NJ must speed transition to green energy, group says

Murphy set 2050 as the goal. Move that up, activists say in report urging action on climate change
Credit: (joiseyshowaa via Creative Commons; CC BY-SA 2.0)
Smog on New Jersey Turnpike

A new report seeks to quicken the pace of New Jersey’s transition to clean energy, suggesting the state could achieve its 100% clean-energy goal by 2035, a significantly more aggressive time frame than the current target of 2050.

The environmental policy guide by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Education Fund also recommends that by 2030, all new residential and commercial buildings only use electric heating, a huge undertaking given that more than 80% of homes in the state rely on natural gas or other fossil fuels for heating.

The 142-page report offers a comprehensive guide to what New Jersey ought to do to avert the worst impacts of climate change, as well as improve air quality in overburdened communities, preserve open space and farmland, prevent flooding and protect clean water, particularly in the Delaware River Watershed, the Pinelands and the New Jersey Highlands.

Leading the nation

“New Jersey has the opportunity to lead the nation in changing the catastrophic policies that have degraded our environment and harmed our communities of color and low-income neighborhoods,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey LCVEF.

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Acknowledging the aggressive time frames, Potosnak pointed to the latest climate assessment issued earlier this month by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found it is too late to halt some of the worst impacts of climate change. “We need to move forward. We think it is doable,’’ he said.

For the most part, the guide does not project what it will cost to follow many of its recommendations, ranging from electrifying the transportation and building sectors and correcting combined-sewer outflows, which routinely dump raw sewage into state waterways. One exception is the report’s suggestion the state come up with $500 million to help low-income communities replace lead water lines.

For the most part the guide does not address that issue but Potosnak noted the benefits of doing many of the recommendations include a healthier population and reduced illnesses caused by pollution. “The question is whether to save money in the long-run by investing today,’’ he said.

The report also focuses on environmental issues in built-up communities and urban areas, an issue not typically addressed by some environmental groups.

“A special aspect of this report is that it brings together recommendations from advocates who think about both the natural environment and built environment, said Elyse Pivnick, ISLES senior director of environmental health, one of 25 organizations that contributed to the analysis. “This is how environmental policies should be composed everywhere.’’

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Along those lines, the report recommends a number of steps to create walkable communities by focusing on job growth and building more affordable housing to attract younger people to live, work and shop in environments they prefer. It also recommends that everyone living in an urban area should be within a 10-minute walk of a park.

The report also encourages other steps long advocated by environmentalists and transit advocates, including ending the practice of diversion of clean-energy funds to other uses and the use of capital funds to finance New Jersey Transit’s operations. The report also urges creation of a stable source of funding for the agency.

— Editor’s note: The William Penn Foundation and the Fund for New Jersey funded the report in this story; both are major donors to NJ Spotlight News. 

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