Last week, Gov. Chris Christie talked a lot about how the state was going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- moments after saying he would pull out of a regional initiative to reduce pollution from power plants contributing to global climate change.
He mentioned a greater reliance on solar and wind power, a bigger commitment to reducing consumption through energy efficiency, and a prohibition on new coal plants in the state, the biggest producer of greenhouse gases in the electricity generation sector.
But he failed to mention anything to do with the transportation sector, by far the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, a report put out by his Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the same day detailed that very problem: transportation accounted for 40 percent of all emissions contributing to climate change in 2008, the most recent data compiled by the agency, far more than electric generation (24 percent).
Christie defended pulling out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 10-state consortium that enacted a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, saying it was ineffective and amounted to just a "tax’" on businesses and consumers.
However, the DEP report notes that electric generation achieved the biggest reduction in greenhouse gas emission, with carbon dioxide emissions falling by 5.6 million metric tons. The report said the reductions were caused by a drop in retail sales of electricity (most likely due to the recession) and a drop in coal-fired plant production at the same time natural gas plants were increasingly used.
The report never mentions the role of the regional gas initiative in the decline, an omission some clean energy advocates found telling, as well as the lack of details on dealing with transportation emissions.
Asked why it failed to talk about the regional greenhouse program, Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for DEP, said "it wasn’t mean to be an analysis of RGGI. It was supposed to be a nuts and bolts look of what occurred in 2008 regarding greenhouse gas emissions. It wasn’t intended to be more than that."
Environmentalists had a different perspective.
"He took a pass on the transportation sector, which is by far the biggest source of emissions," said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. "He was delivering bad news and he sought to spin it by regurgitating programs that are already in place. There was nothing new in the proposal."
The omission of the transportation sector is glaring because two energy companies in New Jersey --Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) of Newark and NRG Energy of Princeton -- have expressed interest in building the infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles. That initiative seemingly would mesh with the administration’s oft-stated goal of being a leader in the green economy.
There has been a lot of speculation about what the revised state energy master plan will say when it is released—expected to occur within the next two weeks—and a lot of talk has been on the transportation sector with some in the administration favoring plug-in electric vehicles and others backing compressed natural gas vehicles. By some accounts, the compromise is to push plug-in vehicles for the homes while supporting natural gas vehicles for buses and commercial fleets.
Christie critics say the administration is missing an opportunity.
"There are ways the state can address transportation emissions pretty simply," argued Michael Pisauro, an attorney for the New Jersey Environmental Lobby. He noted there are slew of bills pending in the legislature that would offer incentives and tax breaks for businesses that build the charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles.
Also by pulling out of RGGI, New Jersey loses an opportunity to direct money raised from the auction of emission credits to fund efforts to promote plug-ins technology, Pisauro said, unlike other states that have elected to stay in the program.
"New Jersey will be at a competitive disadvantage to those states in attracting good-paying, sustainable green jobs," he said.
Ironically, the withdrawal from RGGI occurs at a time when New Jersey is still talking with other states in the region to develop a program to mandate low-carbon fuel use in vehicles, although the efforts are still far from fruition.
"There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done," said Jim Benton, executive director of the New Jersey Petroleum Council, which has expressed reservations about the proposal, including its potential impact on gasoline prices.
Some environmentalists are not sure much of those efforts will pay fruit. "I’m not optimistic that what the governor laid out yesterday will carry through and leave New Jersey in the leadership position on clean energy as it was before," said David Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.