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Take a Deep Breath, Is New Jersey Poised to Cut Back on CO2 Pollution?

Lawmakers consider bill that would clamp down on short-term pollutants like methane, but could charge state DEP to restrict CO2 pollution, most of which stems from transportation sector

CO2 pollution
Credit: Via Creative Commons

Warning that it is time to get serious about climate change, lawmakers yesterday approved a bill to clamp down on pollutants contributing to global warming, possibly targeting the biggest culprit of all, carbon dioxide.

The legislation (S-3207), which cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, aims to ensure the state is on target to reduce carbon pollution in New Jersey by 80 percent below 2006 levels by mid-century.

At this point, the bill proposes the state Department of Environmental Protection adopt strategies to curb emissions from short-lived, but very potent, pollutants, such as methane. But Sen. Bob Smith, the chairman of the committee, appeared to endorse a recommendation from the New Jersey Sierra Club that the state also target carbon dioxide, the most pervasive greenhouse-gas pollutant.

Time to clean up CO2

Jeff Tittel, director of the club, argued the state has had the authority to regulate CO2 as an air contaminant since 2005, but never opted to do so. Recent studies, including the National Climate Assessment released by the Trump administration, warns climate change is happening and will have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy

“We are heading into a climate crisis,’’ Tittel told lawmakers. “What we worried and speculated about is already happening. It’s critical for states to move forward.’’

Smith echoed that sentiment with a not-so-subtle shot at the Christie administration’s failure to address climate change during the former governor’s eight years in office. “We went through the dark ages,’’ he said, “and nothing happened.’’

Although not amending the bill, he urged the DEP to take a look at whether CO2 should be regulated as a pollutant with permits and fees attached to emissions, just like other more conventional pollutants like nitrogen oxide, which causes ground-level ozone, or smog.

If the DEP chooses to follow that course, it could serve as a backstop for regulating emissions of the pollutant, particularly at a time when President Donald Trump is rolling back efforts by the previous administration to combat climate change.

Scrapping Obama Clean Power Plan

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled the federal Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate CO2, but Obama administration attempts to do so by curbing emissions from power plants stalled when the court delayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan. The Trump administration is moving to scrap and revise that program.

The main source of carbon pollution, however, remains the transportation sector. “If DEP regulates carbon dioxide, it would apply to all sources — not only power plants and pipelines but mobile sources like motor vehicles,’’ Tittel said.

As the bill is currently written, the agency would be required to establish a program for monitoring and reporting greenhouse-gas emissions and progress toward achieving the goals of the Global Warming Response Act approved under the Corzine administration. Within a year of the bill’s implementation, it would direct the DEP to recommend additional measures to reduce emissions to achieve the 2050 goal.

It also would require the agency to develop a comprehensive strategy to curb pollution from short-lived sources such as methane, fluorinated gases, and black carbon — particles that absorb sunlight and give soot its black color. Those pollutants account for 3 percent of domestic greenhouse-gas emissions in terms of carbon dioxide equivalency.

Smith said he hoped to completely eliminate the use of short-lived climate pollutants. “In order for us to mitigate the current effects of climate change that we are now witnessing, we need to make drastic changes,’’ he said.

Amy Hansen of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation also urged the bill be amended to establish benchmarks for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, including for methane and black carbon.

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