Chris ChristieNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: The threat is real, and we should do less to fight it.Photo: Chuck WalkerThis post was cowritten by Stephen Lacey.

Christie: “In the past I’ve always said that climate change is real and it’s impacting our state. There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate.

“In order to to best deal with climate change you have to understand its causes … I’ve taken the time to develop a better understanding of the role that humans play in global warming and what impact human activities has on our climate. In the last few months, I’ve sat down with experts both inside the government and outside the administration in academia and other places to discuss the issue in depth … When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts … We know enough to say that we are at least a part of the problem. So, looking forward, we need to work to put policies in place that get at reducing those contributing factors.”

And that’s why, People of New Jersey, I am withdrawing from the most successful regional climate initiative in the country, the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. You see, I don’t think the carbon pollution price in RGGI is high enough, and yet at the very same time I’m going to complain that it is a “gimmicky” program that is “nothing more than a tax on electricity.” Sure, it is a market-based “gimmick” Republicans once embraced to help lower pollution-reduction costs to businesses. And sure RGGI revenues lower the state’s deficit and at the same bring clean energy and energy efficiency to you, which keeps your bills low. But my new motto is climate science, true, climate action, Fuggedaboutit!

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Okay, while he did say all that stuff on the science (video here), the previous paragraph is just my summary of what he said about RGGI. Christie did in fact simultaneously complain that the CO2 price was too low and that RGGI was a “tax on electricity.” The question is, why did he do this?

One popular theory is that he has national political ambitions in the GOP.

As E&E News puts it [$ubreq]:

The decision could gain favor with national Republicans for Christie, considering that cap-and-trade is an unpopular concept in the GOP, several analysts said …

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Christie has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he is not running for president in 2012, but pundit speculation has run high about whether he will change his mind or will privately campaign for a vice-presidential slot, given the governor’s recent trips to Washington, D.C.

“It has become a litmus test to be opposed to cap-and-trade if you want to raise your stature in the Republican Party nationally,” said Leigh Raymond, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University. “I can’t think of another reason why he would do this.”

It shows how much the Republican dynamic has changed in the East, he said, considering that GOP governors such as former New York Gov. George Pataki were among the initial backers of RGGI.

But if so, then why embrace climate science? It didn’t endear him to the disinformers who dominate the GOP base, like junk-science promoter Steven Milloy, who wrote yesterday:

Chris Christie: New Jersey’s Al Gore

Hurray, Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of the Northeast’s cap-and-trade program … but BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!, he’s a believer in consensus science and, apparently, catastrophic manmade global warming …

Chris Christie for President? No thanks. I’ll write in Kris Kringle first.

Christie seriously broke with conservative orthodoxy by embracing science as it is understood by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, rather than junk science as it is pushed by the birther-equivalents like Milloy.

And Christie actually flip-flopped on the science in making this announcement. Back in November, Christie was a skeptic, saying,

Mankind, is it responsible for global warming? Well, I’ll tell you something. I have seen evidence on both sides of it. I’m skeptical — I’m skeptical …

And that’s probably one of the reasons why I became a lawyer, and not a doctor, or an engineer, or a scientist, because I can’t figure this stuff out. But I would say at this point, that has to be proven, and I’m a little skeptical about it.

Yes, Christie “can’t figure this stuff out.” Just the kind of person you want to be governor or president.

So he listens to climate scientists when it comes to climate science. But who — or what — does he listen to when it comes to climate solutions?

The Koch-backed front group Americans for Prosperity has been running a multimillion-dollar campaign to derail RGGI.

American for Prosperity press release

Christie has now joined Tea Party opposition to clean-energy policy to the detriment of programs he once supported. In his press conference yesterday, Christie said he didn’t want to “overplay” the benefits to ratepayers because “we’re not talking about a huge difference.”

In fact, in addition to reducing New Jersey’s emissions by around 80,000 tons per year, this “gimmicky” program brought back $29.6 million to New Jersey ratepayers in 2010, supporting enough clean electricity to supply 20,000 homes. A new progress report out from RGGI shows that for every dollar invested by the program, states have gotten $3 to $4 in benefits [PDF].

“There’s only one thing you need to do in order to pull out of RGGI — ignore all the tangible, clean energy benefits. That’s it,” said the Conservation Law Foundation’s Seth Kaplan to Think Progress. “Christie’s had a good record in the past. The only reason to pull out now would be to score some ideological political points.” Kaplan adds, “If he wants the program to make deeper emissions cuts, work to make the goals more ambitious. But don’t just end the program.”

New Jersey follows three other states — Delaware, Maine and New Hampshire — that have considered pulling out of RGGI. Resisting the polluting influence of Koch-backed lobbying and media campaigns, all those states decided to remain in the program because of the proven, positive benefits to ratepayers and businesses.

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