By Michele S. Byers
What will New Jersey be like in 30 years? If bold recommendations from Gov. Phil Murphy’s Environment and Energy Transition Team become reality, this state we’re in will be cleaner and greener along with more urban parks and protected wildlife habitats. Talk about a breath of fresh air.
The year 2050 figures prominently in a report just released by the governor’s Environment and Energy Transition Advisory Committee.
First, 2050 is the year when New Jersey is projected to be fully built out, with all land either developed or preserved. Second, it is the target year for the state to complete its transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy and say goodbye at last to fossil fuels.
Here are some highlights:
• Clean Energy – Touted in the report as “New Jersey’s most promising clean energy,” offshore wind energy received a jump start with Gov. Murphy’s signed order. The report also recommends ways New Jersey can once again become the “solar capital of the East.”
• Energy Efficiency – Under the former governor, more than $1.5 billion of the state’s Clean Energy Fund was used to plug budget gaps. Instead, the report recommends using 100 percent of these funds – which come from a surcharge on consumer energy bills – to improve energy efficiency, create clean energy jobs and reduce carbon emissions.
• Pipeline Projects – The state should deny permits for projects that do not meet our strict environmental standards. The report recommends that companies proposing to build natural gas or oil pipelines must prove public need and prove that cost-effective, clean alternatives are not available. Special attention should be paid to ecologically sensitive areas like the Pinelands, Highlands and coast.
• Climate Change – New Jersey must prepare for the impacts of a warming climate, especially along our coastline. This means strengthening coastal land use planning and preparing for sea level rise. Key environmental laws, like those relating to coastal development, should be updated. Another recommendation – rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – was already acted on by our new governor.
• Clean Water – The report recommends ways to protect our drinking water and fix problems with aging water infrastructure. The state Water Supply Plan should be updated. Gov. Murphy has acted to protect clean water by announcing that New Jersey will support a ban on fracking in the Delaware Watershed.
• Preserving Open Space – The report recommends that the governor launch a comprehensive plan for the management of the state’s public lands. Comprehensive planning based upon current science will better protect the state’s rare animals, plants and critical habitats, as well as scenic, historic and recreational resources.
• Urban Parks – The report recommends halting efforts to privatize Liberty State Park and proceeding with the proposed Capital City State Park in Trenton. In addition, the Department of Environmental Protection should create additional state parks in cities like Camden, Paterson and Newark.
• Unique and Treasured Places – The report recognizes many places that make the Garden State special, including its coastline, the Pine Barrens, the Hudson River Palisades, the Highlands region and the Delaware Bayshore. Recommendations include fighting offshore oil drilling and improving beach and coastline access. For the Highlands and Pinelands, the report recommends appointing members who are fully committed to protecting natural resources.
• Rare Species – Some of New Jersey’s rarest and most important wildlife species have declined to near extinction and have been ignored for many years. The report recommends using the best available science to shape decisions leading to their long-term survival.
Congratulations to the Environment and Energy Transition Advisory Committee on a job well done. Kudos also to Gov. Murphy for taking action. We look forward to seeing these important recommendations implemented.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.