By Tom Johnson
The Legislature is once again trying to get the state to rejoin a regional initiative to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.
The Senate Environment and Energy Committee is scheduled to take up a bill (S-151) on Thursday that would require New Jersey to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
In May 2011, Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally pulled New Jersey out of the 10- state effort to reduce pollution from power plants contributing to global warming. In doing so, the Republican governor said the program was not effective and simply imposed a new tax on utility customers.
The program, commonly known as RGGI, is a collaborative effort by the states to deal with climate change. Its proponents hope it will eventually serve as a model for a nationwide strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a vision that has yet to be realized.
To encourage less pollution from power plants, RGGI imposes a tax on emissions of greenhouse cases, such as carbon dioxide. The funds raised by the tax are used by member states to finance clean-energy projects to reduce energy consumption.
To date, legislative efforts to force New Jersey back into the program have proved fruitless, with Christie twice vetoing bills to that end. Senate President Stephen Sweeney is the sponsor of the bill.
The bill said the funding of clean-energy programs by RGGI benefits consumers by reducing their costs and by decreasing energy use for both homeowners and businesses. The funds also would help promote the state’s efforts to achieve greater energy efficiency and implement cleaner ways of producing electricity, according to the bill.
Democratic lawmakers and clean-energy advocates have long been unhappy with many of the Christie administration’s energy policies. Besides pulling out of RGGI, the administration has diverted nearly $1 billion in ratepayer subsidies that were supposed to fund clean-energy programs, but instead have been used to plug holes in the state budget in the past several years.
More recently, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities killed the first offshore wind project to be considered by the agency, saying it was not financially viable and failed to provide economic benefits to ratepayers. It also adopted regulations earlier this month that may force Tesla, the maker of high-priced electric vehicles, to cease selling the cars in New Jersey.
“It’s good to get it out there,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, referring to Sweeney’s bill. “RGGI is a symptom of a broader anti-climate change agenda by the Christie administration.’’