NJ Energy Company Meets 2020 Greenhouse Gas Target

Tom Johnson | April 20, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Environmentalists still worried about deep cuts to state clean energy program

Here’s an indication some people are taking global climate change seriously.

New Jersey Resources announced yesterday it has already achieved its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020, a target the state of New Jersey also has embraced, but some question whether its much more aggressive reductions can be achieved.

The fact that an energy company managed to reduce its emissions so much, just five years after committing to the goal, is seen by some as a reflection that the public and even parts of the business community are moving to more efficient ways of using and conserving the fuels that contribute to global warming.

“The public is getting greener and businesses are getting greener, and government is going in the opposite direction,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, referring to the Christie administration’s deep cuts in the state’s clean energy program and its decision to pull out of a regional initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The initiative, dubbed the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is a 10-state effort to reduce pollution from power plants that contribute to global warming. The program was one of three lynchpins identified in a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection global warming report, which recommended how the state would achieve the 20 percent reduction by 2020 from 1990 levels.

The target, established by a law enacted by the legislature during the Corzine administration, set a 20 percent target to reduce greenhouse gases by 2020 from 1990 levels. A much more aggressive target to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050 below 2006 levels also was established.

Despite the pullout from the so-called RGGI program, DEP insisted their preliminary analysis shows that the state in 2009 was already below the 2020 targets, largely a result of power plants switching from coal to less-polluting natural gas, an economic slowdown, and a milder winter, according to Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the agency.

“RGGI was just one approach,’’ Hanja said. “We have a much more comprehensive and pragmatic approach to achieving our goals.’’ It includes an aggressive renewable energy portfolio standard to increase how much electricity comes from cleaner sources of electricity, a cleaner vehicle program, and a commitment by the Christie administration to usher in cleaner-running vehicles.

Environmentalists disputed that view.

“Without RGGI, we have no tools to reduce emissions from power plants,’’ said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. “Now, that we’ve lost that tool, there’s a real question how we are going to meet that goal.

Elliott acknowledged that the state has seen a slight dip in greenhouse gas emissions because of the recession, but argued the state is never going to meet its aggressive global warming goals if it does not wean itself off fossil fuels, including natural gas.

Others were less certain.

“I don’t think we can’t get to our goals, but it is going to be harder,’’ said Chris Sturm, a senior policy analyst at New Jersey Future. Perhaps, more importantly, Sturm said the state needs to focus on transportation issues, such as vehicle miles traveled, an indicator of how much people are driving.

“When the economy picks up, if vehicle miles traveled continues to rise, we’re still in trouble,’’ Sturm said.

Meanwhile, companies, such as New Jersey Resources, are making their own progress. It said it met its goal of 20 percent by 2020 by reducing its carbon footprint in its fleet, pipeline, building, and travel emissions.

“When we first committed to reducing our emissions in 2007, it was an attempt to do our part to protect and improve the quality of life for future generations,’’ said Laurence M. Downes, chairman and CEO of NJR.

The target was achieved, in large measure, by its chief subsidiary, New Jersey Natural Gas, which reduced its emissions by 33 percent by using heaters to keep natural gas flowing through the pipeline.

In addition to its pipeline energy reductions, NJR achieved airline and travel emission reductions of 29 percent and fleet reductions of 19 percent. It also achieved building emission reductions by retrofitting lighting in most of its buildings.