In the wake of President Trump’s antienvironmental agenda, states have become the front lines for protecting our environment. N.J. Governor Phil Murphy’s first State of the State address, on Jan. 15, illustrated five ways the state has lead the fight against climate change:
1. Signed the Clean Renewable Energy Bill: The governor signed a landmark bill requiring that more than 50 percent of the state’s energy must come from clean, renewable energy, such as offshore wind, by 2030. On the same day, the governor signed an executive order to move New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Other states are already trying to beat us to this goal — a fight where everyone wins.
2. Joined important coalitions: Within weeks of taking office, the governor took two bold steps towards fighting climate change: first, directing New Jersey to reenter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and, second, joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of governors committed to the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.
3. Filed new Natural Resource Damage claims: In November 2017, voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a “lockbox” on funds received from Natural Resource Damages lawsuits. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and attorney general have since filed several new lawsuits to hold polluters accountable for the damages they incurred in communities across New Jersey. The new amendment and these lawsuits ensure that polluters’ money is dedicated to communities on the front lines of climate change.
4. Began reversing rollbacks: In December, the state DEP announced it would reverse one of the most damaging rules by the Christie administration that put at risk an important source of drinking water for more than 64 percent of New Jerseyans. The rule involved the number of septic tanks allowed in protected areas of the Highlands. The DEP’s reversal of this decision will help preserve the Highlands water for the nearly 6.2 million people who depend on it.
5. Stood up to the Trump administration: Governor Murphy’s administration took two bold actions to stand up to President Donald Trump’s dangerous fossil fuel expansion agenda: signing the Shore Tourism and Ocean Protection (STOP) Act to ban drilling off our beaches in state waters, and suing the Trump administration for attempting to drill off our precious Jersey Shore.
It’s a strong start. Here are three more things the governor should do in the next year:
1. Appoint new commissioners and chairpersons to critical regional planning commissions: The Highlands Council and the Pinelands Commission, two planning bodies that make decisions for environmentally critical regions, are in desperate need of new leadership dedicated to safeguarding these important resources. The governor urgently needs to appoint new members who will uphold their commitments to preserving our state.
2. Prioritize the environment in the budget: One of the departments that suffered worst of all under the Christie administration was the Department of Environmental Protection, which was dangerously underfunded. Lack of funding not only means slower permitting, but also fewer staff and resources to hold polluters accountable through enforcing environmental protections.
Another program fallen by the wayside is Payment In Lieu of Taxes, also known as PILOT, wherein the state encourages municipalities to preserve open spaces by offering payments that offset the loss of revenue from property taxes. Cuts to this program over the past decade have weakened this incentive.
The Clean Energy Fund is a third victim of the Christie administration. This fund is intended to be used to help the state advance its clean energy goals; an estimated $1.5 billion has been raided to fill budget shortfalls. We hope Governor Murphy will reduce the amount siphoned each year, with the goal of ending diversions entirely.
3. Update water infrastructure: In his State of the State address, Governor Murphy emphasized the importance of updating New Jersey’s aging water infrastructure. Lead contaminating our educational facilities’ water is a critical issue that needs immediate attention to protect our children’s health, and it’s a symptom of a much larger problem. We need to update all water infrastructure, including storm water. New Jersey faces consistent localized flooding, resulting in property destruction and more pollution running off into our water sources. We urge the governor to, in his own words, “leverage every opportunity to build a modern water infrastructure network.”
Governor Murphy concluded his address by saying he wants New Jersey to be a leader, to be “the state others point to and say, ‘that’s what the future looks like.’” I am confident Governor Murphy will continue his commitment to protecting our residents and natural resources to make New Jersey the greenest state in America.