NY awarded for RGGI's economic benefits; NJ lags behind

New York’s Citizens Budget Commission, a group described as “one of the oldest and most respected independent fiscal watchdog groups in the country,” is awarding its public service innovation prize this evening.

The winner?

New York State’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative program.

RGGI, as it’s called, is a compact among 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states designed to reduce climate change pollution, cut energy costs for consumers and businesses, and create jobs that can’t be shipped overseas. So far, every independent analysis of the program finds it does just that and more. Since the program went into effect three years ago, RGGI has brought $1.6 billion in economic benefits to the region, reduced climate change pollution by 6 percent, saved consumers more than $1.3 billion in energy costs, and created 16,000 job-years. (A job-year is just as it sounds: one year’s-worth of work).

The Citizens Budget Commission, which considers “creativity, improved public service, measurable benefits, scope of public impact, and implementation” in its selection criteria, chose RGGI for its innovation award with good reason. “We were really enthusiastic about the Initiative,” says CBC Vice President and Director of State Studies Elizabeth Lynam. “We’re always trying to assess how truly groundbreaking a program is, what’s truly innovative. RGGI has crossed political barriers and various New York gubernatorial administrations. The program is very forward-thinking and one area where New York has led the way.” 

A tale of two states: NY vs. NJ

While New York reaps the enormous economic benefits of this program, across the river in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is dead set on pulling the Garden State out of it. You read that right: In these tough economic times, Christie wants to deny his state the jobs, the lowered energy bills and the economic boost that the CBC is recognizing New York for tonight.

You have to wonder why. A poll released just before the Governor announced he wanted to pull out of the program last spring showed the majority of New Jersey residents supported its goals. The state’s legislators also object to Christie’s actions. (After Christie’s announcement, they voted to mandate the state’s participation in the program; Christie vetoed that legislation.) And Christie’s actions directly violate state law, which requires a rulemaking process and a public-comment period to repeal the RGGI regulations before New Jersey can halt the program. Instead, the governor simply announced the state would end its enforcement of the state’s RGGI regulations effective January 1, 2012.

RGGI began because a bipartisan group of governors wanted a program that could successfully tackle climate change while bringing economic and job benefits to their region. Now, as New York reaps its benefits, eyes are on Governor Christie. Will he continue to ignore the will of the voters and their elected representatives, who recently reintroduced legislation mandating RGGI participation? (A New Jersey Senate hearing on the bill was held yesterday morning).

While Christie meets with notorious oil billionaires David and Charles Koch (who praised him for pulling out of RGGI), will he spurn the many benefits clean-energy programs have brought to his state?

This is a tale of two states and it’s one worth watching.

RGGI’s benefits in New York 

In New York, RGGI has created 4,620 job-years and generated $325 million in economic benefits. Much of the state’s RGGI revenue has been invested in forward-thinking programs that maximize the powers of energy-efficiency and pioneer new technologies that save energy, cut pollution and create jobs. 

Green Jobs—Green New York is one of these programs. It provides low-cost energy audits for homeowners, small businesses and non-profits, along with low-cost financing for energy-saving building retrofits. The program underwrites job training, as well, for those interested in the growing clean-energy field. RGGI-funded EmPower New York installs home energy-efficiency measures that cut costs for low-income residents. “Over the summer our electric bill was cut in half compared to the year before, and we expect savings during the heating season as well from our new boiler. It’s 97 percent efficient,” says Caroline Holmwood of Greenfield Center, who participated in the program. At six RGGI-funded cleantech incubators across New York, several hundred new jobs have been created at start-ups and 33 new clean-energy products have been introduced. The incubators have helped participants raise $41 million in private investment along with $11 million in federal funds. They’ve leveraged state expenditures by an astounding 13 to 1.

RGGI’s benefits in New Jersey

The Garden State’s RGGI benefits to date have been impressive as well: In the last three years, RGGI programs have generated 1,800 job-years worth of work, $150 million in economic activity, and significant savings in climate change pollution.

RGGI opponents, most notably the Koch Brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity, launched a smear ad campaign in the state, proclaiming the initiative would jack up energy costs. But studies show the result has been the opposite.

Over the last three years, the average residential customer has saved $25, the average commercial customer $181, and the average industrial customer $2,493, with RGGI’s help. By 2018, New Jersey could increase all these gains by as much as 600 percent.

But for that to happen, New Jersey has to remain in RGGI. Governor Christie ran for office as a tough-talking independent who supported renewable energy and promised to safeguard his state’s financial well-being. The similarly tough-minded Citizens Budget Commission in New York examined RGGI and found it not just noteworthy but innovative. In New Jersey, they’re still time for Governor Christie to change course and do the same.