Governor Christie Stops New Jersey from Addressing Climate Change, Ignoring the Perils to his State

In this posting, Bob Litterman, a New Jersey resident, economic and risk expert and WWF board member, discusses New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's decision to pull his state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the only system currently operating in America that makes polluters pay for their carbon pollution that causes climate change. Why would the governor of New Jersey – a state very vulnerable to rising sea levels and other impacts from climate pollution – do such a thing? 

Well, the Governor claims the initiative is a “gimmick.”  He says that a new report from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shows that the state has achieved its 2020 emissions goals because “the market and not RGGI has created incentives to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels.” 

Not quite Governor Christie. The recession caused emissions to drop all over the country, including in New Jersey. As the economy gets back on track, so will the upward trajectory of emissions. Unless Christie is suggesting an economic recession is a good method for reducing emissions, he and his state need a real plan for reducing carbon pollution that allows the economy to grow.

The only way we’ll reduce carbon pollution over the long term will be through the market and policy initiatives that drive up the price of fossil fuels to reflect their full social costs. 

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Energy from carbon pollution-rich sources like coal look good at first glance but isn’t as appealing once you tack on the costs of climate impacts like more frequent floods, droughts and other weather extremes. Only when the full costs of our decisions are taken into account can we make the best and most informed decisions —in RGGI’s case, making coal economically less appealing than cleaner energy sources.

If RGGI is a gimmick, it is only because it sets the price of carbon pollution too low – and that’s no reason to pull out! If Governor Christie wants to support incentives to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels he should utilize the initiative to achieve that goal.

Already we are seeing the consequences of not taking into account the impacts of our carbon emissions, and experts predict they’ll become catastrophic if we don’t cut emissions significantly. Ironically, as Christie removes his state from RGGI and slows our progress towards addressing the problem – his coastal state is becoming increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A 2009 report found that sea level rise could dramatically increase risks to buildings, transportation infrastructure and other assets exposed to severe storm surges in coastal areas of the U.S. The costs of these severe storms would be enormous. Among the U.S. cities with the greatest risk exposure in mid-century: New York-Newark at $1.8 trillion.

New Jersey’s own Department of Environmental Protection clearly points out in a 2009 report on recommendations for the state’s response to climate change that New Jersey will be significantly impacted. “The Northeastern United States is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with potentially devastating ecological, economic and public health impacts to New Jersey…the socioeconomic impacts of climate change stand to be profound and costly.” 

With so much at stake, you would think that every NJ politician would be calling for a strong price on climate pollution immediately.  In so many other ways, we live in a risk adverse world – people invest in home and car insurance, home security systems, they plan ahead for retirement and health care.  But in the case of one of the biggest risks of all – catastrophic climate disruption – Governor Christie is asking all of us to take a huge gamble; one we can’t afford to lose.

For the sake of the people of New Jersey, let’s hope Governor Christie has the courage, conviction, and long-term view that are necessary to tell the fossil fuel lobbyists to take a hike.   

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