We have had a very eventful and busy year in 2019. We accomplished a lot to protect New Jersey’s environment. We won some battles and lost some, and there are a few that keep coming back. In addition to everything we have accomplished this year, we still have a lot that we are trying to get done.
Environmental Battles Still in Progress
· We are still trying to get bills passed in lame duck, including S2252 (Smith/Greenstein), a bill that would set up EV charging infrastructure, and S2776 (Smith/Greenstein), a bill that would comprehensively ban plastic across the state
· NJ Sierra Club is suing BPU and Pinelands Commission for approving the Southern Reliability Link (SRL), but the Murphy Administration has refused to issue a stay. This means the pipeline could be built before we have a chance to stop it in court
· Governor Phil Murphy has made three nominations to the Highlands Council and five nominations to the Pinelands Commission, but the Senate has yet to vote to appoint the nominations
· The Pinelands Commission has failed have a full quorum to vote on withdrawing their approval for South Jersey Gas’s pipeline
· The DEP has denied permits for Williams Transco’s Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE) three times without prejudice, but the Transco keeps reapplying
Although there has been some progress, the Murphy Administration has continued to move much slower than we had hoped. State agencies are still implementing many of Christie’s policies because they are led by the same people and the same rules. The Trump Administration has continued to attack the environment by rolling back critical rules that protect our clean air, clean water, and open space. From a statement by Jeff Tittel, Director of the NJ Sierra Club:
“We had a lot of environmental wins this year. Environmental victories this year include the implementation of New Jersey’s smoking ban for public beaches and state parks, the closing of our last coal-fired power plant B.L. England, and the DEP’s purchase of Holley Farm to preserve it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed approval of the PennEast Pipeline, slowing them down for two years and perhaps stopping the project or causing it to be rerouted. The BPU granted the state’s first offshore wind solicitation of 1,100 megawatts and Governor Murphy raised NJ’s offshore wind goal to 7,500 megawatts by 2035. Governor Murphy also came out against the Meadowlands Power Plant, although he has yet to take any action to stop it.
“There have been many environmental lows this year. The Murphy Administration has still failed to repeal a single Christie-era rule. Lead levels in Newark’s drinking water reached a record 52 parts per billion, which is over ten times the federal limit. The DEP signed off on a weak Stormwater Rule and also granted permits for the Roseland Compressor Station. NJ Sierra Club is suing BPU and Pinelands Commission for approving the SRL pipeline, but NJ refuses to issue a stay which means the pipeline could be built before we have a chance to stop it in court. Murphy has redefined clean energy to include dirty energy, the Solar Program is close to crashing because of the cost cap, and NJ Transit is rated the worst in the nation. New Jersey is also 10th in the nation for environmental staff reductions, with fewer DEP staff now than under Christie.
“Climate change is here, and it is only getting worse. A recent DEP study projects dramatic sea-level rise in New Jersey of up to 8.8 feet over 2000 levels by 2100. Instead of limiting development and pulling back from building on flood-prone areas, we are putting more homes in flood risk zones. According to a new Zillow report, New Jersey is developing in flood prone areas faster than any other state. We are still using Christie-era rules like the Flood Hazard Rules, Waiver Rules, Stormwater Rules, and CAFRA rules that encourage development and cause more flooding and pollution. We are also still the only state in the region without a Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Plan.
“New Jersey needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help mitigate climate change impacts. There are currently over a dozen new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in New Jersey that will increase emissions by over 32%. Last year, we formed a coalition called Empower New Jersey that now has over 90 groups. The coalition has been calling on Governor Murphy to put a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects until we have the programs and standards in place to achieve our 100% clean energy goals. So far, Murphy has not been willing to put a moratorium on these projects. Our state can be a national leader in clean energy and green jobs if we aggressively move forward with renewable energy.
“This was a record year for algae blooms and closed lakes. The DEP failed to clean up our lakes and get rid of this problem. They need to reverse Christie’s rollbacks, restore New Jersey’s lake management program, and deal with phosphorus. A recent Environmental Working Group report showed levels of cyanotoxins in lakes, rivers, and other water bodies across the country at levels higher than EPA health guidance standards. New Jersey needs to be doing more when it comes to preventing toxic algae blooms in the future. DEP needs to establish stream buffers and enforce real Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards that limit pollutants in our lakes. We also need to reduce overdevelopment and sprawl in environmentally sensitive areas.
“There were several bills that had consensus in the Legislature that were weakened by last-minute amendments. Governor Murphy signed a weakened Beach Access Bill, S1074 (Smith), and a weakened Carbon Bill, S3207 (Smith), into law this year. The Beach Access Law still allows towns to block access to beaches and waterfront that should belong to all of us, and the Carbon Bill falls short of steps taken by other states to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Other bills that have been weakened by amendments include the Electric Vehicle Bill S2252 (Smith/Greenstein) and the Environmental Justice bill S1700 (Singleton/Weinberg).
“We are fighting multiple battles to protect the integrity of New Jersey’s environment. We are in court challenging a BPU and Pinelands Commission approval of NJNG’s Southern Reliability Link Pipeline. We have asked for a stay because we believe they will cause irreparable harm by moving forward with the construction of the SRL pipeline, but the state has refused to issue a stay. This means that the pipeline will be built before we have a chance to fight it in court. The Pinelands Commission has a resolution to withdraw their support for the South Jersey Gas pipeline, but the resolution has been tabled since April. New Jersey Sierra Club is also involved in litigation against the Bellemead Sewer Plant and in a rate case challenging a powerline for the Meadowlands power plant.