Christie official: N.J. has no plans to comply with climate rule

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 2, 2016

A top official to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told an environment advisory board gathered to discuss a federal climate change regulation that the state has no plans to comply.

John Giordano, assistant commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, took the floor midway through a daylong meeting of the 18-member state advisory group to reiterate the state’s opposition to U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan. New Jersey is one of 27 states suing to challenge the rule in court.

“New Jersey is already doing more to reduce CO2 emissions than the Clean Power Plan ever could, even if it survives legal challenge, which we don’t expect,” Giordano said to attendees, according to written notes provided by DEP. “Here in New Jersey, striving for clean power is already in our DNA; we don’t need EPA’s re-engineering.”

Giordano continued, “So, just to clarify, in case there is any misconception or misunderstanding, we are not acquiescing to EPA and currently [are] not developing a Clean Power Plan. While we have an excellent understanding of EPA’s regulation, we are litigating the agency’s strategy that excludes New Jersey’s successes at reducing carbon intensity from our power sector.”

DEP spokesman Bob Considine said in an email that the fact that the Clean Air Council held the Clean Power Plan meeting last week does not indicate New Jersey is looking at how it could comply with the federal rule, which would require the state to reduce its carbon emissions rate 23 percent from 2012 levels by 2030.

“Each year, a hearing on a topic of interest is decided upon,” and the Clean Power Plan was this year’s chosen topic, Considine said.

“The Clean Air Council meeting is a forum for a free exchange of ideas, consistent with the Christie Administration’s goals for transparency and public discourse,” he added.

A call for mass-based trading

The Clean Air Council, which advises the New Jersey DEP on air regulations, includes 14 gubernatorial appointees. According to a handout provided by the council, the group held the meeting to seek feedback on a wide range of topics related to Clean Power Plan implementation, including what carbon-trading options other states may consider under the rule and whether the state should participate in the Clean Energy Incentive Program, which rewards early construction of renewable energy and energy efficiency in low-income communities.

Jackson Morris, Eastern energy director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, presented at the meeting and described the overall dialogue as “generally pretty productive.”

“We heard from a lot of different folks, none of which I heard were obstructionist, and all of which were presenting thoughts on a path forward for New Jersey,” Morris said.

In his presentation, Morris noted that if the Clean Power Plan is upheld by the court system, New Jersey must submit a state compliance plan to EPA or the agency will regulate its power plants directly through a federal plan.

Morris also recommended that the state develop a mass-based carbon trading strategy, arguing that its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate power-sector carbon-trading system in the Northeast that already works under this model, was a “proven winner” for New Jersey before Christie opted to remove the state from the program in 2011.

Pam Kiely of the Environmental Defense Fund, who also presented at the meeting, called it “a very constructive and open conversation,” though she added, “they were certainly clear that, as a state, they oppose the rule.”

Kiely said that during her presentation, she argued that the Clean Power Plan provides flexibility to states in how they can comply with the rule.

Critics slam meeting as ‘sham’

Another presenter at the meeting, Ken Colburn of the Regulatory Assistance Project, told the council how state planning for the rule could be conducted in the context of larger energy industry changes and New Jersey’s goals and policies for the sector.

“To its credit, New Jersey understands this context and is wisely exploring how it might align implementation of the [Clean Power Plan] — if it survives litigation — with the state’s Energy Master Plan,” Colburn said in an email, referring to the state’s long-term plan for managing energy prices and demand under the Christie administration.

However, not everyone who attended the meeting was happy with how it went.

The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club released a statement calling it a “sham,” and Director Jeff Tittel, who also attended, said he believes Christie administration officials have no interest in pursuing any action related to the Clean Power Plan based on the statements Giordano and others made at the meeting.

Tittel, a frequent critic of the Christie administration, argued that if the governor had not taken actions like removing the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the state would be well-positioned to meet the goals of EPA’s climate rule.

“These goals are relatively modest for New Jersey,” Tittel said.