Star-Ledger Editorial: N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s budget a retreat on clean energy
February 26, 2012
The steady dismantling of the state’s green energy policies continues unabated in the budget that Gov. Chris Christie presented last week.
He has proposed grabbing $210 million from the state’s Clean Energy Fund, strangling a program that is devoted mostly to conservation efforts.
This money comes from electricity consumers who pay a surcharge on their bills each month. It pays for green workers to install insulation at hospitals and town halls across the state. It helps subsidize retrofits to homes. Some of it helps subsidize green-energy projects.
It’s a smart program because conservation is the single best way, by far, to reduce pollution and contain energy costs. There may come a time when solar and wind power can do as well in reaching these green goals, but that is a long way off. Today, conservation is the low-hanging fruit.
An authoritative study by McKinsey & Company found that the potential savings is enormous. It concluded that the United States could reduce costs by $1.2 trillion by investing less than half that sum in energy efficiency. The pollution reduction would be the equivalent of taking all passenger vehicles and light trucks off America’s roadways.
The Clean Energy Program embraces that strategy on a smaller scale. And it is not just customers of this program who benefit — all of us do. When the overall demand for energy is high, prices go up for everyone. By tamping down overall use, conservation efforts drive down everyone’s bills.
So let’s summarize: Christie’s money grab would increase energy costs, kill green jobs and lead to more air pollution.
That no doubt explains why the administration tried to hide this. There was no mention of it in the governor’s speech. When Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff briefed reporters on the budget, down to the details, he somehow failed to mention this. And in the days since then, the administration has continued to stonewall.
“It’s dumb and it’s counterproductive,” says Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex). “Shame on the Legislature if we allow this to happen.”
The governor has raided this fund before. In his first year, he diverted $400 million from this and other green-energy funds. But then, at least, the state was in a financial crisis that was desperate enough to justify a one-year diversion.
But remember, the governor just told us on Tuesday that the state’s fiscal house is “in order” and that the coffers were plentiful enough to cut the income tax by 10 percent. In the first year, that would cost nearly $200 million. So the fruits of this raid would cover the costs with a little to spare.
Christie can’t do this without support from the Democratic-led Legislature. Let’s hope that McKeon’s colleagues are as clear-headed about this as he is.
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