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Profiles in Courage on Global Warming?

Once again, political deals in Trenton on the global warming front are being missed by media coverage.

For the inquiring reader and intrepid journalists out there, here is a different perspective on the story, with the critical facts and policy context that are so lacking in the news coverage.

I write particularly for those who – like me – agree with the scientists that global warming is real and that significant actions need to be taken to reduce emissions of green house gases now, before it is too late and a critical threshold is reached and irreversible impacts are triggered.

Yesterday, the Assembly Environment Committee released the Corzine Administration’s first step to implement the aggressive goals of the Global Warming Response Act he signed in July.

Those goals call for a 20% reduction in emissions by the year 2020, and a steeper 80% reduction by 2050. The goals have been praised, but the law criticized as lacking any funding or programs to achieve the goals – see: Star-Ledger Op-Ed: “No Teeth in ‘tough. pollution law”.

As we go through the details, keep in mind – for the mathematically challenged out there – that a REDUCTION in current emissions is very different than a slower rate of projected growth in pollutant emissions.

The committee released a bill that would set up a pollution “cap and trade” program. Even the name is a misnomer – it should be called the “pollute and profit” program.

Today’s news coverage leads with a quote by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson, about “brave steps”

“This is about brave steps,” Lisa Jackson, the state’s environmental commissioner, said during the hearing in Trenton. “Just by having the opportunity to move forward on this legislation, we will continue to put pressure on the federal government to act.”

Given the following account, you decide if what was done yesterday could possibly be described as “brave steps”.

First of all, the Committee engaged in a classic bait and switch.

The Committee agenda listed Assembly bill No. A4559, sponsored by Chairman McKeon. The McKeon bill was general in nature and strictly limited in scope to the “Regional Green House Gas Initiative” (RGGI). RGGI is a pollutant “cap and trade” program that applies to power plants. The McKeon bill would authorize the DEP to develop a RGGI program and auction off the 22.9 million tons of pollution allowances allocated to NJ under the RGGI program to the highest bidder. The money from the auction would be invested in energy efficiency and renewable power (solar, wind etc).

RGGI is a cooperative agreement between the Governor’s of 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states to reduce green house gas emissions. These Governors got tired of waiting for the Bush administration to take action at the federal level.

But the Committee actually heard a substitute bill crafted in secret late last week by Senator Sweeney (S2976). Sweeney just happens to have a planned new 600 megawatt coal power plant in his district seeking DEP permit approvals, and seems to be meeting with construction unions and power utilities. The Sweeney bill was not formally introduced or even made available to the public until late Monday.

I was not aware that it was on the Thursday agenda. But enough of the political process arguments – here’s some facts to consider.

1. RGGI would “cap” NJ emissions of carbon dioxide at 22.9 million tons. I put the word cap in parenthesis, because the cap has many loopholes – tons of additional emissions effectively could be allowed by various private market “emission offset” programs. The emissions “cap” would be reduced by 10% by 2019. However, the 22.9 million ton “cap” is 9% MORE than current average emissions, so the actual best case “reduction” RGGI could produce is closer to 1%. Keep in mind that the Corzine emissions reduction goal for 2020 is 20%. So RGGI is comparatively small potatoes.

This discrepancy is misleadingly spun by Corzine officials who state that RGGI would result in “a 17% reduction from business as usual” (see Senate Environment Committee testimony of DEP Commissioner Jackson. April 14, 2007). The term “business as usual” is not defined, but it represents a large projection in electric energy demand. So now you can see the significance of my early emphasis on the difference between an actual reduction in emissions versus a slower rate of projected growth.

Shockingly, no intrepid reporter, legislator, or environmental activist has ever called the DEP Commissioner of this glaring spin. However, national environmental groups have lambasted exactly the same methodology by the Bush administration’s Department of energy “energy intensity” indicator.

So, with the best case and 100% compliance, RGGI can provide a 1% reduction – is this “brave”?

2. In her testimony, the Commissioner and the Committee emphasized the need to limit economic impacts on homeowner electric bills. The Commissioner pledged to limit the RGGI auction program to “$40 – 50 million” – that’s a quote – which would result in less than a 1% increase in typical homeowner electric bills.

If typical electric bills are 100 per month, is a dollar a month to prevent global catastrophe brave?

3. NJ electric consumers currently fund a $400 million per year energy efficiency program under the Board of Public Utilities’ supervised “Societal Benefits Charge”.

Green house gas emission reductions would have to greatly exceed than those resulting from the current $400 million program. So, I assumed the RGGI program would generate funds in excess of $400 million.

