in promoting solar and wind power and using energy more efficiently, but what they heard was a call to share in the sacrifice to bring the state’s fiscal house in order.
Christie, under fire for siphoning off more than $400 million to deal with the state’s fiscal crisis, told the audience at the State Theatre in New Brunswick that New Jersey is uniquely positioned geographically to become a leader in renewable energy. The event was sponsored by the Board of Public Utilities.
For the most part, however, Christie repeated platforms from his successful gubernatorial campaign, calling for large-scale solar power projects on landfills and farms and taking advantage of New Jersey's valuable port facilities to become a leader in manufacturing of parts necessary to develop solar and wind power projects.
Before that all can happen, however, Christie warned the state must deal with the huge budget crisis that he argued has been building for more than two decades and to rein in out-of-control spending on both the state and local levels.
"How do we want to make it a place where clean energy manufacturers want to go? New Jersey has to position itself from a tax and regulatory perspective to be more business friendly," the Governor said. "If not, they will go elsewhere. Businesses will go where they believe they will be profitable."
For too long, Christie said the state has avoided dealing with the fiscal problems that have led to a huge budget deficit.
"I believe the hopeful future of our state is by pulling together and sharing the sacrifice together," said Christie, one of the few times he even obliquely mentioned the controversy over using clean energy funds to deal with the state's budget deficit. "That will allow us to have an aggressive green energy program that we can finance."
Christie’s comments disappointed some environmental groups, who had hoped he would be more specific about his administration’s plans.
"He didn’t say anything new about his plan," said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. “He just used energy to plug his overall budget."
Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club agrees. “The proof is in what they have done," he said. "By cutting clean energy programs, it's not only a hidden tax on ratepayers, but undermining the whole point of his speech."
The criticism was echoed by Assemblyman Upendra Chivukua, the Democratic chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.
"Gov. Christie may claim to back clean energy and energy independence, but his budget plans call for raiding $417 million in clean energy money that was supposed to go toward creating jobs and saving consumers money," he said.