BERGENFIELD — The topic of a 10-state initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions never came up during a private lunch meeting between New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and billionaire oil tycoon David Koch this winter — five months before Christie decided to pull the state out of it, the governor said Wednesday.
Koch and his brother, Charles, are backers of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group that has been lobbying around the country for the repeal of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, and other energy regulations. Christie said that David Koch invited him to speak at the seminar during their meeting this winter but never mentioned RGGI.
“He never brought it up, and he never asked me about it,” Christie said. “I can’t tell you why he didn’t bring it up. You have to ask him ... I certainly thought he was going to, but he didn’t.
“He asked for the meeting. I didn’t ask for the meeting,” Christie added.
The initiative is a regional version of cap-and-trade and requires power plants to buy or trade permits for each ton of pollutant they emit. Funds generated from the permits are intended to be spent on clean energy projects. The goal is to reduce carbon dioxide pollution in the Northeast by 10 percent by 2018.
In May, Christie thrilled Americans for Prosperity when he announced that he would pull New Jersey out of the program by year’s end because he said the program was ineffective at stemming carbon dioxide pollution. A month later, in June, Christie was the keynote speaker at the Koch brothers’ semiannual retreat near the resort town of Vail, Colo. The retreat was full of wealthy conservative donors but closed to the public and the news media.
Word of the meeting leaked out when Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell listed the gathering on his schedule, and an audio recording of Christie’s remarks and Koch’s introduction were obtained and published in an article by the liberal-leaning Mother Jones magazine.
According to the audio obtained by Mother Jones, Koch said the meeting lasted two hours and that they spoke about Christie’s “objectives and successes in correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government.”
A spokesman for Koch, Philip Ellender, said David Koch did not discuss RGGI with Christie.
“However, we believe the governor’s decision to abandon RGGI was the right one,” Ellender said. “By lifting harmful regulations on businesses, New Jersey is preventing further job losses and acting in the best interest of its citizens.”
Environmentalists point to the private meeting in New York as evidence that Christie was influenced by big oil in making his decision to pull out of RGGI. David Pringle with the New Jersey Environmental Federation, which endorsed Christie for governor, said he was less concerned with what was said as with the fact a meeting took place at all.
Christie’s appearance at the retreat went unreported for months. He flew to Vail directly after an appearance on “Meet the Press” and was home that night. The political speech was not listed on the governor’s public schedule.
“If it’s a private meeting, I’m not disclosing it,” Christie said Wednesday.
The trip to Vail was paid for the New Jersey state Republican Party, according to a party spokesman.