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Climate-Change and Clean-Energy To-Do List for Next Governor

More than two dozen state leaders have prepared a plan to help next administration get right to work cleaning up New Jersey’s environment

Polluting smokestack

Within his or her first 100 days, New Jersey’s next governor should undertake bold new steps to address climate change and significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, a diverse group of state leaders urged yesterday.

The actions include incorporating climate-change impacts into state planning and rulemaking — a difference that would for the first time monetize the social cost of carbon. It is a tool clean-energy advocates and health experts have long argued is needed to more accurately assess the cost of fossil fuels and benefits from carbon-free energy.

The far-reaching recommendations, embracing many of the steps detailed in a recent report, range from much-debated policies like rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to factoring climate-change impacts into state funding decisions.

Significantly, the list of leaders reaching a consensus on the suggested policies include former Govs. James Florio, a Democrat, and Thomas Kean, a Republican; Kathleen Ellis, a former gubernatorial advisor; and Dennis Bone, the former CEO of Verizon New Jersey. They are among two dozen dignitaries who signed a letter. Not all endorsed the actions suggested, but agreed the next governor should consider these steps.

“We are a group of individuals who share a similar commitment to advancing sound climate-change policy in New Jersey because we believe that doing so will contribute to global efforts to address changing climate conditions and will also bring public health, economic, environmental, community development and other benefits to the Garden State,’’ the letter said.

Sending a message

“First off, we’re trying to send a message to the general public that it’s time for the state to be a leader again,’’ said Michael Catania, a former deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “Secondly, whoever is the next governor, this is what they should do.’’

The letter noted that whoever winds up in the job, the next governor has the opportunity to ‘’advance a set of impactful climate change policies within the first 100 days using existing authorities.’’

Not only should New Jersey rejoin RGGI, the multistate initiative to curb carbon pollution from power plants, but also it should participate in a similar regional effort to promote widespread use of electric cars, the letter said. Gov. Chris Christie pulled the state out of RGGI over the opposition of lawmakers, and declined to sign a memorandum of understanding to spur the use of zero-emission vehicles in the Northeast.

The Christie blockade

The list of recommendations also includes many actions long pushed by legislators and clean-energy advocates, but blocked by the Christie administration: mandates to curb energy consumption; ramping up requirements to rely on renewable energy for electricity; and revamping rules governing the development of offshore wind farms.

The letter also backed recent suggestions to establish a target to get more than 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, a goal that likely will require incentives for consumers to buy the cars and others to develop the high-speed charging stations and other infrastructure to keep them running.

New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act requires the state to reduce carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 80 percent by 2050, a target that many say will be difficult to achieve. Last week, the Rutgers Climate Institute said the state must reduce emissions by 76 percent from today’s levels to achieve the 2050 target.

Interim target

To do so, the letter suggests setting an interim 2030 target to ensure the state’s efforts stay on track, as well as setting specific targets for the two largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions — the energy and transportation sectors.

“We’re woefully behind in meeting the 2050 goal,’’ Catania said. “We need to set an interim goal. It’s the only way to meet the 2050 target.’’

They also recommended adopting a reporting and monitoring program to track trends and ensure emission reductions occur in communities already burdened by pollution, a requirement of the GWRA, but never implemented.

The recommendations also included a proposal to direct state money and incentives to lower-income communities and populations, allowing them to benefit from energy efficiency improvements and renewable-energy alternatives.

The signees also noted the pullback from the federal government in climate-change protections, saying now is the time for the state to adopt sound policies to deal with carbon pollution, while also making New Jersey more resilient.

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