Critics push back hard against governor’s Energy Master Plan

Opponents raise objections, particularly against plan’s failure to curb pending natural-gas pipeline and power plant projects

A chorus of dissent is building over Gov. Phil Murphy’s master plan for New Jersey’s energy future, with advocates and some lawmakers saying it doesn’t go far enough to wean the state from the fossil fuels that have been linked to global warming.

The critics were on hand in Bergen County Tuesday night, at one of a series of hearings convened around the state by the Board of Public Utilities on a working draft of the Energy Master Plan. The governor has touted the EMP as progressive, because it sets New Jersey on the path toward 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

But it has encountered deep resistance at public hearings, particularly because it doesn’t curtail the dozen fossil-fuel projects pending in the state — including pipelines and two natural-gas power plants. Some of the critics rallied in front of the county administration building in Hackensack before the hearing to press for a moratorium on the projects.

“It is unconscionable to continue to build dirty infrastructure projects like the Liberty Generating Plant in North Bergen — my hometown — that continues to make our society sick with cancer and respiratory illnesses like asthma,” said Allen Quesada of North Bergen.

Witnesses like pediatrician John Slater said the state should follow New York — which recently set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy — like wind and solar power — within 30 years, instead of the clean energy cited in the EMP.

What’s ‘clean’ energy?

Critics have said the plan’s definition of clean energy encompasses so-called “carbon-neutral” electricity generation, opening up the possibility that natural-gas plants equipped with carbon-capturing technology would be allowed under the plan.

Scientists say New Jersey is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming. The Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences says sea level is rising faster down the Shore than along other coastal states — an expected one to two feet by 2050. And warmer ocean water can cook up fiercer storms — like Hurricane Dorian.

“It’s a horrible, horrible, tragic situation, what’s happening in the Bahamas,” said Paula Rogovin, co-founder of the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains. “And it’s a horrible situation where so many of our elected officials are ignoring the issue.”

The critics cited a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group which said meaningful reduction in carbon emissions must occur by 2030.

“These are the scientists from around the world who say we have 10 to 11 years to get things right,” Slater said. “This is not a time for clean energy. This is a time for 100 percent renewable energy.

“You don’t see flashing lights, you don’t hear sirens,” Slater added. “But this is an emergency.”

Fellow Democrats not satisfied

Murphy is also getting pushback from fellow Democrats, including Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Union) and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who introduced a resolution calling for a moratorium on fossil-fuel projects and accelerated cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Having suffered through storms like Sandy and now facing two proposed fracked gas plants in the Meadowlands, Bergen County is ground zero in the fight for a healthy and livable future,” Weinberg said. “Our children and grandchildren deserve better.”

Supporters of the EMP draft were also on hand Tuesday, including Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, who is in favor of letting utility companies like PSE&G oversee its implementation.

“Based on our previous experience with energy efficiency and the ongoing desire to be increasingly efficient, I — on behalf of the people of Bergen County — fully support the proposed Energy Master Plan proposal,” he said.

Also speaking in favor of the EMP was Robert Fullagar, vice president of operations for the Middlesex Water Company.

“We are fortunate to have companies like PSE&G, who not only embrace the plan, but understand the role they play in improving our environment, helping ensure statewide economic stability, and helping businesses like Middlesex Water Company better manage the cost to our customers and our obligations as stewards of the environment,” he said.

The BPU is pushing to adopt some version of the plan by the end of the year.

Additional hearings are scheduled for Thursday starting at 6 p.m. at the Municipal Complex in Toms River, and at the Kroc Center in Camden on Sept. 12, where both afternoon and evening sessions are planned.

The public can submit comments on the EMP until noon on Sept. 16.