So this is what American politics have come to in 2014. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears on NBC’s Meet the Press, then quietly jets out to Vail, Colorado to appear at an exclusive and secretive Koch Brothers strategy meeting. Not a word of this was spoken to his constituents back home. He spoke to an audience of some of the wealthiest people in the country, who have become considerably wealthier over the past decade, about how “America is careening into an economic crisis.” He boasted to the ultra-conservative crowd that “the governorship in New Jersey is the most powerful constitutional governorship in America.” I take that to mean he has extraordinary executive powers to do his and their political bidding.
One step that he has just recently taken is to withdraw New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), something he has been threatening to do for several years.
RGGI is a voluntary alliance between nine mid-Atlantic and New England States, which have agreed to work cooperatively to reduce carbon emissions through the use of emission credits that could be traded within the cooperative. RGGI states have reduced their emissions at a higher rate than their non-RGGI counterparts. The price of carbon credits has climbed to $4/ton, another sign that the program is working. If there is a problem with the system, it is that it hasn’t been aggressive enough in locking in reductions. Christie claimed, wrongly, that participation would make the state less competitive. Numerous studies and analyses have shown that sustainable enterprises do better, by reducing costs, avoiding penalties and attracting the best talent.
The governor was praised for his move by David Koch, who described it as a “commitment to the free enterprise system.” This commitment to free enterprise apparently lapsed when Christie banned EV maker Tesla from selling its cars in the Garden State. Tesla’s direct-to-consumer marketing poses a threat to the politically-connected car dealer networks, long known for their campaign support, which hold a monopoly in the state. Such contradictions are nothing new for the governor, who said back in 2011, that “the future for New Jersey is in green energy.” Of course that was before he became involved with the Koch brothers and their extensive oil and gas interests. Since 2011, he has scaled back renewable energy goals and rebates for residential solar, as well as vetoing a bill that would have banned the disposal of fracking waste.
A number of concerned individuals have tried to persuade the governor to reconsider his move.Congressman Frank Pallone of the 6th District was one of these. In an impassioned letter, he reminded the governor that “New Jerseyans know firsthand what the cost of climate change is. If we do not start taking the prospect of climate change seriously, devastating storms like Superstorm Sandy will become the new normal.” We all remember the governor’s walk around with President Obama after the storm and his unrestrained praise for the president for coming to the state’s aid.
Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the former chair of RGGI, also wrote to the governor, pointing out that not only has RGGI been effective in achieving its mission, but it has also led to the creation thousands of jobs (16,000 in its first three years, to be exact). Even more importantly, he told the governor, New Jersey will need RGGI to meet the new EPA emissions targets which aggressively seek a 43 percent reduction in CO2 relative to 2012 levels by 2030. Remaining in RGGI, he argued, would allow the state to pool resources with its neighbors.
According to Analysis Group, the 10-state RGGI economy grew by $1.6 billion dollars while reducing emissions, and residents saved $1.3 billion in energy costs.
Finally, a resolution being put forward by NJ State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and State Senator Bob Smith could force the governor to remain in the coalition. Their resolution is based on a recent court ruling that Christie broke the law when he used an executive order to pull out of RGGI, overruling a Democratic state legislature. The court ruled back in March that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must formally repeal the membership regulations before the state can withdraw from the program. To do this, the administration must seek public comment, which was not done. “Neither Gov. Christie nor the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection can simply repeal state laws by fiat,” said Susan Kraham, senior staff attorney at Columbia University’s Environmental Law Clinic.
Apparently those executive powers are not quite as extensive as the governor thought. The state legislature has tried twice before to pass a bill requiring the state to remain in RGGI. Christie vetoed both bills. But this latest resolution is supposedly veto-proof. If the move succeeds, the Koch brothers will be very disappointed, no doubt. I’m sure that they are hard at work, trying to keep that from happening at this very moment.
Image credit: Bob Jagendorf: Wikimedia creative commons