Gov. Chris Christie (R) may have fallen out of love with cap and trade years ago, but his state is still struggling to complete the divorce papers.
New Jersey has been trying to extricate itself from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – a cap-and-trade system spanning nine states in the Northeast – since 2011, when Christie first suspended participation in the program. But his administration had to restart the separation process this year after the state Superior Court ruled that it had provided insufficient opportunity for public participation.
After announcing its intentions last May, the Christie administration formally published its proposal yesterday to separate from RGGI and repeal rules that would implement its mandates. The public comment period is open through early September.
In pulling back from RGGI, Christie has largely had to go it alone. The governor has already flexed his veto power twice to block measures from the state Legislature that would have reconnected New Jersey to the RGGI system, and support for participation remains significant among the public and state lawmakers.
Some analysts and media outlets have speculated that the governor has resisted climate action in order to shore up his conservative bona fides, possibly in advance of a presidential bid. Earlier this week, Christiedenied that such considerations were affecting his gubernatorial agenda, according to NJ.com.
A missed opportunity?
In a break from many conservative politicians, he has also publicly acknowledged the scientific consensus on global warming, including the role of human activity in producing greenhouse gases.
In his original 2011 veto, however, he wrote that participation in RGGI “does nothing more than impose a tax on electricity,” and the participation “has little practical impact on the issue of global warming.”
“To be effective, greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed on a national and international scale,” he wrote.
Three years later, the restart of New Jersey’s withdrawal from RGGI coincides with just such an effort in the form of newly proposed carbon standards for existing power plants issued in early June by U.S. EPA.
If the rule is completed next fall and survives court challenges, states will be required to reduce emissions from their power sectors by federally mandated amounts. EPA’s rule leaves states wide latitude in accomplishing those cuts, and specifically encourages participation in regional carbon markets such as RGGI.
Environmental groups were quick to call the withdrawal a missed opportunity. “RGGI is a proven and tested model for achieving the carbon reductions required in the new EPA carbon rule,” said Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel. “Without participating in RGGI we will not meet those goals.”