By Tom Gilbert
New Jersey has a lot to lose from climate change. As a coastal state, we are seeing rising sea levels and more intense storms making many cities and towns more vulnerable to deadly flooding.
As a highly urbanized state, we face increased health risks as the urban heat island effect is intensified by relentless summer heatwaves. And as we try to preserve our “Garden State” agricultural heritage, farmers are challenged by extreme weather cycles like droughts followed by heavy rains.
For these reasons and more, New Jersey stands to benefit greatly from the climate provisions of the federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which was recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden.
Though scaled down from its previous incarnation (the Build Back Better bill), the new law marks the largest congressional investment in climate change action in American history, designed to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, bring down consumer energy costs, spur domestic clean energy manufacturing and jobs, tackle longstanding pollution in overburdened communities and protect coastlines.
Many of the key climate provisions were shaped by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including steps to reduce methane pollution from natural gas, to deploy low- and zero-emission technologies, and to decrease energy usage through home efficiency upgrades.
“The legislation makes unparalleled investments in climate, clean energy and environmental justice that put us on track to meet our aggressive climate goals,” said Pallone after the House of Representatives vote.
“It also includes an unprecedented $2.6 billion to conserve and restore coastal habitats with living shoreline projects and protect coastal communities like the ones along the Jersey Shore,” he said.
And thanks in large part to the work of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill includes significant funding for “natural solutions” to climate change, including the conservation of forests that absorb and store carbon, urban tree plantings and climate-friendly agricultural practices that promote carbon sequestration.
The Act has earned high praise from conservationists, who have long recognized nature can play a significant role in addressing climate change and have advocated for natural solutions as part of a multi-pronged approach to the climate crisis.
“The Inflation Reduction Act is landmark climate legislation that has the potential to reduce U.S. emissions by 40% by 2030, helping to reduce carbon in our atmosphere and buffering human and natural communities from the worst effects of climate change,” said Andrew Bowman, president of the Land Trust Alliance, a national organization that supports statewide and regional conservation groups like New Jersey Conservation Foundation.
Here are some climate highlights of the Inflation Reduction Act:
• Clean electricity and buildings – The Act provides tax credits for emissions-free electricity sources and storage, including wind, solar, geothermal and advanced nuclear; clean energy rebates and grants for residential buildings, including rebates for installing heat pumps and retrofitting homes; and funding to create a 21st century electric grid that can ensure the reliable delivery of clean energy;
• Clean fuel and vehicles – The Act creates tax credits for purchasing new and used electric cars, and for installing alternative fueling equipment. It would also create new credits for low-carbon car and airplane fuels;
• Agricultural conservation, forest investments – The Act includes $20 billion to support sustainable agricultural practices that improve soil carbon, reduce nitrogen losses and decrease emissions; funding to plant trees in urban areas and sequester more carbon in our forests; and investments in clean energy technology in rural areas;
• Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants – The Act invests $3 billion to community-led projects that address environmental and public health harms related to pollution and climate change to the communities most impacted by climate change and environmental injustice;
• Coastal Resilience – The Act provides $2.6 billion to coastal states for the conservation, restoration and protection of coastal and marine habitats, and to enable coastal communities to prepare for extreme storms and other changing climate conditions.
Just before the Inflation Reduction Act was passed, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette testified before a joint meeting of the New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee about the importance of addressing climate change and improving coastal resilience in New Jersey.
“Climate change is the single greatest threat to our communities, economies and way of life in New Jersey,” LaTourette said, adding that “the science is clear: temperatures are increasing, sea levels are rising and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and intense.”
New Jersey has been a national leader in addressing the climate crisis. Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy 50% by 2030, consistent with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change targets.
Additional measures are needed to ensure that New Jersey is on track to meet these targets and to protect communities against deadly flooding associated with climate change.
New Jersey’s work is far from done, but the massive investment provided by the Inflation Reduction Act is certain to provide a big boost to us and every other state.
Thank you to Congressman Pallone, Sen. Booker, Sen. Menendez, congresswomen Coleman and Sherrill, congressmen Payne, Kim, Pascrell, Malinowski and Norcross for helping pass this historic legislation so our state and nation can move forward on climate solutions.
Tom Gilbert is a co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.