By Andrew Seidman
The Christie administration on Wednesday officially moved to block the federal Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of new clean energy rules, blasting them as "unprecedented regulatory overreach."
Gov. Christie, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, announced his opposition to the rules immediately when President Obama unveiled them last month as part of an ambitious effort to combat climate change.
On Wednesday, Christie's top environmental regulator, Bob Martin, wrote to EPA administrator Gina McCarthy requesting a stay of implementation and a proceeding for reconsideration of the rules.
The regulation "punishes states, including New Jersey, that have already achieved significant reductions in carbon emissions, by setting even stricter goals for them, even though many other states have made much less progress in reducing emissions and are given less stringent emission targets than New Jersey," Martin wrote.
The state Department of Environmental Protection made similar arguments against draft rules proposed last year.
Carbon dioxide accounts for 82 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, according to the EPA. Power plants that generate electricity from fossil fuels, such as coal, are the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions.
Christie's office said New Jersey was the first "clean energy" state to file its objection with the EPA.
"This is a fundamentally flawed plan that threatens the progress we've already made in developing clean and renewable energy in New Jersey without the heavy-handed overreach of Washington," Christie said in a statement Wednesday.
The Obama administration's plan, announced Aug. 3, seeks to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions from the nation's power plants and creating incentives for investing in clean energy.
By 2030, Obama's plan would require New Jersey to reduce its carbon emissions by about 26 percent from 2012 levels, or from 1,091 pounds per megawatt-hour to 812 pounds per megawatt-hour.
Nationwide, by 2030 power plants would have to cut their carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005 levels.
EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said the plan was "based on a sound legal and technical foundation, and it was shaped by extensive input from states, industry, energy regulators, health and environmental groups, and individual members of the public."
She added that the EPA and Justice Department would "vigorously defend" the plan in court to ensure its "significant health benefits and progress against climate change are delivered to all Americans."
New Jersey says it reduced carbon dioxide emissions from its power sector by 33 percent from 2001 to 2012. Nuclear power, which doesn't emit carbon, accounts for about half of the Garden State's energy production. And New Jersey ranks third in the nation, behind California and Arizona, in total installed solar capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The state generates less than 5 percent of its electricity from coal, down from 20 percent in the 1990s, the federal agency says.
Christie last month said he was "totally opposed" to the new rules. "This is, again, the overregulation of the Obama administration," he said then on Fox News' America's Newsroom.
Christie added, "This is the greatest regulating administration in the history of the United States and it is going to kill American businesses and jobs, as it has."
The governor has taken other steps to try to roll back environmental regulations in New Jersey. In 2011, he pulled the state out of the nation's first regional cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.
The Obama administration established carbon reduction targets for each state and is requiring the states to develop plans to meet those goals. States must meet interim goals between 2022 and 2029 and final ones by 2030. They are required to submit initial plans by September 2016 and final ones by 2018.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has urged governors to not submit plans. Last month, West Virginia and 14 other states filed an emergency petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., seeking a stay of the rule.
Other states, including New York, say that filing was premature and have vowed to defend the rules in court once they are published in the Federal Register.
Environmentalists say New Jersey, in particular, could benefit from the new regulations, given warnings about rising sea levels associated with climate change. They say New Jersey can meet the goals by expanding solar production and investing in wind-powered energy.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, accused Christie of "siding with polluters against the interests of the people of New Jersey" and "using his national political ambitions to hurt our environment."
He added that other states' reduction in greenhouse gases would improve New Jersey's air quality. "If New Jersey won't comply, then how do we get Pennsylvania to comply?" Tittel said.
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