Chivukula: On Eve of One-Year Anniversary of Sandy, Testimony in Assembly Utilities Panel Reinforces Urgency of Climate Action and Need for NJ to Rejoin RGGI

Broccoli, Tittel, O’Malley, Ruga, Dillingham, Pringle, Walsh, Rawlings & Bluhm Among Witnesses Who Testify on Obama’s Climate Action Plan & Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

(TRENTON) — Assembly Utilities Chairman Upendra J. Chivukula announced that the testimony received in the recent Assembly Utilities panel hearing held on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, reinforced the urgency of climate action by reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Witnesses also testified on the need for New Jersey to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, which scientists say, is the main factor in global warming pollution which has led to historic highs in sea levels and severe weather conditions in New Jersey, including a record number of storms and hurricanes in the past few years.

“Less than a year ago, Hurricane Sandy slammed against the East Coast, battered the mid-Atlantic and ravaged New Jersey, claiming more than 113 lives in 21 states, gutted hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses and knocked out power to an estimated 8.5 million, at a price tag of more than $70B for New Jersey and New York,” Chivukula (D-Somerset\Middlesex) said.

“We need to pay attention to nationally renowned climate scientists like Dr. Anthony Broccoli of Rutgers University who testified at the hearing that climate change is real and here. We cannot afford to ignore sea levels rising to historic highs and the unprecedented severe weather conditions New Jersey has experienced in the past few years, including a hurricane of the magnitude of Sandy,” Chivukula (D-Somerset\ Middlesex) said.

In his testimony, Broccoli cited a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a collection of many of the world’s top climate scientists on the physical science of climate. He testified that in the report, the observed warming of the climate systems is described as “unequivocal.”

“Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, most notably carbon dioxide, have reached levels that are unprecedented in at least the past 800,000 years. The latest IPCC report concludes that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The phrase extremely likely indicates a likelihood of 95 to 100 percent,” Broccoli said.

A professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University, Broccoli also serves as co-director of the Rutgers Climate Institute.

Witnesses who testified at Thursday’s panel included Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club, Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey, Dave Pringle of New Jersey Environmental Federation, Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society, Elliott Ruga of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition, Jim Walsh of Food & Water Watch, Lyle Rawlings of NJ FREE and Sara Bluhm of New Jersey Business & Industries Association (NJBIA).

Ed Potosnak of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and Michael L. Pisauro, Jr. of New Jersey Environmental Lobby filed written testimony.

The majority of the witnesses testified that New Jersey should rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and on the urgency of climate action in context of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

The October 10 ATU hearing is available on-line here.

“We applaud President Obama for his courage and leadership in formulating a historic climate plan to address the escalating danger of global warming, shortly after a report revealed that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has reached its highest ever levels in human history,” Chivukula (D-Somerset\Middlesex) said.

According to a report released in May 2013 by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), carbon dioxide daily levels in the atmosphere have surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time CO2 levels were so high was three to five million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch when humans didn’t exist.

Under the Climate Action Plan announced in June, Obama has issued a presidential order to direct the country’s chief environmental regulator, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to complete performance standards for lowering carbon emissions from existing power plants.

The thousands of power plants in the nation, the bulk of which burn coal, account for roughly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Enclosed are some key highlights of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan:

  • limit pollution from all U.S. power plants;
  • Set energy efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings
  • Task the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) to approve enough permitting of renewable energy projects like wind and solar on public lands, to power more than 6 million homes by 2020; and
  • Require the DOI to install 100 megawatts of renewables on federally assisted housing by 2020.

The United States has set a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030, which is more than half the annual carbon pollution from the U.S. energy sector, via efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings.

“We look forward to New Jersey continuing its leadership in fighting climate change by working with the Obama administration on the Climate Action Plan,” said Chivukula. “Our state has long been at the forefront of advancing a clean energy economy with groundbreaking measures like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that I was proud to sponsor. In its first three years, RGGI fast-tracked a clean energy economy, generating more than $1.6 billion in economic activity and tens of thousands of clean jobs for the region. It also delivered significant savings from energy efficiency.”

RGGI sets a regional cap on the emissions of carbon dioxide under which entities are allowed to trade quotas. The cap and trade program allows entities like power companies that need to exceed their pollution quotas to meet production targets, to purchase unused quotas from other entities at regional auctions. Proceeds from the auctions are used to fund clean energy, including the use and development of solar and wind power, clean energy technologies and energy efficiency programs.

The energy investments through RGGI enabled New Jersey to cut its global warming emissions by 13,100 metric tons per year, which is equivalent to taking 2,500 passenger vehicles off the road.

When New Jersey was a member of RGGI, out of the $866M raised in regional auctions, the state’s share of an estimated $181M funded 9 major solar and combined heat and power projects. According to one estimate, the state stands to lose $680M through 2020 from subsequent auctions by opting out of RGGI.

According to U.S. military veterans, RGGI also reduces our billion dollar a day dependence on foreign oil, which is significant, since some of that expenditure funds hostile nations.

“Gov. Christie’s partisan decision to pull New Jersey out of RGGI, combined with his unprecedented raids of more than $800 million in clean energy funds, have resulted in a setback to our state’s clean energy agenda. Retreating from RGGI was a tactical blunder and we believe it is crucial that New Jersey rejoin the regional greenhouse compact,” Chivukula added.

Chivukula is the lead Assembly sponsor of the original RGGI measure which facilitated New Jersey’s participation in the multi-state cooperative.

According to the IPCC report released in September, renewable energy is the fastest-growing power generation sector in the world, on pace to comprise one-quarter of the electricity mix by 2018. The IPCC report also cites that transitioning from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources of electricity generation can bring significant job growth. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, there were already more than 3.4 million “green jobs” in the United States. Globally, clean energy investment in 2012 was reported at $244.4 billion, which was a five-fold increase from 2004.