Measure Approved to Reduce Global Warming, But Some Doubt It Has Teeth

Bill is supposed to ensure decrease in pollution that causes climate change, but some activists doubt that it’s strong enough

Sunset power grid
Despite protests from some environmentalists, lawmakers approved a bill yesterday that aims to ensure New Jersey achieves its aggressive targets to reduce global-warming pollution that causes climate change.

The bill (A-4821/-S-3207), a stripped-down version of a measure initially passed by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, is the latest initiative to focus on the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050.

But some climate activists said the bill fails to advance any meaningful policies to combat global warming, merely requiring more monitoring and modeling of climate-changing pollutants without mandating anything the state could do to actually curb emissions.

“We’re in a climate crisis and this bill does not do anything to address that crisis,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Climate change is getting worse and there is a real sense of urgency.’’

But Tom Gilbert, campaign director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ, described the bill as strengthening the state’s Global Warming Response Act, the law passed in 2007 that seeks to curb carbon-forming pollution. “It is critical that states like New Jersey assume the mantle of leadership in addressing climate change, and this legislation does exactly that,’’ he said.

The legislation, which won approval from the Assembly Appropriations Committee, would require the state to monitor and report greenhouse-gas emissions, and within a year recommend additional measures to achieve the goals of the 12-year-old law.

Eliminating black carbon

David Pringle, a consultant for Clean Water Action, disputed that assessment, saying the bill, in its current form, does not add any requirements other than what the state Department of Environmental Protection is already doing.

Pringle particularly criticized the elimination — at DEP’s instigation — of a requirement to reduce black carbon, or soot from diesel vehicles, a pervasive problem in the state’s urban areas.

“It’s a killer in terms of public health,’’ Pringle said, referring to environmental justice communities in urban areas, a focus of the Murphy administration. “If you are looking at climate pollutants, you’ve got to include black carbon.’’

The vote on the bill magnified the split among major environmental organizations over the Murphy administration’s policies relating to climate change, and frustration over whether the state’s actions are reflecting the urgency of the issue.

Perhaps the exasperation is best reflected in the transportation sector, the largest single source of greenhouse-gas emissions, accounting for about 40 percent of the total. A bill to promote electric vehicles is stalled in the Legislature; the Trump administration is rolling back fuel-economy standards; and Washington is threatening to end mandates to sell cleaner-running vehicles in New Jersey and a dozen other states.

Clean-energy advocates also are pushing the Murphy administration to declare a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects — including the extension of natural gas pipelines and to block new permits for new natural-gas fired power plants. A bill advanced in the Senate last week to prohibit the state from producing electricity from any plants that are not carbon-free by 2050.

The bill dealing with the global response law cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee and heads to the Assembly where it could win final approval at a session scheduled for Thursday.

“It will just be green cover for an administration that is not moving fast enough on climate change,’’ Tittel said.