Groundhog Day, Christie and RGGI: Perfect Together Governor Blows Off Legislative Regulatory RGGI Overide
Trenton – In a move that shocked no one in the State House, the Christie Administration failed to respond to a 30-day review of the legislative regulatory override of NJDEP decision to pull us out of the rules governing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program. The RGGI program is a regional compact that reduces carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants across the Mid-Atlantic and New England. The legislation (ACR189/SCR125), included Senate President Sweeney, Sen. Bob Smith and Sen. Peter Barnes as prime sponsors and Asm. John McKeon, Asm. Joe Lagana, Asm. Reed Gusciora, Asw. Mila Jasey and Asw. Nancy Pinkin as Assembly prime sponsors.
Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, released the following statement:
“On Groundhog Day, Gov. Christie is still stuck in the season of climate inaction. New Jersey is getting rocked by extreme weather, and the Governor keeps sticking his head in the ground. It’s time for the Legislature to once again override the Governor and keep the regulations governing the RGGI program on the books.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the 9-state program, has gotten stronger. New Jersey should rejoin RGGI – under this Governor or the next. Today, the 9 states in the program and advocates are testifying in Delaware on how to strengthen RGGI even more. But the first step for New Jersey is to rejoin the program. Even though overriding the NJDEP regulations won’t put New Jersey back in the RGGI program, it will reassert the intent of the Legislature.
“Governor Christie clearly thumbed his nose at the Legislature by pulling out of the rules governing RGGI. Both the Senate and the Assembly took the first step to assert legislative intent and they can’t be conveniently ignored. Three plus years after Sandy, Gov. Christie says that our climate isn’t in crisis. It’s time for the Legislature to remind Gov. Christie he can ignore climate science, but he can’t ignore legislative intent.”
RGGI is a successful nine-state program that has helped to cut climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants by almost one-third in participating states since it launched in 2009. At the same time, the program has cut electricity prices by 8 percent, created more than 23,000 job-years of work, and locked in more than $1.8 billion in long-term savings on energy bills across the region.
At a May 2011 news conference, Governor Christie said, “When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this, stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”
Despite that acknowledgment, Governor Christie withdrew from RGGI at the end of 2011. In response to a lawsuit brought by Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New Jersey Superior Court ruled in March that the administration had acted illegally in making such a major change in policy without providing an opportunity for public participation. In the summer of 2014, the Christie Administration responded by proposing to formally repeal the rules implanting RGGI.
In December, the General Assembly voted 46-32 to override the Christie Administration’s regulatory action by NJDEP. The Senate previously voted in October 2014 to override the Christie’s Administration’s regulatory decision to overturn the regulations governing the RGGI program that established carbon trading programs.
Sitting on the Sidelines of RGGI Is a Missed Opportunity
A recent report by ENE (Environment Northeast) showed that New Jersey could generate almost $400 million in new revenue for clean energy programs through the end of the decade by rejoining RGGI. Moreover, rejoining RGGI would help position New Jersey to comply with the Clean Power Plan, a new rule announced this summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to respond to the threat posed by global warming.
New Jersey Citizens Support Action on Climate
In 2014, thousands of citizens have written or spoken to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in support of restoring the state’s participation in RGGI. The comments were submitted in response to a formal public comment period on the Christie Administration’s proposal to repeal the state’s RGGI regulations.
At a public hearing held in August 2014, only one speaker opposed RGGI and action on global warming – while nearly 50 supported participating in the program, including many parents and children.
Speakers at the hearing noted that climate scientists agree that global warming is a clear and present danger. It is already having an impact on New Jersey, from accelerating sea-level rise to making heat waves and heavy downpours more frequent and severe. The average temperature in New Jersey is about 2° F warmer now than it was in the late 19th century – and sea levels are about a foot higher. Sandy-scale coastal flooding is already twice as likely now as it was in 1950 because of warming-driven sea-level rise. How bad the problem gets depends on how quickly and how deeply humanity can reduce emissions of global warming pollution.
Future Steps in the Override Process
Now, the Legislature has the right to vote again to invalidate the proposal, in whole or in part, and the measure can pass by a simple majority vote. An Office of Legislative Services decision has ruled that regulatory overrides can span legislative sessions, and the Constitution is silent on the issue. If successful, the override would restore rules implementing the first phase of RGGI, which would require New Jersey power plant owners to pay for every unit of pollution they emit – generating revenue that the state could use to accelerate our transition to clean energy.
Environment New Jersey is a citizen-supported, environmental advocacy organization, working towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future and represents more than 20,000 dues-paying citizen members. Our staff and members work to protect the places we love, advance the values we share, and win real results for our environment. Visit us at www.environmentnewjersey.org.