TRENTON — Months before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced the state was withdrawing from a pact aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions among 10 Northeastern states, he met with one of the billionaire oil industry brothers who have fought to end regional greenhouse gas initiatives.
Now environmentalists and liberals are holding up that meeting and a closed-door seminar in June hosted by brothers David and Charles Koch, in which Christie was the keynote speaker, as evidence of their claims that Christie is influenced by big oil.
“This is the smoking gun that shows he’s been working with the Koch brothers from the beginning,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
On Wednesday, the liberal magazine Mother Jones revealed Christie’s contact with the brothers in a report that featured secretly recorded audio from the closed-door conservative conclave in Vail, Colo., on June 26. The audio also revealed that Christie met with David Koch privately this winter.
“Five months ago we met in my New York City office and spoke — just the two of us — for about two hours on his objectives and successes in correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government,” David Koch is heard saying on the Mother Jones’ recording while introducing Christie at the seminar. “At the end of our conversation, I said to myself, ‘I’m really impressed and inspired by this man. He is my kind of guy.’”
Christie announced in May he was pulling the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative by the end of the year. He said the program was “a failure” at actually reducing such emissions. He said the cap-and-trade pact “does nothing more than tax electricity, tax our citizens, tax our businesses with no discernible or measurable impact upon our environment.”
A spokesman for Koch Industries did not return a call and emails sent Wednesday seeking comment on the Mother Jones report.
A spokesman for the governor said that timing of events — both the meeting in New York and the speech in Vail — were “wholly unconnected” to the governor’s decision to pull out of RGGI.
“The governor has stated clearly the reasons that make RGGI bad public policy,” spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
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.
Christie’s decision to leave RGGI dismayed environmentalists. It thrilled conservatives, especially the Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group that has been lobbying around the country for the repeal of RGGI and other energy regulations. Americans for Prosperity is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.
Until Wednesday, Christie’s appearance at the retreat had gone unreported.
The Koch brothers’ semiannual retreat near the resort town of Vail was full of wealthy donors but was closed to the public and the news media. News of the meeting leaked out when Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell listed the gathering on his schedule.
A spokeswoman for Koch Industries declined to tell The Associated Press in June who would be attending the retreat.
Spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer said at the time, “The purpose of this conference is to develop support for the kind of free market policies and initiatives that can get our country back on the path to economic prosperity and sustained job creation.”
Christie 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. The trip was paid for by the New Jersey state Republican Party, GOP spokesman Rick Gorka said.