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Smith Aims to Get State on Faster Track to Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

State lawmaker seeks to put the squeeze on Murphy administration to deliver on ambitious goal of lowering carbon pollution

Polluting smokestack

The state will have to ramp up efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions to achieve aggressive targets to reduce carbon pollution contributing to climate change, under a new bill being pushed by a prominent lawmaker.

By 2050, New Jersey hopes to reduce emissions contributing to climate change by 80 percent below 2006 levels, a goal the state is unlikely to meet, according to a year-old report by researchers at the Rutgers Climate Institute.

A coastal state, New Jersey is viewed as increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and sea-level rise. It has adopted tough laws to try and curb global warming, some of which have fallen short of being achieved.

The legislation (S-3207), sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, aims to put the state on track by requiring state environmental officials to do a better job of tracking greenhouse gas emissions, and recommending additional controls to achieve the goal.

Going after methane

Among other things, the bill would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop a comprehensive strategy to curb emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane. Methane, a component in natural gas that often leaks from pipelines, is much more potent that other greenhouse gas pollutants, such as carbon dioxide.

The legislation to deal with short-lived pollutants like methane is modeled after a bill adopted and implemented in California. Some New Jersey utilities are replacing aging cast-iron gas mains with new plastic pipelines that reduce leakage of methane.

bob smith
Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex)

Smith introduced the bill on Monday, a few days after the Trump administration released a new national climate assessment which warned the climate is changing faster than at any point in history, with the severity of impacts largely hinging on how well the world reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

“The national climate assessment was the loudest fire bell in the night yet,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The New Jersey Global Warming Response Act set a framework for action but it was never implemented.’’

In a report issued 13 months ago, the Rutgers Climate Institute found some of the policies aimed at reducing carbon pollution in New Jersey have yet to be implemented. They include plans to develop offshore wind capacity off the Jersey coast by 2021; mandates to achieve reductions in energy use; and a plan to rejoin a regional initiative to curb emissions from power plants.

Trying to reverse Christie policies

Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation to have 100 percent of New Jersey’s power delivered by clean energy by 2050, an initiative that includes many clean energy policies, including the nation’s most ambitious goal to develop 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity off the coast.

Those policies, however, have yet to be implemented by the Murphy administration, which is trying to reverse many issues involving energy from the Christie administration, which sought to expand the state’s natural gas infrastructure.

“This will create an urgency in New Jersey’s fight to make this happen,’’ said O’Malley, referring to Smith’s bill to ramp up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, some environmentalists have been more critical of the Murphy administration for not blocking an expansion of natural gas pipelines, as well as new gas-fired power plants that have been proposed in New Jersey.

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