Tuesday, June 14, 2011

NJ's withdrawal from RGGI contested in Assembly

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision to remove the state from a regional effort to combat global warming prompted committee testimony, pro and con, in Trenton yesterday plus the announcement of legislation designed to thwart the withdrawal.

In the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, business and environmental organizations, respectively, testified for and against dropping participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI--pronounced "reggie"). The program charges industry for carbon emissions and uses the funds to support alternative energy projects and energy conservation measures. 

Business said RGGI was one of several government initiatives that have made New Jersey's electricity costs the highest in the nations. That, they say, has forced companies to leave the state and has kept new business  away.   

Environmentalists said that RGGI and funds created by Societal Benefits surcharges on consumers' electricity bills has helped propel New Jersey into the #2 spot in the nation for solar energy installations, has created new 'green energy' jobs, and has helped businesses reduce their energy costs through the installation of solar systems.

The state Chamber of Commerce argued that Ocean Spray's recent decision to relocate its manufacturing plant from Bordentown to Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley was at least partially driven by the Garden State's high energy costs. The Sierra Club countered with a claim that Budweiser would have closed its Newark brewery for the same reason except for a RGGI-funded solar installation that helped the company trim its energy bill.

The claims and counter claims went back and forth.

Two former RGGI champions--the state's Department of Environmental Protection and New Jersey's largest energy company, PSE&G are now disavowing it.

Strong political undercurrents--local and national--are amping up the debate.

Sierra Club spokesman Jeff Tittel said that the governor's decision was influenced by the right-wing, GOP fundraising Koch brothers whom he described as "the largest mountain top miners in the United States." 

An unbiased observer of yesterday's debate might have had difficulty deciding who and what to believe. But one thing is clear:  We'll be hearing a lot reggie-talk in the months ahead.

Below, you'll find news stories about the meeting and about legislation that two Democratic committee chairmen are introducing to block the state's RGGI departure. That legislation also seeks to prevent the governor from transferring funds raised for alternative energy and conservation programs to other uses, like balancing the budget.   

You can listen to hear the entire committee debate here.

Related: 
Top DEP aide tells Assembly RGGI was ineffective
Your clean energy funds at work
N.J. Democrats try to lock in emissions deal 
 
For more on the RGGI debate and to stay current with all environmental issues in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, try a complimentary, no-obligation, 30-day trial subscription to our daily newsletter, EnviroPolitics. 

Have an opinion on the governor's RGGI decision, on the new legislation, or the climate change issue in general? Please share it with your fellow EP Blog readers via the comment box below.  If one isn't visible, activate it by click on the tiny 'comments' line. If you encounter a problem, tell us at: editor@enviropolitics.com

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