- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2011

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey will withdraw from a 10-state regional greenhouse gas reduction program by the end of the year, Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday, saying it hasn’t worked to combat climate change.

“This program is not effective in reducing greenhouse gases and is unlikely to be in the future,” he said. “The whole system is not working as it was intended to work. It is a failure.”

Mr. Christie is the latest Republican to announce that his state would exit a regional pact to reduce the gases linked to global climate change. Similar agreements in the Western and Midwest are struggling. Efforts by other Northeastern states to withdraw are stalled.

The Northeast pact — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI — essentially puts a price tag on pollution by requiring fossil fuel-burning power plants in the 10-state region to buy credits to cover the carbon they emit, a method known as cap and trade. The money from the sale of the credits is meant to be used to pay for renewable energy initiatives.

“RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment,” Mr. Christie said, noting that other big Northeastern states such as Pennsylvania are not members.

Yet when the program started in 2008, New Jersey’s largest electric company, Public Service Enterprise Group, supported cap and trade, saying it allowed companies to use their ingenuity and knowledge of markets to achieve environmental goals.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said Thursday that the program was working as designed. He said the state’s greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants had declined 10 percent since 2009. He said the pact was responsible for creating 18,000 jobs in the region and generating $2.3 billion in economic benefits.

Pacts in the West and Midwest have struggled in recent years as Republicans have postponed or delayed their states’ participation. For instance, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order 15 months ago to extract the state from its commitments.

Mr. Christie’s announcement puts him in line with three Republicans running for president or considering doing so. Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman Jr. and Mitt Romney all supported regional emissions trading programs as governors of their states, but none does now.

The announcement thrilled conservatives, who have been dogging governors in the Northeast to abandon the effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions by charging utilities for their fossil fuel output. But it angered lawmakers who supported New Jersey’s participation since 2008 in RGGI.

Conservative Steve Lonegan, head of the state’s Americans for Prosperity chapter, said he hoped New Jersey’s pullout would signal the collapse of the entire program. AFP is backed by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch of energy giant Koch Industries, which has been lobbying across the country for the repeal of the program.

But state Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democrat who pushed for New Jersey’s participation four years ago, lamented the announcement as a dismal day for the state’s clean air and energy advocacy efforts.