Help N.J. be green by rejoining regional greenhouse gas plan | Editorial

Times of Trenton Editorial Board

Even as the Trump Administration sets its sights on utterly destroying the federal Environmental Protection Agency, lawmakers in New Jersey hope to nudge the state back into a multi-state program designed to curb carbon pollution from power plants.

Since its launch in 2005, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has served as an auction to sell and trade carbon dioxide emission credits to large-scale polluters, with proceeds supporting energy-efficient programs throughout the Northeast.

Sadly, since 2011, it has done so without the participation of the Garden State.

With dreams of the White House dancing in his head, Gov. Chris Christie pulled us out of the collaborative early in his first term - even as the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners found the state's participation in RGGI had created 1,772 jobs and generated some $151 million in revenues.

This week, the state Assembly voted to require the state to rejoin the agreement, via legislation sponsored by Assembly members Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset).

Christie has blocked similar legislative efforts in the past. But now that he is the lamest of lame ducks, clean-energy proponents and environmentalists have time on their side.

They're also counting on the fact that Lt. Gov. Kim Gaudagno, a GOP candidate for Christie's seat, supports participating in RGGI, as do the four major Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls. Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli of Somerset, the other Republican seeking the nomination, voted against the measure.

Global climate change has many villains, but carbon emissions are among the most insidious. Nine of our neighboring states acknowledge that reality with their membership in the regional co-op.

A federal report last year found that through 2014, some $1.37 billion in RGGI proceeds had been invested in the energy futures of New England and the Middle Atlantic states, particularly in the fields of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Not included in that total were the considerable savings in consumer energy bills that could be spent elsewhere to boost local economies.

Why shouldn't New Jersey be reaping some of that bounty, while at the same time helping to ensure cleaner air for our children and our children's children? Why should we remain hostage to a governor's failed presidential aspirations and his misguided homage to the fossil fuel industry?

Six years ago, Christie jeered that RGGI is no more than a failure that "does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses."

History has proven him wrong, and now the Legislature and his probable successor have the opportunity to make things right.