N.J. enviros urge Assembly to stay in RGGI, try to thwart Christie's opposition

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 19:26
njmap021610_optBY JOE TYRRELL

Environmentalists yesterday warned New Jersey stands to miss out on future revenue and pollution reduction if it withdraws from the Northeast region's cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gases.

In Trenton, Environment New Jersey released a report saying the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has added $151 million to the state's economy over three years, and supports the equivalent of 1,800 annual jobs.

Over the next six years, the 10-state program would generate $171 million for clean-energy projects in New Jersey, with funding drawn from polluting companies, with the numbers rising in the future, according to the report.

The findings follow a November report by the Analysis Group of Boston, which found an overall economic gain of $1.6 billion from the program. In particular, the study found that Northeastern states, many of which lack large sources of fossil fuels, kept $756 million in the region by lowering their demand for power originating elsewhere.

But in May, Gov. Chris Christie proclaimed the initiative a "failure" and began steps to remove New Jersey from the regional system. Christie previously diverted $65.2 million in RGGI revenues to fund non-energy spending, but regional reports show the state has benefitted from some pollution reductions.

Accordingly, environmentalists are trying to thwart the Governor's decision and stay in the system. Environment New Jersey issued its report on the eve of an expected Feb. 16 vote in the Assembly to keep the state in the cooperative.

The dispute stems from the evolving political status of "cap-and-trade" systems to pollution. Under them, the owners of power plants that meet goals for reducing pollution can sell credits to companies whose facilities fall short. The idea is that over time, this market rewards lower-polluting companies while providing a mechanism for others to improve their facilities gradually, rather than being hit by higher taxes or penalties.

First applied to fight acid rain in the United States, a cap-and-trade system helped cut sulphur dioxide emissions from plants here by two-thirds between 1990 and 2007. In that era, it was viewed as a pro-business solution to a recognized problem.

Like New Jersey, many other Northeastern states are heavily affected by pollution from beyond their borders but pay high costs for the related energy. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont formed the regional group in 2003. Pennsylvania and the Canadian provinces of Québec, New Brunswick and Ontario do not participate directly, but have acted as observers.

They began auctioning credits from well-performing plants in 2008. Over three years, the sales raised roughly $440 million for state coffers. According to the Analysis Group, costs from the system amounted to about 0.7 percent to electric bills in that period.

But many fossil fuel providers have challenged the idea that their products contribute to global warming through the release of greenhouse gases. With the Koch bothers and others in the energy industry providing major funding for Republicans in recent elections, including this year's presidential race, few with national ambitions are willing to oppose their interests.

In January, carbon dioxide emissions from the participating states dropped 34 percent below the 2011 emissions cap, according to Environment Northeast. But the success brought some practical problems, with participants agreeing last month to tighten what some viewed as too-lenient prices on emission offsets.

“This report proves, once and for all, that RGGI is a win-win for New Jersey’s economy and environment,” Matt Elliott, Environment New Jersey's clean energy advocate, said in a press release.

“RGGI has worked," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "It has saved us money, reduced greenhouse gases, and created jobs."

Joe Tyrrell may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or followed on Twitter @ jtyrrell87.