NJ greenhouse gas rule panned by biz, fossil fuel & environmental groups (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//February 1, 2022

NJ greenhouse gas rule panned by biz, fossil fuel & environmental groups (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//February 1, 2022

A proposed environmental rule meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey over the next decade is meeting opposition on all fronts: from environmental groups, the fossil fuel sector, and businesses and trade organizations.

Environmental groups charge that the proposal would not achieve any of the state’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades. Business groups and fossil fuel executives, meanwhile, question the science behind the proposed rules, and say it would pass massive cost increases on to businesses, residents and homeowners.

State environmental officials introduced the parameter as part of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s clean energy goals for New Jersey, which by the middle of the century call for weaning the state off fossil fuels and replacing it with clean energy alternatives, such as offshore wind.

“The suite of regulatory proposals … are aimed at strengthening air pollution rules to help reduce future greenhouse gas and other climate emissions by improving the State’s [greenhouse gas] reporting and inventory system and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and short-lived climate pollutants,” said Caryn Shinske, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The proposed rules are part of the New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats regulations, or NJ PACT.

These specific proposals – called the Control and Prohibition of Carbon Dioxide Emissions Rule – center around greenhouse gas emissions from large electric generators and set a timeline to lower the permitted emissions over the next decade, with benchmarks set for 2024, 2027 and 2035.

Starting in 2025, large commercial and industrial boilers – which are typically used at manufacturing facilities, hospitals, schools, office and apartment buildings – will need to be fired by electricity rather than natural gas. The rules would also ban the burning of certain kinds of oils – specifically No. 4 and No. 6 fuel oils – which the NJDEP says have a much higher carbon dioxide emission.

Figures like NJDEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, speaking at an October summit hosted by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, have assured that natural gas can provide a transition from the current fossil fuel dynamic to the governor’s clean energy goals—something opposed by environmental groups.

“Nobody is flipping off the switch on natural gas tomorrow,” LaTourette said. “We need carbon-based fuels in order to power our economy.”

At an NJDEP Feb. 1 hearing on the proposed rules, NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Ray Cantor testified that “this proposal will do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or protect citizens, but could be costly and highly disruptive to our energy systems and our economy.”

“We certainly should be not restricting our energy and economic systems based on flawed modeling premised on impossible scenarios” and flawed “observations and realities of energy markets and physics,” he said.

Agreeing to disagree

In January, 120 environmental and social justice groups sued the Murphy administration for allegedly not adopting 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.

These proposed rules would fail to help the state reach those goals, environmentalists charged.

“The standards set by the rule would allow the majority of New Jersey’s existing gas fired power plants to continue to operate and new ones to be built, making it even harder to reduce emissions,” reads a Tuesday statement from EmpowerNJ, a plaintiff in the suit against the state. “The rule also exempts facilities like incinerators, co-gen plants, and projects that don’t sell power to the grid, nor burn 50% or more of fossil fuels.”

Groups like the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey trade organization felt differently.

“Is Governor Murphy’s deafening silence on the most intrusive and expensive aspect of his [Energy Master Plan] because he himself … realizes that there is nothing affordable about his electrification retrofit mandate?” testified the group’s executive vice president, Eric DeGesero.

DeGesero cited the example of an apartment landlord faced with prohibitive costs to remove a gas-powered steam boiler and replace it with an electric one.

The group has more broadly opposed the state’s plans to phase out gas and oil-powered heating and replace it with electric heating. While the state suggests that the costs of installation would be between $4,000 and $7,000, a study commissioned by the Fuel Merchants Association finds the costs would be closer to a range of $12,000 to $22,000.

Jeff Tittel, former director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and frequent critic of the governor’s green energy efforts, dismissed the proposed rules as “hot air” and a “sham” with “more holes in it than Swiss cheese.”

“These proposed NJDEP climate rules don’t deliver and will allow for the construction of more fossil fuel power plants over the next decade,” added Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley. “NJDEP can’t just tout resiliency solutions to climate change.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:26 a.m. EST on Feb. 2, 2022, to include remarks from the NJDEP.