Unhappy Enviros Blast Murphy’s Draft Energy Master Plan

Coalition of environmental groups argue draft plan doesn’t impose a needed moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects

Credit: Empower NJ
Members of environmental coalition voice their displeasure with governor's draft Energy Master Plan.
The Murphy administration’s draft Energy Master Plan falls far short of achieving its goals to curb climate-changing pollution and reach 100 percent clean energy in three decades, according to a coalition of environmental groups.

In a press conference on the steps of the State House Annex, environmentalists faulted the 108-page draft plan released last month for failing to impose an immediate moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects. They argue this flaw would imperil any gains to be had from greater reliance on carbon-free renewable energy, like solar and offshore wind, as well as reduced energy use.

The coalition, dubbed Empower NJ, has been pressing the administration for a moratorium on fossil-fuel projects for nearly a year and was deeply disappointed by its omission in the plan. New Jersey currently has at least eight natural-gas pipelines pending approval, along with four natural-gas power plants.

A ‘bargain with the devil’

“If the administration is serious about meeting its clean energy goals and addressing our climate crisis, there must be an immediate moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects, none of which New Jersey actually needs,’’ said John Reichman, environmental chair of BlueWaveNJ. “Increasing our use of natural gas is a bargain with the devil.’’

An even more fundamental dispute appears to be emerging between the coalition and administration over how the latter defines clean energy. In a section of the draft, the plan talks about “model scenarios and pathways to achieve 100 percent clean, carbon neutral electricity generation by 2050 with consideration for least-cost options.’’

To some, that definition opens up a loophole that would allow natural-gas fossil-fuel plants with carbon sequestration, an as-yet commercially unproven technology to capture global-warming pollution, to be built. Also of concern are incinerators and carbon credits.

“He’s now defining dirty energy as clean energy in almost a Trumpian-like way,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and a growing critic of Murphy. “When the governor supported the nuclear subsidy, it showed where he was going on clean energy,’’ he added.

Clean or dirty?

Most people think of clean energy as renewable energy and energy efficiency, Tittel said. “The governor has redefined it as including incinerators, smaller natural-gas projects, and biomass, which are all dirty energy,’’ he said.

Murphy signed a bill a year ago in May that would boost the state’s clean-energy programs, like offshore wind. At the same time he approved legislation allowing the state’s three nuclear power plants up to $300 million in subsidies annually, a program endorsed by a state agency this past April.

At issue is how much utility customers will see their bills rise as a result of the state’s shift to clean energy, instead of natural gas. The latter has become the dominant form of energy throughout New Jersey, whether in heating homes or providing electricity to residents and businesses.

The draft plan recommends a dramatic shift away from natural gas and other fossil fuels, particularly in the transportation and building sectors — the biggest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions in New Jersey.

But some said the plans fails to reduce the pollution in environmental-justice communities, where residents are burdened by facilities that increase exposure to harmful contaminants.

“The state must establish immediate mandatory reductions of climate-changing substances and their co-pollutants within environmental-justice communities, as well as designate a significant portion of future climate-mitigation benefits, funds, and programs to these same communities,’’ said Amy Goldsmith, state director of Clean Water Action.

In a report issued by the coalition, it also recommended the state begin regulating greenhouse-gas emissions, a step imperative to achieving large-scale reductions in this pollution. “The DEP has the power to regulate black carbon (soot) and methane emissions, but has been asleep at the wheel,’’ Goldsmith said.

The state plans to hold its first public hearing on the draft plan in Trenton tomorrow in the Statehouse Annex, beginning at 10 a.m.