A Bold Clean Energy Initiative for Chris Christie to Consider

In order for a Republican gubernatorial challenger to win in New Jersey, he or she must have a bold idea

In order for a Republican gubernatorial challenger to win in New Jersey, he or she must have a bold idea as the centrepiece of the campaign. For Tom Kean in 1981, it was his "Kemp-Roth for New Jersey" corporate tax cut proposal. For Christie Whitman in 1993, it was her 30 percent income tax cut plan.

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Many New Jersey GOP political conventional wisdom "insiders" doubtless are counselling Chris Christie to sit on his current lead in the polls over Governor Jon Corzine and avoid controversial positions. Such a strategy is doomed to failure. Christie is running for governor and not prime minister. At a time when the Republican "brand" is negatively perceived in New Jersey, it is especially incumbent upon him to demonstrate boldness and a vision.

I know that Christie has boldness and courage – he demonstrated that as New Jersey U.S. Attorney in his war against political corruption. Furthermore, I am certain that Christie has all the management skills to effectively govern New Jersey. He will never defeat Corzine, however, unless the electorate identifies him with an idea that constitutes a sharp departure from the status quo.

The critical choice for Christie is to determine what issue will be the area for his breakthrough proposal. The old New Jersey GOP tax cut bromide appears to have run its course. New Jersey's electorate, rightly or wrongly now appears to believe that tax cuts at the state level will only result in offsetting local property tax hikes.

The issue of clean energy is ripe with opportunity for Christie. With regard to compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards regarding smog, the entire state is in a nonattainment status, and with regard to soot, most of the state likewise fails to comply with EPA limitations. The state has set ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; however, as long as New Jersey is afflicted with traffic congestion and coal fired plants emitting huge quantities of soot, smog, and greenhouse gases, New Jersey's air quality is certain to worsen.

Furthermore, the future of New Jersey's economy is fraught with uncertainty unless its growing baseload energy requirements can be met. The notion that the Garden State can meet these needs through renewables such as solar and wind is a pipe-dream in view of 1) their large open-space requirements; 2) their questionable reliability in terms of continuing wind and sun conditions; and 3) their high operational costs.

The following two-part proposal which I recommend to Christie would encompass not only the challenge of clean energy; it would also generate major economic growth as well:

1. Adopt a long range plan to phase out all coal fired power plants in New Jersey and establish in their stead nuclear power plants.

2. Join with Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi to adopt his “Better Place” program of electric car infrastructure for New Jersey. The program involves 1) establishing a network of battery recharging facilities throughout New Jersey; and 2) financing electric car acquisitions by the consumer based upon mileage usage.

I have written before on PolitickerNJ.com on why nuclear power should be an imperative for New Jersey’s energy future in my February 15 column, “Obama, Corzine, and the Politics of Nuclear Energy”. President Obama has been a major disappointment to nuclear power advocates; in fact, he did not even mention it in his recent speech to Congress. As described by me in the aforementioned article, Corzine excluded nuclear power from the state energy master plan under pressure from a substantial segment of New Jersey’s environmentalist community.

Polls show that acceptance of nuclear power is increasing among the American public, especially with the growing awareness that nuclear power plants are virtually free of emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants. As Obama declines in the polls, as I believe he will between now and Election Day, this will be a good point of contrast for Christie vis-à-vis both Obama and Corzine.

The details of the “Better Place” proposal are set forth on the website, http://www.betterplace.com/. This proposal has already been adopted in Israel, Denmark, Ontario, and Hawaii, whose governor is Christie’s fellow Republican, Linda Lingle.

The key issue in New Jersey, as everywhere else, will be the financing of the construction of the battery recharging network. The good news for New Jersey is that the executive director of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), Caren Franzini is an absolute master at assembling public/private financing partnerships. Caren is one of the most competent individuals I have ever worked with in government, and I have no doubt that she would succeed through both partnerships with banking institutions and EDA bonding packages to make Better Place a reality in the Garden State.

Implementation of this proposal would result in the following benefits:

1. The elimination of coal fired power plants and reduction of gasoline-powered cars on New Jersey's highways would result in major reductions in the emissions of smog, soot, and other pollutants presently fouling New Jersey's air.

2. While the construction costs of nuclear plants are high, the operational costs are low, enabling New Jerseyans to avoid major increases long-term in their electric bills.

3. The construction of the electric car battery recharging infrastructure will create both construction and operational jobs.

If Chris Christie makes this proposal his own, he will establish himself as a 21st century visionary whose administration will dramatically improve New Jersey’s air quality and guarantee energy sufficiency and independence for the Garden State. That indeed will be a winning combination for him in November, 2009.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations.

A Bold Clean Energy Initiative for Chris Christie to Consider