The proposed bill was all of four pages, modest by Trenton standards.
And it had a laudable goal: cutting greenhouse gasses.
But by the time it won approval last week on the final day of the lame-duck legislative session, it ran to 17 pages, inflated with expensive giveaways to the state’s utilities, lucrative breaks for a few power suppliers and money for state forests and tidal marshes.
“What happened, it just became a piñata for every special interest group out there,” said Jeff Tittel, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club who initially supported the measure but then lobbied against it. “They each took a shot and each got something.”
In the end, the bill was opposed by an odd coalition of business owners, consumer advocates, even many environmentalists. And here’s the kicker: It’s going to cost consumers and businesses more money — perhaps a lot more.
The bill, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, was originally drafted to allow the state to join a multi-state program aimed at reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Gov. Jon Corzine has set an aggressive target of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020.
When he signs the bill early this week as expected, New Jersey will join nine other Northeastern states in requiring power plant operators to pay for the right to produce greenhouse gases. Power suppliers will have to purchase pollution “credits” through a regional auction, and the proceeds will be returned to the states to fund renewable energy and conservation projects.
The details of the auction system — including the cost of the credits — have yet to be worked out, but one thing is clear: The cost of the pollution credits will be passed along to homeowners and businesses.
No one disputes the program will lead to higher utility bills, but Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Middlesex), a chief sponsor of the bill, said the impact would be minimal, amounting to about 78 cents per month for the typical residential customers. That’s less than $10 a year, he noted.
And Chivukula argues any price increases for consumers will be more than offset by savings they realize through energy conservation programs supported by the pollution credits.