DEP’s First Step Toward Reducing Greenhouse Gases Dismissed as Too Tame by Critics

Tom Johnson | February 26, 2020 | Energy & Environment
The agency is looking to curb carbon pollution at permitted facilities, but some enviros argue it should also be dealing with methane, which offers a greater threat
Credit: Rebecca Humann via Pixabay
Power plant

The state is proposing to clamp down on carbon pollution limited to permitted facilities under regulation by officials, a strategy faulted by environmentalists yesterday as far too tame to achieve New Jersey’s climate reduction targets.

The Department of Environmental Protection proposal is its initial effort to comply with Gov. Phil Murphy’s directive to focus on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80% below 2006 levels by midcentury, while also pushing the state to 100% clean energy by 2050.

The issue is sure to be controversial because the agency is directed by the Murphy administration to implement far-reaching regulatory proposals to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from a variety of sources — some that have never been ratcheted down for pollution contributing to climate change.

“Business as usual won’t get us to 80% reductions by 2050,’’ said Frank Steitz, director of the Division of Air Quality at the DEP. The agency hopes to propose emissions reductions to curb carbon dioxide emissions from permitted facilities by the end of the year, and adopt them by the following January, he said.

Curbing carbon pollution from power plants

In its preliminary proposal, the agency is looking to suggest ways to prevent carbon pollution from electricity generating plants, and those contributing to greenhouse-gas emissions from other sources.

In both cases, the agency’s top priority is switching to less carbon-intensive fuels than the coal, heating oil, diesel and kerosene currently in use. The proposal also calls for adopting strategies that will curb greenhouse-gas emissions by using more efficient ways of producing energy.

Critics were not impressed.

“Today, DEP offered a dangerously narrow scope of work omitting most of the source of climate pollution,’’ said David Pringle, a member of the Empowering NJ steering committee, “DEP has to do more sooner and have the financial resources and political will to get it done.’’

Methane is missing

Others criticized the agency for not moving immediately on short-lived pollutants, like methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide.

“They’re talking about two to three years before their short-term strategies kick in, and we don’t know when the long-term strategies kick in,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The biggest thing is they are not looking at methane.’’

Steitz would not say whether the DEP would adopt a methane rule in the next year or so, but conceded the feedback from stakeholders yesterday seems to indicate the agency should go in that direction.

In the DEP’s short-term strategies for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions from both power plants and other sources, the agency suggests switching to less carbon-intensive sources of fuel and adopting more efficient ways of using current fuels, including natural gas.

In the DEP’s long-term strategies, it envisions cutting carbon emissions by electrifying the transportation sector, increasing reliance on renewable energy and potentially capturing carbon emissions through sequestration—in which pollution is stored in natural systems or new technology.

Most of the assumptions are based in the new Energy Master Plan, but Ray Cantor, vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, questioned whether those projections will prove true, particularly when it comes to offshore wind, solar and nuclear power providing as much clean energy as the plan assumes.

Steitz defended the plan. “I don’t know if any of these strategies discussed this morning will get us to 80% (reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions). I know they won’t. We have to start with what we can do now. That’s the reality.  This is the start, not the end, but maybe the beginning of the end,’’ he said.