Phil Murphy Directs New Jersey to Rejoin Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Phil Murphy. Kevin B. Sanders for Observer

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on Monday to make New Jersey rejoin a regional pact that seeks to rein in carbon emissions, reversing a decision by former Gov. Chris Christie that pulled the state from the program.

Murphy’s executive order directs the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to begin the process of re-entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional cap-and-trade program that includes nine northeast states and imposes a surcharge on carbon emissions from power plants.

Under the order, the DEP commissioner and BPU president will immediately begin negotiations with RGGI member states, and the DEP will start determining the rules and guidelines needed to rejoin RGGI within 30 days.

In 2011, Christie claimed RGGI was ineffective in reducing greenhouse gases and pulled the state from the pact. He vetoed three bills during his tenure that would have returned the state to the regional initiative. New Jersey has foregone an estimated $279 million in revenue by not participating in RGGI, according to Murphy’s office.

“New Jersey has not been a partner to our neighbor states in advancing the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions since pulling out of RGGI,” Murphy said in a statement. “Pulling out of RGGI slowed down progress on lowering emissions and has cost New Jerseyans millions of dollars that could have been used to increase energy efficiency and improve air quality in our communities. With this executive order, New Jersey takes the first step toward restoring our place as a leader in the green economy.”

A Senate panel recently advanced three bills that would require the state’s participation in RGGI and dedicate revenues from the program to clean energy projects.

One bill (S-874) would prevent the governor from unilaterally removing the state from the pact, like Christie did in 2011, by requiring legislative approval of the state’s removal from RGGI.

Another bill (SCR-40) would amend the constitution to dedicate all revenues raised from RGGI to electric vehicle, clean energy and greenhouse gas reduction programs, preventing the governor from using the proceeds to plug unrelated budget holes. A third bill (S-612) outlines a spending plan for how the RGGI money should be spent.

As it’s currently written, the latter bill would dedicate the first $300 million raised from the program on electric vehicle programs, but Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), a bill sponsor, said he would leave it up to the Murphy administration to produce a final version of the spending bill.

Murphy’s executive order directs the DEP to create guidelines for how RGGI funds will be allocated.

Phil Murphy Directs New Jersey to Rejoin Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative