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NJ Governor Sued for Abandoning Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Natural Resources Defense Council

Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection failed to follow legal due process and safeguard the economic and health interests of New Jersey citizens when pulling the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—a 10-state compact that is cutting harmful air pollution from power plants and shifting investments to clean energy, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environment New Jersey.

“RGGI offers Garden State residents enormously popular benefits—cleaner air, healthier kids, homegrown jobs, lower energy bills and more money for the state,” said NRDC senior attorney Luis Martinez. “It’s no surprise that a program like this has strong support in the statehouse and among New Jersey residents. Governor Christie should heed their call and stick with the program, rather than listen to out-of-state interests in the dirty fuel industry that are calling for him to drop out.”

“Governor Christie unilaterally made his decision to leave RGGI—without taking any input from stakeholders or the public,” said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. “As we contend today, his actions are not only bad public policy, but also illegal. The people of New Jersey have spoken out overwhelmingly in support of RGGI—to date, over 50,000 New Jerseyans have called or written their elected officials urging them to stand up for RGGI . And the Legislature has passed a series of measures affirming their support of the program. And yet, the governor refuses to listen, and insists on ignoring the people and their elected representatives. We won’t stand by and let this happen.”

The groups filed the lawsuit today in the Superior Court, Appellate Division in Trenton against the New Jersey DEP for effectively dissolving the program, which has strong support from the public and the state legislature, without the open discussion that state law requires. The New Jersey Administrative Procedure Act requires the Governor and his administration to provide notice of their intention to repeal a regulation like this, as well as give the public reasonable opportunity to comment before finally deciding whether or not to move forward with a repeal. Given this, the groups contend that the program is still law, and the administration, and New Jersey utilities, must abide by it.

In May 2011, Governor Christie announced an end to New Jersey’s participation in RGGI. The following week the state DEP Commissioner declared the state’s withdrawal from initiative would be effective at the end of the calendar year. The governor’s actions, closely followed by DEP’s, effectively repealed the state’s participation in the program, while ignoring the requirements of the state’s Administrative Procedure Act to provide New Jersey residents and businesses with an opportunity to shape the Administration’s position by publicly describing the program’s benefits and countering the claims of oil industry-funded opponents.

In the past year, the state legislature has twice voted to keep New Jersey participating in RGGI. The first bill that passed was vetoed by the governor last summer. The second bill was passed again last month and is currently on Governor Christie’s desk.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a program between 10 states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that is reducing harmful air pollution from power plants, making polluters pay for their emissions, and investing those payments in clean energy projects that grow the economy and further cut fossil fuel dependence. In doing so, it is generating revenue for the state, lowering energy costs for consumers, and creating jobs in the energy efficiency and clean energy sectors that can’t be shipped overseas. It achieves these goals by ensuring that residents send less of the money they pay for electricity out of their states to import coal and other fossil fuels. Instead, more of it goes back into their local communities to make homes, offices and factories more energy efficient, and invest in solar and wind energy.

Study after study shows RGGI is working just as it was designed. Region-wide, it has created 16,000 job-years’ worth of work (one job year is one year’s worth of work). It has generated more than $1.6 billion of economic activity, and has helped achieve a 23 percent reduction in harmful air pollution that inflames cardiovascular health problems in adults and children and contributes to climate change.

During New Jersey’s participation in RGGI, the sale of pollution permits has generated $159 million in local benefits, including $125 million for the state to invest in local, job-creating energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. As a result, it created 1,800 job-years worth of work.

These numbers could have been even more impressive—as they were in other participating states—had Gov. Christie not diverted more than half of those funds to plug budget holes. A recent report by Environment New Jersey shows that, by staying in RGGI and working with participating states to further improve the program, New Jersey could realize up to $680 million in additional revenue for clean energy projects.

New Jersey voters strongly support RGGI. A poll conducted for NRDC last year showed that the large majority of voters supported the goals of the program.

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