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RGGI In The News: Top DEP Aide Tells N.J. Assembly Regional Climate Change Program Was Ineffective

June 14, 2011 J

June 13, 2011 NJ.com

TRENTON — A regional program intended to curb climate change and promote renewable energy did not reduce a “single pound” of carbon emissions and amounted to nothing more than a tax, an environmental official told an Assembly panel this morning.

The comments came during a hearing held on Gov. Chris Christie’s announcement last month that he will pull the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, created to cut power plant emissions of carbon dioxide and pay for renewable energy projects.

“We do not believe that RGGI has been an effective carbon reduction system,” said Ray Cantor, a top aide to Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin. “We don’t believe the RGGI tax is necessary to get us to our goals.”

Under the program, power plants are assigned a certain amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit. They can then buy and sell credits depending on if they need to release more or less of the gas, which is known to contribute to climate change.

Most of the credits are bought at auction, with the proceeds going back to the participating states to pay for renewable and clean energy projects.

Critics of the program and environmental advocates agree that the credits are too cheap to influence power plant operators’ decisions about the fuels they use. But they say Christie retreated from the initiative rather than working with states to fix it.

“The time for the governor to raise his critiques about RGGI is now within the construct of the regional collection of leaders in a way that would move everybody forward on a program that could work better,” said Dena Mottola, executive director of Environment New Jersey.

Assemblymen Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset) and John McKeon (D-Essex) said at a news conference after the hearing that they will introduce a bill requiring the state remain in the program, which costs a typical New Jersey household a little more than $3 a year.

Both lawmakers fear the loss of the program will undercut funding for solar projects across the state, damaging a fragile but growing industry.

“In effect, you stop the engine that’s been the driving force in making the progress that we have,” McKeon said. “It’s the beginning of a giant step backwards.”

If passed by the Legislature, the bill would likely be vetoed by Christie.

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