Chris Christie wants it known he’s not a skeptic on global warming.
Before the Republican New Jersey governor launched into an explanation Thursday for why he’s bowing out of a landmark regional cap-and-trade program for power plants, he first strapped on his layman scientist’s cap to give a brief overview of what’s widely considered accepted climate science.
“In the past I’ve always said that climate change is real and it’s impacting our state,” Christie said at the start of a 14-minute prepared statement. “There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate.”
Christie said he made his decision to pull the Garden State out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative following a 16-month internal review that included town hall meetings and private chats with climate scientists, academics and environmentalists.
"I’m certainly not a scientist, which is the first problem," he said. "So I can’t claim to fully understand all of this, certainly not after just a few months of study. But when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts."
Still, Christie argued that RGGI hasn't done the job when it comes to curbing greenhouse gases.
He said RGGI emission allowances have not reached the $20-to-$30-per-ton threshold many experts say is needed to get energy producers to switch to lower-carbon fuels and make other changes to their business practices.
And Christie argued that New Jersey is already on a path to meet its 2020 goals for reducing greenhouse gases without participating in the cap-and-trade program, which includes nine other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Addressing the state's green voters Thursday, Christie also announced new programs for energy efficiency, offshore wind and solar panels, as well as a moratorium on new coal plant permits.
"We have an obligation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re going to do it in the concrete ways that I’ve laid out here today," he said. "We’re not going to do it by participating in gimmicky programs that haven’t worked. And, you know, in the end, our view is it’s better to do things the right way than to do things the politically correct way.”
Christie's decision to leave RGGI by the end of the year drew quick praise from conservative groups, including the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, that have long lobbied him to abandon the RGGI ship.
But he was slammed by neighboring states, environmental groups and the Obama administration. The EPA is led by Lisa Jackson, a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
"While we respect every governor’s prerogative to make policy decisions, this is a disappointing step given New Jersey's legacy of leadership on environmental issues," said EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan. "Reducing harmful air pollution protects our health and provides opportunities for local investments in clean energy technologies.
“At a time when states are struggling to balance budgets, this bipartisan program serves as a source of revenue for such investments — creating new markets and new jobs in New Jersey and across the Northeast,” Gilfillan added. “We hope the governor will reconsider this decision."
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 4:28 p.m. on May 26, 2011.