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The economic power of green: PennEast wants to build a ‘pipeline to the past’ but NJ should focus on renewable energy


In a recent NJBIZ article (“The proposed PennEast pipeline presents an age-old conflict: jobs vs. the environment,” Sept. 16, 2019), labor leader Greg Lalevee said his organization is promoting gas because “it means lots of jobs.” If jobs are what Mr. Lavelee cares about, he should get behind the sector that will bring the greatest growth in jobs: renewable energy.

Richard Lawton

Today, New Jersey is home to 52,000 jobs in such areas as wind and solar power, manufacturing clean vehicles, and energy efficiency. The state’s clean energy economy now employs more people than UPS, Walmart, and Verizon, combined. Research by the national, nonpartisan business group E2 finds that New Jersey has the ninth-most renewable energy jobs among all states, and the number will steadily rise as we pursue responsible goals for reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

Mr. Lavelee also is off base when he labels those who support renewable energy “the extreme left.” In fact, a statewide survey by the Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll taken last year found that three of every four New Jerseyans want the state to reach a goal of 100 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Meanwhile, PennEast overstates by two thirds or more the total jobs to be gained by designing and building the pipeline. A study by The Goodman Group – a consulting firm specializing in energy and regulatory economics – found that the pipeline’s ongoing economic benefits would be “infinitesimally small,” resulting in only about 10 long-term jobs in New Jersey and 88 in Pennsylvania to operate and maintain the pipeline after construction. And even during construction, it’s likely that half the jobs will go to people outside New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Another report noted that renewable energy produces more jobs per dollar invested in infrastructure than gas pipelines.

If PennEast builds what amounts to a “pipeline to the past,” the utility companies that own it will reap high profits for a project that New Jersey Rate Counsel deemed “unneeded” and “unfair” to utility consumers, who would foot the bill. New Jersey’s economic future will be far brighter if gas interests drop their delaying tactics and get behind the push for cleaner, safer, more affordable energy sources like wind and solar.

The environment versus the economy debate is a false dichotomy. We can have both, if the state makes the right choices. Unneeded fossil fuel projects like PennEast will pollute our air and water, increase costs to consumers, and create few jobs. The health and environmental advantages of renewable energy are clear, and so is the abundance of good-paying, local jobs that will follow.

Richard Lawton is executive director of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council, a network of businesses working to advance market and policy solutions for a more vibrant, sustainable and equitable economy. In his 30-year career with Fortune 500 companies, he held several executive positions and spearheaded change initiatives that improved profits while reducing environmental impacts.