Activists propose fast-tracked climate change, clean-energy plan (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//February 2, 2022//

Activists propose fast-tracked climate change, clean-energy plan (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//February 2, 2022//

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Lawmakers and New Jersey environmentalists — critical of what they characterize as the Murphy administration’s sluggish climate change and green economy efforts — are proposing a faster-paced policy agenda for the governor’s next four years.

The proposals include calls for limits to new warehouses across New Jersey, a 2035 goal for a state electric grid run 100% by clean energy rather than the administration’s initial 2050 goal, the addition of more electric buses, and a climate mitigation plan in the face of more extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy.

Other plans call for the state to steer more public dollars to municipalities for local eco-friendly infrastructure projects, a phase-out of natural gas hookups for home-heating by 2030 and broader preservation of parks and trails.

“We’re a coastal state. We don’t need to be reminded about the damage done and the lives lost from Hurricanes Henri and Ida, and Sandy,” state Assemblyman Raj Mukerji, D-33rd District, said during a remotely held Feb. 2 news conference hosted by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “This is going to be our new normal … unless we act in a way that this is as imminent a crisis as the public health crisis we’re facing right now amid the global pandemic.”

In January, 120 environmental and social justice groups sued the Murphy administration for allegedly failing to adopt guidelines to reach the governor’s new goals of halving emissions by 2030, and for not setting milestones to reach that goal or the goals of the Global Warming Response Act, a 2019 state law that calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

Offshore wind farms could be built miles off the coast of the Atlantic. – COURTESY FISHERMEN’S ENERGY

A 2035 target would put New Jersey in line with the Biden administration’s plans, the groups pointed out.

To be sure, Ed Potosnak, president of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, which hosted the Feb. 2 event, noted considerable progress made in the past four years.

For example, the state is pushing ahead with its efforts to develop 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035; the expansion of solar energy; stricter emissions standards for trucks; the plastic and paper bag ban that goes into effect this May; the push to have 330,000 electric cars on the state’s roads by 2025; a shift from fossil fuel heating to electric heating for businesses and homes; the statewide plans to replace lead pipes over the next decade; and “environmental justice” requirements for proposed factories to consider their potential impact on lower-income, typically minority communities.

But “this is not a time for us to rest on our laurels,” Potosnak said. “We need to work harder … to ensure that more work is done to help families and businesses here in New Jersey.”

EmpowerNJ, the plaintiff in the suit, charged that while those developments are promising, the state continues with fossil fuel projects, highway projects, new pipelines and incinerators.

Specific proposals

The goal is for many of these projects and proposals under the “Common Agenda” to begin moving ahead in the next year, with a new legislative session having started and Gov. Phil Murphy embarking on his second term.

For one, the state needs to end its historic practice of raiding funds from NJ Transit, like the tens of millions of dollars from the state Clean Energy Fund that are earmarked for the agency.

In addition, the group said the state must establish a dedicated source of funding for NJ Transit to offer more mass transit options and electric buses. Murphy’s efforts call for all new bus purchases to be zero emission by 2032, but a limited pilot program in Camden has been delayed until later this year.

Other proposals call for state grants to municipalities to pursue green infrastructure initiatives that could, for example, reduce flood risks and protect water quality.

A $16 billion proposal from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers would protect the Jersey Shore against hurricanes in the future. State and local officials meanwhile are pursuing a $230 million anti-flooding project in Hoboken, which was devastated by floodwaters during Sandy a decade ago.

The plan also calls for new statewide policies to promote “responsible development” that lowers the local impact of large scale warehouses, which rapidly sprung up across New Jersey amid the pandemic-fueled switch to online shopping. Two such bills stalled this year that would have slowed down warehouse development.

“The current boom in warehouse construction is consuming open space,” in New Jersey’s rural stretches, Madison Mayor Bob Conley said Wednesday. “Thousands of New Jersey’s undeveloped green acres can be lost without a coordinated regional approach to warehouse development.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Murphy’s efforts call for all new bus purchases must be zero emission by 2032.