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Environmental groups file suit over Christie's RGGI pullout

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Two environmental groups today filed a lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie and the state Department of Environmental Protection for the state's withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — just as New Jersey misses the second quarterly auction of carbon dioxide allowances since its official withdrawal from the cap-and-trade program.

"We've been working on RGGI for about a decade — since before it was called RGGI — and our members in New Jersey want to see the program remain in place," said Luis Martinez, senior attorney on state energy programs at the National Resources Defense Council, which filed the suit with Environment New Jersey.

The most recent legislative attempt to require New Jersey to rejoin the 10-state pollution-reduction pact passed both houses May 24, and Christie has until July 8 to sign or veto the bill — though in an e-mail, a spokesman for the administration said the state "will not be rejoining RGGI."

According to Martinez, the suit argues that Christie and the DEP withdrew from the compact in violation of the state Administrative Procedure Act, which requires the administration to give effective public notice and establish a comment period before regulation is passed or repealed.

"We thought the public proceedings would happen towards last summer, after Christie made the announcement (in May 2011), but then we were still waiting in the fall," Martinez said. "We kept thinking, at some point, the DEP would make an announcement for the proceedings, but they didn't. They ignored the regulations."

But Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said there was "nothing illegal about our withdrawal from RGGI."

"Participation in the RGGI consortium was via a contractual arrangement with provisions for any state to pull out with notice and without penalty," Drewniak said in an e-mailed statement. "No one was locked into RGGI, which was a failed public policy that taxed businesses and residents and left New Jersey at a competitive disadvantage."

However, studies conducted by environmental groups continue to find New Jersey yielded significant economic benefits from RGGI — and that the state could miss out on more if it does not rejoin the program.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, during New Jersey's three-year participation in RGGI, the sale of pollution permits generated $159 million in economic benefits, including $125 million to invest in renewable energy projects, which created 1,800 job-years of work. Environment New Jersey also found the state could gain an additional $680 million in revenue for job-creating clean-energy projects by staying in the program and working with other states to improve it.

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