BERGENFIELD, N.J. (AP) — 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 the pact, the governor said Wednesday.
Koch and his brother, Charles, head a $100 billion-per-year company with holdings in power plants, oil, gas, cattle, chemicals and synthetics. They also bankroll 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.
The Northeastern pact, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions by fossil fuel-burning power plants and requires them to buy permits to release such gases. The permits can be bought and sold among plants, giving them a financial incentive to operate more cleanly.
Christie and Koch met this winter.
In May, Christie announced that he was withdrawing from RGGI by year's end because the program was ineffective at stemming carbon dioxide pollution.
In June, Christie flew to Vail, Colo., to deliver the keynote speech at the Koch brothers' semiannual retreat. The event was full of wealthy conservative donors but closed to the public and news media.
Christie said that David Koch invited him to speak in Colorado during their earlier meeting, in which they discussed Christie's take on national issues and state issues — but not one of the most important issues to the energy executive: RGGI.
"He never brought it up and he never asked me about it," Christie said Wednesday. "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.
Christie never publically disclosed that he was going to attend the retreat in Colorado in June. 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, calling the Koch brothers "the leading anti-environmentalists in the country."
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.
On Wednesday, he defended keeping the meeting and travel to Colorado private.
"If it's a private meeting, I'm not disclosing it," the governor said Wednesday. "I'm allowed to get advice and counsel from people that I want to ... you're not entitled to know everything I do."
The trip to Vail was paid for the New Jersey state Republican Party, according to a party spokesman.
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