Chris Christie: A 'Green' GOP Presidential Candidate for 2016?

Yesterday, when I wrote about the hypocrisy of Chris Christie -- the New Jersey governor who claimed he'd be the state's no. 1 clean energy advocate then went on to support dirty fuels and gut funding for renewables -- I received some interesting pushback in the comments and from other bloggers. His reasons for pulling out of the state cap and trade were valid, the rational conservationist argues: Christie said that the price wasn't high enough for the program to work effectively, and he's right on. Elsewhere, smart greens are saying that since he didn't abandon his commitment to fighting climate change altogether, he may simply be waiting for the fervently anti-science Tea Party hysteria to subside -- in order to run for president as a principled, moderate, and forward-looking "green" conservative candidate in 2016. Here's Peter Sinclair, the producer of the excellent Climate Denial Crock of the Week series:

If you had any question whether GOP darling Chris Christie was going to enter the 2012 race, those are now answered.

Surveying the reality-free Tea Party freak show that is the current republican presidential field, Christie has opted out. And he has fired the first shot of his 2016 campaign by committing himself to a program of free-market incentives for combating climate change, reducing greenhouse emissions, and accelerating New Jersey's development of renewable energy and conservation.

Sinclair notes the green initiatives Christie includes in his speech, which you can watch above:

  • "..Our commitment continues to combatting climate change, and looking for new, clean, and cleaner energy sources.."

  • " ..we're committed to putting in place policies that actively work to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and achieve the 22.5 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard target by 2021.."

  • "The future for New Jersey is in Green energy.."

  • "No New Coal permitted in New Jersey. From this day forward, any plans that anyone has regarding any type of coal based generation in New Jersey is over...we know that coal is a major source of CO2 emissions, we will no longer accept coal as a new source of power in the state....we need to commit in New Jersey to making coal a part of our past."

  • "We're going to work to make New Jersey number one in offshore wind production...We will be receiving applications for more than 3000 MW of offshore wind in the next 2 weeks.."

  • "We're going to go further in solar energy.."

  • Encourage the construction of natural gas plants

  • "will look at" additional nuclear units

  • "The cleanest energy is the energy that you don't use... the state has to lead in terms of conservation, and so we're going to lead by example on energy efficiency."

  • "we remain completely committed to the idea that we have a responsibility as a state to make the environment of our state, and the world, better..

  • "...we have an obligation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

That's all decent stuff, but frankly, I'm not impressed. New Jersey wasn't going to build new coal plants anyways, especially with incoming EPA regs. The renewable energy standard is okay, but the construction of new natural gas plants is hardly green. To me, these policies mostly amount to something like: "if folks want to pursue green projects in New Jersey, they can". And even if Christie claims he's pulling out because the price of carbon in RGGI is too low, I don't buy it. As I responded in the comments yesterday, that "reasoning" is driven by the same principle that pushes Exxon to keep publicly calling for a carbon tax -- he knows a higher price isn't viable, and can therefore safely blame his withdrawal on such a lofty premise.

I guarantee that Christie would never go for a steeper price on carbon -- just like Exxon would never call for carbon tax should it suddenly one day appear politically viable. This way, he appears a rational, well-intentioned man to his state's moderate voters while simultaneously delivering unto the Tea Party exactly what they want.

The idea that Christie anticipates that Tea Party frenzy to sputter out within years -- making his refusal to deny science appear all the more noble after it does -- is an interesting one, and the optimist in me agrees.

But let's not forget about the bottom line -- Christie didn't have to pull himself out of the RGGI. He did it voluntarily. He didn't have to channel $150 million of funding set aside for clean energy into balancing his state's budget, or swipe the $65 million generated from RGGI (also intended for clean energy projects) and devote it to paying off the deficit. But he does have to pay lip service to the majority of the constituents of his liberal-leaning state -- constituents who want clean energy and reduced carbon pollution.

I'm glad that there are still high-profile Republicans who don't actively deny the mainstream scientific consensus that man-caused emissions are causing the planet to warm. But be sure to remember that Christie's policies have nothing short of crippled clean energy development in New Jersey if and when he decides to run for president in 2016.

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