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Explainer: How Has New Jersey Responded to Global Warming?

Programs and plans are in place, but it seems ever more obvious that the state is going to miss its targets, typically by a wide margin

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In late 2009, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection adopted a report detailing how the state would deal with the effects of global climate change, a problem that the agency then argued could have devastating ecological, economic, and public health effect on New Jersey. “Not only does climate change threaten New Jersey’s shoreline and ecology, but the socioeconomic impact of climate change stand to be profound and costly,’’ according to the report.

What are the state’s goals? The report aimed to develop strategies for achieving aggressive goals set forward in a 2007 law approved by the Legislature and signed by then Gov. Jon Corzine. It called for approximately a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, to 1990 levels by 2020, followed by a further reduction of 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050.

Where most greenhouse gas emissions are generated: The transportation sector is the biggest source of pollution that causes global warming, accounting for about 35 percent of gross emissions, according to the report. The next biggest source comes from power plants producing electricity (24 percent) followed by residential/commercial buildings (20 percent) and industrial sources (14 percent). In 1990, New Jersey’s statewide greenhouse gas emissions totaled approximately 123 million metric tons.

How do we get there: The report suggests three main measures as the backbone of the state’s efforts to meet its 2020 target: the New Jersey Energy Master Plan; New Jersey Low Emission Vehicle program; and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Those programs are targeted at reducing emissions from the two largest contributors to global warming pollution in New Jersey -- transportation and energy -- according to the report.

Why some doubt the state will ever achieve its goals: Each of those programs has failed to live up to expectations, raising questions as to whether the expected reduction in emissions will ever be achieved. If these programs are not lowering emissions, then how will the state meet its targets?

What’s happening with the New Jersey Energy Master plan? It calls for at least 20 percent of the state’s electricity to be produced by renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, by 2020. While the state’s solar sector seems to be recovering from a boom-and-bust cycle a few year ago, New Jersey’s efforts to develop a robust presence in offshore wind is not happening anytime soon. The Energy Master Plan calls for 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020, a target few in the industry expect to hit. The plan originally called for a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2020, a goal since reduced by the Christie administration. The state’s fund to promote clean energy programs also has lost $1 billion in the past few years to help plug gaps in state budgets.

What’s happening with the Low Emission Vehicle program? One way the state hopes to curb greenhouse gas emissions from cars is through a decade-old law binding New Jersey to the California Low Emission Vehicle program, a measure that requires an increasing number of zero-emission vehicles to be sold here. In five years, up to 19,000 plug-in electric vehicles would have to be sold in New Jersey, even though the infrastructure for allowing motorists to recharge cars when they are running out of juice has yet to be largely developed. The number of public plug-in charging stations in New Jersey is fewer than 200, far too little to curb range anxiety among motorists seeking to buy the vehicles, according to some.

What’s happening with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative? New Jersey was one of 10 states in the Northeast that enacted a program to reduce global warming emissions from power plants through a cap-and-trade program. But Gov. Chris Christie pulled out of the initiative in 2011, saying the program was not working and only amounted to a tax on ratepayers. The money collected from the program funds a variety of clean energy programs, which help reduce consumption of electricity and natural gas.

What lies ahead: Uncertainty. The Legislature is moving once again to put New Jersey back into RGGI, but those efforts have failed in past legislative sessions. The report also outlined 22 recommendations to keep the state on track to attain the goals of the global-warming response law, but few have gotten any traction.

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