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New Jersey Not on Target to Reach Greenhouse Gas Goal by 2050

New report says state lacks coherent, comprehensive strategy to significantly reduce carbon footprint by midcentury

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The state is going to require much steeper reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions to reach a goal to lower carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2050, according to a new report by researchers at the Rutgers Climate Institute.

A decade after New Jersey enacted the Global Warming Response Act, the report found the state lacks a detailed and comprehensive strategy to achieve its goal and warned its emissions trajectory under current policies is inconsistent with the mid-century target.

The 179-page report is likely to provide a blueprint to the next administration on what steps may be needed to curb GHG emissions by 80 percent, which will require a 76 percent reduction from today’s pollution levels.

Smaller carbon footprint

But it stops short of making specific recommendations while examining a range of policies that other states are trying in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints, as well as many strategies frequently debated among New Jersey policymakers.

“The good news in New Jersey is that there’s a lot of existing authority and programs to advance the sort of climate action we need to meet the 2050 limits,’’ said Jeanne Herb, associate director of the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Bloustein School and one of the report’s authors.

The bad news is some of those policies have been talked about and lobbied at length without ever happening. Among the actions that could be taken with existing authority are steps to develop offshore wind capacity along the Jersey coast; mandates to achieve targeted reductions in energy use; and rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to curb global warming pollution from power plants.

Where’s the wind?

Offshore wind, the report noted, has the capacity to provide up to 40 percent of the state’s electricity, but its development has stalled, primarily because the Christie administration never developed a fiscal mechanism to pay for the power generated by wind turbines.

Clean-energy advocates have long lobbied the state to enact an energy-efficiency portfolio standard, which would require utilities to achieve mandated reductions in how much gas and electricity they deliver to customers. (Two gas utilities have voluntarily initiated such programs.) The state Board of Public Utilities has balked at a statewide program.

“This report provides a blueprint of other states’ leadership and policies that should have happened a long time ago in New Jersey,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

No traction in NJ

Some of the policies being implemented in other states have yet to get any traction here in New Jersey. For instance, some states, like California and Minnesota, are trying to put a price on carbon pollution as a way of encouraging less harmful ways of creating electricity or moving people around.

Others, such as ramping up New Jersey’s reliance on renewable energy, have yet to win final approval in the Legislature. For example, one such bill would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to be produced from renewable technologies, like solar and wind.

Transportation sector

In New Jersey, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse emissions, accounting for 44.2 percent — much larger than the power sector (20 percent), according to the report.

For the transportation sector, the report identifies policy options that increase the efficiency of vehicles or promote zero-emission vehicles, like electric cars, through rebates and incentives to install charging stations. Both the Legislature and the BPU are now exploring how to promote electric vehicles.

Other options in that sector include reducing vehicle miles traveled thanks to mass transit, smart growth, and other policies, the report said. “We are really talking about changing the energy mix and how we drive to work,’’ Herb said.

New Jersey’s emission profile differs from other states in that there is less pollution from the power sector because of the reliance here on nuclear (43 percent of the electricity mix). Mobile emissions and fossil fuels used in homes and businesses, primarily for heating, account for a greater share of the emission mix.

The report did not assess how much it would cost to achieve the required emission reductions. “We didn’t have the resources to do a cost-impact analysis,’’ Herb said, adding “based on what we have seen in other states, there’s ample reason to move forward.’’

“State action on climate and clean energy has never been more important,’’ said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, a collaborator on the report. “New Jersey will soon have a new governor and a fresh opportunity to reengage and demonstrate leadership in reducing emissions.’’

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