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Gov. Chris Christie seems to have a peculiar way of judging which environmental programs to support. A little consistency would be nice. And the governor could go a long way in that regard by recommitting the state to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
A spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said the Christie administration thinks the new federal rule announced last week that sets a nationwide standard for mercury and other airborne toxins is a good one. Yet, Christie had no qualms about pulling New Jersey out of a multistate initiative designed to reduce carbon emissions. Praising the mercury rule as good for New Jersey while refusing to commit the state to a program aimed at reducing air pollution makes no sense.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the new standards will help prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. New Jersey, which already has some of the toughest mercury standards in the nation, stands to gain from this rule as well. Our state has paid a price because of geography, being downwind of coal- and oil-fired power plants that emit thousands of pounds of mercury, and more than 80 other poisons including arsenic, nickel, selenium and cyanide.
On the other hand, just a few months ago Christie pulled New Jersey out of the RGGI — a pact between 10 Northeast states to work together, by 2018, to reduce carbon emissions that pollute the atmosphere by 10 percent. RGGI is a cap-and-trade system, meaning power companies have to pay, at auctions, for allowance credits for every ton of carbon dioxide emissions they pump into the air from coal- and natural gas-fired electricity plants.
Christie contended that because of the decreased electricity demand of recent years, the RGGI model has been rendered ineffective in motivating energy companies to close or clean up dirty plants because the auction price on the emission allowances has fallen to less than $2 per ton. When RGGI was started, the expectations were that the allowances would auction for $20 to $30 a ton. The hundreds of millions of dollars generated is supposed to go toward renewable clean-energy and energy-saving programs in each state. He declared the plan too costly and a failure.
Rather than pull New Jersey out of the coalition before the first scheduled reduction of the hard cap on emissions (2.5 percent) takes effect in 2015, he should have pushed for modifications to the pact’s guidelines to spur power plant operators to put in more pollution controls. Just declaring the whole thing a failure was a mistake.