Ray Cantor, a senior adviser with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has not had the desired effect on the pursuit of cleaner energy. Rather, he said, the lower price of natural gas instead of coal has been a prime reason emissions have declined.
But Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee Chairman Upendra Chivukula pointed out that there is no guarantee that over the next decade the price of natural gas will remain so low, and that some of the reduction in emissions is a result of the struggling economy.
The exchange occurred during a hearing held today by RGGI supporters in the Legislature who are fighting the governor’s decision to pull New Jersey out of RGGI by the end of the year.
Cantor testified that the state wants to lure businesses into the state and create jobs by lowering energy costs, but that RGGI and the pollution allowances power plants are forced to purchase were not helping achieve that end.
He said that at the most recent auction of allowances last week only 30 percent of the allowances sold.
The N.J. Business and Industry Association and the state Chamber of Commerce also said energy costs are hampering the state’s economy.
Donald McCloskey said that PSEG supported RGGI because it viewed the best way to achieve cleaner energy is via a national policy, and it viewed RGGI as a means toward that. But with the end of the state’s RGGI participation, he said PSEG is open to exploring what comes next.
But Jeff Tittel of the N.J. Sierra Club told the committee it comes down to politics and he charged that the Tea Party-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Koch Brothers of Koch Industries are spending millions to battle clean energy initiatives and that exiting RGGI is a tax cut for corporate polluters.
“You can’t have clean energy from a dirty deal,’’ Tittel told the committee.
Other environmental groups, including the N.J. Environmental Federation and Environment New Jersey, also testified. Dena Mottola of Environment New Jersey said they have gathered more than 5,000 signatures to support the state’s continuance with RGGI.