Show of Force by Critics of Draft Energy Master Plan, Frustration Grows

Climate-change activists fault Murphy administration’s draft plan for not imposing immediate moratorium on fossil-fuel projects

Credit: NJTV News
Fossil-fuel moratorium
New Jersey needs a bold and aggressive plan to tackle climate change, but the Murphy administration’s draft energy master plan fails to deliver on the governor’s promises, according to climate-change activists and clean-energy advocates.

In a third public hearing on a draft plan unveiled this past June, many of the speakers faulted the document, primarily for not imposing an immediate moratorium on all fossil-fuel projects in the state that will increase, not reduce, greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global warming.

The omission threatens to deepen a rift between the environmental community — that largely backed Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, in his gubernatorial bid — over the administration’s reluctance to halt several new natural gas pipelines in New Jersey as well as four new gas-fired power plants. A huge coalition of environmentalists wants an immediate moratorium on all new fossil-fuel projects.

Almost on cue, the PennEast Pipeline project yesterday filed applications with the state Department of Environmental Protection seeking crucial water quality and wetlands permits in New Jersey for its controversial 120-mile new pipeline project from Luzerne County, Pa. to Mercer County. The project is among the more contentious of about nine new pipeline and/or compressor projects pending in the state.

Natural gas: Bridge or gangplank?

“It is disappointing you completely ignored the moratorium issue,’’ said Ted Glick of 350 NJ, sharply criticizing state officials for describing natural gas as a bridge fuel in the draft plan. “Natural gas is not a bridge fuel. It is a gangplank to a catastrophic future.’’

Credit: NJTV News
Some of the attendance at yesterday's Board of Public Utility hearing
“This is no time to think small,’’ agreed Kevin Brown, New Jersey state director of 32BJ SEIU. “The EMP does not think big or bold enough.”

Others defended the plan, saying its goals of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 are not only achievable, but affordable.

“It would be a mistake to view New Jersey’s climate goals as radical, risky or expensive,’’ said Barb Blumenthal, research director for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. She noted that Indiana shifted from providing power to customers from five coal plants to solar, wind and other projects to curb costs to ratepayers by $4 billion over the next two decades.

“We can either embrace clean energy pathways to reduce energy costs and the risks to the globe’s critical climate system, or spend much more money on yesterday’s dirty, unsafe and costly solutions without solving tomorrow’s problems.’’

Others, however, faulted the draft plan as not doing enough to address pollution in environmental justice communities, like Newark, home to a recently built new gas-fired power plant, a garbage incinerator, and one of the nation’s biggest wastewater treatment plants.

Calls for governor to act

“What we need from the governor is transformational change,’’ said Kim Gaddy, an environmental justice organizer in Newark. Of the pollution that envelops the city, Gaddy said “we can’t escape it.’’ She, and others, called for mandatory air-pollution reductions in emissions — from power plants and the 8,000 vehicles coming in and out of the port of Newark daily.

Rev. Ronald Tubbs, a member of GreenFaith, urged the state to set aside dollars to train low-and moderate-income people so they can take advantage of the switch to a green economy, one powered by cleaner technologies like plug-in electric vehicles.

Some speakers argued the state should drop any plans to adopt carbon neutrality proposals, a system they claimed would allow gimmicks to increase greenhouse-gas emissions under the pretense of offsetting the pollution with carbon credits or carbon-capture technology, still not commercially deployable. Others called for a tax on carbon, something this and previous administrations have shied away from.

The overriding message remained, however: Act quickly because the state, as well as the rest of the globe, is running out of time to halt global warming.

“Act as if your child’s life depends on it because it does,’’ said Leslie Stevens, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology.