Running for governor in 2009, Chris Christie vowed to become “New Jersey’s No. 1 clean-energy advocate.” That was a hollow promise. As governor, Mr. Christie proceeded to cut all the money for the Office of Climate and Energy. He raided $158 million from the clean energy fund, meant for alternative energy investments, and spent it on general programs. He withdrew the state from an important lawsuit against electric utilities to reduce emissions.
On Thursday, he took the worst step of all: He abandoned the 10-state initiative in the Northeast that uses a cap-and-trade system to lower carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. The program has been remarkably successful, a model of vision and fortitude. Lacking that, Mr. Christie has given in to the corporate and Tea Party interests that revile all forms of cap and trade, letting down the other nine states trying to fight climate change.
The system works by requiring utilities to either lower their emissions or buy allowances to pollute. Money from the allowances goes to states for clean-energy programs. Since it began in 2008, the system has created more than $700 million for these programs; New Jersey has spent some of its share on helping cities become more energy-efficient. Greenhouse emissions from power plants in the region went down about 12 percent from 2008 to 2010 for many reasons, including lower natural gas prices. Programs like the regional initiative are estimated to have produced more than 10 percent of that decline.
Mr. Christie has already demonstrated his disdain for the program’s goals by spending $65 million of the state’s $100 million share from the allowances to pay down New Jersey’s deficit. He claimed this week that the program was not working, a notion that was quickly refuted by five other governors. “Governor Christie is simply wrong when he claims that these efforts are a failure,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland. He said they had an equivalent effect of taking 3,500 cars off the road in his state.
For now, at least, the far right has killed cap and trade nationally, but the idea is far from dead. Several Western states are gearing up for a cap-and-trade program; California has been particularly aggressive. The Northeast state compact will survive Mr. Christie’s exit. It is New Jersey that will be the poorer, with less to invest in smarter energy programs, more carbon dioxide and a leadership vacancy at its helm.