The Plan To Get New Jersey Back Into RGGI That Gov. Christie Can’t Veto

New Jersey State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS
New Jersey State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2011. But if Democrats in the legislature succeed in their latest effort, the state will be back in the carbon trading program soon. At a press conference Thursday, State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and State Senator Bob Smith announced a new resolution that could get New Jersey to rejoin the regional agreement with nine other northeastern states.

RGGI, pronounced “Reggie,” places a limit on the carbon emitted for the region, then auctions off pieces of that limit to power plants and other major emitters. Revenue from the auctions goes to the states, and the states use at least a quarter of the money on efficiency and clean energy projects. The program has raised over $1.6 billion since it started in 2008, not counting the most recent auction, where the price of permits hit $4 per ton, the highest yet. And that’s a sign of health in a system where the initial concern was that a high cap would keep permit prices too low.

“Other states have done very, very well by participating in RGGI,” Senator Bob Smith told ThinkProgress. “Their economies are up, their residents are getting better rates. In New York, from 2009–2011, 16,000 new jobs related to RGGI were created.” While New Jersey “has one of the lowest-recovering economies in the country,” he said.

Senate President Sweeney framed the effort largely as an economic one. “We have lost… hundreds of millions of dollars, thousands of jobs,” due to pulling out of RGGI, he said at the press conference. “When you look at a state that’s 50th in the nation in employment the one thing you need to focus on is how to put people back to work. And the added bonus is you’re making the environment cleaner.”

The resolution takes advantage of a recent court ruling that Christie broke the law by unilaterally deciding to have New Jersey withdraw from RGGI. Now, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is going through formal procedures to get out of the agreement. The legislature can invalidate the agreement with this new resolution — without being subject to a possible veto from Christie. The Democrat-controlled legislature has voted successfully to rejoin RGGI before, but was thwarted by a veto.

Both houses of the Legislature will have to first vote to stop the withdrawal, giving Christie 30 days to change or withdraw the DEP proposal. If that doesn’t happen, both houses will have to vote again to halt withdrawal from RGGI and get New Jersey back in. “This is a very seldom-used procedure,” Senator Smith told ThinkProgress, but Christie’s actions were “so egregious” it was necessary. “For a guy who’s a lawyer, he has no respect for the law,” Smith said.

“It’s a bad thing to have your economy dictated by the Koch Brothers,” Smith told ThinkProgress. A 2011 secret meeting between Christie and ultra-conservative millionaire David Koch seemed to show broad agreement between the two right before Christie pulled New Jersey out of RGGI. Koch praised Christie’s decision as an example of “commitment to the free enterprise system.”