Gov. Chris Christie is going to get schooled on global climate change.
The Republican governor, who caused a stir when he told a town hall meeting he was unsure about the science of global warming, plans to sit down this week with a couple of climate change scientists recommended by the New Jersey Environmental Federation.
While not taking back his original comments, Christie, appearing at the federation’s annual convention Saturday at Rutgers University in Newark, said he replied that way because he didn’t think he had enough evidence at the time to offer a "fully formed opinion."
His skepticism on the issue caused concern among clean energy advocates and environmentalists, because New Jersey has established an aggressive target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Last month, Board of Public Utilities (BPU) President Lee Solomon questioned whether the state might have to roll back those targets in the wake of the nuclear plant disaster in Japan, an event that makes developing new nuclear power in the U.S. much more problematic.
Christie did not mention who the climate scientists are and David Pringle, the federation’s campaign director, declined to identify them after Christie left.
Meanwhile, a conservative group is pushing for New Jersey to quit a regional initiative among 10 Northeastern states to cooperatively reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade program. The administration is currently reviewing its participation in the effort, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin told legislators earlier this month. Christie was not asked about this issue on Saturday and did not address it in his opening remarks.
To some critics, Christie’s positions on the environment are motivated by his increasing national stature, and reflect a decision to subtly move his stance on certain issues to the right, should he seek national office.
Christie was well received at the federation’s meeting, which had endorsed him in his gubernatorial bid. After he finished taking questions, including a few questioning some of those policies, about half of the 100-plus in attendance gave him a standing ovation. Christie told the federation its leadership would have the primary seat at the table in formulation of environmental policies, praising them for their "opinions and reasonableness."
That "reasonableness," however, has been viewed by some conservationists as providing cover for the administration in its efforts to roll back some environmental protections, a stance that has caused a fracture within the environmental community.
In his opening remarks, the governor touted his environmental policies, opposing offshore oil drilling, unlike fellow Republicans, he noted, who last week voted to open up more areas to exploration off the eastern seaboard. He also cited his administration’s opposition to offshore liquefied natural gas terminals, to the dredging of the Delaware River and efforts to clean up dirty coal plants in Pennsylvania.
He also said the administration was committed to develop renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind, but suggested it would require investments from both ratepayers and taxpayers to make it happen.
In questions from the audience, Christie was asked why he had nominated to the New Jersey Highlands Council people who were fervently opposed to the law, which was supposed to protect water supplies and address other issue. Christie said he did not agree with the premise of the question, but added those members reflect his view that the Highlands law failed to compensate property-owners whose land had been affected by the regulations.
Asked about the relicensing of the Salem nuclear power plants, Christie said the issues at Oyster Creek, which his administration signed a deal with Exelon to close in 9 years, and Salem were different in operational terms. "I don’t see us closing Salem," he said.
He also defended a controversial proposed waiver rule, that would allow DEP to waive certain regulations where exceptions are merited.