New Jersey Leads the Way!

The author of today’s article, Derek Walker, is deputy director of the state climate initiative at Environmental Defense.

Last week, New Jersey’s House and Senate Budget Committees passed a landmark global warming bill called the "Global Warming Response Act". It sailed through the full House and Senate two days later and Governor Jon Corzine says he will sign it in July.

The bill will cap greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020, and lower the cap to 80 percent below current levels by 2050 (see New York Times article). It is the first bill in the nation to legislate a 2050 target. This is important because 2050 targets are crucial to avoiding the global warming tipping point, and are a component of the bills currently before Congress. When forward-looking states pass legislation like this, it can force the federal government to do likewise.

I went to Trenton to testify before the Budget Committee, and left there inspired.

It wasn’t the first time I’d testified in New Jersey. Two weeks prior I testified before the Senate Environmental Committee, and everyone was still unsure whether the legislature would pass the bill this year. I told the committee that passing this bill would make New Jersey a global leader in environmental protection, plus there were practical benefits such as increasing home values.

By the time I went back on June 18, it was all over but the voting. A majority of the full House and Senate were co-sponsors of the bill. My testimony was quite short this time. I simply said that New Jersey should be proud to be the first state to pass a 2050 target.

The legislation doesn’t specify how the targets will be met – it instructs state agencies to get together and work it out. Some say this is a weakness, but I think the built-in flexibility is a strength. The emissions monitoring program will include emissions from power plants in other states that export power to New Jersey – also a good thing.

You might think, New Jersey is just one state – and a small one at that – so how much does this matter? It matters quite a bit! State action has the power to force federal action.

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