Jan 29 (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced on Monday his state will rejoin a carbon trading program of northeast states, reversing his predecessor Chris Christie's decision to yank it out of the climate pact more than six years ago.
Murphy, a Democrat, announced his executive order to start the process to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in Sandy Hook, a coastal town ravaged by Super Storm Sandy in 2012. Christie is a Republican.
"As the densest state in the nation, we can ill afford to keep our heads in the sand when it comes to climate change," Murphy said at his press conference on Monday.
New Jersey is one of 10 states that launched RGGI in 2007 as a response to a lack of federal action on climate change. Members set up a cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, enabling plants to trade emission permits to help states cut their pollution.
In 2011, Christie, then a rising star in the Republican party, announced he would withdraw New Jersey from RGGI because he said it resembled a tax on energy and would not have a noticeable impact on the environment.
Murphy on Monday said that due to Christie's decisions, New Jersey lost out on increased savings from energy efficiency, from revenues generated by RGGI's quarterly carbon permit auctions and rebates to the state's energy consumers.
RGGI auctions have yielded $2.8 billion in proceeds to date, intended for use to finance clean energy and energy efficiency projects.
Environmental groups welcomed Murphy's move, calling it significant during a time of rapid environmental deregulation at the federal level under the Trump administration.
"RGGI is a shining light in the darkness of climate rollbacks of the Trump era," said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, "If New Jersey didnt rejoin the program, we would lose out on more than $500 million in clean energy investments."
New Jersey's legislature must now pass legislation to implement Murphy's order and lay out how to spend the funds generated in the RGGI trading auctions.
Elsewhere, Virginia's new Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has also promised to direct his state to join RGGI.
The addition of Virginia and New Jersey to RGGI would be significant. In 2016, New Jersey emitted 22.1 million short tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) while Virginia emitted 38 million. RGGIs current nine states emitted 90 million short tons in 2016. (Editing by David Gregorio)