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There was no vote – so there was no representation.

Suit would block NY cap and trade carbon auctions

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A political activist from western New York is suing the state over its involvement in a 10-state carbon-trading program.

Lisa Thrun heads up the grassroots campaign for the New York chapter of Americans for Prosperity. She's also the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the state's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Thrun's lawsuit alleges that cap-and-trade policies in New York are placing an undue burden on taxpayers. The suit also claims that lawmakers didn't get a chance to properly vet the state's commitment to the program.

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Reported by

Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Lisa Thrun has a few problems with New York’s role in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. For one, she says the carbon-trading program amounts to an illegal energy tax. She blames New York’s high energy bills partly on cap-and-trade policies.

But her big beef is with how the state became involved with the initiative in the first place.

“There was no legislative process followed," Thrun said.

At its core, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It works like this: power plants purchase carbon pollution credits at auction for the right to emit a certain amount of CO2. Some of the revenue generated through the auction is then used to promote energy efficiency projects in member states.

The initiative’s website boasts that CO2 emissions from power plants across the northeast will decline by about 10 percent by 2018 as a result of the effort.

Thrun says New Yorkers never had the chance to weigh-in on the state’s participation in the region-wide effort. “There was no bill brought to the floor, there was no testimony in committee, there was no debate, there was no opportunity for the citizens to go to their representatives and speak to them about this particular issue,” she said. “And more importantly, there was no vote – so there was no representation.”

New York entered the partnership in 2005 through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by then-Governor George Pataki – and it’s that action that Thrun takes such strong exception to.

Her lawsuit challenges the authority of the governor, the state Conservation Department, and the state Energy Research and Development Authority to continue the state’s involvement in the greenhouse gas initiative.

Thrun isn’t alone in her fight against the cap-and-trade program. Opponents have staged similar efforts in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie has pledged to pull out by year’s end.

Supporters say Thrun’s lawsuit is disingenuous at best.

Dale Bryk is director of the Air & Energy Program for the New York chapter of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s quite ironic because this same group is challenging RGGI in New Jersey where they’re trying to get the governor to pull out of the program and both houses of the state Legislature in New Jersey just overwhelmingly passed legislation to keep the state in the program,” Bryk said.

Bryk contends that New York had legal authority to join the program. She says carbon-trading doesn’t translate to an illegal tax.

In fact, she says taxpayers are seeing benefits through the program – for example, tax credits for energy efficiency improvements and home weatherization.

“So there is plenty of legal authority for the state to deliver these benefits to New Yorkers,” Bryk said. “I think it’s a ruse on the part of the plaintiffs here, because they’re taking the opposite tact in New Jersey.”

Bryk is adamant that states didn’t just sign a piece of paper and opt-in to the initiative – and she adds her organization is ready to fight Thrun’s lawsuit.

“This was a program that was years in the making,” Bryk said. “And states don’t tread in this space lightly.”

Lisa Thrun says her suit has been filed with the state Supreme Court in Albany. She hopes that if nothing else, the action will put lawmakers on notice when it comes to future decision-making.

“We are watching,” Bryk said. “And they need to do the job that we, in essence, hired them to do by voting for them.”

Thrun believes her suit could suspend New York’s involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – that would give taxpayers a chance to debate the program’s merits.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation declined to comment on the suit because it’s a matter of pending litigation.

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