New Jersey is in the process of planning its future, amid a global climate crisis that state residents have yet to grapple with.
The traffic-jammed corridor of turnpike exits that touts itself as the Garden State has relentlessly paved over farmlands and clear cut forests to build some of humanity’s most densely packed population centers; as its public officials welcomed smog-belching petro-chemical plants and constructed car-and-truck-tangled highways, while shrugging at lung-burning air pollution and toxic contamination of water sources. Residents, meanwhile, turned running around shopping at multiple malls into an Olympic sport.
Now New Jerseyans are suddenly being asked to slow down, take a deep breath and drastically change our lifestyles.
“Scientists in the state say that without comprehensive changes, life in the Garden State will be about adapting to a reality where the Jersey Shore is continually a disaster zone … and inland river flooding brings floodwaters to the Statehouse steps in Trenton,” NJ.com reported last fall. Repeated downbursts of heavy rain during heat waves this summer, punctuated by tornadoes and thunderstorms, flooded local streams and streets across the state.
Governor Murphy’s response to reports of dire weather events getting much worse if greenhouse gasses from power plant and vehicle emissions continue to heat up the planet was to order up an energy master plan for switching out smog-producing fuel to solar, wind and other kinds of clean renewable energy. Like many other states and nations, following the guidance of international climate scientists, the goal is to accomplish this massive energy makeover by 2050.
Meanwhile, the fracked gas industry is pushing to build more than a dozen new pipelines, compressor stations and power plants in New Jersey. Environmental activists say this would dramatically increase emissions from fossil fuels, just as they should be decreased.
“To meet the Administration’s objective of 100% clean energy by 2050 … New Jersey needs to aggressively reduce, not increase, greenhouse gas emissions,” says a report by Empower NJ, a coalition of civic groups that includes the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and NJ Industrial Union Council. “This requires annual reduction benchmarks and objectives starting NOW. Approving any new fossil fuel expansion projects will move us further away from achieving necessary GHG targets and make it virtually impossible to fight climate change and achieve the Governor’s 100% clean energy goal.”
The activists’ call to reject new fossil fuel projects “threatens to deepen a rift between the environmental community — that largely backed Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, in his gubernatorial bid — over the administration’s reluctance to halt several new natural gas pipelines in New Jersey as well as four new gas-fired power plants. A huge coalition of environmentalists wants an immediate moratorium on all new fossil-fuel projects,” noted statehouse reporter Tom Johnson in NJSpotlight.com.
“This has nothing to do with facts and figures, but with money and politics,” Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s state chapter, said of the Murphy administration’s reluctance to follow the lead of California, New York and several other states in enacting legislation to set a path for promptly reducing fossil fuel use in order to help counter the effects of global climate oscillations.
At public hearings this summer on the draft energy master plan presented by the Board of Public Utilities, environmental activists called for a moratorium on state permits for proposed fossil fuel projects and a quicker pace of moving utilities, transportation, businesses and homes to non-polluting sources of energy.
“Act like your child’s life depends on it—because it does,” Leslie Stevens, a former AT&T vice president who now teaches at Stevens Institute of Technology and is a volunteer Climate Reality community leader, said at a recent hearing in Newark.
“The reality of what’s happening now could have a devastating effect on our future,” Newark City Council President Mildred Crump said as she joined a rally of environmental activists in front of Seton Hall Law School, where a draft energy plan hearing was held.
Flanked by union members, Kevin Brown, the state director of 32BJ SEIU, said emphatically “we need to end fossil fuels.” His union, he noted, represents more than 13,000 commercial, residential and public school-contracted cleaners, security officers and airport service workers in New Jersey. These workers live and work in communities affected by air pollution. “Many of our members have asthma.”
In testimony before the Board of Public Utilities energy master plan committee, Brown echoed a statement he made earlier this year directed at Congress: “it’s more important than ever that we come together to reduce greenhouse gasses, switch to renewable energies and create strong, union jobs while ensuring a just transition for impacted workers.”
“Newark is ground zero for climate change,” said Kim Gaddy, environmental justice organizer for the South Ward Environmental Alliance. Port of Newark activities involve 8,000 trucks emitting diesel fumes daily, on top of constant aircraft and car traffic at one of the nation’s busiest airports, amid clouds of smoke from a regional trash incinerator, she stated. “It poisons our children now… We need zero emissions at the port now.” She noted that technology exists to switch trucks and cars to electric battery power.
“The draft plan ignores that we are already facing a climate emergency,” added Paula Rogovin, an organizer of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition. Air quality in northern New Jersey was so bad from ground-level ozone this summer that the state issued repeated health warnings, she noted.
In response to the grassroots campaign, state Senator Loretta Weinberg issued a statement to the news media last week announcing that she and Assemblyman John McKeon have “introduced a resolution urging the governor to impose a moratorium on fossil fuel projects in the state. There is no reason to build new fossil-fuel guzzling infrastructure in 2019. We must start taking responsibility for our future today—there is no time to waste.”
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