LETTER – Environmentalists admit Dems’ climate change bills are meaningless at Assembly hearing

While Democrats continue to push legislation to join the U.S. Climate Alliance and rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Republicans on the Assembly Environment Committee Thursday pressed representatives of the N.J. Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey about what, if anything, the legislation would accomplish to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The state of New Jersey is currently on track, if not already exceeding those emission standards,” said Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney (R-Bergen), referring to upholding the objectives of the Paris climate accord under a state alliance.  “Right now, we are ahead of its 2020 standard.”

Watch Rooney press environmentalists beyond the talking points:

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Earlier, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) cited data from the N.J. Business and Industry Association demonstrating New Jersey is among the states with the lowest carbon emissions from its power plants.

“In the data that I have, we are tied second in the nation for lowest sulfur dioxide emission rates, tenth lowest for carbon dioxide emissions, and tied lowest for nitrogen rates,” explained Schepisi.

Jeff Tittel, the executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, initially took issue with the data because it didn’t include vehicle emissions.  But, as Rooney pressed whether joining the U.S. Climate Alliance would address that, Tittel admitted it would not.

Following the exchange, Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen) acknowledged that the bill was “more symbolic than anything” because New Jersey already has programs that exceed the group’s benchmarks.

“While this particular piece of legislation isn’t going to mandate something that New Jersey can do for the future, … I don’t think this is going to cost the state anything and we are going to live up to the goals we set anyway,” Lagana conceded during the hearing.

“You’re actually 100 percent right,” responded Rooney.  “This is feel-good legislation that doesn’t really accomplish anything.  We should be looking at legislation that addresses the problem.”

The U.S. Climate Alliance was launched by the Democratic governors of California, Washington, and New York, who were angry with President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the non-binding Paris climate agreement that was brokered by former President Obama in 2015.

While the coalition has no specific goals outside reaffirming its states’ commitment, it neglects the financial burdens associated with the agreement.

“I think anybody who has read the Paris climate accords is also familiar with some of the economic burdens the U.S. was going to shoulder with that,” noted Schepisi, who questioned how the alliance intended to fund a key element.  “Essentially industrialized, richer counties would be paying cash and providing resources to poorer countries to try to reduce those emissions.”

Republicans also took issue with Democrats moving legislation forward to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative after being beaten to the punch by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier in the week.

“It’s my understanding that Governor Murphy already did this by executive order,” said Schepisi.  “In light of that fact, I view this bill as just being purely political.”

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The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), dismissed the observation saying his intent was “belts and suspenders.”

Murphy signed an executive order on Monday to rejoin the nine-state regional cap-and-trade initiative, reversing an order signed by then-Gov. Chris Christie in 2012 that withdrew from the compact.  Legislative Democrats voted repeatedly to return to RGGI, but Christie vetoed their efforts at least three times.

Business groups also testified that the move could lead to higher energy costs for businesses and consumers.

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“Rejoining RGGI will only increase the cost of doing business here in New Jersey,” concluded Rooney.  “Right now, it is incredibly difficult to operate a business in this state.  For that reason, I don’t want to increase the burden on our residents any more than we already have done.”