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Environmental groups split over next regional climate program

Environmental groups split over next regional climate program

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The rush is on across the board in government-heavy states such as New Jersey to create costly programs to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions — even though all of them combined wouldn’t make a meaningful dent in the world’s human-caused warming.

The new Transportation & Climate Initiative is a regional collaboration of 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states including New Jersey to reduce vehicle emissions. It is modeled on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, which seeks to reduce emissions from power plants.

New Jersey was taken out of RGGI in 2011 by then-Gov. Chris Christie, who said the initiative didn’t work and the state was doing a better job on its own of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. He considered it “a politically motivated tax increase.” The Congressional Research Service said that “the RGGI program’s contribution to directly reducing the global accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere is arguably negligible.”

Gov. Phil Murphy quickly rejoined RGGI after he was elected. Now he is expected to join the proposed regional collaboration on transportation emissions.

But some among N.J. environmental groups — which are among Murphy’s strongest special interest supporters — want the governor to reject joining the Transportation & Climate Initiative.

While most such groups have pushed for TGI membership as a way to reduce N.J. vehicle emissions by up to 25% over the next decade, others have said it doesn’t send enough resources and programs to minority and low-income communities.

New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and Clean Water Action say the agreement must include mandatory pollution reductions in such communities and funds targeted specifically to them.

Their concerns are shared to a degree by other groups, which also support restricting states from using TGI money for other purposes. That would be prudent, since New Jersey often redirects clean energy funds to its general budget.

Taking more money from residents statewide and sending a large share of it to the state’s poorly managed big cities is unlikely to help their low-income and minority residents much.

The better reason to reject the Transportation & Climate Initiative is that it would add to the growing and possibly crushing burden of virtuous-sounding environmental programs in New Jersey.

TGI proposes to raise money for its programs by increasing the state’s gasoline tax by up to 17 cents a gallon. That’s a regressive tax that would fall most heavily on middle- and low-income residents, and on top of repeated increases in the gas tax the past few years.

Households already pay more than $200 a year through utility bill charges for programs like this, and that’s before billions more in planned subsidies for the solar industry and the yet to be determined cost of developing offshore wind energy.

There are prudent steps to address the human contribution to the world’s warming climate — at the national and global levels. But there shouldn’t be a Bank of Climate Change giving a blank check to politicians to draw from the public’s account.

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