Christie breaks promise of jobs, clean energy for New Jersey

When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was running for office in 2009, he promised to be the Garden State’s “#1 clean energy advocate.”

He wanted “not only to reduce dependence on foreign oil, but also to make sure we bring back to New Jersey the good, high-paying manufacturing jobs we lost during the Corzine administration,” he said.


Friday night, Governor Christie has betrayed his promise to New Jersey’s voters.

By vetoing legislation that ensures the state’s participation in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Christie is attempting to destroy one of the most important programs the state, the region and the nation has for promoting clean energy, creating good, local jobs, cutting energy costs, and reducing pollution. Governor Christie should rectify his mistake and put a stop to the rulemaking process needed to derail RGGI. (And, readers, don’t despair about RGGI just yet. Even if the Governor fails to heed this call, the legislature still has another chance to safeguard this vital program. Should it come to that, I’ll write more about the options in a later post.)

A little backstory on RGGI: It’s a compact among 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce the global-warming pollution that 97 percent of climate scientists agree is creating the extreme weather events we’re experiencing across the nation. RGGI cuts energy costs, too, by reducing demand. And, by shifting energy dollars from fossil fuels to energy efficiency and renewable energy, it creates local jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

The program works by requiring large fossil-fuel-burning power plants to pay for the pollution they create. State RGGI offices then invest that revenue in pollution-free clean energy. RGGI also funds energy-efficiency projects that generate between $2 to $4 of energy savings for every dollar the program invests.

RGGI has been an overwhelming success. In the two-and-a-half years since the program took effect, pollution is down in the region by over 25 percent—more than is attributable to the Recession alone. Using only the revenues collected so far, state RGGI programs will inject an astounding $2.7 billion into the regional economy; they’ll create more than 20,000 job-years of work. (A job-year is just what it sounds like—one year’s worth of employment.) In New Jersey, despite Christie’s raiding of RGGI revenues to fill state budget holes, RGGI will still produce more than $220 million of economic growth; it will produce more than 1700 years worth of work.

RGGI funding is also slated to jumpstart New Jersey’s promising offshore wind-power industry, thanks to legislation championed by the governor. That industry can produce tens of thousands of jobs for state residents in the coming years­­. Many of these jobs are the manufacturing jobs Christie promised to create. Now, he is putting them on the chopping block instead.

Given RGGI’s many successes, and the promise it holds for the future, one has to wonder why Christie feels compelled to kill the program. He campaigned on a clean-energy platform. But now he is bowing to the interests of  out-of-state oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, who bankroll the Tea Party and its allied Americans for Prosperity. It’s not surprising that they don’t like RGGI. RGGI is speeding our transition to a clean-energy economy. The program brings big rewards to state residents and businesses. But if you make all your money selling oil, you have a lot to lose in that transition. Whose side is the Governor on?

In another month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency will issue rules that require states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from large fossil fired power plants.  RGGI would allow New Jersey to custom-tailor those rules to the needs and goals of the state. Without RGGI, New Jersey will lose that flexibility. Governor Christie can still rectify his mistake and fulfill his clean-energy promise to New Jersey’s voters. He can stop the rulemaking process that’s required to pull the state out of the program. He can allow RGGI to come to the aid of New Jersey’s job-seekers and ratepayers. And he can use RGGI to comply with federal requirements. 

But most importantly, he can promote the wishes of the state’s voters. By large majorities, they favor programs that keep their energy dollars in-state, create local jobs, and promote renewable energy. Or, Governor Christie can risk a politically embarrassing legislative override of his order to abandon RGGI. That might show voters who keeps their promises. It might show them who is in tune with their wishes and who the “#1 clean energy” advocates of New Jersey really are.