"We'll respond to the lawsuit and follow up on the normal legal requirements," said Ragonese, the DEP spokesperson.
Economic and Environmental Benefits
RGGI advocates say that cap and trade is key to achieving the goals of New Jersey's five-year-old Global Warming Response Act, which requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Over three years, New Jersey took in more than $113 million in RGGI auction proceeds. More than half of that money, however, was diverted to fill budget holes. The rest went to renewable energy projects and to help low-income customers pay their electricity bills. Those investments generated more than $150 million in economic activity and created nearly 1,800 jobs in the state, according to an independent analysis by the Analysis Group.
In all RGGI states, $912 million in total proceeds spurred $1.6 billion in economic activity and created 16,000 jobs in the first 13 auctions, the Analysis Group study found. States like Massachusetts that used the bulk of auction proceeds to invest in energy efficiency programs saw the greatest economic benefit.
Greenhouse gas emissions also fell under the program. According to a study this week, power plants across the region slashed their emissions by 23 percent from 2009 to 2011. The reductions were also the result of power suppliers using more natural gas due to historically low prices and the economic downturn, among other factors.
Environmentalists have long said that states have yet to see the true potential of RGGI, both in terms of economic and environmental benefits, because the cap is too lax. Power plant emissions are currently 33 percent below the cap of 188 million tons, according to RGGI Inc., the nonprofit that gives technical and administrative support to states in the pact.
Ragonese said the Christie administration believes it can achieve the goals of RGGI, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting clean and efficient energy use, without cap and trade. (New Jersey is the nation's second-largest solar market behind California.)
"We have been implementing many of the steps that the RGGI bureaucracy would have wanted ... without the need for the RGGI bureaucracy," he said. "Unfortunately, some groups are stuck on the the four-letter acronym."