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A Big-Picture View of How Climate Change Is Affecting the Garden State

The Fund for New Jersey outlines the steps that need to be taken to prevent climate change from being disastrous for the state

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With mounting threats from climate change, New Jersey needs to embrace tougher protections for the environment, cleaner energy options, and better planning, a new report from The Fund for New Jersey says.

In a wide-ranging report issued as voters gear up for gubernatorial and legislative elections this fall, the Fund for New Jersey outlines a series of actions the state needs to take to prevent climate change from being disastrous for New Jersey.

The recommendations range from policies long debated by officials and lawmakers, such as ramping up the state’s dependence on renewable energy as a source of electricity, to newer actions, like imposing a moratorium on all pending pipeline projects until a more comprehensive review determines whether they adversely impact efforts to curb global warming.

Reversing rollbacks

The state also needs to reverse years of rollbacks in protections governing the state’s water supplies and drinking water, steps that have jeopardized water resources and put New Jersey in a worse position to meet its clean water needs, according to the report.

“We’ve been backsliding for years,’’ said Ed Lloyd, a trustee for the foundation and director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia University School of Law, referring to the state’s onetime prominent leadership role on the environment. “We’ve slipped.’’

Looking to the future, the report focuses on four key areas where action is needed — energy policy with a call for more reliance on wind, solar and other renewables; water supply and quality; strengthening state and regional planning; and environmental justice or not imposing new pollution burdens on people because of where they live.

The report, “Climate Change Adds Urgency to Restoring Environmental Protection,” suggests time is running out for New Jersey. “The state’s quality of life is on the line,’’ it concluded.

Familiar issues

Many of the recommendations deal with issues quite familiar to lawmakers, like having New Jersey rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional coalition aimed at fighting greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. New Jersey initially joined the effort but Gov. Chris Christie pulled the state out early in his first term, calling the initiative ineffective and a tax on ratepayers.

Since then, the governor has vetoed three separate bills aimed at having New Jersey rejoin RGGI, the most recent just last week. Like many other issues mentioned in the report, particularly dealing with clean energy, proponents hope a new governor will reverse that decision.

The report focuses on reducing the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, whether by reviving the state’s moribund efforts to build an offshore wind industry, or mandating utilities to take more aggressive steps to help customers reduce energy use.

The state hoped to develop offshore wind farms under legislation signed by Christie seven years ago this summer, but the projects never happened because the administration failed to comply with key sections of the law. Clean-energy advocates have pushed for the past few years for a law mandating steep reductions in energy use by consumers, but the legislation has never gotten close to being signed into law.

A moratorium on pipelines

With New Jersey facing the prospect of a dozen or more new natural-gas pipelines being developed in the state, including in the Pinelands, the report calls for a moratorium on all pending projects to determine whether they are safe and needed.

The report notes the state’s increased reliance on natural gas for electricity has serious drawbacks, including increased emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It also discusses the spate of new and existing pipelines crisscrossing the state, posing hazards to ecologically sensitive lands and habitat, besides the risks posed to the public by accidents and spills.

New Jersey also should expand its reliance on solar to be at least 15 percent of the state’s energy mix, calling on the Board of Public Utilities to look to other states to see how to achieve the goal at a lower cost to residents and businesses. Overall, it calls for 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2050, a target set by a bill kicked around by the Legislature for the past several years.

Protecting and preserving the state’s water resources is essential, the report said. Without safe and abundant water, the state cannot overcome the impacts of climate change. Along those lines, it called for stepped-up planning to know where water will come from and how to protect drinking-water supplies.

Safeguarding water

It criticized recent changes in protections dealing with the state’s waters, citing rollbacks in planning, rules allowing expanded septic-tank deployments in the Highlands, and aging water infrastructure in needs of huge investments. It also called for adoption of new standards in drinking water for contaminants that are popping up in potable water supplies.

“Some of these recommendations are going to be costly,’’ Lloyd conceded.

The report also emphasizes the need for better planning, including development of a climate-change plan for the Jersey Shore to deal with the consequences of rising sea levels. It also recommended strengthening state and regional planning, an area many land-use experts believe has been ignored and downgraded in recent years.

Finally, the report focuses on improving the plight of those in New Jersey who suffer from disproportionate health problems because of where they live and the pollution to which they are exposed.

To address that problem, the report calls for increased efforts to test for and lessen exposure to lead, and to identify new funding sources to reduce health risks of exposed populations. It recommended a moratorium on any development that increases pollution burdens on economically struggling communities.

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