New Jersey once again established limits on its carbon-dioxide emissions on Monday, six years after former Gov. Chris Christie made the controversial decision to exit from a regional cap-and-trade program.
The Department of Environmental Protection proposed two rules to re-enter New Jersey into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Christie withdrew from the regulatory program in 2012, calling it ineffective at reducing greenhouse gases.
Under the initiative, power plants are required to purchase credits allowing them to release set amounts of gas. The proceeds are used by member states to fund renewable energy projects.
New Jersey is proposing to cap emissions at 18 million tons of carbon-dioxide per year for the state's electricity generation sector.
The state would spend proceeds on projects that will benefit communities with the worst air quality.
In a statement, Murphy called Christie's decision to pull out of the program "an abdication of leadership."
In January, Murphy signed an executive order directing the state to rejoin the program.
"Climate change and sea-level rise affect every one of us," Murphy. "Today's action is an important first step toward restoring our place as a leader in the green economy."
Nine other states are in the regulatory program, Vermont, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Maine.
Across New Jersey, nearly every metropolitan area saw an average of 91 days of degraded air quality in 2016, according to an Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center report published over the summer. In the Atlantic City-Hammonton area, there were 31 days with elevated ozone levels and 28 days of elevated particulate pollution levels in 2016.
Environmental groups praised the decision to rejoin the RGGI.
Jeffrey Tittel, president of the NJ Sierra Club, said it is a step in the right direction. The 18-million-ton cap will decline 3 percent annually through 2030 under RGGI's rules, according to the DEP.
"We have a climate crisis, and New Jersey is one of the most vulnerable states to it," Tittel said in a release. "The sooner we rejoin the RGGI, the sooner we can reap the benefits of the program."
The two proposals do not instantly bring New Jersey into the RGGI.
The rules will be open to public comment for two months before being finalized around February. By 2020, the state expects to participate in auctions.
"It's good news this is finally moving forward, it can't happen fast enough," said Amy Goldsmith, New Jersey state director of Clean Water Action.
Murphy has said he wants New Jersey to be powered entirely by clean energy by the middle of the century.
The state set a goal of having 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, though the cost to ratepayers to build the necessary infrastructure is not yet known.
In September, the Board of Public Utilities opened the bid process for the first 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind, with construction costs subsidized by ratepayers. The Board of Public Utilities is ending the solicitation this week and will select qualifying projects by July 2019.
"Rejoining RGGI has always been one of our highest priorities," said Board of Public Utilities President Joseph L. Fiordaliso in a statement. "Taking this important and tangible step toward enacting the rules will help make our goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 a reality."