More than 50 organizations yesterday launched a campaign calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to impose a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects in New Jersey, warning the state must act now to deal with climate change.
The campaign reflects the growing opposition to the spate of new power plants and pipelines either newly built or proposed around the state as well as discontent with the governor’s failure to reverse Christie administration policies to expand New Jersey’s natural gas infrastructure.
Without a moratorium, the expansion of the state’s reliance on fossil fuels could undermine, if not, derail Murphy’s own ambitions to have 100 percent of the state’s electricity produced by clean energy by 2050, according to several people who spoke at an event outside the State House.
The kickoff of the campaign, involving many environmental, citizen, faith and progressive groups, occurred on a day when scientists at a climate conference in Poland released research showing global emissions of carbon dioxide — the main source of greenhouse gas emissions — reached the highest levels on record.
Those findings come on the heels of a new National Climate Assessment by the Trump administration last month that warned climate change is already happening, a trend that will threaten the Northeast’s environmental and economic systems and the health of people living within the region.
Step one, stop expanding
“The climate science couldn’t be clearer that we have limited time to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. The first step to reduce emission is to stop expanding endless fossil fuel projects,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
In New Jersey, there are nine pipeline and compressor projects pending, approved, or in litigation. Five new power plants fueled by natural gas are either pending or recently built, including a project in the New Jersey Highlands along one of the state’s most pristine streams, as well as the proposed power plant in the Meadowlands that will ship power to New York City.
“Setting strong clean-energy goals while also approving fossil fuel expansion projects would leave New Jersey standing still in the race against climate destruction,’’ said Matt Smith, senior organizer for Food & Water Watch.
Smith noted that Murphy’s administration has extended permits for a new pipeline in the Pinelands while granting other permits for a huge power plant in the Meadowlands. “What we’ve seen is mostly empty words,’’ he said.
“We’ve been sorely disappointed,’’ agreed John Reichman of BlueWave NJ, a progressive group that campaigned hard for the governor. “You’ve done nothing to stop the slew of fossil fuel projects,’’ Reichman said.
Other governors have used moratoriums
Asked to respond, Alyana Alfaro, deputy press secretary for the governor, said: “Governor Murphy has directed his team to take a hard look at energy infrastructure projects as part of an updated Energy Master Plan, which will set New Jersey on a path to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.’’
The plan is not expected to be completed until next June, well after decisions on many of these projects may be made, according to critics. “It’s a goal that will be impossible to reach if we keep doubling down on fossil fuels,’’ O’Malley said.
If these fossil fuel projects move forward, others said they may end up being no longer economically viable if New Jersey achieves its clean energy goals. “If we build all these projects, there’s going to be tens of billions of dollars in stranded costs that ratepayers will have to pay,’’ argued Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The groups noted moratoriums often have been used by past governors to block projects that threaten the state’s natural resources; they cited former Gov. Brendan Byrne’s blocking development in the Pinelands; Gov. Tom Kean’s prohibition on building in wetlands; and Gov. Jim Florio’s ban on new trash incinerators.