While the unfettered and misplaced loyalty of the legislature’s Republican caucus to the governor has stymied the attempts to override Chris Christie’s politically-motivated vetoes, this week the Assembly managed to join the Senate (which voted in October 2014) in starting the rollback of the governor’s 2011 withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). At the time of his decision, the governor claimed, “The whole system is not working as it was intended to work. It’s a failure.” The results in other states have shown him to be wrong.
RGGI is a program, adopted by several northeastern states, to put a price on power plant carbon pollutants. Pollution credits are traded on the open market and those plants which pollute less benefit financially (the process is referred to by the term “cap and trade”). The plan encourages power producers to invest in clean energy solutions and has been a success. According to Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey, the nine states that participate in RGGI have seen electricity bills decline.
The legislature has been able to reverse the governor’s unilateral withdrawal from RGGI because, unlike a legislative override, the reversal of Christie’s regulatory decision only requires a simple majority. The Senate and Assembly vote expresses the fact that the governor’s actions do not meet the intent of the legislature.
Now, Christie’s lapdog Board of Public Utilities has 30 days to revise the cap and trade rules. If the board does nothing, the legislature must have a second vote before Christie’s actions are overridden.
President Obama’s Clean Power Plan requires New Jersey to reduce carbon pollution by almost 49% from our 2005 levels by the year 2030. Rejoining RGGI will assist in meeting this challenging but essential goal.
According to Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club, the program had created over 1,800 jobs in the renewable energy sector prior to the state’s withdrawal from RGGI.
Of course, all of these numbers don’t take into account the reduction in medical costs that result from polluted air, nor do they consider the improvement in resiliency in our power distribution system by reducing the load on long-distance power transmission lines, since renewable energy is generally produced closer to the user.
Once a leader in the development and deployment of 21st century energy solutions, New Jersey has lagged behind other states under the Christie administration. Let’s hope our next governor is more interested in clean air and water than in kowtowing to big dirty energy donors.