However, DEP Commissioner Jackson’s testimony pledged to keep the RGGI revenues between “$40 – $50 million”.
Is investing 10% more than what we’re currently already spending on energy efficiency brave?

4. The “deal” that was cut by the Assembly Committee in the compromise bill that was released stripped enforcement provisions. These safeguards are designed to assure that any emission reductions and emissions “offset projects” meet five tests to assure that they are:

a) real, b) additional, c) verifiable, d) enforceable, and e) permanent.

These safeguards are necessary to make the program work and to assure that sham counterfeit allowances are not created by sham projects. This protects not only the environment, but the energy efficiency and renewable investments of legitimate businesses.

Without government oversight and enforcement, the market can’t work.

Was it “brave” to strip enforcement provisions from the bill?

5. The ratepayer advocate, a champion of economic regulation of public utilities, opposed the bill on grounds that market competition was needed – she provided this analogy: “when we embarked on the recycling program, we didn’t guarantee the landfill operators revenues and profits for reduced garbage disposed due to recycling”.

Was it brave to provide monopoly profits to the big energy utilities?

6. Another provision of the bill would make global warming emission reduction programs at DEP voluntary and incentive based. This amounts to a preemptive strike against regulation by DEP. The business community strongly opposes DEP regulation in favor of voluntary measures, and instead supports incentives (subsidies to polluters). For example, DEP could revive the 1990 Clean Air Act Employer Trip Reduction program to reduce car emissions from single occupant vehicles commuting to major corporate campuses. Or

DEP could mandate that new development meet LEED Green Building standards and offset new emissions.

Was it “brave” to support a stealth voluntary incentive approach instead of fighting for the ability to impose necessary regulatory controls?

7. The bill released would generate $40 – $50 million, an auction price of less than $2 per ton of emission allowance. But economic studies say carbon allowances would have to be in the range of $30 – $50/ton to “internalize” the pollution costs of carbon and change utility economic decisions to continue to operate coal plants..

Was it “brave” to support a bill that would have NO impact on the price signals or economic decisions of coal power?

8. The $40 million RGGI auction revenue expectation concession was established BEFORE the first RGGI auction scheduled for June 2008. Could you imagine an auctioneer announcing his bottom line in advance of the auction?

Was it “brave” to announce your auction bottom line before the auction?

9. In the original version of the bill, DEP was slated to receive 2% of $70 million in RGGI auction revenues to support program administration (or about $1.4 million to DEP). In the compromise bill, DEP administrative costs were doubled, from 2% to 4% of $40 – 50 million in auction revenues (or about $1.6 – $2.0 million to DEP).

Was in “brave” to support a bill that guts RGGI revenue but doubles the share of funds to DEP?

10. The environmental lobbyists applauded the DEP Commissioner for avoiding an even worse train wreck! It’s gone from a simple sham, to shame.

Given all these facts and how bad this bill was, was this a “brave” move on their part?

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  1. ThomasReid
    December 7th, 2007 at 16:39 | #1

    So to summarize, Democrats in Trenton have come up with a new rip-off scheme using global warming hysteria as an excuse to impose their will and shake people down for money. You’re upset because your scheme to impose your will and shake people down for money isn’t being considered.

  2. nohesitation
    December 7th, 2007 at 16:57 | #2

    I agree in part on the shakedown, but the Dems scheme was to work in cohoots with the big utilities and try to move what you call a shakedown behind the cover of global warming protection. Utlities are as bad as the Dems.
    Where I disagree with you is on what you call global warming hysteria.
    Its not hysteria – its real.
    The onl hysterics are those who deny that reality. Like you.
    My mom taught me to pay for whatever I use – the slogan is that there’s no free lunch.
    Well, energy prices fdo not include all the economic costs and public health damage caused by energy use – economists refer to this as “externalities” and “market failure”
    Folks need to be educated about the need for increases in energy prices due to massive market failure in nergy markets.
    Consumers seem very willing to go along when the oil companies increase gas prices by 50% over a year, to $3 per gallon.
    Typical driver probably spends $75 a month on gas – how much for coffee and newspapers and other crap?
    How much is too much to avoid major changes to earth’s climate? That will drive up costs for food and water and just about everything else – so if all you care about is the almighty dollar, then wenegy efficieny emissions reductions are your sbest investment..

