Varun Sivaram

Energy, Security, and Climate

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One Cheer for Chris Christie

by Michael Levi
June 1, 2011

People who care about climate change are understandably upset with Chris Christie’s announcement that he’s pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greeenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first-of-a-kind cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions in the northeast. Indeed Governor Christie’s justification for withdrawing is pretty much nonsense: he claims that RGGI was an unacceptable tax on electricity – yet the cost of RGGI permits was far too low to have any meaningful impact on ratepayers.

So why one cheer? Because in the course of rejecting RGGI, Christie embraced the reality of the climate problem. Last fall, he said he was skeptical that human-caused climate change was a real problem. In his withdrawal announcement, though, he made it pretty clear that he thought climate change was a serious matter. This is no small thing for a rising star in a party that has increasingly made climate denial a litmus test for its leadership.

Indeed I’d argue that given a choice between having Christie participate in RGGI but deny climate change, or reject RGGI but accept climate change, people who care about climate change should prefer the latter. RGGI is a weak cap-and-trade program that currently has minimal direct impact on emissions. Someone who denies climate change is not going to strengthen the program, or support stronger alternatives at the federal level. In contrast, someone who accepts that climate change is real has at least left the door open to supporting serious policies that might combat it down the road.

Some might ask whether I’m engaging in what another hotshot Republican governor once called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. Guilty as charged. In a better world, Christie would not only admit that climate change was real, he’d push to strengthen arrangements like RGGI and build a serious national counterpart. But that isn’t in the cards. Climate change policy is in a rebuilding phase for now. And the first step to rebuilding is to restore a firm foundation.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Jonathan Allen

    Mr. Levi does have a point. I would certainly prefer that a thug beat up an old lady with a pine club than with a hickory one, but that still doesn’t make him a nice guy.

    For a more immediate and practical demonstration of Christie’s commitment to reducing fossil fuel use (and waste), consider his recent flight in a State helicopter to attend his kid’s baseball game. All this, by the way, while taking bread out of poor kids’ mouths in the name of “austerity.”

  • Posted by roro

    could you say this about the climate legislation of 2009/10 in general? with its humongous provisions for domestic and international offsets, would it have done anything over the short term to actually change america’s infrastructure and help us become a leader in clean energy? i hope that in another couple years, when we may get another shot at such legislation, that our economy, capital markets, and cost of clean energy are all in much better positions such that we won’t need such huge amounts of offsets.

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