As Christie Opts Out of Regional Pact, Global Warming Battles Continue

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's recent decision to exit the Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) — the nation's only operating cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — is a major setback for the most prominent effort against climate change. But it's also only one development in the ongoing debate in legislatures and courts over whether and how states should fight global warming.

Christie's move to exit the 10-state compact was quickly hailed by conservatives and condemned by environmentalists. In making the decision, though, Christie didn't toe the line of many of his fellow Republican governors. He said that he believes man-made pollution is contributing to global warming and that New Jersey should fight it — even announcing that he opposes new coal-fired power plants in the state. Instead, as the New York Times reports , he objected to RGGI on more technical grounds.

RGGI caps greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. If plants stay below the cap, they can sell emissions credits to their counterparts who are over the limit. Christie's criticism was that RGGI wasn't reducing emissions because the caps were set too high. The high caps mean that the price of credits is low, providing little incentive for power plants to move to cleaner energy sources. RGGI supporters counter that their intention had always been to tighten the caps over time — that the initial program was mostly intended to prove that the cap-and-trade framework would succeed.

Christie says New Jersey will be out of RGGI by the end of the year, which would likely make it the first state to leave the compact. In New Hampshire , the state House of Representatives has passed a bill to leave RGGI and a majority in the state Senate favors that course, too. But, as the (Manchester) New Hampshire Union Leader reports , the Senate's Republican majority was one vote short of being able to override an expected veto from Democratic Governor John Lynch. Instead, the Senate passed legislation to create new limits on how money from RGGI is spent and to make it easier for the state to leave the compact in the future. The two houses haven't reconciled the differing legislation.

Meanwhile, cap-and-trade has suffered a setback in California . A judge ruled that the state couldn't take any steps to implement its own cap-and-trade system until it reviews alternative ways to reduce emissions, such as carbon taxes, Reuters reports . The state is appealing the ruling.

At the same time, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is continuing his fight against federal greenhouse gas regulation, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports . He's launched a new suit in federal court arguing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency relied on faulty research when it determined that greenhouse gas emissions were endangering public health, a prerequisite to federal regulation.

Environmental activists aren't entirely on the defensive in the courts, however. A group called Our Children's Trust is leading a new movement to persuade states to declare the atmosphere a "public trust." Such a declaration could force states to combat climate change more aggressively. The  Associated Pressreports that  Our Children's Trust has either sued in court or filed a regulatory petition in every state. 

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