  3. blarneyboy
    December 7th, 2007 at 20:23 | #3

    Let’s sober up here.
    American companies have abandoned us to go to a free pollution zone, without penalty, in Red China. They took machinery, jobs, and massive American investment. Red China, thanks to Americans, is the fastest growing industrial power(and military power) on earth.
    We must tie any diminution in pollution to Red China and India, where are jobs are going.
    To masochistically curtail our industrial base to please screwballs like the author and Al Gore is FOLLY.

  4. nohesitation
    December 7th, 2007 at 20:52 | #4

    Blarney – you don’t get it
    The same globalization, trade, economic development, fiancialization policies that allowed US corporations to export jobs and investment to low wage & no environmental standards mexico and china are destroying the earth adn our livelihoods.
    It is not masochism to limit emissions here in NJ – in fact, not only do we protect ourselves, but it is competively the way to innovate and uotcompete the chinese. Remeber that China hold bilions in US debt.
    In addition to global warming, we are past “peak oil” – china is number 2 and rapidly growing in oil dependnce. Not only is the air polution kiling the people who live in chinese cities, high enery prices wil soon become a major drag on chines economy.
    So we need tp transition to lower eneergy economy – adn global warmign polciies will take us there.
    Plus, by acting, we eliminate the chinese argument that we are not doing anything – leadership by example is very important too.
    This is somethig the Bush administration – anfd you – apparenly fail to grasp.

  5. Berts
    December 7th, 2007 at 21:28 | #5

    Cheer up, Mr. Wolfe. Jon Corzine has a plan in place to reduce emissions. WIth a combinaiton of high taxes, draconian environmental regulations, sky high cost of housing and kick in a paid family leave bill, Mr. Corzine will drive every manufacturer and big business out of the state.

  6. robelee
    December 8th, 2007 at 10:50 | #6

    Global warming is cyclical, NOT man-made!

  7. ThomasReid
    December 8th, 2007 at 10:57 | #7

    What is the optimum global temperature and who gets to decide the answer?
    I don’t deny there has been a slight warning of the earth over the past 100 years. I believe that in the future the earth will become both warmer and cooler than it is today. I just don’t fear the inevitable changes. And I don’t buy into the hysteria over something that has occurred numerous times before mankind walked the earth as well as after humans came on the scene.
    I hope some day all the world’s energy needs can be met cheaply and without the slightest bit of waste, pollution, etc. – harnessing the power of the sun, the world’s oceans, pinwheels on our roofs or whatever. I would be overjoyed if it happened tomorrow. However, government would not need to force people to switch to abundant energy sources that were cheaper and cleaner, if available. It’s not.
    Government can’t legislate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, but it can whip up hysteria to extend its power and extract additional taxes in groundbreaking and innovative ways. That’s exactly what’s happening now. Even Mr. Wolfe doesn’t trust government on this issue- “it should be called the “pollute and profit” program”.

  8. essen
    December 8th, 2007 at 13:14 | #8

    Corzine should stick to NJ issues, and not be making international deals on behalf of NJ about global warming, or travelling to Iowa to stump for Hillary Clinton. On second thought, maybe he should stay out of NJ because he seems to be making a concerted attempt to ruin this state, through higher taxes, horribly business-unfriendly business atmosphere, and personal corruption.
    1. Mandated taxpayer paid preschool.
    2. Mandated employer-paid family sick leave.
    3. Raising of the sales tax.
    4. Corporate welfare in the form of a stem cell reseach center.
    5. Payoffs of black ministers, Karla Katz, Katz’s children, Katz’s brother-in-law, his aide who menaced a poltical rival, his affairs, his car crash, etc.

  9. blarneyboy
    December 8th, 2007 at 17:09 | #9

    Robelee has a point. Greenland was green when the Vikings discovered it, and then turned to ice for several hundred years.
    While the Arctic ice is definitely shrinking, Antarctic ice surface is definitely increasing.
    Will Professor Al Gore, the inspiration for “Love Story” and the man who INVENTED the internet, please explain this to me?

  10. paddlehook
    December 8th, 2007 at 20:39 | #10

    Thank you Mr. Wolfe for your well considered perspective. Now is the time for leadership and strong action, not back room deals and half measures. The Corzine administration needs to move beyond rhetoric and the environmental community needs to push harder for global warming solutions.

  11. joiseydude
    December 10th, 2007 at 09:50 | #11

    I agree with Bill Wolfe. And, you can bet that PSE&G, and it’s money are behind all the efforts to stop any truly “brave” energy initiatives. Until we get the payola money out of Trenton, ANY issue we face in NJ will be driven by the backroom money-monkeys, and not sound public policy.

  1. November 13th, 2009 at 16:02 | #1
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