Gov. Christie announces N.J. pulling out of regional environmental initiative
TRENTON — In a blow to clean energy advocates throughout the Northeast, Gov. Chris Christie said this morning that the state will pull out of the region’s “gimmicky” cap-and-trade program by the end of the year.
During a Statehouse news conference, Christie acknowledged the effects humans are having on climate change but said the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was doing nothing to solve the problem.
“This program is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases and is unlikely to be in the future,” Christie told reporters. “The whole system is not working as it was intended to work. It’s a failure.”
Critics of the governor will view the decision as another move in his careful chess game to appease conservative supporters in New Jersey and nationwide, who have increasingly pressured him to ditch the program.
But Christie’s retreat from RGGI also touched off a wave of condemnations from Democrats and environmentalists. They said the governor was more interested in retreating from a model initiative than helping to fix it.
“I’m glad the governor went to global warming school but he didn’t learn his lesson,” said David Pringle, political director of New Jersey Environmental Federation, which backed Christie for the top office.
During an afternoon news conference held by environmentalists, Luis Martinez, an energy attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Christie bowed to fossil fuel lobbyists targeting the initiative.
“Unfortunately, they found fertile ground here in New Jersey,” Martinez said.
The goal of the initiative is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants across 10 Northeast and mid-Atlantic states from Maine to Maryland by 10 percent in the next seven years.
It’s the first cap-and-trade program of its kind in the United States, and is considered a trial run for a possible nationwide program in the future.
Under the initiative, power plant operators buy credits at quarterly auctions for the carbon dioxide they emit. Proceeds are then to be used to pay for renewable energy initiatives. The program had raised more than $860 million through March.
In New Jersey, the program has paid out $29.6 million for 12 large-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, according to RGGI Inc., the nonprofit that oversees the initiative.
RGGI Inc. said in a statement that the planned auction for June 8 will continue as scheduled. The group did not immediately address Christie’s decision to pull out.
Several states, including New Jersey, have raided RGGI proceeds recently to fill budget gaps. Christie took $65.2 million from the state’s Global Warming Solutions Fund to balance the current budget. This morning, he condemned RGGI as nothing more than a tax.
But when asked what the savings from backing out of RGGI would be for consumers, Christie said: “I don’t want to overplay that because we’re not talking about a huge difference.”
As of last August, participating states had invested 63 percent of RGGI auction proceeds in programs to improve energy efficiency and accelerate the use of renewable energy technologies, according to the initiative’s website.
The investments are intended to help reduce greenhouse gases.
Calls to back out of the program have grown louder in New Jersey as well as in New Hampshire and Delaware. Earlier this month the New Hampshire Senate blocked a bill to pull out of RGGI after the House approved the measure; legislation introduced in Delaware died in committee.
Closer to home, Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) last month became the first Democrat to support pulling out of the initiative.