NRDC, Environment NJ Sue Christie Administration for Illegally Abandoning RGGI

 Today, NRDC and Environment New Jersey filed suit against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Department of Environmental Protection for illegally withdrawing the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state program designed to reduce harmful air pollution and shift investment to energy efficiency and clean sources of energy such as solar and wind power.

The suit maintains that the Christie administration effectively dissolved the program in the state without following proper legal procedure. That procedure requires the administration to seek public input before making big decisions like this one. For example, by providing notice of its intent to repeal regulations and by giving the public a reasonable opportunity to comment.

RGGI is a compact among Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states developed by a bipartisan group of governors to reduce harmful air pollution from power plants, and make polluters pay for the emissions they create. RGGI then reinvests the money in participating states’ clean-energy sectors. In doing this, it provides a wealth of ancillary benefits, including:

• creating jobs that can’t be shipped overseas

• saving consumers money on energy bills

• keeping energy dollars in the local economy, rather than sending them out of state or out of the country to import coal or oil

• improving the air our children breathe

• combatting climate change

Study after study has shown RGGI is a success on all fronts. Across the region, it’s generated 16,000 job-years worth of work in fields such as energy efficiency and renewable energy, jobs that have helped buoy our ailing economy during the three-and-a-half years RGGI’s been in business. (A job year, by the way, is just what it sounds like: one year’s worth of work.) RGGI has injected $1.6 billion into the regional economy. It has kept $765 million in the region that would have gone elsewhere to buy fossil fuels. And, it has helped cut carbon dioxide pollution by 23 percent since it started.

Even in New Jersey, where Governor Christie raided more than half of all RGGI funds to fill budget holes, the program has created 1,800 job-years worth of work. It’s helped businesses, like family-owned Hausmann Industries, of Northvale, install solar panels on their roofs, through zero-interest loans. At the brand-new University Medical Center of Princeton hospital in Plainsboro, RGGI is keeping costs down, by underwriting a power system more than twice as efficient as a conventional one. And at the public William Paterson University, RGGI has financed a solar array projected to save more than $4 million over the next 15 years. Those savings will help keep tuition low, thereby increasing educational opportunity for New Jersey’s residents.

No wonder RGGI’s goals have wide support across the state. Even former Republican Governor Thomas Kean has endorsed the program. And twice – yes, TWICE – in the last year, both houses of the legislature have voted to keep the Garden State in RGGI, despite Christie’s efforts to drop out. Christie vetoed the first vote last year. The legislature’s most recent vote came on May 24th – and the bill now sits on the governor’s desk.

During Christie’s gubernatorial campaign, he promised to be New Jersey’s “number one clean-energy advocate.” Yet, despite RGGI’s successes in bringing clean energy and energy efficiency to the state, in creating jobs and cutting pollution, the governor directed the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to withdraw from RGGI without the public discussion that proper legal procedure requires. 

Of course, there’s an easy way out of these legal problems: Governor Christie can simply sign or merely fail to veto the state’s RGGI legislation. (It would become law in 45 days without his signature.) 

Or he could direct the DEP to provide for a public discussion about RGGI, as state law requires. If he did, maybe he would hear from some of his constituents in Northvale, Plainsboro and elsewhere who are benefitting directly from the state’s budding clean-energy industry. Maybe he would hear constituents whose kids have asthma and who want him to help make New Jersey a healthier place to live, as well as a hotbed of clean-energy jobs. Requirements for public processes aren’t simply annoying legal technicalities. They are at the core of our democracy. They provide the vehicle for regular people, not just lobbyists, to let elected officials know what they care about before these officials make big policy decisions.

Governor Christie, please let New Jersey’s democratic process work. You might be surprised by what you hear.