The Northeast, including New Jersey, enjoys a long history of working together to deal with air pollution, from cooperating on a regional initiative to reduce smog, to enacting rules to usher in a fleet of cleaner-running vehicles, to taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
That last endeavor, however, may fall by the wayside if an aggressive campaign by the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) to repeal the climate initiative is successful, a prospect advocates of the program fear is gaining traction.
With a blitz of radio and TV ads, as well direct mailings, the campaign appears to be picking up steam, with 40 legislators signing up to co-sponsor measures that would accomplish the goal. Even Gov. Chris Christie expressed skepticism about global warming at a town hall meeting last year.
"I think the television and radio ads have gotten our message out," said Steve Lonegan, state director of the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity. Lonegan, the former Bogota mayor and two-time gubernatorial candidate, said the chapter has spent $300,000 on the effort.
"It is a job-destroying bill," Lonegan said of the initiative known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. "RGGI is the king of bad government policy."
The effort is spreading, with the organization having achieved passage of a bill repealing New Hampshire’s participation in RGGI in the lower house, with bills introduced in other states, as well.
"There is a reason why businesses are leaving New Jersey, because they look at the cost of electricity over the long term," Lonegan said. The group’s TV ad begins with a commentator saying "electricity prices are skyrocketing" in New Jersey. "When fully implemented, rates can rise 90 percent or more," according to the ad.
Opponents said the group’s campaign is full of misinformation and distortions.
Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, argued that there are a lot of reasons why businesses move out of New Jersey, but they do not do it because of RGGI. "People are looking at it superficially and saying this is one way to reduce electric rates," he said.
"It’s unfortunate a lot of legislators here are siding with the Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity, which is basically a front group for the oil companies," said Matt Elliot, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said the greenhouse gas initiative is working, and not very costly to consumers or businesses, accounting for less than one-half of 1 percent of their electric bill. He claimed that at most, the initiative would add no more than 4 percent or 5 percent to utility bills.
In New Jersey, the state has already reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent, a goal the region is projected to reach by 2018, Tittel said. New Jersey was able to reach that target because half of its electricity is produced by nuclear power and renewable energy, Tittel said.
"It’s very scary to see misinformation and falsehoods carry the day, especially so when most people in New Jersey want to do something about global warming and greenhouse gas emissions," Tittel said. "To see this gaining traction in New Jersey is disturbing."
The Christie administration is reviewing its participation in the regional initiative, but Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin gave no indication which direction the state was leaning in his appearances before the legislature’s budget committees.