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Guest Opinion: Climate Hearing: We Need Action, Not Just Talk

 NJ Sierra Club

A joint meeting of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste and Senate Environment and Energy Committees hosted invited guests on Thursday to Guest op 2discuss climate change. Testimony focused on efforts to mitigate climate impacts and reduce greenhouse gases.

 “While the climate crisis is getting worse, we’re getting an update on the science of climate change. Scientists have been sounding this alarm for 15 years and the alarm is getting stronger. The reports are worse than ever on the growing impacts to people, property and the environment, but there’s no sense of urgency from New Jersey leaders on climate change. We are concerned that New Jersey isn’t moving forward quickly enough. The governor and the legislature need to lead and take more action,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “DEP was there patting themselves on the back, but they haven’t been doing nearly enough to combat climate change. They haven’t reversed the Christie environmental rollbacks or taken action on sea level rise or flood protections or improving coastal resiliency.”


Debbie Mans, deputy commissioner of the DEP, addressed the joint session by praising the agency’s efforts to advance Gov. Murphy’s clean energy goals. DEP claims to have made significant strides in combating climate change. However most of the steps DEP could take to improve resilience and cut greenhouse gas emissions remain undone.


“DEP’s appearance before the joint committee was all fluff, just a PR show. Nothing was said about reducing greenhouse gases, or a moratorium on fossil-fuel projects, or addressing sea level rise and other impacts of climate change. Legislators didn’t even ask any questions. What DEP should be doing is developing better mapping of sea level rise, updating state regulations to include climate impacts and do some real planning along the coast for vulnerable areas. They can also protect vulnerable infrastructure with protective barriers as a part of a holistic approach. The DEP’s Coastal Resilience Plan lacks of any of the urgency needed to address the climate crisis,”  said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This was a shameful performance that accomplished nothing.”


State-level response to climate impacts is increasingly critical given President Trump’s continued war on the environment and denial of climate change. The legislature can take many steps to better protect New Jersey, but they continue to do more talking rather than taking meaningful action.


“What we need now is for our legislature to take these studies and turn them into action. The legislature can take many steps right now to mitigate the effects of climate change. They should close the CAFRA loophole and create a Coastal Planning Commission to deal with sea level rise and coastal mitigation. We need more funding for buyouts to restore natural systems such as stream corridors, wetlands and dunes. Building codes need to be updated, and we need to advance energy efficiency,” said Tittel. “The legislature needs a plan of action, but instead they just keep doing more talking.”


The legislature has also made little progress on reducing greenhouse gases in the state. Efforts to promote more electric vehicles and move toward the state’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050 continue to stall, even as climate impacts on New Jersey increase.


“We need to be reducing the greenhouse gases that fuel climate change and the legislature can help accomplish that. We need to have a New Jersey version of the Green New Deal. They need to pass EV legislation to promote more use of electric vehicles, and require NJ Transit to buy electric buses. They should fix the RGGI bill to reduce the emissions cap. We also need to fix our solar program and invest more in offshore wind as we move toward 100% renewable energy. They should require DEP to regulate greenhouse gases, and put a tighter cap in the Global Warming Response Act. The legislature has the authority to compel, or require others to act on climate change. However they are not using that authority,” said Tittel.


BPU explained to the joint session what it believes are major achievements in advancing Gov. Murphy’s clean energy goals, including solar and offshore wind enhancements. However many of BPU’s actions will only increase greenhouse gases and climate impacts.


“BPU talks about what a great job they’re doing moving us toward 100% renewable energy. Yet they just approved a $300 million a year nuclear subsidy that will prevent the state from ever reaching that goal. They say nothing about the need for a moratorium on fossil-fuel projects. The solar market they boast about will soon collapse without a fix and eliminating the cost cap. BPU is moving us farther away from 100% renewable energy,” said Tittel.


Gov. Murphy has pledged to act aggressively in combating climate change but has failed to deliver on that promise. Most of Gov. Christie’s policies and weakened environmental rules remain in place. That continues to hamper New Jersey’s efforts to become more resilient to growing climate impacts.


“Gov. Murphy says he has our back, but we need him to lead on climate change. He should create a cabinet-level committee to coordinate all agencies in coastal resiliency. He should also reopen the Office of Climate Change and the Office of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation. He should also establish a Coastal Planning Commission. We also need to be requiring more green infrastructure, such as blue roofs. Murphy needs to start turning his words on climate change into real action to mitigate climate impacts,” said Tittel. “Unless we see more action, all of this talk is just hot air.”


The Empower NJ coalition, including the New Jersey Sierra Club, has called on the governor to put a moratorium on 13 fossil-fuel infrastructure projects in the state to reduce greenhouse gases. The need for the moratorium increases as permits are granted and work begins on some of the projects, including the Meadowlands power plant and the Southern Reliability Link pipeline.


“We have to have a moratorium on all fossil-fuel infrastructure projects in the state or we will never reach 100% renewable energy.Gov. Murphy continues to remain silent.

If the 8 proposed pipelines and 5 power plants are built, greenhouse gases in the state would increase by 32 percent. We also need regulations on CO2. He should be embracing a New Jersey version of the Green New Deal. Murphy has the power to act where the legislature has not in pushing EV legislation, fixing the solar program and promoting offshore wind. All of these steps would move the state closer to Murphy’s own goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050, but he’s not taking them,” said Tittel.


The legislature and the Murphy administration also must move more quickly to counteract Gov. Christie’s policies that have made the state more vulnerable to climate change. Christie-era rules weakened environmental protections and only encouraged more coastal development and endangered more people in the process..


 “They need to reverse Christie’s rollbacks. They also need to move us forward quickly on climate change with stronger protections. We need to reverse rollbacks to important water protections and regulations, including the Flood Hazard Rules, Water Quality Management Planning Rules, Wetlands and Stormwater Management Rules. Gov. Murphy recently signed an Executive Order establishing new regulatory principles while rescinding Gov. Christie’s Executive Orders 1 and 2 that weakened many rules. Now there is no excuse for the Murphy Administration not to move forward with regulations that will give us cleaner air and cleaner water,” said Tittel.


Climate change is already having a major impact on New Jersey. Sea levels are rising and flooding is increasing. The last five years globally have been the hottest on record. As oceans warm, weather becomes more extreme. If the state does not move quickly toward reducing greenhouse gases, climate impacts will only continue to increase.  


“Today scientists talked about studies telling us the climate crisis is already here and it will only get worse. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gives us 12 years before the worst impacts of climate change will be irreversible. A Rutgers study says sea levels will rise 3 feet by 2100. We are now 17 times more likely to be hit by a storm similar to Hurricane Sandy. Sea levels are rising and flooding is increasing. Some roads go underwater with every full moon. Health impacts include rising rates of asthma and Lyme disease. These impacts reinforce the need to for real action from our legislature and governor to fight climate change,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s hubris to think that we are stronger than the next storm. If we continue to stick our heads in the sand like an ostrich we’ll only get hit by the next wave. All the studies in the world, all the plans in the world won’t mean anything until they are implemented by the governor and the legislature. Otherwise it’s all just more greenhouse gases. Our leaders need to use their authority to put together a state version of the Green New Deal, to pass EV legislation, to create a Coastal Planning Commission and do many other things to fight climate change. Our future depends on it.”

published | April 26, 2019