Trenton— Environmental groups argued their case before a New Jersey court this morning in a lawsuit against the Christie Administration that contends it illegally repealed rules limiting power plant pollution in the state, a move that effectively ended New Jersey’s participation in a regional program that is combating climate change.
The program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI, is a nine-state program that has been reducing climate change pollution from East Coast power plants for the last five years, while at the same time supporting economic development, creating new jobs, and saving consumers money on energy. Designed by a bipartisan group of Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic governors in the mid-2000s, study after study demonstrates it has been working exactly as planned.
Today’s case was brought by Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and argued before the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. The groups contend that the Christie Administration violated the state's Administrative Procedure Act when it halted the power plant pollution limits by simply posting an announcement to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s website in 2011.
“New Jersey law requires power plants to purchase allowances for their carbon emissions,” said Susan Kraham, Senior Staff Attorney at Columbia University’s Environmental Law Clinic and lead counsel for the two environmental groups. “Neither Governor Christie nor DEP can simply repeal that law by fiat.”
The groups argue that the law required the state to instead have an open discussion, give advance public notice of the action, and provide any opportunities for public comment, if it wanted to stop the pollution limits. Had it done so, the state would have heard from the many citizens who support action to clean up power plants, and from businesses and residents who benefited from RGGI when the program was still in effect in New Jersey.
Broad public support for RGGI in New Jersey
Polls show widespread, bipartisan support for action on climate in New Jersey, with more than 80 percent supporting limits on carbon pollution from power plants. More than 30,000 New Jerseyans weighed in with state decision-makers in support of RGGI as it was first adopted.
“Today’s hearing is the first step to get New Jersey back on track in tackling climate change,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “New Jerseyans understand we have an obligation to protect our children and future generations from global warming’s impacts.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy—which killed more than 30 people and caused as much as $30 billion in losses in the state—curbing the climate change pollution that turbocharges our weather is more important than ever. Rising seas will put trillions of dollars-worth of private property and public infrastructure in the Newark-New York metropolitan area at risk from flooding within the century.
RGGI can help New Jersey comply with forthcoming federal standards
As part of the Climate Action Plan President Obama announced last year, the Environmental Protection Agency will be creating federal standards to reduce climate change pollution from power plants nationwide. EPA will issue carbon pollution standards for existing power plants this June, and all states will be required to develop proposals to meet those standards by 2016. If they don’t, the EPA will develop a plan for them.
In all likelihood the EPA will consider RGGI to be an appropriate compliance mechanism. Given today’s arguments, the broad support for RGGI in the state, and the program’s proven track record of success in neighboring states, New Jersey could seize the opportunity to rejoin RGGI in order to comply with the federal rules.
“The reality is—one way or another—New Jersey will have to start cutting pollution from its power plants in the near future,” said Dale Bryk, Energy and Transportation Program Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With neighboring states using a program that is not only delivering significant reductions in climate change pollution, but lowering energy bills and creating jobs—why reinvent the wheel? Governor Christie should seize the moment and give RGGI another look.”
RGGI has been an economic and environmental success
Since it took effect in 2009, RGGI has proven itself to be a pollution-cutting, economy-boosting powerhouse by:
- Helping to reduce regional climate-change pollution by more than 30 percent, demonstrating that states can successfully clean up climate-altering pollution from power plants, just as they have successfully reduced emissions of arsenic, lead, soot and other types of power plant pollution;
- Creating more than 23,000 job-years (aka one year’s worth of work)—in the nine remaining RGGI states;
- Implementing energy-efficiency measures that will save ratepayers of all kinds—residential, business and industrial—at least $1.3 billion on their energy bills.
“RGGI is a perfect example of a program that has not only been good for the environment but has also provided key benefits to business,” said Judy Albert, Executive Director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a national community of business leaders who promote sound environmental policy that builds economic prosperity. “It has already added over $2.3 billion in economic value to the RGGI states. In addition, consumers have benefitted from increased energy efficiency and lower electricity rates and bills.”
When withdrawing from RGGI in 2011, Governor Christie acknowledged that climate change is real and that it is already having an impact on New Jersey, but expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the program.
“Governor Christie’s fears can be put to rest,” said O’Malley. “The evidence is clear – RGGI works and New Jersey should rejoin the program.”
Environment New Jersey is a state-based, citizen-supported, environmental advocacy organization, working towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future, representing over 20,000 citizen members across New Jersey. Visit us at www.environmentnewjersey.org and follow us on Twitter @EnvironmentNJ and follow the #SaveRGGI hashtag.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.