New Coalition Melds Labor, Faith, and ‘Green’ Groups to Fight Global Warming

Powerful union members with deep pockets like NJEA and SEIU could help Jersey Renews achieve its ambitious environmental agenda

Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition for the environment
Alarmed by climate change, an unusual coalition of labor, faith, community, and environmental organizations is banding together to more forcefully promote steps to curtail global warming.

The coalition, Jersey Renews, cited steps taken by the Trump administration along with years of inaction in Trenton as the motivation behind its efforts to vault New Jersey into a leadership position in curbing greenhouse-gas emissions and advancing clean-energy initiatives.

In a press conference in the State House, the group unveiled an ambitious agenda, including many proposals long pending or neglected in Trenton — increasing the state’s reliance on solar and offshore wind energy, stopping the diversion of money from the Clean Energy Fund, and expanding programs to use energy more efficiently.

Achieving those objectives, however, has proved elusive despite years of lobbying by environmental groups and clean-energy advocates. This time, the coalition vows, will be different. Its optimism stems from new alliances with labor groups that have often been on the opposite side of the issues and from the backing of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, with the money and political clout that goes with it.

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Get ready to hear about Jersey Renews,’’ said the Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith, an interfaith coalition for the environment. “In your schools, in your places of worship, and in your union halls.’’

A big selling point for the coalition’s agenda is its potential to drive a new green economy, built on well-paying jobs in emerging sectors in the solar, offshore wind, and electric car infrastructure, according to its organizers.

“Climate change is one of the fundamental planks in how we are going to save jobs,’’ predicted Kevin Brown, vice president and New Jersey state director of the Service Employees International’s Unit 32BJ. “We cannot continue denying the reality of what is going on with our planet.’’

In laying out an agenda to fight climate change, the coalition focused on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by more aggressively dealing with problems already being tackled by the state or federal governments. It urged action to increase fuel efficiency in the transportation sector, an issue addressed by the Obama administration, but not likely to come under scrutiny by President Donald Trump.

The coalition wants more aggressive efforts to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by eliminating leaks from pipes, an increased emphasis on energy efficiency, and an expansion of the state’s renewable-energy commitments.

Finally, the coalition recommended trying to create 100,000 family-sustaining jobs across the state and protecting communities from pollution. “We believe kids should get dirty when they play in the mud,’’ said Kate Schumacher, New Jersey field organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, “not from the air they breathe.’’