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Environmental groups sue N.J. over pullout from regional greenhouse gas program

Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012

Updated: Thursday, June 7, 2012 10:06


HACKENSACK, N.J. _ Environmental groups filed suit against the Christie administration Wednesday in a bid to get New Jersey to rejoin a multistate program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The suit argues that Gov. Chris Christie violated state law when he did not seek any public comment or input before pulling New Jersey out of the program last year.
Christie administration officials said Wednesday that they did not violate state law and that they have no plans to rejoin the coalition, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI.
RGGI is a cap-and-trade program adopted by nine Northeastern states. Power-generating companies in the participating states must purchase credits through public auctions for every ton of carbon they emit. Revenue from the sale of credits goes to the states to invest in renewable energy programs.
"There was nothing illegal about our withdrawal from RGGI," said Michael Drewniak, Christie's spokesman. "Participation in the RGGI consortium was via a contractual arrangement with provisions for any state to pull out with notice and without penalty. No one was locked into RGGI."
Christie announced early in 2011 that New Jersey would withdraw by the end of that year.
The suit was filed in the appellate division of state Superior Court by two environmental advocacy groups, Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"Governor Christie unilaterally made his decision to leave RGGI, without taking any input from stakeholders or the public," said Matt Elliott of Environment New Jersey. "His actions are not only bad public policy, but also illegal." State law requires public input before state regulations are changed.
Larry Ragonese, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the state took action to withdraw from RGGI "in close cooperation with the Attorney General's Office and we believe we are in full compliance with the law, so we disagree with the premise of the suit."
Environmentalists have argued that RGGI has helped reduce emissions and increase jobs in the clean energy sector. The Legislature passed a bill last year requiring the state to rejoin RGGI, but Christie vetoed it. Last month, lawmakers passed similar legislation, and Christie is expected to veto that as well.
When he pulled New Jersey out of RGGI, Christie acknowledged that climate change is real, that human activity contributes to the changes and that greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. But he called the program a failure, and said it only caused higher electricity rates for New Jerseyans.
"Governor Christie has been very clear about this issue _ he thinks RGGI is just another tax on New Jersey businesses and residents and that it has not been effective," Ragonese said. "We are taking steps as a state to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and we don't need to get involved with this bureaucratic program."
Drewniak called RGGI "a failed public policy" that "left New Jersey at a competitive disadvantage."
"And, no, we will not be rejoining RGGI," he said.

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