Saving Clean Energy in New Jersey: Thank You, State Legislators!

If you had a program that reduced pollution as it lowered energy bills, created jobs and injected hundreds of millions of dollars into the state economy, would you toss it out the window? Probably not. But that’s what New Jersey’s tough-talking, politically ambitious governor, Chris Christie, intends to do with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI is an agreement among 10 Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce global-warming pollution, cut energy costs for consumers and businesses, and create jobs that can’t be shipped overseas. Thank goodness New Jersey’s state legislators are determined to keep these benefits flowing to their constituents. Earlier this month, after Christie announced his plan to pull New Jersey out of RGGI, both the Assembly and Senate affirmed that the Garden State belongs in the compact.  

The Governor called RGGI “a tax” that “makes no sense for my efforts … to make New Jersey a more business-friendly environment and a place where private-sector jobs can continue to be created.” Those comments echo language put forward by out-of-state oil interests—most notably, by the notorious Tea Party backers, Koch Industries. And judging from his comments, it’s obvious the Governor hasn’t read the latest report out on RGGI. It finds that across the region, the compact will generate more than $2.7 billion worth of economic activity and create more than 20,000 job-years’ worth of work over the next seven years. (Job years, by the way, are just what they sound like—a year’s worth of employment.) Even in New Jersey, where Gov. Christie raided almost half of the RGGI revenues that should have been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy, the program has infused more than $223 million into the local economy and will create more than 1700 job-years of work. 

RGGI has opened up jobs for out-of-work construction workers and for engineers designing high-efficiency power plants. It’s helped local businesses install solar power arrays on their roofs. Funds from the program are slated to jump start New Jersey’s promising offshore wind power industry, which has the potential to generate 92 percent of the electricity the Garden State needs, pollution-free.

New Jersey’s clean energy businesses are booming, thanks to the many years state leaders have spent developing policies to attract them—policies like RGGI. These policies enjoy broad support among the state’s businesses and among the population as a whole. The question now is whether New Jersey will follow the legislature’s lead, and nurture its growing clean energy economy. Or, whether the Governor will crush that clean energy economy like a bug so we can go back to the days of sending all of our energy dollars elsewhere, while hemorrhaging jobs and watching our energy costs climb unabated.

Peter Shattuck, who authored the latest RGGI report for the environmental group ENE (Environment Northeast) explains: “Without RGGI, a lot more of New Jersey’s energy dollars would be going out-of-state for fossil fuels.” When you invest in energy-efficiency, he says—and at least half of the funds RGGI generates go towards energy efficiency projects—“consumers will save money on their energy bills. They’ll use at least some of that money on things like going out to dinner, which generates jobs in the local economy.”

I’m proud that New Jersey has leaders like John McKeon and Upendra Chivukula in the State Assembly and Stephen Sweeney and Bob Smith in the Senate who aren’t taking Governor Christie’s assault on clean air and job growth lying down. And I’m proud, too, of the many state residents who’ve made efforts to support the program. "We recently received testimony … that more than 10,000 New Jersey residents signed petitions or sent emails calling on the Governor not to pull out of RGGI in the past two weeks,” Assemblyman McKeon said a few weeks ago.

NRDC’s own polling finds a large majority of state residents want just what RGGI offers: Homegrown, clean energy that curbs climate change and creates jobs in the Garden State. New Jersey’s legislators listened to their constituents and took action. It’s time Governor Christie tuned out the deep-pockets in the oil industry and did the same.

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