Over 120 environmental and other social justice groups are suing the Murphy administration for what they say is a refusal to follow their boss’s orders on slashing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade, and restricting new fossil fuel projects.
Organized under the banner EmpowerNJ, the groups charge in the Jan. 20 suit that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is refusing to go ahead with rulemaking tied to cutting the state’s emissions by 2030.
In November, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an order speeding up the state’s goals to transition away from fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses. Whereas the prior objective called for the state to be entirely reliant on clean energy by 2050, now the state is aiming to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030.
Similar goals have been laid out by 14 other states and the Biden administration.
EmpowerNJ also asserts that the NJDEP is ignoring the Global Warming Response Act of 2019, which set a goal for reducing emissions by 80% by 2050.
In its Thursday morning announcement, EmpowerNJ said the NJDEP will not “follow state law and its own policies.”
Over the summer, the groups filed a petition with the state agency to adopt milestones and benchmarks to reach the goal, but said that request was rejected.
“The [NJDEP] ignored the governor, they ignored the science, and they ignored the law,” former New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said on the phone. “It’s just more hot air,” he said of Murphy’s rhetoric.
The petition says that the state “is not keeping pace” with efforts to combat climate change, and that the NJDEP “is not taking the actions needed to comply with” New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act, which calls for the agency to establish interim benchmarks for a 80% reduction of greenhouse gasses by 2050. In addition, the NJDEP should also promulgate rules for the denial of new fossil fuel projects, such as pipelines, which the groups charge is not being accomplished.
“They’re approving more pipelines and other bad stuff,” Tittel said. According to the petition, such projects have no place in the 2030 greenhouse gas targets.
In its rejection of the petition, the NJDEP responded that it had “the discretion to first determine if establishing interim benchmarks as a matter of regulation is a prerequisite” to achieving the GWRA’s goals, and that there are already robust state efforts for reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
The NJDEP deferred to the state Attorney General’s office, which declined to comment.
“There are only two ways to look at DEP’s outright denial of our petition: DEP has gone rogue or this Administration is uninterested in pursuing its own stated policies and state law,” said John Reichman, who chairs BlueWaveNJ’s environment committee.
That’s not to say there are no efforts in motion.
The state is pursuing efforts to develop 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035, with other plans for New Jersey to become a manufacturing hub for offshore wind components.
And the state is aiming to put 330,000 electric cars on the road by 2025, with future plans for electric medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks. Proponents of those efforts charge that more EV’s on the road would drastically cut down on gas emissions.
Another goal that several lawmakers and the fossil fuel industry are opposed to would mandate the transition of homes and businesses from gas and oil-powered heating to electric heating. According to the Murphy administration, oil and gas heating accounts for 28% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, but opponents warn that the costs of the transition to electric heating could climb to the tens of thousands of dollars.
A bill stalled in the state Legislature that would have prohibited the state from mandating such a transition, while allowing New Jersey to incentivize those efforts.
NJDEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, at an October summit hosted by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, told attendees that natural gas stands to be a healthy transition from the current fossil fuel dynamic to the governor’s clean energy goals, something vehemently opposed by environmental groups.
On Thursday, EmpowerNJ said that while there are indeed promising developments, such as offshore wind developments and opposition to the PennEast pipeline, that “for every good decision the governor has made … there have been bad ones.
For one there’s the $308 million Pinelands pipeline that is still moving ahead, a natural gas export project in Gibbstown, and billions of dollars for highway expansion projects “instead of spending that money on electrifying our transportation system and supporting public transportation.”m