New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) recently vowed that he will focus on creating a comprehensive national energy policy if he wins election to the White House in 2016, and while he offered few details about his plans, Garden State environmentalists suggest he is unlikely to stray far from the party line.
In remarks to Republicans gathered in Concord, N.H., last week for the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner, an annual fundraiser for the Lincoln County Republican Party, Christie said his hypothetical administration would aim to utilize all of America’s natural resources.
"We would pass a national energy policy, and one that takes full advantage of all of the resources that we have available to us to help grow our economy and make the world a more peaceful and stable place," Christie said, according to the New Jersey Star Ledger.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Christie later, in response to a question from the audience, added: "We need to get down to the granular level on national energy policy."
Christie offered no other details about his plans to focus on energy policy if elected — like a dozen or so other would-be GOP presidential contenders, the New Jersey politician has yet to formally announce his bid for next year’s primary contest — but his two-term record suggests he would likely be averse to policies aimed at addressing global warming or boosting renewal energy resources.
"One of the things that we’ve seen in the state of New Jersey is that the governor’s record, particularly on the environment, has been kind of held hostage because of his presidential ambitions," said Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.
She added: "What we’ve seen in terms of his record and behavior, whether we’re talking about energy policy on a national scale or how he has managed renewables within the state, there is this kind of inconsistency where he talks using lots of rhetoric about a solid record on the environment, but many people who follow environmental politics would question that."
In fact, environmentalists in the state are quick to point to Christie’s 2011 decision to end the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — he called the multi-state cap-and-trade program a failure — when discussing the Republican’s record on energy policy.
According to media reports at the time, Christie, who had a brief stint as a statehouse lobbyist representing clients that included GPU Energy, cited the human contribution to global warming and vowed to push for alternate energy sources including offshore wind generation, but in the years since, critics argue he has gone silent on both fronts.
"When he first got elected, he was never good on climate or the environment, but he said we weren’t doing enough on renewable energy," recalled New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. "But he has shifted away from that. He had run on being pro-renewable energy for the jobs, but then he turned around and did the opposite."
Tittle pointed to the Christie administration’s early efforts to develop wind farms along the coastline and the Legislature’s approval of the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act in 2010.
But more than four years later, Tittle notes, the state’s Board of Public Utilities has yet to approve rules that would help finance such projects with ratepayer subsidies.
During his first term in office, Christie also touted the state’s solar industry — he remarked on the industry in his State of the State address last month, marking his own comments on energy in the speech — but Tittle asserted that the governor has done little to promote the resource, noting that the state has dropped in solar energy production during Christie’s tenure.
"When he took office, New Jersey was second in the nation in solar; we’re now seventh," Tittle said.
Christie did win praise from the Solar Energy Industries Association in 2012 when he signed legislation aimed at stabilizing costs in the state’s solar market, after prices tumbled due to a glut of renewable energy credits used to fund loans in the state.
More recently, Tittle pointed to Christie’s decision to veto multiple legislative bills that would have banned the disposal of fracking waste in the state.
"Christie has more image than reality," Tittle said. "When you look at the reality, you find that he has on environmental and energy issues taken very hard-right policy positions that align him with the Koch brothers and Big Oil and the tea party."
But those positions could assist Christie as he struggles to showcase himself as a potential 2016 contender, Harrison said.
Christie, who served during the last cycle as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, faces stiff competition for big-money donors from other would-be contenders, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The New Jersey Republican has launched the political action committee Leadership Matters for America as he prepares for a potential primary bid.
Harrison pointed to Christie’s visit to Mexico City last fall, during which he similarly addressed energy policy with calls for an end to the ban on crude oil exports and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
"He has clearly made lots of friends in the oil and natural gas industry. He is on the one hand trying to placate that segment of the population … but co-opt some of the more moderate Republicans, particularly in a state like New Hampshire," she said.