Cap and Trade Croaks in New Jersey

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 26 2011 5:43 PM

Cap and Trade Croaks in New Jersey

Chris Christie's decision to pull his state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a big, big deal. It's a victory for the Tea Party movement and business interests that had been pushing uphill against RGGI for a long time, but have started locking down support from state to state to implode the compact.

Up to now, the fact that Christie wasn't doing this was a huge problem for conservatives. It was a reason Americans for Prosperity New Jersey, whose president Steve Lonegan had run against Christie, was so critical of the governor. Now?

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"He's elevated his credibility with me," said Lonegan in an interview. "I will say, I have to praise the man for making this move. It's bold and it'll have national implications. When we started this whole process, RGGI was operating way below the radar screen, which is the way they wanted it. We put all our effort into educating legislators, educating the media -- basically, changing opinion over time from key decision makers, particularly the governor. So obviously they took our effort into consideration."

This is a clear victory in one state, but next up is using the momentum from RGGI collapse in New Jersey and New Hampshire to lower the importance of the coming climate allowance auction on June 8. That's the policy impact. The political impact: More evidence that opposing carbon trading and carbon taxes is a litmus test for Republicans.

"A year ago, they were saying Lonegan's nuts, they're not gonna stop this program," said Lonegan. "They didn't look at this as a threat. They looked at this as one guy making trouble. Oh well."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.