EARTH DAY: Groups Urge NJ Legislature and Gov. Murphy for a Green Agenda

Monday, April 22, 2019

Trenton - Today environmental groups are holding an Earth Day press conference demanding the state Legislature and Governor move forward on a strong environmental agenda for New Jersey. We have a climate crisis that’s getting worse. Sea levels are rising and we have more extreme weather. New Jersey residents worry about climate damage and the potential impact of proposed fossil fuel power plants and pipelines. What’s even more alarming to residents and environmental groups is the lack of urgency the Legislature and Governor show when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) and moving forward with renewable energy.

“Climate change is the challenge of our times. Yet, on the 2nd Earth Day of a new Administration and largest legislative majority in decades, the Legislature and Governor have yet to tackle this issue. They just gave PSE&G $900 million for its nukes that NJBPU says wasn’t needed in part to avoid a 9% hike in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, they won’t oppose 13 frack gas projects that would hike GHG emissions by 32%, and; they haven't issued any rules or passed any bills to address this crisis either. Especially with the Energy Master Plan delayed until the fall, the Governor needs to issue a moratorium on new frack gas projects, NJDEP needs to implement rules regulating climate pollutants, and the Legislature needs to strengthen and pass climate legislation,” said Amy Goldsmith, Clean Water Action.

“This is Earth Day when we celebrate the environment. We not only clean up parks but push for programs that help protect this earth. However, Governor Murphy and the Legislature are not making a significant announcement of any kind or real event around Earth Day. The climate crisis is happening, and the urgency is now. We need to move forward with reducing climate impacts before it’s too late. NJDEP is not regulating C02. They have not adopted rules or regulations on climate adaptation or achieving 100% renewable energy. Instead the Murphy administration has undermined those clean energy goals by approving the billion-dollar nuclear subsidy. The nuclear subsidy undercuts renewable energy and caused the BPU to delay the Energy Master Plan,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Our state Legislature has not moved forward with legislation on climate change, sea level rise, and coastal planning. Photo ops and tweets are not what it’s about. It’s about protecting the planet and moving forward on combating climate change.”

The groups cited leadership failures on many issues more than offset any progress on a smaller subset:

1) the Legislature’s failure to advance plastic bag, electric vehicle, solar and environmental justice bills; 

2) the Murphy Administration’s failure to issue a moratorium on new frack gas infrastructure most immediately on the SRL and NESE pipelines and compressor stations or repeal Gov. Christie’s rollbacks or otherwise significantly strengthen water rules (flood hazard, waiver, stormwater, c1, CAFRA); and 

3) their collective failure to move meaningful climate rules or legislation, provide adequate funding for NJDEP and NJT, stop diversions of NRD and CBT funds for “stewardship”, address lead contamination in anywhere near an adequate way, and stop a documented unneeded $1 billion nuclear subsidy at the expense of renewables.

In New Jersey, there are 13 proposed fossil fuel projects that environmental groups are battling. The Murphy Administration has not taken effective action to block or stop these projects.  If built, these new projects would increase CO2 and GHG emissions by approximately 32 million metric tons per year or about 32%. The five proposed power plants, including the Meadowlands power plant, would increase CO2 emissions from electricity generation by approximately 76% if built. 

“More than 12 fracked gas power plants and pipelines are currently being reviewed by New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection and Governor Murphy. These proposals would fuel climate change - even as Governor Murphy placed New Jersey in the U.S. Climate Alliance. They would pollute our air with carcinogens and lung-disease inducing chemicals - even as Governor Murphy proclaims next week “Air Quality Awareness Week.” Governor Murphy’s rhetoric is not matching his actions, as his administration has already approved crucial permits for a new fracked gas compressor station in Roseland, land-use permits for a fracked gas powerplant in the Meadowlands, and other fossil fuel proposals. Governor Murphy can put rhetoric to action, stop the construction of approved pipeline proposals, and implement an emergency moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure immediately,” said Junior Romero, Food & Water Watch, New Jersey Organizer.

Governor Murphy has been asked time and time again to put a moratorium on new proposed fossil fuel projects in New Jersey. Projects like the Southern Reliability Link (SRL) pipeline have started construction despite still being in ongoing litigation. Residents and families, especially in Burlington and Ocean County, whose roads and lawns have been ripped up from SRL pipeline construction are especially concerned. The Board of Public Utilities can put a stay on SRL construction and Governor Murphy can enforce a moratorium.  

 Agnes Marsala, of People Over Pipelines said, “Phil Murphy was elected on a promise to roll back the egregious weakening of New Jersey’s hard won environmental protections. When I asked him about the plethora of unnecessary, dirty, fracked gas being forced through our state, through projects like the SRL,  he lamely resorted to “mansplaining” his position in terms of “balls and strikes.” I like baseball as much as the next guy, but come on, these are serious issues that require serious actions. Declare a total moratorium on all fossil fuel infrastructure! Be the umpire, throw them out!”

Important environmental programs for New Jersey need the necessary funding, however DEP’s budget has been cut to the bone for the last 9 years. The NJDEP budget FY2020 has been cut by 17.8% in the spending plan and operations by 10%. The Clean Energy Fund has been raided by more than $1.5 billion over the last 10 years. What’s even worse is the department is not spending the little money it has for things like clean transportation. NJDEP is still sitting on 85% of the Volkswagen settlement fund. Current electric vehicle legislation (S2252/ A3687) has also been stalled in the Legislature. 

