Continued bad air days mean NJ should cut emissions, activists urge

Moving to electric vehicles, green power is necessary to cut down on air pollution, report says
Credit: (joiseyshowaa via Creative Commons; CC BY-SA 2.0)
Smog on the New Jersey Turnpike

Even as a pandemic shut down much of the state’s economy in 2020, most New Jersey residents suffered through 46 days of elevated air pollution last year, according to a new report.

The report, based on federal Environmental Protection Agency air-monitoring data, led environmental advocates, health professionals and policymakers to call for more urgent action to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, particularly in the transportation sector — the biggest source of greenhouse-gas emissions and other unhealthy pollutants causing smog and respiratory ailments.

While the report found that air-pollution problems persist in regions stretching across the state, from Atlantic City to Jersey City, it suggested the solutions for cleaning up poor air quality are at hand. The report recommends policymakers take steps to electrify buildings, equipment and transportation and strengthen federal air-quality standards.

The report, from the Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group, and the NJPIRG Law & Policy Center, focused on ground-level ozone and fine particulates — harmful pollutants that come primarily from burning coal, diesel, gasoline and methane gas, as well as wildfires.

Most Americans impacted

Part of a national analysis, the report found 237 million Americans — more than 70% of the population — were exposed to more than a month of elevated levels of ozone and fine-particulate pollution in 2020.  The report defines as elevated levels of those pollutants that the EPA deems safe, and among its recommendations is for the federal agency to adopt a tougher standard.

“No level of air pollution should be considered ‘safe.’ Even small amounts of pollution have a tremendous negative impact on the health of our residents,’’ said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Mercer). “Therefore, it is up to us to focus on protecting New Jersey’s air and ensuring a healthier and cleaner New Jersey today and for generations to come.’’

As it is, New Jersey has never attained the EPA’s national air quality standard for ground-level ozone or smog, and only complied with its health standard about six years ago.

For both of those pollutants, transportation is a major factor in contributing to poor air quality.

Although New Jersey has made progress toward cleaner air, it needs to end its reliance on fossil fuels to make lasting improvements, according to Emma Horst-Martz, advocate with the NJPIRG Law and Policy Center.

Many agree that transitioning to electric vehicles is the quickest way to move forward.

“Electrifying all forms of transportation is the way to take the bull by the horns. To state the obvious, remove the tailpipe and there is no pollution,’’ said Pam Frank CEO of ChargEVC, an advocacy organization pressing for quicker adoption of electric vehicles. “New Jersey is behind the curve in terms of adopting electric vehicles and eliminating emissions.’’

Another report issued Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Union of Concerned Scientists backed up Frank’s comments. That report said New Jersey could avoid up to 136,000 respiratory illnesses by transitioning to zero-emission electric trucks to replace fossil fuel-powered trucks that contribute to smog and fine- particulate pollution.

“Adopting standards to increase sales of zero-emission trucks and buses will get rid of our dirty vehicles and create cleaner air that will benefit all New Jerseyans,’’ said Taylor McFarland, acting director of the Sierra Club New Jersey.

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