The Murphy administration yesterday stepped up efforts to transform New Jersey into a clean energy economy by directing regulatory authorities to consider climate impacts before approving projects that come before state agencies.
The announcement came as Gov. Phil Murphy also unveiled a final Energy Master Plan, a blueprint that did not depart drastically from a draft circulating for months, but drew far less criticism than an accompanying executive order aimed at reducing emissions contributing to global warming.
Not only could the directive halt potential projects by builders, the executive order could overhaul the state’s land-use rules for a wide range of permitting programs and require new rules to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and short-lived pollutants causing climate change, such as methane and black carbon.
One big shutdown?
“It could potentially shut down everything. The potential for this is enormous,’’ said Ray Cantor, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, referring to how the state could block projects if they might increase car congestion on local roads.
Those proposals likely will face a big pushback from developers, industry and GOP lawmakers, including two likely candidates who might face Murphy in a gubernatorial election next year.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli both criticized the plan’s goal of phasing out use of fossil fuels, including natural gas, which heats 85% of the homes in New Jersey.
Many of the directives, however, include new rule proposals by the state Department of Environmental Protection, a process that may push adoption of new regulations back a couple of years — before the governor has to run for reelection in 2021.
Garden State ‘greens’ on board
By and large, with some notable exceptions, the twin proposals won support from the environmental community, which has backed the administration’s efforts to achieve a 100% clean energy economy by 2050.
In his announcement at Stockton College, Murphy described the new plan and executive order as the “most sweeping set of climate regulations in the country,’’ representing a seismic shift in the state’s energy policy.
“This is exactly the kind of bold leadership that is needed to address the climate crisis,’’ said Tom Gilbert, climate director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Rethink Energy NJ. “Gov. Murphy’s actions put New Jersey at the forefront of efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and build and a healthier, prosperous clean-energy future.’’
Among the objectives, the Murphy administration wants the Department of Environmental Protection to issue guidance on sea-level rise in New Jersey, projected by a recent report to one foot by 2030 and two feet by 2050. Those numbers are already baked in because of greenhouse-gas emissions already released, according to DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe.
EMP ‘coast guard’
The guidance is expected to provide a framework to developers and regulators on how to make decisions on building in areas along New Jersey’s 130-mile coastline, according to the administration.
In releasing a 290-page Energy Master Plan, administration officials said it differed from the draft in two significant ways — it provides much more detailed implementation plans and incorporates the findings of an Integrated Energy Plan by a consultant hired to assess possible costs of the plan.
The consultant, the Rocky Mountain Institute, concluded the costs of shifting to a clean energy economy would be relatively small when compared to total energy expenditures in the state. If implemented properly, the overall cost would increase by about $2.2 billion annually.
But the final plan failed to include an analysis of what those added expenditures would mean to residential and business customers, a projection that was strongly recommended by business organizations and the state’s Division of Rate Counsel. Administration officials said they are still working on completing the analysis in the first quarter of 2020.
Unhappy over fossil fuels
Some environmental groups also were unhappy the plan did not include a moratorium or even a phaseout of use of fossil fuels, a huge priority of many organizations over the past year.
“Gov. Murphy’s highly anticipated EMP doesn’t go far enough or fast enough in the race to avert climate catastrophe,’’ said Matt Smith, New Jersey director of Food & Water Watch.
But Jane Cohen, a senior policy analyst for the governor, said many of the new rules that will be proposed and enacted by the DEP will result in significant reductions in the use of fossil fuels.
Finally, the plan leaves open how long the state’s three nuclear plants will remain open. At this point, they contribute nearly all of the carbon-free electricity to residents and business, although customers subsidize those efforts at $300 million a year. The plan projects at least some of those units will still be providing some portion of the electricity (16%) by 2050 — even though all three units’ licenses will have expired.
For the plan, however, quick action is required on its goals. “New Jersey must implement today what it can, and innovate for tomorrow what it cannot,’’ said Murphy.