No Green Initiatives from ‘Greenest’ Governor Other than Pledge to Deal with Lead Issue

Tom Johnson | January 15, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Gov. Phil Murphy suggests in State of the State speech that lead paint is a much bigger problem in NJ than lead service lines
Credit: NJTV News
Gov. Phil Murphy vowed to come up with a plan to solve the problem of lead poisoning from lead service lines and lead paint.

For some advocates, like the League of Conservation Voters of New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy is the “greenest Governor in America,’’ a designation he’s earned by pushing the state toward a clean energy economy, according to the group.

But, in his second State of the State address, the Democratic governor didn’t spell out any new initiatives on the environment, other than vowing to come up with a plan to invest enough dollars to start to solve the statewide problem of lead poisoning from lead service lines into homes and lead paint peeling from old houses.

“Let’s work together now to come to an agreement on what this investment needs to be — so we can put it before voters this November and can invest in our communities much faster,’’ Murphy said yesterday.

This past October, the governor proposed that a $500 million bond issue be placed on the November 2020 ballot to help communities replace lead service lines leading into homes whose residents have been drinking unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water.

But state environmental officials pegged the cost of replacing tainted lead service lines at $2.3 billion — a cost that will require much additional funding to meet Murphy’s goal of replacing all lead service lines by 2029.

Mobilizing army of union workers

Lead paint, the governor noted yesterday, is a much bigger problem — extending to suburban and rural communities. “We will need funds to replace old lead lines and remediate lead paint in homes. We will need to mobilize a veritable army of union workers — plumbers and pipefitters, remediation experts, carpenters and laborers, among so many other tradespeople,” Murphy said.

The issue has also attracted the attention of Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who pledged to pursue a “multi-faceted’’ clean water plan, which would include safe drinking water. “These are major commitments of resources, but we cannot afford to be intimidated,’’ he said in a speech after being elected as Senate President. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) has echoed those remarks.

But so far, legislative efforts have proved less than game-changing. “There’s some 30 lead bills in the Legislature, and only one has gotten through,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The Legislature needs to prioritize other lead measures as well,’’ he said, citing measures to tighten lead exposure levels in drinking water.

In his State of the State speech, Murphy also touted his efforts to promote offshore wind farms off the Jersey coast, and suggested his final Energy Master Plan will be released within two weeks. The plan, much awaited by energy advocates, will detail his blueprint for switching to 100% clean energy by midcentury.

Ed Potosnak, director of the League of Conservation Voters, said the speech demonstrates the governor is continuing to make the environment a top priority in his administration. “We look forward to continuing working with Governor Murphy and his administration on issues like protecting clean drinking water,’’ Potosnak said.

Other environmental groups were not so supportive. “He’s talked about the issue without doing anything,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, referring to the lead issue. “There was nothing new here — no plan for implementation.’’

Republicans also criticized the governor’s plans to move forward aggressively by more than doubling the state’s goals to develop up to 7,500 megawatts of electricity from new offshore wind farms by 2035. Murphy said it would provide up to half of the state’s electric needs.

But Assemblyman John DiMaio (D-Somerset) described the expansion of offshore wind farms as “these things have another price.’’