Infrastructure & Environment

Court: Christie Administration Broke Law in Ignoring Greenhouse Gas Rules

March 26, 2014

In a blow to Gov. Chris Christie’s authority, a state appeals court ruled today that his administration broke the law when it said power plant operators no longer needed to comply with rules meant to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

A three-judge appellate panel said the only way the administration can do this is by taking the step to repeal or change these rules — something that could be blocked by the state Legislature. It ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to begin that process within 60 days.

The ruling was hailed by environmentalists and Democrats as a sharp rebuke of how Christie handled his 2011 decision to unilaterally pull New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate program meant to cut carbon dioxide pollution in the Northeast. The ruling does not force the state back into the program but does bring the issue to the fore once again, they said.

"I think this is a clear overreach by the Christie administration, and the court’s ruling quite simply says, ‘You cannot rule by fiat,’" said Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit.

The decision is also the latest of several stinging legal losses for Christie, whose administration has been rebuffed on public school funding, gay marriage and affordable housing. Recently, an appeals court threatened to jail one of his cabinet members if the state did not comply with its ruling, though the decision was later stayed.

This lawsuit was filed in 2012 in response to Christie’s withdrawal from the cap-and-trade program, known as RGGI. Within the program, each power plant is assigned an amount of carbon dioxide it can release, but the plants can buy or sell credits to increase or decrease emissions.

The groups that sued did not question Christie’s authority to withdraw from the program. But they said the state should have changed or repealed the rules that governed the state’s participation in it — rather tan simply posting a notice on its website. That would have allowed residents a chance to weigh in and the Legislature an opportunity to block the changes.

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