Did New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie illegally pull his state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative last year? During today's OnPoint, Ben Longstreth, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, discusses a new lawsuit filed by NRDC and Environment New Jersey against Christie and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The suit alleges that the governor did not follow legal due process when he removed the state from RGGI last year.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ben Longstreth, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Ben, thanks for coming on the show.
Ben Longstreth: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Ben, NRDC and Environment New Jersey have filed a lawsuit against Governor Chris Christie and the New Jersey DEP. You allege that the Christie administration illegally pulled the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI. What evidence do you have that legal due process was not followed here?
Ben Longstreth: Well, the evidence is pretty clear. In order to rescind or amend a regulation in New Jersey you have to go through a comment period that allows the public to have their voice, also allows the legislature to weigh in on proposed changes to regulations. And that hasn't happened. Governor Christie has made an announcement that he was withdrawing and we were expecting regulations to be issued following that and there haven't been any. On New Jersey Department of Environment's website they also state that companies in the power sector that emit carbon dioxide no longer have to buy allowances. So we think that's clear evidence of a de facto rule rescinding those regulations.
Monica Trauzzi: What do you believe the governor's motivation was to pull the state out of RGGI?
Ben Longstreth: To be honest, I don't, I don't think we have a clear sense. There's some indication that there are groups from outside the state that have been weighing in on him to pull out, like Americans for Prosperity, which is a group supported by polluting industries. But the program in New Jersey is extremely popular and it's popular because it's delivering cleaner air, which is important for the health of New Jersey families, especially kids. It's delivering lower electricity bills because it funds energy efficiency programs that have already resulted in bill reductions. And it's delivering jobs in the clean energy economy in New Jersey.
Monica Trauzzi: And, in fact, the New Jersey state legislature has passed bills that would return the state to RGGI. How likely is sort of a legislative solution to all of this and do you really need to move forward with the lawsuit if it can be solved legislatively?
Ben Longstreth: I think at the moment there's a bill that has passed the legislature that's on the governor's desk and we think it would be terrific if he would sign that or else simply implement the regulations that remain on the books in New Jersey and require following the program. But it certainly looks like he probably may not do that from all signs that we've seen so far. So, we think the lawsuit really will be important.
Monica Trauzzi: So, the governor pulled the state out of RGGI last summer. Why is the suit being followed now?
Ben Longstreth: So, last summer Governor Christie made the announcement that at the end of the first three-year period, New Jersey would be withdrawing and, as I indicated, we expected that there would be a proposed change to the regulations. And the program really is a creature of, in New Jersey, of New Jersey law. It's part of this 10-state regional greenhouse gas initiative, but each state's laws are either through regulations alone or through legislation and then regulations, as is true in New Jersey. Each state's laws create the obligations and operate the program and Governor Christie needs to, we believe, legally amend those regulations and he hasn't done that. And we're suing now because it was finally clear that he wasn't going to.
Monica Trauzzi: RGGI is struggling though. I mean there have been some issues with the program itself. Isn't the governor acting in the best interest perhaps economically for his state by making this move? Isn't that a consideration?
Ben Longstreth: We don't think that it is the best move for New Jersey economically. As I noted, the program is resulting in lower bills already. A study by the Analysis Group indicated approximately $160 million of electricity bill savings because of energy efficiency programs that had been put in place through money from RGGI allowance auctions. And similarly, on the clean energy job front, it's set up in order to drive the power sector to cleaner energy sources, but also creates a fund for moving toward clean energy. And those already have created, in the first period, 180, excuse me, 1,800 jobs in New Jersey and that's without full use of the funds, because a large portion of the funds were used to close a budget gap.
Monica Trauzzi: So, just a process question here, where does the suit go moving forward?
Ben Longstreth: So, we're going to ask the court to require that the governor go through the rulemaking process before making any changes to the regulations. We're going to ask the court to do that, order him to do that on a defined timeline and expeditiously. And finally, ask the court to order him to continue to abide by the program until it's amended.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Ben Longstreth: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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