When the Christie Administration decided to pull out of the Northeast regional cap-and-trade group (RGGI), the New Jersey Department of Environment simply posted a notice on its website that power plants no longer had to comply with pollution caps.
Because the decision was made unilaterally - without any public input - the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled the decision is illegal.
"Neither Governor Christie nor the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection can simply repeal state laws by fiat," says Susan Kraham, Senior Staff Attorney at Columbia University's Environmental Law Clinic, which represented environmental groups in court. "The court gave the administration 60 days to initiate a public process around any changes to the climate change pollution rules."
Environment New Jersey and Natural Resources Defense Council filed the lawsuit in 2012.
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney introduced a bill (S-151) this week that would force the state to rejoin RGGI. This is the third try - Christie has vetoed two previous bills passed by the state legislature.
When he withdrew from RGGI in 2011, Governor Christie said that although he acknowledges the reality of climate change, he didn't think RGGI was effective - it simply imposed a new tax on utility customers.
During the three years New Jersey participated in RGGI, it benefited from over $113 million that supports energy retrofits and solar installations, creating $150 million in economic activity and 1,800 solar jobs, according to Analysis Group.
Pulling out of "RGGI is a symptom of a broader anti-climate change agenda by the Christie administration,''Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told NJ Spotlight.
Since then, RGGI has proven the program significantly cuts emissions from power plants while also growing the economy, creating jobs, and saving citizens on their utility bills. Studies show that since 2000, the program has created over $2.4 billion in economic value for the nine participating states.
Woods Hole researchers created this map of power plants in the Northeast - larger circles mean greater emissions:
By June, the EPA will propose regulations on controlling greenhouse gas emissions at power plants across the US, and RGGI will be a model for how to successfully implement them. Participating states submitted comments to EPA, offering the program as a proven, cost-effective "benchmark for national action."
RGGI has cut power plant emissions by over 30%, demonstrating that states can successfully reduce this pollution in the same way as they have previously address emissions of arsenic, lead, soot and other kinds of pollution from power plants.
Because of the program's success, this year RGGI lowered the cap of allowable emissions by 45%.
Unfortunately, objecting to controls on greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing use of renewable energy has become a hallmark of Republican policy. Besides pulling out of RGGI over Democrats' objections, his administration diverted about $1 billion from clean energy subsidies to fill holes in the general budget. The money came from New Jersey's clean energy fund, which catapulted the state to the top of the country in solar installations.
Christie's Energy Master Plan reduces the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard for 2021 from 30% to 22.5% and puts the energy efficiency goal under review.
Most recently, the NJ Board of Public Utilities voted down a pilot offshore wind project and adopted regulations that could prevent Tesla Motors from selling its electric cars in the state.