Christie Greenhouse Changes Violate N.J. Law, Court Says

New Jersey Traffic
Vehicles slow at a toll booth near the George Washington Bridge in Ft. Lee, New Jersey. New Jersey must begin amending or repealing the state’s climate-change regulations within 60 days, according to a three-judge panel in Trenton. Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration violated state law in the way it withdrew from a regional program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, a state appellate court ruled.

New Jersey must begin amending or repealing the state’s climate-change regulations within 60 days, according to a three-judge panel in Trenton. Christie’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative drew a lawsuit in 2012 from environmental groups, who cheered yesterday’s ruling.

“Neither Governor Christie nor the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection can simply repeal state laws by fiat,” Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said in a statement.

Christie decided to withdraw by the end of 2011 from RGGI, which set a cap on carbon-dioxide emissions and created a trading program. Christie said RGGI, which then included the six New England states, plus New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Maryland, failed because the low auction prices it drew didn’t motivate companies to change business practices.

New Jersey’s withdrawal meant producers no longer had to comply with the program and DEP didn’t make emissions allowances available for purchase or give emissions offsets to companies.

Web Posting

Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued, claiming DEP improperly posted its withdrawal from the trading program on the department’s website rather than follow the Administrative Procedure Act. DEP argued that by withdrawing from RGGI, its trading program regulations are defunct, according to the ruling.

The judges found “little doubt” that lawmakers meant for trading-program regulations to “enable New Jersey’s participation in RGGI, rather than to establish a stand-alone carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program in New Jersey.”

The regulations are broadly worded and “can be read to require action by the department absent participation in a regional greenhouse program,” according to the ruling.

“The department should have taken action to repeal the regulations or amend them to clarify that they do not create a stand-alone trading program,” the judges ruled.

Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts referred a request for comment to Lee Moore, a spokesman for acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. In an e-mail, Moore said the attorney general’s office represents DEP and the ruling is under review.

Christie Vetoes

Christie vetoed legislation in 2011 and 2012 that sought to require the state’s participation in the RGGI program.

“While I acknowledge that the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing, that climate change is real, that human activity plays a role in these changes and that these changes are impacting our state, I simply disagree that RGGI is an effective mechanism for addressing global warming,” Christie wrote in his 2011 veto.

Rather than change behavior, he wrote, RGGI “does nothing more than impose a tax on electricity,” and the state’s participation “has little practical impact on the issue of global warming. To be effective, greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed on a national and international scale.”

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said the ruling allows public input and legislative oversight on the issue.

‘Best Avenue’

“RGGI was and still is the best avenue towards that goal,” Sweeney said in a statement.

Dale Bryk, a director and attorney at New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said the ruling focused on the DEP’s procedures, not the political backdrop.

“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, state law? We’re not doing this anymore,’” Bryk said in a phone interview. “The same way you pass a law you have to unravel a law. And that’s what they didn’t do.”

The case is In Re Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), A-4878-11T4, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (Trenton).

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