By Maddie Hanna

Gov. Christie is again taking steps to keep New Jersey out of a regional program enforcing regulations on carbon emissions by power plants.

A proposal scheduled for publication Monday in the state register would repeal rules associated with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program New Jersey joined other states in implementing in late 2005.

Christie announced in 2011 that he would withdraw the state from the program, which the Republican governor said had been ineffective.

But after a lawsuit from environmental groups -- who say the program has curbed carbon emissions that contribute to climate change -- a state appeals court in March ruled that the administration had not followed the proper procedures to withdraw, because it had not allowed for public input.

Along with the publication of the rule proposal, which is posted on the Department of Environmental Protection website, a public hearing is to be held Aug. 8 at the department in Trenton.

The public comment period ends Sept. 5, at which point the department will decide whether to repeal the rules, environmental groups said. Requests for comment were not returned Monday afternoon by spokesmen for Christie or the department.

If the administration decides to repeal the rule, it could face a battle in the Legislature. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that in that scenario, environmental groups would push lawmakers to pass a resolution stating that the rule violated legislative intent.

That could force the issue back into court, if both houses of the Legislature passed the resolution twice, Tittel said.

"This is called RGGI chess," he said.

For Christie, Tittel said, the issue is "more about his national political ambitions than the environment."

Christie has said he believes people play a role in climate change, but that RGGI -- a consortium of nine New England and Mid-Atlantic states seeking to limit pollution by power plants -- did not address the problem.

In pulling the state out of the initiative in 2011, Christie called it "a failure" and criticized it as a tax on electricity.

The program sets a regional cap for carbon emissions and requires that fossil-fuel-burning power plants buy allowances to release carbon -- money that is then invested in clean-energy projects.

In New Jersey, about 40 power plants were subject to the rules, according to the DEP rule proposal.

Advocates of RGGI say it has helped to reduce pollution and invest in energy efficiency. A May report by ENE, a nonprofit organization focused on environmental issues, said emissions had dropped 18 percent in participating states since the initiative launched in 2008.

At the same time, electricity prices have fallen, the report said.

Environmental groups say New Jersey should rejoin RGGI in light of new federal regulations on carbon emissions due to take effect in two years. By then, the state will be required to produce a plan to lower emissions.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer