Looking Backward: Five Years After Gov. Christie Pulled New Jersey Out Of RGGI, Nine State Program Stronger Than Ever – and New Jersey Left Behind On Climate

Media Contacts

Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center

Trenton – Five years ago today, Gov. Chris Christie became the first – and only – Governor to pull out of then 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program. The now nine-state RGGI program was formed amidst the climate inaction of the Bush Administration and is and was a bipartisan effort to combat global warming pollution from power plants on a regional basis by creating market incentives to reduce carbon pollution.

Five years ago, Gov. Christie started out his public statement on May 26, 2011 in the Front Office by saying the RGGI program wasn’t “effective” and wasn’t likely to be in the future.

Yet, the latest Analysis Group report last year, released during a national utility commissioners conference, showed that implementing RGGI from 2012 to 2014 adds $1.3 billion in economic value to the nine-state RGGI region, led to the creation of more than 14,000 jobs, saved consumers $460 million and reduced carbon emissions by more than a third from 2008.

Environment New Jersey’s Director Doug O’Malley issued the following statement on the 5-year anniversary:

“Gov. Christie was wrong five years ago to pull us out of RGGI climate program, and his decision looks worse five years out. We have had a record run of the hottest years on record, we’ve gotten walloped by climate-change fueled Hurricane Sandy and sea level rise is happening now in the Delaware Bay. Our Northeast neighbors have seen tremendous economic and environmental benefits by incentivizing a clean energy economy but New Jersey keeps losing out.

Atlantic City’s fate was debated again today in the Legislature, but the long-term fate of the city – and our Shore and coastal communities – is clearly tied up to our action in the climate. Another decade of inaction would accelerate sealing the fate of our Shore communities.

New Jersey – which once was a climate leader – has become the land of Rip van Winkle on pro-active climate policy. Instead, numerous battle are occurring across the state over an invasion of fossil fuel infrastructure, pitting fossil fuel companies against a bipartisan group of grassroots and environmental organizations fighting the pipeline invasion.

The turning point for New Jersey came exactly 5 years ago when Gov. Christie, pivoting from his pledge to be the “#1 clean energy advocate” for New Jersey, announced that he was unilaterally pulling out of the RGGI program. Five years later, the Governor’s statements that RGGI is a program that doesn’t work rings hollow. Post-Hurricane Sandy, there was a clear opportunity for Gov. Christie to tackle climate change in a new light. Time and again, he has doubled down on climate inaction.

A 2014 report from the Acadia Center documented that since New Jersey withdrew from RGGI in 2011, the state has passed up more than $114 million in potential revenue, and by 2020, the state total would be more than $387 million. The total – more than $500 million – is revenue that could be going to energy efficiency projects that would help to reduce consumer’s electric bills.

Rejoining RGGI would be the easiest way for New Jersey to meet our climate goals and comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The infrastructure of the program is already developed, New Jersey has a history of participation and our utilities are familiar with the program.  The program generates revenue New Jersey can use to accelerate its transition to clean energy and make the goals of the EPA Clean Power Plan easier to achieve.

New Jersey, like our neighboring states, has a stringent 2050 carbon pollution reduction mandate of 80% through the passage of the Global Warming Response Act in 2007. But instead of sticking our heads in the climate sand, other states have been taking additional measures to actually meeting those goals. New York State, both through their Reforming Energy Vision and with Gov. Cuomo’s aggressive announcement to increase their Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 50% renewable energy by 2030. Maryland, under Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, just signed into law the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016 (SB 323) into law, will require Maryland to reduce carbon emission economy-wide by 40% below 2006 levels by 2030, which is a critical benchmark ahead of the 90% reduction by 2050.

Participating states, under current plans, will reap an additional $3 billion in funding – and an $8 billion boost to the regional economy – through 2020, according to the Acadia Center.  The RGGI program also hasn’t been a carbon free-rider. Research last year from Duke University’s Nicholson Institute showed carbon emissions from 2009 to 2012 were 19% lower than they would have been without RGGI, accounting for a larger share of emissions reductions than the Great Recession or increased natural gas usage.

The RGGI program is currently undergoing its quadrennial program review, with a schedule of stakeholder meetings, and ideally a revised stronger plan issued by the end of the year that extends the carbon emissions cap through 2030, aligns the RGGI cap with the 2050 long-term carbon caps with a trajectory for 90% reductions from the power plant emissions by 2050. It should be noted that six of the nine governors who participate in RGGI (NY, CT, MA, NH, RI, VT) have signed onto an agreement (called the Under 2 MOU) committing to reduce pollution in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, which New Jersey should join as well.

This should be aligned with efforts to move towards a 100% renewable energy future, which has already seen traction with a successful effort in the State Senate to pass legislation to achieve an 80% renewable energy requirement in New Jersey by 2050. Legislative action, coupled with innovation in the renewable energy sector, especially solar and battery technology, gives credence to the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Economics of Load Defection report, which documents the upcoming deep penetration of renewables as part of the electric grid.

The New Jersey Assembly should move on the Senate’s heels and push to approve and pass legislation to move New Jersey to 80% clean, renewable energy by 2050. Both houses of the Legislature should also push to once again overrule Gov. Christie’s administrative decision to pull out of the RGGI and stand up against the ongoing raids to the Clean Energy Fund. Our political leaders may not be scientists, but climate science won’t wait for political inaction.