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Op-Ed: We Can Fight Climate Chaos from the Garden State

If NJ is going to address future superstorms, we need to stop building pipelines and develop an aggressive plan to move to 100 percent clean, renewable energy

lena smith
Lena Smith

If you’re still waiting for firm evidence of climate-change chaos, it’s all around us. There is a serious humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico after back-to back hurricanes ravaged the island. Several western states suffered through record heat and massive wildfires, while hurricane damage in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast regions caused mass flooding and toxic pollution, creating billions of dollars in damage.  

This is all likely to get worse, unless we act fast. But right here in New Jersey, on the eve of the fifth anniversary of superstorm Sandy, political leaders are making the wrong choices. In September, despite widespread public opposition, the Pinelands Commission approved a second fracked-gas pipeline through the state’s iconic forest. The New Jersey Natural Gas application did not meet the rules for development in the Pinelands, but in the end, that didn’t seem to matter to the commissioners.  

Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Steve Sweeney were adamant supporters of these Pinelands pipeline projects. They actively weakened Clean Water and Clean Air Act regulations, and undermined the integrity and independence of the Pinelands Commission. What does this have to do with the climate crisis? Plenty. Dirty energy infrastructure like pipelines and compressor stations will leak methane, adding to our greenhouse gas emissions. These pipelines literally fuel the crisis.  

If New Jersey is going to address solutions to future superstorms like Sandy, we need to stop building pipelines and develop an aggressive plan to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Given the Christie legacy, the next governor will have a lot of work to do. Fortunately, visionary climate-change legislation was recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that can serve as a blueprint for New Jersey’s own Clean Energy Revolution.

The Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (H.R. 3671) is the strongest climate-change legislation to date. It will derail the destructive fossil-fuel corporations by putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, while laying out a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. That is an aggressive timeline, but also a necessary one; the climate crisis is right here, right now.  

And we can use that urgency to make real changes across society. The OFF Act recognizes the need to place racial and economic justice at the forefront of the climate fight. Low-wealth communities and communities of color are impacted first and worst by global warming. The OFF Act will create the Center for Clean Energy Workforce Development, which will ramp up job creation in clean energy, giving priority to disadvantaged communities. And it pays for these things by cutting off federal tax breaks to the fossil-fuel industry, and places a tax on offshore corporate income — things we should have done long ago.   What’s more, the OFF Act doesn’t rely on any gimmicks or shortcuts. Many economists — and oil companies — support market-based mechanisms like a “carbon tax” as an easy fix for climate change. But if ExxonMobil is cheering for a policy, that’s a sure sign that it doesn’t threaten their power or their profits. The OFF Act bypasses these phony solutions in favor of what works: Clear mandates to build clean, renewable energy.

New Jersey can keep building the pipelines that fuel climate chaos, or we can seize the opportunity to lead the country to a 100 percent clean-energy future by setting strong renewable-energy goals, stopping new fossil-fuel infrastructure development, and dedicating public resources to support renewables.   The Pinelands Commission failed us because New Jersey’s political leaders have failed to stand up to the oil and gas industry. New Jersey’s next governor can put us back on track by passing bold legislation on climate change. We don’t have time to waste.

Lena Smith is a regional organizer with the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch.

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