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With Christie Out, New Jersey Poised To Rejoin New England In Climate Pact

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Outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey's Governor-elect Phil Murphy has vowed to "immediately" bring his state back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. It’s a move that could strengthen the pollution-fighting partnership.

The nine-state partnership swaps pollution credits and invests that money back into clean energy programs.

It appears to be working. Softened electric demand and lower natural gas prices have helped, but regulated emissions have dropped substantially since RGGI began less than a decade ago.

Still, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the program “gimmicky” and a “failure” when he withdrew his state from it beginning in 2012.

Conservation groups were critical of Christie’s move.

“It was really a disaster from a policy perspective,” said Jordan Stutt, with the Acadia Center. He said Christie cost New Jersey hundreds of millions of dollars in RGGI money.

“That’s revenue that could have been re-invested into clean energy programs, energy efficiency programs,” Stutt said. “Types of investments that multiply the economic value of this kind of program. That create jobs.”

The newly elected Murphy seems to agree.

On his campaign website he said he’ll “immediately restore New Jersey’s place” in the program, citing a need to reduce pollution, increase efficiency, and improve air quality in the nation’s most densely populated state.

“Because they will be a part of the program, they will be forced to make reductions in those emissions,” said Phelps Turner, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. “The air will be cleaner for everybody in the Northeast.”

Turner said he hopes New Jersey’s promised re-entry into RGGI will carry another benefit -- sending a positive signal to states like Virginia, which is considering joining the program.

In May, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive action to make sure his state was “trading ready.”

Turner and Acadia’s Jordan Stutt and agree: this week’s election of another Virginia Democrat, Ralph Northam, sends a signal that state-by-state climate-change actions could continue.

“I think it’s just a great sign that despite the inaction on climate from our federal government, more and more state leaders are stepping up to address this challenge,” Stutt said. “And they’re identifying solutions that will not only help the climate, but will boost their economy.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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