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Elections 2017

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Governor’s Race 2017 Could Lead to a Greener New Jersey

Murphy has taken an aggressive stance on energy and the environment, while Guadagno has muddled her position on regional initiative to fight greenhouse gases

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This is the sixth story in an occasional series assessing and exploring where the leading candidates stand on the most important issues facing New Jersey. Follow this link to read all the articles in this series.

New Jersey’s next governor is likely to reverse course on many environmental and energy policies, a virtual certainty if Democrat Phil Murphy wins. Even Republican Kim Guadagno offers a greener policy than what has been in place the past eight years.

2017 election issues bug

With an administration in Washington, D.C., rolling back environmental protections and dismissing the threat of climate change, it will fall upon states to lead the way in reducing carbon pollution and protecting the nation’s air, land, and water, according to conservationists and clean-energy advocates.

Whether New Jersey lives up to those expectations remain to be seen.

Biggest changes in energy sector

Look for the biggest changes to occur in the energy sector, where many players are already mapping out aggressive agendas to emphasize renewable energy, promote electric cars, and discourage use of fossil fuels.

Both Guadagno — at least during the primary — and Murphy endorsed changing some of those policies, rejoining a regional multistate initiative to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and expanding reliance on renewable energy.

Guadagno’s position now seems more muddled. Asked by New Jersey Future about climate change and what she would do to promote regional approaches to resiliency, the candidate did not mention rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). “Where regional actions is needed, such as for development of a strong beach and dune system or flood-control project, I will support it.’’

Aggressive agenda

Murphy has laid out a much more aggressive agenda than his opponent —establishing specific and more ambitious goals in clean energy than are now state policy or even being considered in the Legislature.

He wants 100 percent of the state’s electricity produced by renewable energy by 2050, would set a target of 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, and would establish a goal for energy storage — considered crucial to a reliable energy grid dependent on intermittent sources of power like solar and wind.

Bills to do so have already introduced in the Legislature.

Guadagno, when addressing the issue, has spoken in more general terms: making the state’s coastline more resilient to extreme storms like Sandy and supporting job growth in the green-energy sector. She, too, supports offshore wind, as long as it does not hurt tourism. Gov. Chris Christie initially backed offshore wind, but abandoned efforts to develop the technology because of projections it could boost energy prices to consumers and businesses.

Neither candidate spoke with NJ Spotlight, although Murphy’s campaign answered some questions submitted to it. Guadagno’s campaign declined to answer repeated requests to talk about the issues. Her stance on the subject was gleaned from comments in debates and in other interviews. Since the June primary her website has mentioned neither environment nor energy.

In town hall meetings, Murphy frequently mentions the environment, calling it one of his three top priorities. The Democrat also vows to fight the Trump administration if it moves to dismantle environmental programs.

Both candidates support nuclear power, saying they would work to ensure the state’s three units remain open (excluding Oyster Creek, scheduled to close in 2019), but did not specify how or whether they would back financial incentives from ratepayers to achieve that goal.

‘Segmented thinking’

On what has been the contentious issue of rapid expansion of energy infrastructure, including gas pipelines and electric transmission lines, Murphy indicates he will end the “segmented thinking around our energy future that judges projects in silos, rather than part of an overall state energy policy,’’ according to Derek Roseman, his campaign spokesman. He also plans to overhaul the state Energy Master Plan.

Murphy also told the Asbury Park Press he would end raiding of the state’s Clean Energy Fund, a practice employed by the Christie administration and Democratic Legislature to plug deficits in the state budget. More than $1 billion has been diverted from the fund in the past eight years.

Guadagno, who as lieutenant governor oversaw development of a new state plan that was blocked by her boss, vows to adopt a new plan within 180 days, if elected. The plan, however, would not force local government compliance, although state agencies would have to abide by it.

The New Jersey Outdoors Alliance endorsed Guadagno, while the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action of New Jersey, New Jersey Sierra Club, and Environment New Jersey gave endorsements to Murphy.

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