Imagine this: A governor talking about the sad reality of climate change, investing aggressively in renewable energy, and creating housing safe from the danger of lead.
To the state’s diverse environmental community, Gov. Phil Murphy’s inaugural speech signaled that New Jersey once again should embrace a leadership role in protecting its air, water, and land from the legacy of pollution that too often in the past defined it.
While short on specifics, Murphy yesterday vowed to push the state in a different direction than in the past eight years, fighting here in New Jersey and in Washington, D.C. to lead the nation in progressive policies.
“New Jersey once was a national model for protecting the environment and growing an economy fueled by innovation and ideas,’’ Murphy said. “We can, and will stand for the right things.’’
After eight years of battling Gov. Chris Christie over his efforts to streamline the state’s stringent environmental laws and to expand its energy infrastructure, Murphy’s position is a refreshing change to some.
“This is an important day for the environment,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We had a governor talking about lead in housing, offshore oil drilling, and climate change. When was the last time we had a governor mention the environment in a positive way?’’
Murphy’s clean-energy agenda
Murphy’s clean-energy agenda already has been introduced in the Legislature. The legislative package includes a push to have 100 percent of the state’s power come from clean energy by 2050; a goal of 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind; and developing 600 megawatts of energy storage capacity.
“There is a lot of excitement about what lies ahead,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters of New Jersey. “There’s tremendous opportunity and hope going forward.’’
Of course, laying out an agenda is more easily accomplished than getting it enacted into law, a distinction not lost on clean energy advocates. Each of Murphy’s energy goals include policies that could boost consumer and business utility bills — at least in the short term.
Making sure it happens
“Even though he’s on our side, it’s going to be us to make sure it happens,’’ acknowledged Tittel, referring to policies pushed by advocates for a good part of the Christie years. “At least, we have an opening.’’
In the past, many of those fights were in vain. Lead poisoning of young children has long been a hot button in Trenton, but despite protests from advocates, the Christie administration diverted up to $50 million from a lead-control fund to balance the budget during his tenure.
Murphy also pledged to fight efforts underway in Washington perceived by critics as undermining the environment, like the offshore drilling plan announced by the Trump administration earlier this month.
“We will resist the dangerous and wrong attempt to allow drilling for oil off our precious shore,’’ the governor said. “We will not allow this threat to our environment and our economy to stand.’’
Perhaps, most importantly, the new governor vowed to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, the worldwide agreement to reduce carbon pollution contributing to climate change.
“In the Christie era, climate science was a four-letter word,’’ argued Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. Christie pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to reduce pollution from power plants. New Jersey will rejoin the program, according to Murphy.
“Climate change is really the overarching issue,’’ said Eric Stiles, president and CEO of New Jersey Audubon. “When you look at the top-tier threat to humans, wildlife, and habitat of New Jersey, it’s climate change.’’
It is no surprise it is a priority in the Murphy administration. The governor’s wife, Tammy, served on an advocacy group founded by Vice President Al Gore on climate change and is expected to have a voice in the administration’s environmental and energy policies.