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New Jersey Sitting on Bench in Regional Plan to Tackle Climate-Altering Pollution

New report: At least half a million New Jersey residents vulnerable to coastal flooding, NJ gets left behind on benefits of clean energy investments from RGGI
For Immediate Release

Trenton – Ten Northeast states, from Maryland to Maine, are responsible for as much climate-altering carbon pollution as all but nine nations, according to a report released today by Environment New Jersey. In 2010, the region emitted 533 million metric tons of carbon pollution, more than the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil and France.

“In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and Irene, the Northeast must double-down on its commitment to lead the nation in reducing the pollution that’s warming the planet and changing our climate,” said Doug O’Malley, interim director with Environment New Jersey.  “In the wake of Sandy, Governor Christie needs to bring New Jersey back into the program so that we can lead the way in preventing the pollution that makes severe storms like Sandy more likely in the future.”   

The report: “A Double Success: Tackling Global Warming While Growing the Economy with an Improved Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative” also shows that lowering global warming emissions is consistent with a growing economy.  Between 2000 and 2010, the economies of the ten Northeast states grew twice as fast per capita as other states while carbon dioxide emissions decreased 25 percent faster per capita.

“By promoting clean energy and energy efficiency programs, RGGI helps keep energy dollars in our local economy while reducing the risk of climate change-related costs,” said Pat Stanton, senior vice president for policy and advocacy at the Conservation Services Group, a large energy services company.  “In the last five years, RGGI has helped to spur CSG’s growth. We have added over 450 new employees and improved the efficiency, comfort, and affordability of thousands of New England homes.”

Unfortunately, New Jersey bucked the region’s trend with per capita emissions reductions that were lower than the national average and per capita economic growth that was on par with the national average. New Jersey will continue to lose out because recent analyses have also shown RGGI has produced a $1.6 billion economic boost to the region through 2011 and that strengthening RGGI could produce an additional $8 billion in economic benefits.

“By using RGGI to accelerate investments in energy efficiency, the Northeast states have made RGGI into a winner for businesses and consumers in the Northeast,” said the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partners’ public policy director Jim O’Reilly. “This report shows that RGGI will continue to be a critical tool for states to manage their energy use and maintain our competitive advantage as we emerge from the economic downturn.”

Environment New Jersey’s report points out that New Jersey and the rest of the world are in a race against time, citing studies showing that 100-year coastal floods are now predicted to occur every 15 to 35 years. The changing climate threatens at least 496,000 New Jersey residents living in coastal flood zones, and could lead to at least $38.9 billion in losses in storm-related economic losses by mid-century and over 205,000 lost jobs.

New Jersey was one of the 10 states that launched RGGI in 2005 and participated in the program when it took effect in 2009. In May 2011, Christie declared that New Jersey would pull out of the program, asserting that it was not achieving its intended results of reducing emissions.  Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Christie Administration for illegally withdrawing from the program in June 2012, and expect a hearing later this year. New Jersey state leaders continue to be engaged in vigorous debate about rejoining the program. Both houses of Legislature have twice passed legislation with overwhelming majority votes to restore the program in New Jersey. Both times, the legislation was vetoed by Governor Christie.  

All 10 states were part of the original Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a pioneering agreement to cap carbon pollution from power plants. In February, all of the nine RGGI states – except for clearly New Jersey – announced a new agreement to make deeper cuts in power plant carbon emissions that would lead to a 20 percent reduction over the next decade.  States are now revising their rules in order to carry out the agreement.  

“Reducing emissions from power plants has a direct positive impact on the health of our communities, translating into less asthma, less respiratory disease and less allergies,” said Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm, which works with the health care industry to promote sustainable practices. “Addressing climate change through RGGI and similar policies will help protect our families from climate-related diseases and other health impacts of extreme weather events.”
Environment New Jersey urged the other Northeast RGGI states to follow through on its commitment to strengthen RGGI by quickly adopting strong rules to lower emissions from power plants.  But, the group also urged taking more action including:

•    New Jersey must rejoin the RGGI program, and lead the way in preventing increasingly severe storms and rising sea levels while bolstering the state’s economy.
•    Northeast states should adopt limits on global warming pollution that go beyond the electricity sector, including transportation and heating fuels. This could include expanding RGGI to other sectors.  
•    More states should join RGGI.
•    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should move forward on limiting global warming pollution from existing power plants in all states.
    
“There’s no time to waste in tackling the climate challenge and it’s got to start right here and right now,” said O’Malley. “At the very moment New Jersey should be leading the way, we’re being left behind by our Northeast neighbors.”