Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday signed an executive order to have the state rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a step signaling the state is shifting to a much more aggressive stance on fighting climate change.
In an event in Atlantic Highlands, the governor fulfilled one of his primary environmental pledges by reentering the multistate program to reduce pollution from power plants by participating in the carbon budget-trading program.
New Jersey was once a part of RGGI, but former Gov. Chris Christie pulled out in 2012, a decision he attributed to the program's ineffectiveness and cost, but critics blamed on his presidential ambitions and the conventional Republican skepticism about climate change.
The RGGI program imposes an allowance on carbon emissions, a cost passed on to ratepayers, but returned to states to help fund clean-energy programs. By withdrawing from the program, New Jersey missed out on $279 million in revenue, Murphy said.
His executive order starts what will be at least a six-month and probably longer process to get back into the program. The Legislature also is moving a bill to have the state rejoin RGGI, but both the executive order and legislative process will require the state to draft, publish, and review public comments on the new rules.
Nevertheless, the governor and clean energy advocates welcomed the long expected move.
"Pulling out of RGGI slowed down progress on lowering emissions and has cost New Jerseyans millions of dollars that could have been used to increase energy efficiency and improve air quality in our communities,'' Murphy said.
Under the executive order, the state Department of Environmental Protection is directed to begin drafting new regulations for participating in the regional program within 30 days. Murphy also ordered the agency to begin drafting rules to allocate funds received from participating in the pact.
Specifically, he directed that funds be allocated to projects in communities that are disproportionately impacted by the effects of environmental degradation and climate change. The provision appears to be aligned with a recommendation of the administration's transition team on environment and energy, which recommended ''a substantial'' portion of RGGI funds be targeted toward so-called.
"While RGGI is not a silver bullet to reduce all of our carbon emissions, it's an incredible first step to reduce pollution from fossil-fuel plants and move to a clean, renewable-energy economy,'' said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex) agreed. "This is a return to sound environmental policy and the reversal of the nearly decade-long anti-environmental agenda under Gov. Christie,'' he said.
Murphy is expected also to issue an executive order soon requiring New Jersey to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of states that have banded together to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and aim to achieve some of the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.