State Needs to Step Up Attempts to Curb Greenhouse-Gas Emissions

In rare meeting of both legislative environmental committees, lawmakers get a tough assessment of what New Jersey needs to do to fight climate change

Democratic Assemblyman Tim Eustace, chairman of the lower house's Environment Committee
With New Jersey already seeing the impacts of global warming, the state needs to be much more aggressive in curbing greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to climate change, legislators were warned yesterday.

In a rare joint meeting of the two legislative environmental committees, academic experts, environmentalists, and others called for quick action on measures to adapt to rising sea levels, a prospect certain to increase already widespread nuisance flooding in Jersey’s coastal communities.

“We’re now experiencing coastal risks that the state can no longer afford to ignore,’’ said David Kutner, planning manager for New Jersey Future, referring to extreme storms like Sandy, as well as the recurring flooding in towns during regular high tides.

New Jersey can expect more frequent and longer heat waves. Heavy rain events will be more intense and occur more often. Rising sea levels are outpacing earlier projections as coastal lands sink at the same time.

“We are already experiencing changes in climate,’’ said Antony Broccoli, co-director of the Rutgers Climate Institute. “It will be necessary to adapt the changes already wired in.’’

Adding to the urgency is time is not on New Jersey’s side, according to Ed Lloyd, a professor of Environmental Law at Columbia University. The state has deferred action for too long while at the same time weakening important environmental protections, he said.

Many of the actions recommended during the hearing at the Lavallette Borough Hall have yet to be implemented — rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a coalition of nine states trying to curb carbon pollution from power plants; developing cleaner energy options, such as offshore wind; and putting in place stronger policies to encourage homes and businesses to save energy.

“Unfortunately, we have lost precious time in New Jersey under the Christie administration,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. “It is clear that we have to take urgent action.’’

In general, there is widespread agreement that the state needs to advance, and home-grown clean energy like solar and offshore wind are the bet way.

Political blowback

Other policies to reduce global warming or adapt to climate change have stalled, either because of a lack of consensus, or the political blowback associated with some of the actions.

Smith cited an earlier statement made by another Rutgers professor who questioned the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in beach nourishment projects along the coast, only to see that sand washed away in big storms. Would that money be more effectively spent in buying out flood-prone properties along the coast, Smith wondered.

To that end, Kutner suggested the state align its programs and incentives to discourage development in areas at risk of flooding or inundation, a process that could be accomplished through a rekindled state-plan process.

Lloyd, too, emphasized the need for better planning, saying many crucial plans, including those for the Highlands, Pinelands, and Jersey Shore, fail to address the threats posed by climate change and ought to be revised to reflect that.

Others argued that the state should focus on its transportation sector, which accounts for 46 percent of New Jersey’s greenhouse gas emissions. The power industry, in comparison, accounts for only 21 percent of the state’s carbon pollution.

Rejoining RGGI is not enough

“Climate change needs to be more than about rejoining RGGI,’’ noted Debby Mans, NY/NJ Baykeeper.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), the chair of the Assembly Environment Committee, faulted the state’s efforts at developing the infrastructure to encourage drivers to switch to zero-emission vehicles like electric cars. An owner of an electric car, Eustace noted the State House only has one charging station — and it doesn’t work.

New Jersey already has a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent of 2006 levels. Jeanne Herb, a facilitator of the NJ Climate Adaption Alliance, noted the state still needs to reduce 75 percent of its greenhouse-gas emissions to achieve that goal. “Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done,’’ she said.