New Jersey and RGGI, Perfect Together: Too Bad Governor Christie Doesn't Think So

The New Jersey governor has unilaterally pulled out of the region's cap-and-trade program. Now two environmental groups are suing him

In 2003, then-governor of New York George Pataki asked the governors of northeastern and mid-Atlantic states to "develop a strategy that will help the region lead the nation in the effort to fight global climate change." Thus, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was born. By 2007, ten states had joined the group: Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maryland.

They agreed to a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (like carbon dioxide) from the region's power plants. The system is simple: For each short ton of CO2 emissions, power companies within RGGI's reach are required to buy and hold one tradable CO2 allowance from one of the RGGI states. Attaching a measurable cost to emissions that appears on a company's balance sheets, argue cap-and-trade advocates, is the best market mechanism to keep climate change in check. It's the system that drives the Kyoto Protocol.

But on May 26, 2011, New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced that his state was withdrawing from the program, saying, "after extensive review with the DEP and others in my administration, our analysis of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI reveals that this program is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases and is unlikely to be in the future."

He was wrong.


According to RGGI's first three-year Compliance Summary Report, released on June 4, 206 of the 211 power plants that are subject to the coalition's requirements met their compliance obligations, achieving an impressive reduction in CO2 emissions of 23 percent, while collectively reducing their CO2 emissions to 33 percent below the annual pollution cap of 188 million short tons. The figures reflect RGGI's first three-year control period,which began on January 1, 2009, and ended on December 31, 2011.

"The RGGI region leads the nation in reducing power-sector CO2 pollution," said Collin O'Mara, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and chair of RGGI, Inc. "Today's results demonstrate the power of state and industry cooperation in addressing our greatest environmental challenges. The power sector has stepped up to the plate, working with the RGGI states to meet and exceed emissions targets well ahead of schedule."


One June 6, two environmental groups—Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environment New Jersey—sued the Christie administration, claiming that he illegally withdrew from RGGI and also saying that the program reduces air pollution and supports clean energy investment.

"The suit maintains that the Christie administration effectively dissolved the program in the state without following proper legal procedure," writes NRDC blogger Dale Bryk. "That procedure requires the administration to seek public input before making big decisions like this one. For example, by providing notice of its intent to repeal regulations and by giving the public a reasonable opportunity to comment."


According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, CO2 emission reductions have been driven by several factors, including "1) lower electricity load (due to weather; energy efficiency programs and customer-sited generation; and the economy); 2) fuel-switching from petroleum and coal to natural gas (due to relatively low natural gas prices); and 3) changes in available capacity mix (due to increased nuclear capacity availability and uprates; reduced available coal capacity; increased wind capacity; and increased use of hydro capacity)."

One factor that is definitely not driving CO2 emission reductions is Governor Christie. The NRDC has called on the governor to open up a public discussion on the matter. That's a good idea. Clearly, the analysis of the DEP and the "others" in his administration was wrong.

"Governor Christie unilaterally made his decision to leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative—without taking any input from stakeholders or the public," said Matt Elliot of Environment New Jersey's research and policy division. "His actions are not only bad public policy, but also illegal."



Chris Christie. Video & Transcript: Governor Christie: New Jersey’s Future is Green. May 26, 2011. Accessed June 7, 2012.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 97% of RGGI Units Meet First Compliance Period Obligations. June 4, 2012. Accessed June 7, 2012.
Dale Bryk. NRDC, Environment NJ Sue Christie Administration for Illegally Abandoning RGGI. NRDC Switchboard. June 6, 2012. Accessed June 7, 2012.
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Relative Effects of Various Factors on RGGI Electricity Sector CO2 Emissions: 2009 Compared to 2005. November 2, 2010. Accessed June 7, 2012.
Christopher Rightmire. Enviros sue Christie administration for RGGI pull-out. New Jersey Newsroom. June 7, 2012. Accessed June 7, 2012.

image: Governor Chris Christie at a town hall in Hillsborough, New Jersey, March 2, 2011 (credit: Bob Jagendorf, Wikimedia Commons)