“Transportation remains the largest source of carbon and air pollution in New Jersey, and electrification of our cars, trucks and buses is the largest action we can take to clear our skies and save our climate,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The Legislature needs to move on electrification bills on its desk, and the Murphy Administration needs to drive this bus.”

The Murphy Administration is still using Governor Christie’s weakened rules when it comes to protecting the environment. Christie’s attack on clean water included rollbacks to wetland protections, flood hazard protections, water quality planning and stream encroachment rules. DEP’s new stormwater rule has raised serious concerns for FEMA and environmental groups and will cause more flooding and pollution in New Jersey. 

In terms of protecting clean water, NJDEP took a step in the right direction by proposing a rule amendment for C1 streams, protecting 749 miles of rivers and streams as Category One waterways, setting drinking water standards for the PFAS family of chemicals that set a national benchmark and taking enforcement action on those polluters.. There are bigger problems like dumping fracking waste in the Delaware River Basin that pose a critical issue for our clean water, which the Murphy Administration weighed in with DRBC to push for a full ban on fracking, fracking waste and its industrial impacts. However, while these steps are significant, there is still much work to do to reverse the impacts of the Christie Administration water regulation rollbacks.

“New Jersey’s environment faces a history of exploitation that has left a legacy of pollution and, more recently, 8 years of the Christie Administration’s damage. Today we have all the elements at hand to transform the state’s policies to restore and protect the state. The proposed upgrade of 749 miles of waterways and Governor Murphy’s pledge to support a complete fracking ban are the first steps towards fixing Christie’s gutting of the state’s stormwater, surface water, and floodplain regulations and securing a majority vote at the DRBC to prevent fracking for gas in the Delaware River Watershed but we need swift and decisive action on all these fronts. On Earth Day, we call on the Legislature and the Governor to seize this moment of climate and environmental crisis to accomplish real change when it is most needed, before it is too late to save our place on earth,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Too many low-income residents and communities of color in New Jersey have a disproportionate burden of harm from pollution. The Murphy Administration still has to move forward on putting together a strong and enforceable plan of action to prevent future public health and environmental harms in these communities. The Legislature has bills like S1700 (Singleton) that would help environmental justice (EJ) communities be able to stand up for clean and air water, but have not yet been passed. The Legislature has considered many bills to protect our water from lead (e.g. S1783, A1875), however those have stalled as well. 

”Earth Day is no celebration when you and your loved ones are gasping for air or drinking tainted water from the tap. The color of my skin and zip code should never be a factor in determining if I have clean water, air and energy,” stated Kim Gaddy, Environmental Justice Organizer, Clean Water Action and 4th generation Newark resident. “Putting state protections in place is no academic exercise. It is a matter of life and breath for me and my community every day, not just on Earth Day. The Governor says he wants environmental justice but isn’t installing the necessary agency mandates and providing decisive leadership beyond good rhetoric, and; the Legislature isn’t providing statutory authority and financial mechanisms to do so when it comes to the cumulative impacts of polluting facilities (e.g. S1700) and lead in drinking water.” 

New Jersey’s water and environment are suffocating in plastic waste. This is a serious public health and environmental risk and we need to work together to clean it up. In New Jersey, there are 18 towns, cities, and counties that have plastic bans and 3 towns that have plastic bag fees.  Towns and cities like Lambertville, Avalon, Belmar, Hoboken, Jersey City, Teaneck have all passed ordinances that would tackle New Jersey’s plastic waste problem. The  Legislature has one of the most comprehensive ban bills in the nation. S2772 (Smith) is a statewide ban on single use plastic bags and polystyrene, but the bill has stalled. 

“The world has recently awakened to the fact that plastic pollution is a global problem, but one we can solve,” said John Weber, Mid Atlantic Regional Manager for the Surfrider Foundation. “Local solutions include bans and fees on single use plastic items. The Legislature and the Governor could be moving S-2776 forward, which bans plastic bags, puts a fee on paper bags and bans Styrofoam and plastic straws,” said John Weber, Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager, Surfrider Foundation. 

Governor Murphy’s goals of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2050 are becoming unclear due to competing fossil fuel projects and uncertainty of the future of New Jersey’s solar market and more. NJBPU has received applications for its solicitation for 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind. However, at the same time, New Jersey has fallen behind other states when it comes to solar energy and solar energy jobs. The current solar program will eat up almost all the cap, preventing us from meeting those RPS goals. An OLS report says that in 2020 the cost of our RPS will exceed the cap by $280 million. This means the BPU will set aside the Renewable Portfolio Standard for that year. This leaves no room for New Jersey to move forward to meet targets of the Renewable Portfolio Standard

“Gov. Murphy himself has set the state a goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. The current arc of development of fossil fuel infrastructure will prevent reaching this goal. Investing billions of dollars in infrastructure that will last for 30 years will prevent development of infrastructure for solar, wind, and storage that can actually get us to 100% renewable energy. Setting a goal is not enough; he has to take action to reach the goal,” said Nancy Griffeth, UU Faith Action NJ.

Amy Goldsmith