DEP Seeks Public Input on Rules to Cut Climate-Altering Emissions

Jon Hurdle | February 24, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Critics say there’s no time for regulation; urge immediate ban on new fossil fuel permits
Credit: Pixabay via Pexels
New Jersey is moving more strenuously against greenhouse-gas emissions.

New Jersey officials began on Friday to lay out their plans for a raft of new regulations to help the state make a radical shift to a clean-energy economy, as sought by a recent executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy.

The state Department of Environmental Protection held the first of three public information sessions to seek input on how to write the rules, collectively known as Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJ PACT),  that will implement the order, issued in January.

The other two meetings will focus on ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and plan for sea-level rise, extreme weather events and flooding, on Feb. 25 and March 2, respectively.

Friday’s session set out DEP’s plans for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from sources such as refineries, natural gas pipelines and fuel distributors. The department also said it will track emissions from power plants, including those out of state that supply electricity to New Jersey.

Natural gas utilities that distribute the fuel to end users will also contribute data during the regulatory process, which DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe ordered in January. The department said it will collect data on the volume of gas received, distributed and stored, as well as the number and type of customers.

Amid concerns that leakage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, erodes the cleaner-burning benefits of natural gas, DEP also plans to monitor GHG emissions from natural gas operations such as flaring, storage tanks and compressor stations.

Transportation is primary source of GHGs

According to DEP data from 2018, transportation is by far the biggest source of GHGs, emitting some 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that year, followed by electric generation and commercial & industrial operations, which each emit less than half the transportation volume.

The department said it will also monitor other sources of methane emissions such as landfills, while collecting data on hydrofluorocarbons, used largely in refrigeration, and short-lived pollutants such as black carbon from diesel exhaust.

In each emissions category, DEP invited stakeholders to propose any other significant sources of GHGs that could contribute to the inventory, and asked whether there are better ways of collecting the data than those currently proposed.

“We’re trying to capture stakeholder input on exactly what information should be included in the monitoring report, what are the best ways to access the information, and to get a general feel about what other people think are the best ways to approach it,” said Paul Baldauf, DEP’s assistant commissioner for air quality, energy and sustainability, after the three-hour meeting that about 60 people attended at DEP headquarters in Trenton.

Baldauf called the meeting “very valuable” because it alerted officials to topics such as ways of avoiding double-counting of emissions, and how to monitor emissions from the airline industry, that they hadn’t previously considered. “It gives us a good path forward, as we move through the rule process, to dig deeper into some of these issues,” he said.

Environmentalists argued that the climate crisis is too urgent to wait for the rulemaking process — which Murphy’s order requires to conclude by June 2021 — and that the state should be making deep carbon cuts immediately in the hope of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.

‘Can’t afford to wait’

“Our planet is about to become as hot as hell,” said David Pringle, a consultant to the environmental group Clean Water Action. “The urgency here is totally lacking. We can’t afford to wait.”

He urged Murphy to issue an emergency executive order that would stop permitting of any new GHG sources until the state has the rules in place to comply with the Global Warming Response Act (GWRA), a 2007 law that requires the state to cut emissions to 1990 levels by this year, and 80% from 2006 levels by 2050.

The law was amended last year to require DEP to set up a GHG monitoring and reporting program within 18 months of when the bill was enacted in July 2019. DEP is unlikely to propose the new rules by the statutory deadline of January 2021, but will meet the governor’s deadline of June that year, Baldauf said.

The day before the DEP meeting, some 100 environmental groups called on the state to cut emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, in line with a recommendation from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said in 2018 that global emissions would have to fall at that rate to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Jersey Renews coalition said the state has taken “significant steps” to cut emissions via the GWRA, the administration’s Energy Master Plan and Murphy’s executive order, but that none of those measures mentions the IPCC target.

Murphy’s order said New Jersey is “especially vulnerable” to the effects of climate change including sea-level rise and increased flooding, with “potentially disastrous consequences” for public safety and the state’s economy. In an apparent warning to energy companies, the order said that “unrestrained development” of fossil fuel infrastructure would result in more GHG emissions that could stop the state from meeting its carbon-reduction goals.

John Reichman, a member of BlueWaveNJ, a progressive group that supports the Jersey Renews campaign, said there should be an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, and that DEP should speed up its rulemaking process.

“Time is of the essence with respect to dealing with the climate emergency,” Reichman said after the meeting. “DEP could have had these rules in place already. Now, they’re saying they’re not even going to meet the statutory deadline for providing rules by January 2021.”

Avoiding climate change’s worst effects  

Activists say the worst effects of climate change could be avoided by immediate deep cuts in carbon emissions worldwide. A decline in the addition of heat-trapping gases could, for example, slow the rate of sea-level rise, which is expected to increase water levels at the Jersey Shore by as much as 6.3 feet from 2000 levels by the end of the century if there’s unchecked global growth in fossil fuel consumption, according to the latest projections by the Rutgers Climate Institute.

In the business community, much of the emissions information that will be sought by DEP is already supplied to state and federal authorities, said Toby Hanna, a partner with Environmental Resources Management, which helps clients including DuPont, General Electric and Oracle to pursue sustainable business practices.

He said DEP’s new demands appear to indicate that companies won’t be required to submit significantly more emissions data.

“We did get the assurance publicly today that they are going to work with the regulated community, the reporters, to use information that’s already available,” Hanna said after the meeting.