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Rally for Our Kids’ Future: Local residents, experts gather in support of anti-pollution program

Local residents, environmental leaders, women’s groups, public health officials, economists, and other concerned citizens gathered today in Westfield to voice support for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and call for a cleaner future for New Jersey.  The program reduces harmful pollution from power plants and helps grow the state’s clean energy economy.  Governor Christie has announced that he hopes to abandon the program, letting polluters off the hook for their global warming pollution.  The groups gathered as the governor hosted a town hall meeting just down the street.

RGGI supporters discussed the economic, public health, and environmental benefits of the program and called on Westfield’s legislators – Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz – to support a bill that would keep New Jersey in RGGI.

“The energy decisions we make today will impact the environment and public health for decades to come,” said Dan DeRosa of Environment New Jersey.  “For the sake of our children and future generations, we must act now to cut pollution and reduce our reliance upon fossil fuels.  RGGI does just that.  We’re here today to call on Senate Minority Leader Kean, Assemblyman Bramnick, and Assemblywoman Munoz to stand up for RGGI and vote to keep New Jersey in the program.”

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Some speakers highlighted New Jersey’s poor air quality and high asthma rates as one reason to stick with the program, since RGGI is one of the state’s few tools to control smokestack pollution from power plants.  Currently, 165,000 children in New Jersey suffer from asthma.

“As parents, we put our trust in elected officials to keep our air and water safe and clean,” said Harriet Shugarman of ClimateMama. “Yet, by taking NJ out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and not limiting power plant emissions, nor requiring polluters to pay for polluting our air, our Governor is effectively telling polluters they can treat the air our children breath as an open sewer; a sewer polluters are using and abusing, free of charge. We wouldn’t stand for this in our homes or our children’s schools, why should the Governor ask us to allow this in our children's playgrounds and open spaces? This is way I am standing up to the Governor and asking you to as well. Support the RGGI which caps power plant pollution, requires polluters to pay for fouling our air, and invests that money in clean energy, right here in NJ,” Shugarman concluded.

"Air pollution doesn't respect political or geographic boundaries.  New Jersey should continue its commitment to the other northeastern states as they lead the nation's efforts to reduce green house gas emissions and create clean energy jobs,” said Kerry Butch of the League of Women Voters. “The reduction of 84,000 tons of CO2 emissions and the $952 million raised for energy efficiency projects and energy assistance to limited income families between 2009 and the end of 2011, proves that RGGI works.  Pulling out of this program should not be an option."

In justifying his decision to leave the program, Governor Christie called RGGI an economic burden to business.  A recent independent analysis soundly discredits this claim, finding that RGGI has added over $151 million in value to New Jersey’s economy, and has helped support 1,772 local New Jersey jobs.  In addition to the economic benefits of a cap and trade program, economists have also argued that the cost of inaction on air pollution and climate change far outweigh any potential program costs.

“It is tempting to suggest that environmental concerns can wait until the economy recovers,” said Rutgers University economist Bruce Mizrach.  “However, climate science suggests that our time to act is limited, and programs like RGGI are a proven solution. The legislature should make clear to the Governor that the most efficient way to subsidize green energy, lessen our dependence on Middle East oil, and reduce carbon pollution is to put a price on emissions.”

Studies further show that RGGI delivers the biggest benefit to states when funds are spent on clean energy projects.  In past budget years, Governor Christie raided RGGI revenues to help balance the state budget, diminishing the job-creation and pollution-reduction potential of the program.

“Taking money out of RGGI for financial issues is like taking money out of our child's health care to pay credit card bills.  It doesn't solve the problem but it leaves your child's health in peril.  Furthermore, when your child does get sick, it's going to cost a lot more to pay for his or her care, said Mary Reilly, former head of the Cranford Environmental Commission.

Other speakers addressed the need to tackle global warming, as carbon dioxide (the pollutant regulated by RGGI) is the leading cause of global warming.  If left unchecked, global warming will cause more heat- and smog-related deaths, disrupt New Jersey’s rich agriculture economy, and threaten the state’s $30 billion shore-based tourism economy with rising seas and more frequent storms.

"Addressing global warming will be one of the most challenging things we will ever have to do in our lifetimes.  Without RGGI it will be almost impossible,” said Matt Polsky of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise.  "Increasing numbers of businesses now see the importance of public policies that facilitate their own efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and actually make it profitable for them to do so--like RGGI."

"RGGI is a key to combating climate change and also means healthier air, greener jobs, reduced dependence on fossil fuel, and increased national security. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. Any legislator, and every legislator should be, concerned about these issues, should support it,” said David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

A number of local residents and concerned citizens also attended the event.  Westfield resident and college student Stephanie Quinton said removing New Jersey from RGGI would "allow power plants to create more pollution that is put into our air.”  She continued: “I am a local resident of Westfield and environmental activist.  I’m also a student who cares deeply about our future, and I want to grow up in a cleaner, greener New Jersey.  I love my community and my state and as I grow up here, I don’t want to see it deteriorate due to lack of environmentally-friendly initiatives."

Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club echoed calls to keep New Jersey in RGGI:  "We are here today because we need Senator Tom Kean to show leadership on our environment and economy by supporting the RGGI bill, S1322.  RGGI has worked and delivered on its promise by creating 1772 jobs in our state, saving customers $1.1 billion on their electric bills and $174 million on gas bills, and reducing climate change pollution.  We cannot go at it alone on climate change and with Senator Tom Kean's support we can send a message to Governor Christie that we need to become part of RGGI again"

“The facts and evidence on RGGI are in, disclosed, transparent and available to anyone.  The facts clearly indicate that RGGI is a success. RGGI reduces greenhouse gas emissions/pollution. RGGI raises needed revenues and all this is achieved with minimal to no impact on the business community. It is illogical and mystifying for NJ to be only state to be removed from the ten state RGGI collaboration. We urge and hope that our Governor and others will take another look at the evidence and change their minds. We are looking for  leadership that will keep NJ in RGGI,” said Rhoda Schermer, Chairperson of the North Jersey Public Policy Network.

Environment New Jersey’s Dan DeRosa concluded the event by highlighting the elected officials’ past support for the environment and clean energy. “We are here in Westfield today because these legislators have been champions for our environment in the past, and we need them now, more than ever, to stand up for RGGI and continue their pro-environment leadership. In 2004 Senator Kean championed and Assemblyman Bramnick supported the Clean Cars Act, bringing cleaner cars to our roadways and slowly revolutionizing the car market. In 2007 both Senator Kean and Assemblyman Bramnick supported the Global Warming Response Act – setting New Jersey some of the strongest global warming reduction goals in the entire country – 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.  And again, in 2010 Senator Kean, Assemblyman Bramnick, and Assemblywoman Munoz supported a bill to bring enough offshore wind to New Jersey by 2020 to power more than 400,000 New Jersey homes.”

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