Newly Created Coalition Unites 40 Garden State Groups in ‘Green’ Struggle

Pipelines, oil trains, offshore drilling high on the list of dirty problems that need to be cleaned up

To many environmentalists and other groups, the state’s energy policies are seriously off track, and they’re forming a new coalition to help right that situation.

Instead of more aggressive promotion of cleaner fuels, they argue that the state is relying too heavily on fossil fuels to meet New Jersey’s energy needs, a strategy that undercuts efforts to the curb greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.

As a result, the state is seeing a proliferation in pipelines cutting through open space and farmland, an increase in the number of oil trains running through New Jersey, and an increased reliance on natural gas, much of it coming from controversial fracking sites in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

That’s led to dozens of battles over new pipeline proposals and the possibility of offshore oil drilling and LNG (liquid natural gas) terminals along the Jersey coast.

In forming the coalition, three dozen environmental, labor, religious, and community groups hope to band together to change the bigger picture — replacing what they call dirty fossil fuels with cleaner sources of energy, such as renewables like solar and wind.

“The fight against dirty energy has been one pipeline or one power plant at a time. We need to change that dynamic,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “If we want to stop pipelines, we have to stop fracking.’’

The energy sector relies on a much-criticized practice for extracting oil and natural gas (especially in the Northeast) that utilizes a technology known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It involves injecting massive amounts of water into the ground along with some toxic chemicals to bring the fuels up to where they can be recovered.

[related]The practice has led to new and cheaper supplies of natural gas for New Jersey residents and business, which have seen energy bills drop dramatically in recent years. It also has led to proposals to build new pipelines (up to a dozen by some counts) in the state to deliver the fuel to customers, many of which are bitterly opposed by environmental and local groups.

They fear both the practice of fracking and pipelines will jeopardize drinking water.

“Pipelines are a growing source of water pollution, air pollution, forest and wetland devastation,’’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. The spate of projects highlighted the need for the coalition to “work in the same direction.’’

The coalition, which plans to spend the day lobbying lawmakers in Trenton this Thursday, comes together at a time when the state is planning to hold a series of public meetings on its 2011 Energy Master Plan. The proposed plan urges aggressive development of natural gas as a way to reduce energy costs in New Jersey, which are among the highest in the nation.

The coalition identified a number of goals beyond stopping new pipeline projects in the state, banning crude oil trains from crossing New Jersey, and prohibiting offshore drilling and exploration in New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic waters.

Its platform also calls for accelerating the state’s own goals to switch to cleaner sources of fuel. The coalition also wants to reduce energy consumption in the state by 30 percent by 2030; produce 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by the same date; and get 100 percent of its energy from cleaner sources by 2050.

The targets are much more aggressive than the state’s Energy Master Plan, as well as a bill pending in the Legislature, which would require 80 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2050. The bill won release from a Senate committee, but is not likely to be acted on anytime soon.

“The moral and practical imperative for this platform couldn’t be clearer,’’ said Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, which mobilizes people for environmental leadership. “The Pope’s recent encyclical stated clearly what we all know: The time for decisive action to protect the Earth is now, and we need our political leaders to act with courage and vision.’’