This afternoon, NJDEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe announced that NJDEP will work to propose regulations for New Jersey to administer the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program and participate in the regional RGGI auctions, starting in early 2020 for carbon pollution credits, and establishing a new RGGI program in consultation with RGGI Inc. and the other participating Northeast states. Most notably, the NJDEP announced that the proposed carbon emissions cap for New Jersey would be 18 million metric tons of carbon per year. This number would reduce by 2.5 million metric tons between 2021 and 2025, and ultimately be 11.5 million metric tons in 2030.
While the carbon emissions cap is lower than neighboring RGGI states and won’t incorporate any new fossil fuel generators, it is still higher than advocates recommended. Beyond New Jersey, Virginia is in the process of joining RGGI for the first time, and other states including Pennsylvania and Illinois have expressed interest in joining.
Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley released the following statement in response:
“It’s been a long time coming for New Jersey to rejoin the RGGI carbon pollution reduction program. Today’s announcement marks a key milestone for New Jersey to once again be a member of the RGGI program it helped to found and end an era of allowing fossil fuel plants to pollute freely.
“There has been a full-throated call to rejoin RGGI with the strongest carbon emissions cap from a broad set of the public and climate allies. We expect upcoming public hearings in early 2019 to allow more time to dig into NJDEP’s RGGI modeling to ensure the state is proposing the strongest possible carbon emissions cap as we look to officially reenter the program. It is critical we rejoin the program with the strongest possible emissions cap to ensure that we serve as a climate leader amongst the RGGI states.
“While RGGI is not a silver bullet to reduce all our carbon emissions, it’s a strong first step to reduce pollution from our fossil fuel plants and move us to a clean, renewable energy economy. RGGI is a light of climate action in the darkness of climate rollbacks of the Trump era and a clear repudiation of the Christie administration’s decision to withdraw New Jersey from the program.
“Gov. Murphy campaigned vigorously on climate action and repeatedly asserted on the campaign trail that one of his first environmental actions as governor would be for New Jersey to rejoin the program, which morphed into Executive Order 7 in his first two weeks in office. Today’s announcement puts us on a path to officially rejoin the RGGI pollution credits auction program in 2020.
“It remains critical to ensure that funds focus on the programs with the best track record for carbon reductions and to focus on the state’s cities and urban neighborhoods that pay the most into the program and are most harmed by air pollution. We need to ensure that RGGI is implemented in a fair and equitable manner, which is referenced in Gov. Murphy’s RGGI Executive Order 7.
“This is the critical time to rejoin the RGGI program with the strongest possible carbon emissions cap to ensure that we serve as a climate leader amongst the RGGI states.”
HISTORY OF RGGI IN NJ
In the years since New Jersey left RGGI, the program grew much stronger and other states, even New Jersey, have reaped the benefits–more than $773 million in consumer savings through energy efficiency and $5.7 billion in health benefits. In RGGI states, carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants have been reduced by 50 percent since 2005 with $3 billion in net economic benefits, including the creation of 30,000 more jobs. In New Jersey didn’t rejoin the program, the state would lose out on more than $500 million in clean energy investments. RGGI is the program that shows we can expand our clean energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, as Environment American outlined in the recent Pollution From Solutions report, released earlier this month.
RGGI’s origination was formed through bipartisan cooperation in the depths of the Bush Administration inaction on climate during the 2000s. Gov. George Pataki (NY) and Gov. Mitt Romney (MA) helped to build support for the program and New Jersey officially joined the program under Gov. Jon Corzine in 2008. During the program’s existence, New Jersey has been the only state to pull out and there was bipartisan agreement from states last year to strengthen the program. Currently, Virginia is poised to join the agreement, which will strengthen the program. Six years after the destruction of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York, the need for climate action couldn’t be clearer. According to a Union of Concerned Sciences study, more than 20 New Jersey towns, primarily along the Shore, will face coastal flooding severe enough in 17 years (2035) to cover 10% of their town’s land mass once every two weeks. The climate crisis for our coastal communities is not going to wait.
RGGI will make investments in our clean energy economy. Even when New Jersey was in the program, Gov. Christie’s administration raided funds that should have been allocated for clean energy programs like energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy like solar and wind power. RGGI is a program that works not only to cap carbon pollution from our power plants, but also to invest in clean energy.
Environment New Jersey, in the immediate aftermath of Gov. Christie’s decision to unilaterally pull us out of the program, filed litigation with the New Jersey Superior Court, arguing that the Governor had illegally pulled us out of the program. In March 2014, the court agreed with our lawsuit and required Gov. Christie’s administration to follow a regulatory process. In the resulting public hearing at NJDEP, there was overwhelming public support to stay in the program, which was ultimately ignored by the Christie administration.