By Michele S. Byers
In his State of the State address on Jan. 12, Gov. Phil Murphy pledged to help New Jersey emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic “stronger, fairer and more resilient than before.”
The pandemic has taken a terrible toll on New Jersey, and swift, expansive vaccinations will be one of the governor’s top priorities in pulling the state out of this health crisis. Dealing with associated economic damage, including staggering job losses and business closings, is another administration priority.
But reviving the economy and creating new jobs presents a major challenge. Fortunately, the move to clean, renewable “green” energy will provide a huge boost to job creation.
For example, Gov. Murphy highlighted the development of a new offshore wind port in Salem County and a new manufacturing facility for offshore wind in Paulsboro that will create an estimated 2,000 good-paying, union jobs.
A coalition of conservation groups recently wrote to the governor, asking him to prioritize funding for environmental protection, clean energy and sustainable “green” jobs in the fiscal year 2022 budget.
Here are some examples of “green investments” with potential to bring significant job growth, and economic, environmental and public health benefits to this state we’re in:
Clean energy – New Jersey’s clean energy economy already supports about 51,000 jobs, including 34,000 in energy efficiency. Many more will be coming as New Jersey works to reach its goal of having 100% of its energy come from clean, renewable sources by 2050.
Research shows that wind and solar projects generate about 13 jobs per million dollars of investment, significantly higher than coal, oil and natural gas projects. Retrofitting buildings for clean and efficient energy offers a massive opportunity.
Jobs retrofitting buildings are always local, can’t be exported, and can be targeted in communities with older, less energy efficient housing. Another plus: workers in clean energy earn well above the national average.
To fully capture the job benefits of clean energy, the state must abandon its bad habit of diverting money from the Clean Energy Fund to plug budget holes.
Improve water and community infrastructure – Many communities of color in New Jersey are served by aging water systems plagued with leaking pipes and lead and chemical contamination.
On top of that, many older homes in these same communities contain lead paint, a threat to public health. Addressing these problems should be a priority. Research shows that investing in lead removal results in significant savings on special education, criminal justice and health care.
To spur the green economy and ensure environmental justice, the state should provide robust funding for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s water programs, and prioritize funding for lead remediation.
The Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund should be swiftly returned to its original purpose – removing lead-based paint from residential housing – so remediation projects can get under way to protect children and other vulnerable populations from lead poisoning.
Build resilience to climate disasters – Climate change poses a direct economic risk to New Jersey. Severe weather, flooding and other climate impacts have become more common, threatening lives and costing millions in property damage.
The state must continue to support programs, projects and policies that make the state more resilient to flooding and other climate change impacts. Nature-based solutions, such as planting forests that soak up flood water, can prevent property damage.
For every dollar invested in “green infrastructure,” an average of $7 is saved from reduced flooding risk. This is a great investment, as New Jersey is one of the states with the most to lose – more than $4.5 billion in coastal real estate alone.
Fund parks and trails – During the pandemic, New Jerseyans are relying on parks and trails more than ever. But not all communities have access to open space, especially in urban areas, and many existing parks are not safe, accessible or inviting.
Significant investments are needed in adding more parks as well as park improvements and amenities. Outdoor recreation in New Jersey contributes $17.8 billion in consumer spending, $6.1 billion in wages and salaries, $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue annually, as well as 158,000 jobs.
Accessible and safe parks help reduce asthma and childhood obesity rates, and significantly raises property values. The administration must fully fund the state’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, which provides tax relief for municipalities that host state open space lands which become tax exempt upon preservation.
Improve public transportation – A good public transportation system takes cars off the road and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But New Jersey Transit has been forced to raid its capital budget to meet its operating needs.
This has resulted in a dilapidated system riddled with delays, cancellations, inadequate service and some of the highest fares in the country. These capital budget raids hinder the agency’s ability to modernize and upgrade the fleet and reduce emissions.
Investing in New Jersey Transit would create jobs; an analysis by the American Public Transportation Association found that about 49,700 jobs are created for every $1 billion invested in public transportation.
New Jersey is primed for moving to a clean and green renewable energy future combined with solid and sustainable good paying job growth. Let’s all get behind investments in clean energy, clean water, public transportation, parks and trails, and a healthier and more prosperous state for all.
And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources – including parks and trails – visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at email@example.com