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Sierra Club reviews 2018, looks forward to 2019

By Jeff Tittel

Despite the current threats to our environment, people are more engaged than ever. Increasing numbers of people have become more active by attending the Women’s March in Morristown, the March for Science in Trenton, and the March for Climate, Jobs and Justice in several cities around the state. In New Jersey, we have had several victories to keep our water and air clean and public green space protected. We are also in ongoing battles to protect our environment that we will continue to fight in 2019.

Some of our environmental success includes getting towns across the state to ban single-use plastic. Almost 20 towns have bans or are working on banning plastic. We will continue working on a comprehensive plastic state ban. We have been successful in protecting our shore by getting a ban on smoking at beaches and state parks and a law that would prevent drilling in state waters.

Finally, Gov. Phil Murphy got the state Department of Environmental Protection to repeal Gov. Chris Christie’s Highlands Septic Rule. A year ago, the Legislature voted that the Highlands Rule violated legislative intent and blocked the rule, which would have opened environmentally sensitive parts of the Highlands for development, caused more pollution in the area and threatened the drinking water supply to millions of people.

New Jersey is also spending the $50 million of the $225 million Exxon settlement money that wasn’t stolen. We challenged this settlement because polluters need to clean up their mess and pay for the damages they have done. The bill, however, is too vague on where the money is going to go. We want to make sure the funding for restoration projects are going directly to areas impacted by Exxon.

In a victory for preserving trees and promoting solar energy, the Jackson Township Planning Board approved the Six Flags solar park. The plan includes all of the conditions from the settlement that protect the environment.

This makes this a win for clean energy, as well as the protection of open space. Now this project can go forward with a much-lessened impact than the original proposal: only 40 acres removed rather than close to 100 acres.

We are in court challenging a Board of Public Utilities approval for the New Jersey Natural Gas Southern Reliability Link pipeline (SRL).

NJNG received road permits for Ocean and Burlington counties and are now digging up people’s lawns and putting a pipeline within feet of homes.

We have asked for a stay by the BPU and the Pinelands Commission because we believe they will cause irreparable harm by moving forward with the construction of the SRL pipeline.

The New Jersey Sierra Chapter and the state are also suing the Trump Administration on the president’s authorization for seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean. Seismic testing is destructive on its own to mammals and fish, but it will lead right to drilling.

Last year we thought it would be a new day when Gov. Murphy began. We are in a climate crisis, but we are not moving forward on any new climate policies.

The Murphy Administration has not withdrawn or reversed one of Gov. Christie’s previous rules and/or rollbacks. DEP is using weakened rules like the flood hazard rules, waiver rules, storm water rules … and putting the environment and people more at risk. Gov. Christie’s appointees on the Highlands and Pinelands are still in charge of most of our environmental programs.

Gov. Murphy also has not lived up to his commitments against fracking and fracking waste in the Delaware River Basin or putting a moratorium on the bear hunt.

We have recently formed a coalition of over 57 groups calling on Gov. Murphy to put a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure until we have the programs and standards in place to achieve our 100 percent clean energy goals.

In 2019, we look forward to working with the Legislature and the Murphy Administration on electric vehicle infrastructure and technology.

We also look forward on working with the Legislature on a comprehensive state ban on single-use plastics, polystyrene, Styrofoam, and plastic straws. Plastic waste has not only become an environmental problem, but a health problem, too.

In 2019, New Jersey can move forward renewable energy to create green jobs and a green economy, while stopping dirty power plants and other fossil fuel infrastructure from taking over the state.

Let’s start the new year on the right track toward meeting Gov. Murphy’s 100 percent clean energy goals. Gov. Murphy still has time to change, but he needs to step up and take leadership in making New Jersey cleaner and greener.

Jeff Tittel is the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

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