DEP answers questions about rejoining RGGI

The room at the Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, headquarters in Trenton was packed with people who had questions about how New Jersey will re-enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, otherwise known as RGGI.

“RGGI is a group of nine states right now and it’s a cap and trade program. The goal is to reduce carbon from electric generating facilities,” said Paul Baldauf, assistant commissioner of air quality, energy and sustainability for the Department of Environmental Protection.

In 2011, then-Gov. Chris Christie announced the state would be leaving RGGI because he said, while he believed in climate change, he didn’t think the program was effective.

“RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment,” Christie said at the time.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order this year to put New Jersey back into the program.

“For many years, frankly for decades, New Jersey was a leader in smart policymaking, on both sides of the aisle, I might add, that makes sense for today, but frankly even more sense for tomorrow,” said Murphy. “Unfortunately, over the last eight years, we lost that part of our soul.”

“We’re probably one of the cleanest states in the country, but at the end of the day, you can’t deny that those RGGI proceeds that we haven’t had the ability to receive over those last so many years, they could have gone and done some very good things,” said Baldauf.

Baldauf says the benefits of re-entering RGGI are twofold —  addressing pollution and helping the community.

“When we rejoin RGGI, there will be an auction. Those auction proceeds go back to the New Jersey community,” continued Baldauf.

Officials told the room 60 percent of the money will go to the Economic Development Authority, 20 percent will go to the Board of Public Utilities and the remaining 20 percent will go to the DEP.

“It’s all somehow related to greenhouse gas reduction. It could be energy efficiencies, it could be reforestation, it could be electric vehicles. It all depends,” said Baldauf.

“Our specific mandate is low and moderate income, so the board currently has a number of programs that we do through the clean energy program that effect low and moderate income constituencies, and we would expect to try to leverage those to make those even bigger or better,” said BPU Executive Director Paul Flanagan.

“You may see something as much as $30 million in a year, could be as high as $80 million, but it’s really hard to estimate,” said Baldauf.

Fair Lawn Mayor Lisa Swain says she’s hopeful municipalities will be getting part of the money for some of their programs.

“I wanted to know whether RGGI is going to work in concert with sustainable New Jersey. Are there going to be new programs that we could focus on, so we could get additional funds for additional programs in Fair Lawn,” said Swain. “I was satisfied, is probably a good word. I would like to know more.”

“It’s really important that stakeholders are engaged in the process,” said the Executive Director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council Dan Fatton.

Baldauf said the length of the process to rejoin RGGI will all depend on how negotiations go.