Senate Environment and Energy Committee advances challenge to Christie’s withdrawal from cap and trade program

TRENTON  – The legislature’s challenge to a move by Gov. Chris Christie to pull New Jersey out of a “cap and trade” emissions program made further headway today when the Senate Environment and Energy Committee affirmed that the withdrawal of the state from the initiative stands as a violation of legislative intent.

The Senate Oversight Resolution (SCR-125), co-sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Environment and Energy Committee chairman and state Sen. Bob Smith (D-17), would prevent Christie from formally pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional program by northeastern states to reduce green house gas emission from power plants and factories. The state entered RGGI in 2005 under then-governor Richard Codey (D-27) but was pulled out in 2011 by Christie, who called the initiative “gimmicky.”

“This would make it clear that the legislature wants New Jersey in RGGI and that the pullout was unproper,” said Smith in response to questions about the aim of SCR-125, adding that the measure “by itself does not force [the state back into RGGI], but puts us in the situation where it can be litigated and allow the state to do the right thing.”

Democratic legislators and environmental activists have fought Christie over his decision to pull the state out of RGGI, and a ruling by an appellate court earlier this year decided that the administration violated state law in the way it withdrew from the program. A mandated 60-day public comment period on the issue ended earlier this month, drawing a 5,000 supporters of keeping the state in the program, according to Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

O’Malley also argued that by not participating in RGGI, the state lost out on $114 million in environmental subsidies.

Proponents of the state’s involvement in RGGI argue that the program helps New Jersey create jobs and maintain its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of climate change and under legislation like the Global Warming Response Act. Pulling out of RGGI hinders the state’s efforts in meeting those goals, argued Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, at today’s hearing.

“This initiative is critical for job creation and in reestablishing New Jersey’s role in leading green initiatives,” Potosnak said, adding that the governor’s removal of New Jersey from RGGI “violated the public trust.”

But Jeff Tittle, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the issue is not about climate change, but about the legality of the administration’s actions in pulling New Jersey out of RGGI. Removing New Jersey from the program prevents the state’s efforts, headed by the Department of Environmental Protection, from meeting goals set by earlier legislation, like the Global Warming Response Act, and violates other legislation, like the Administrative Procedures Act.

“We clearly and strongly believe that the actions by the administration violate the legislative intent of those laws, violate the design that the legislature has worked on for numerous years, and that’s why this SCR needs to go forward whether you support RGGI or not,” Tittle said. “That’s not the point, the point is that this is an act of nullification by the executive branch over the legislative and the laws that are currently on the books, just like when Andy Jackson sent the troops down to South Carolina back in 1824.”

The motion passed with four yeas and one nay by state Sen. Sam Thompson (R-12).

Senate Environment and Energy Committee advances challenge to Christie’s withdrawal from cap and trade program