Democrats push to get New Jersey back in group focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions

IndustriesAssociated Press

Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature are pursuing a new effort to restore New Jersey's participation in a regional cooperative aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite Gov. Chris Christie's veto of similar legislation in 2011 and 2012, an Assembly committee this week passed a measure that calls for the state's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which encompasses nine New England and Mid-Atlantic states. The Senate has already passed similar legislation.

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Since it began in 2003 the initiative has been responsible for removing the equivalent of 149,000 vehicles from the road and for saving residents $240 million on their energy bills, according to a 2014 study produced by the group. The initiative works by setting up a marketplace for carbon dioxide credits, which state regulators sell at an auction.

The legislative push, the latest between Democrats and environmental groups on the one side and Christie and Republicans on the other, comes as Assembly members enter an election year and as the governor prepares an announcement on a White House run.

The Democrats' goal is to send the bill to Christie, and — expecting another veto — they hope to persuade their GOP colleagues to support an override effort, said Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon, who wrote the bill.

Republicans don't sound receptive, and attempts at overriding vetoes under Christie have not succeeded.

"It's been vetoed multiple times," said Republican Assemblyman Scott Rumana. "I don't think you're gonna get a different result."

In particular, the initiative imposes costs on businesses at a time when the state's economy is dragging and businesses like Mercedes-Benz, which recently announced a departure for Georgia, are leaving the state, Rumana said.

Christie pulled New Jersey out of the compact in 2011, arguing the cap-and-trade auction amounted to a tax on the state's residents. Since then, Democrats and their allies have mounted several failed attempts at forcing the state back into the compact.

In June 2012, Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the administration arguing the regulation removing New Jersey from the group was out of bounds in part because there was no public comment period. An appellate court agreed and now, after hearing public comment last summer, the administration has until later this year to issue a new rule.

Christie acknowledged in 2011 that climate change was a real phenomenon, but disagreed that the initiative was the right vehicle for cutting emissions.

In addition to the measure the Assembly passed this week, lawmakers have also begun working on a bill aimed at nullifying a regulation formally withdrawing the state from the cooperative. The state constitution authorizes the Legislature to invalidate regulations if executive agencies fail to meet the intent lawmakers had when they enacted a bill.

Environment New Jersey director Doug O'Malley said it's a rarely used tactic, but one that gives supporters of the initiative hope.

"(It's) why this is not just pounding sand," he said.