Christie to pull out of RGGI at press conference, unveil energy plan

Gov. Chris Christie will announce the state’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap-and-trade program at an 11 a.m. press conference tomorrow, Statehouse sources told State Street Wire tonight.

The controversial move will be announced in the context of the state’s new Energy Master Plan, they said, which Christie said this week at a town hall was still a week or so in the offing.

A Governor’s Office spokesperson did not immediately respond to a text message seeking confirmation.

RGGI is a northeastern alliance of ten states that levy a surtax on carbon-emission power plants – a tax conservatives say is passed onto small businesses and other consumers – and dedicates the funds to clean energy development. It’s also the nation’s first carbon trade system that was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2018, but in New Jersey and other states the dedicated funds have been used to fill budget gaps.

Last year, Christie moved $63 million from the dedicated cap-and-trade fund to plug a budget hole. In New York, Gov. David Patterson moved over $100 million out of the state’s RGGI fund.

State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36), of Wood-Ridge, became the first state Democrat to join the call for New Jersey to exit the program when he joined Steve Lonegan, state director for the rightwing advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, at a press conference last month.

Sarlo’s calling for repeal because of the rededication of the funds, so he said he would also back state Sen. Bob Smith (D-17), of Piscataway, a staunch supporter of the RGGI program, who is proposing a ballot question go before voters for constitutional dedication of RGGI funds to avoid further appropriation shifts.

The RGGI program requires power plants to buy one pollution credit at auction for every ton of greenhouse gases they release, which has so far generated $850 million.

Lonegan said governments are selling off the credits at a much reduced cost from what the credit purchasers will likely sell them for in the future. “Speculators buy and hold these things until they gain interest,” he told State Street, which makes this a short-term solution for the taxpayers and a long-term boon for investors.

Environmental advocates point to AFP’s oil and coal mogul backers – whose businesses are adversely affected by clean energy programs like this – as the group’s hidden agenda: protecting polluters.

“Standing with Americans for Prosperity, which is a front for the coal lobby funded by the biggest corporate polluters in the United States, shows the level of Sen. Sarlo’s anti-environmental agenda,” said Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club state director.

New Hampshire is engaged in a RGGI repeal process as well, and Maine is also considering withdrawing.

State Sen. Diane Allen (R-7), of Edgewater Park, came out in favor of repealing the state’s RGGI enrollment recently alongside AFP. Allen blamed Ocean Spray moving from Burlington County to Pennsylvania recently on the program. Pennsylvania is one of the few northeastern states that did not enroll in the cap-and-trade program.

Christie said a legislative repeal isn’t necessary because the administration can remove the state from the program, only that he was waiting for the Energy Master Plan to enumerate the recommendation. Christie to pull out of RGGI at press conference, unveil energy plan