BY TOM HESTER SR.
Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday that the state is pulling out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initative by the end of the year.
The governor described the initiative as "gimmicky" and a “failure.”
The announcement was quickly strongly criticized by environmentalists and Democrats in the Legislature.
Christie said the initiative is doing nothing to solve the problem of greenhouse gas.
"This program is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases and is unlikely to be in the future," the governor told reporters at the Statehouse. "The whole system is not working as it was intended to work. It’s a failure."
The goal of the initiative is to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in 10 Northeast states from Maine to Maryland by 10 percent in the next seven years. It’s the first so-called first cap-and-trade program of its kind in the United States. The initiative could expand nationwide but Republicans and power plant operators strongly oppose it.
Under the initiative, power plant operators buy credits at quarterly auctions for the carbon dioxide they emit. The money is then used to pay for renewable energy initiatives. As of March 31, the program had raised more than $860 million.
Christie has taken $65.2 million that New Jersey obtained from the initiative to use to close the gap in the proposed 2011-12 state budget. The money is supposed to be used for green energy programs.
Christie's decision quickly drew criticism from the Democratic governors of Maryland, Vermont and Massachusetts, states that participate in the initiative.
"I am disappointed in Governor Christie’s decision to withdraw from RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) reand I reject his assertion that the initiative is ineffective in reducing greenhouse gases," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said. "RGGI represents an important multi-state effort to address climate change at a time when consensus eludes Congress.
“We are in a fight for our children’s future," the governor said. "And in this fight some states will win and some states will lose. For Maryland to be a winner in this new economy, we must move forward – not back – by creating and saving jobs through innovation, while improving public safety, public education, and our quality of life.
"Governor Christie is simply wrong when he claims that these efforts are a failure," O'Malley said. "Here in Maryland, RGGI has avoided dangerous carbon dioxide emissions in Maryland equivalent to taking nearly 3,500 cars off the road. Through last year, we’ve raised $162.4 million in RGGI proceeds – funds that have been used for programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said, “I am deeply disappointed to hear of Governor Christie’s decision to pull New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI is a leading model for recognizing the cost and impact of global warming, and for generating incentives to support efficiency and renewable projects in the Northeast. RGGI is something to be proud of and to embrace, not something to raid for short-term budget gains -- as has occurred in some states recently -- or to reject for political gain. We cannot deny the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet; we should not abandon our responsibility to future generations who count on us to do the right thing. I believe we must redouble our efforts to reduce our impact on the climate. The planet is not a political football – we need serious, stable, and long-term policy in place to reverse our climate impact. That is why I think Governor Christie’s decision to abandon RGGI, a cornerstone of that policy, is wrong.”
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said, "Climate change is a serious issue that requires a regional, national and international strategy. Massachusetts is a national leader in clean and alternative energy initiatives, and we remain committed to paving the way for a clean energy future both here in the commonwealth and as a nation. It is disappointing that New Jersey has decided not to be part of the solution, but we will continue to work with the RGGI states to tackle this critical issue.”
The New Jersey Businbess & Industry Association, the Trenton-based lobbying organization for small business, announced it favors Christie’s decision.
NJBIA President Philip Kirschner said participation in the initiative drives up energy costs and provides little environmental benefit to the state.
“RGGI’s cap-and-trade provisions increase costs to New Jersey businesses and consumers who are already paying some of the highest electricity rates in the nation,” Kirschner said. “New Jersey’s participation in RGGI, however, has virtually no positive impact on the environment. Even if the state meets its greenhouse-gas reduction goals, it would have an infinitesimal effect on the overall generation of greenhouse gases.”
“In recent weeks, legislators from both parties have called for New Jersey to stop participating in RGGI,” Kirschner added. “This is not a partisan issue, it’s just a bad deal for New Jersey.”
State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-Gloucester) a prime sponsor of the legislation that had New Jersey joining the initiative, said, “RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) represents a smart, common sense approach to dealing with our environment and issues of clean energy. It has wide-spread support and its principles are largely endorsed by the people of New Jersey. Removing New Jersey from RGGI can only cause harm to our state’s environment. I urge the governor to reconsider his position.
“Protecting our environment is not just a matter of dollars and cents,” Sweeney added. “It’s about common sense. It’s about leaving a clean, healthy, stable environment to our children and our grandchildren. Unfortunately, removing ourselves from RGGI will make it that much harder to attain that goal.”
Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris) praised the governor’s action.
“Democrats made New Jersey a national leader in tax hikes, but Governor Christie is making us a national leader in repealing them,” DeCroce said. “RGGI has not reduced carbon pollution, only the number of businesses in New Jersey. Repealing this disastrous tax, one of many imposed by the Democrats, will help New Jersey attract and retain the jobs our families need right now.”
Sen. Diane Allen (R- Burlington) the co-sponsor of legislation that would have withdrawn New Jersey from the "job-killing" initiative, said, "RGGI drives up energy costs for consumers at a time when nobody can afford any additional taxes. Businesses are hit particularly hard and virtually invites them to pick up and leave New Jersey. This program has put New Jersey on an unequal footing as compared to our neighbors, and I applaud Governor Christie's newest commitment to improving our business and jobs climate in New Jersey by withdrawing from RGGI.
"As I have repeatedly stated, this is not a debate about whether or not we should protect our environment- we should," Allen said. "However, I refuse to accept that good environmental policy must come at the expense of families' livelihoods. There has to be a better way, and I believe the Governor's energy master plan is on the right track in advocating for state and private investment in renewable energy and conservation projects not borne on the backs of ratepayers."
Activists with the New Jersey Environmental Federation, which endorsed Christie for governor, and the New Jersey Chapter of Clean Water Action were critical of his decision.
"I’m glad the governor went to global warming school but he didn’t learn his lesson," said David Pringle, the Environmental Federation’s political director.
“Today the governor acknowledged that climate change is human-caused and a grave threat but failed to take the right action,” Environmental Federation Director Amy Goldsmith said. “We need to use every tool in every tool box at every level of government. RGGI is a critical tool for New Jersey and our region today and the nation and world tomorrow. We can’t to afford to pick and choose which few tools to use as Governor Christie did today. The governor offered nothing new or concrete other than dropping out of RGGI.
Rather than killing RGGI and costing New Jersey jobs and consumers’ savings, the governor should build on RGGI’s successes including $3-4 in savings for every $1 invested and helping to avoid putting the Jersey Shore and Newark Airport under water."