A move by Gov. Chris Christie to pull New Jersey out of a regional pact to limit greenhouse gas emissions is receiving support from officials with two of the state's largest business groups.
Officials with both the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce supported the announcement Thursday to end the state's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The announcement to leave the 10-state compact was panned by environmental groups and Democrats, who said it will cost green jobs and harm the environment.
The initiative was intended to cap emissions at lower levels and encourage business users over the cap to pay companies that are under the cap, similar to "cap-and-trade" legislation proposed at the federal level. The money raised was dedicated to developing renewable energy projects.
Christie said the system never worked because emission levels were well below their targets, so the fees paid into the program were far too low to affect energy users to lower emissions.
Business association leaders, meanwhile, said the change would save state businesses and agreed with Christie that RGGI failed in its stated goal to dramatically reduce emissions.
"RGGI's cap-and-trade provisions increase costs to New Jersey businesses and consumers, who are already paying some of the highest electricity rates in the nation," said NJBIA President Philip Kirschner.
New Jersey industrial users pays the sixth-highest electricity rates in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Commercial users pay the eighth-highest rates, and residential users pay the fifth-highest rates.
In a press conference, Christie said human beings are contributing to climate change, and that steps should be taken to address it. He gave a preview of elements of the state energy master plan, which is expected in several weeks, and offered support for offshore wind energy, solar energy and nuclear power, while announcing a ban on coal power.
Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the state Chamber of Commerce, said he was encouraged by Christie's comment that both businesses and residents will see a reduction in energy costs. Egenton said energy costs rank with health care and tax policy as the top concerns of state businesses.
But New Jersey Environmental Federal campaign director David Pringle said RGGI funds have been important in funding offshore wind and other green-energy projects. Pringle cited estimates that every dollar in RGGI costs leads to $3 to $4 in benefits, including savings from energy efficiency. And state Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel pointed to RGGI estimates that the initiative created 18,000 jobs and $2.3 billion in investment across the 10-state region.
State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield) said he was planning a bill that would provide tax credits to businesses to limit RGGI costs. Whelan said China and Germany are outcompeting the United States in developing green technology, and Christie's action would add to the problem.
Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Whippany) agreed with Christie that RGGI was ineffective.
"Democrats made New Jersey a national leader in tax hikes, but Governor Christie is making us a national leader in repealing them," DeCroce said.