Recent Gubernatorial Elections Set New Jersey and Virginia on a Green Path

by Isabel Baird

Last week, we released a Good News Minute with some pretty exciting news about recent gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. In it, we covered governors-elect Phil Murphy and Ralph Northam’s environmental campaign promises, which both included having their respective states join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, also known as RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”). For an in-depth description of RGGI, you can check out one of our previous blog posts here. But before we dive into Murphy and Northam’s pledges, here is a brief overview of the state-based climate initiative.

RGGI is a cap-and-trade system established in 2009 that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. This is done by limiting the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted, while concurrently encouraging companies to incorporate renewable energy into their power plants. Since 2009, nine states have joined the initiative; Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Additionally since 2009, according to the Conservation Law Foundation, the power sector saw a 45% decrease in emissions, while saving ratepayers $618 million in energy bills and generating $2.9 billion in regional economic growth. So not only are there environmental benefits of reducing emissions and using renewables, but the program has already proven the economic benefits that come with the transition to a cleaner energy market in just eight years.

New Jersey was originally part of RGGI when it was established in 2009; however, the Christie administration withdrew the state from the initiative in 2011. As mentioned, Murphy promised to immediately rejoin RGGI, while also advocating for other pro-environmental policies. Murphy plans to put New Jersey on a path to run solely on clean energy by 2050 through generating 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, prioritizing solar expansion, investing in 2,000 megawatts of clean energy storage by 2030, and providing market incentives for energy efficiency. Other environmental initiatives include banning fracking in the state, electrifying transportation, and focusing on environmental justice projects. Clearly Murphy sees the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a green future for New Jersey. For an even longer and more comprehensive list of Murphy’s anticipated environmental strategies you can visit his website.

While Virginia’s current governor, Terry McAuliffe, only warmed up to environmental policies near the end of his term, McAuliffe did issue an executive order in May of 2017 dedicated to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Although Northam’s opponent was set to repeal the order if elected to office, Northam took a different stance, campaigning on the promise to fulfill McAuliffe’s executive order, and even going a step further by committing to join RGGI. With Northam set to enter office, Virginia is now headed in an environmentally (and economically) friendly direction. And although Virginia will not formally join the initiative until 2020, it already has a goal of reducing carbon emissions in the state by 30% by 2030. By joining, Virginia will be the largest emitter in RGGI’s carbon market, making its dedication to achieving the program goals imperative.

New Jersey and Virginia are setting clean energy examples for other states, thanks to the hard work of their governors and the constituents who voted for these pro-environmental candidates. We hope to see New Jersey and Virginia officially join RGGI.

Which other states will follow in their footsteps and join the nine states already part of the initiative? Share your stories of similar initiatives and successes around the country!