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New Jersey: Builders Must Now Consider Climate Risks

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently revealed how the state will reach its climate goals. The state with a 130-mile coastline (which includes Cape May, shown above) now has one of the most ambitious climate change mitigation plans. It is the first state that incorporates climate considerations into permitting decisions, which means builders have to consider climate change impacts.

The launch of the latest Energy Master Plan

The state’s goals are to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2050 and to reduce GHG emissions by 80 percent below 2006 levels by the same year. The Energy Master Plan is the way that the state plans to meet its goals and it covers electricity generation, transportation, and buildings. It defines 100 percent clean energy as 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity.

The strategies within the Energy Master Plan include reducing energy use and emissions from the transportation sector. This means encouraging electric vehicle adoption and electrifying transportation systems. Other strategies include accelerating the deployment of renewable energy and distributed energy resources by developing offshore wind, community solar, a successor solar incentive program, solar thermal, and energy storage.

Governor Murphy also signed an executive order which directs the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt regulatory reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change within two years. The executive order establishes a GHG monitoring and reporting program to identify significant sources of emissions, including short-lived climate pollutants. The program will monitor the progress of reducing emissions.

“In the absence of climate change leadership in Washington, these reforms will help propel New Jersey to 100 percent clean energy by 2050,” said Governor Murphy in a statement. “Through these aggressive actions, New Jersey will drive a world-leading innovation economy that invests in people and communities, ensures environmental justice for all residents, creates good-paying jobs, protects diverse vulnerable ecosystems, improves public health, and leads the way in the global clean-energy transition.”

Despite widespread support, some note the lack of a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects

Governor Murphy’s reforms are resonating across the Garden State, including a group of 14 public interest and business groups who together expressed their support. One of the supporters includes Tom Gilbert, the campaign director for New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ. “This is exactly the type of bold leadership needed to address the climate crisis. Gov. Murphy’s actions today put New Jersey at the forefront of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build a healthier, more prosperous, clean energy future,” he said.

Despite this widespread support, some think the new reforms do not go far enough to reduce emissions. One reason is that the Energy Master Plan does not establish a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects. To date, there are 15 proposed fossil fuel projects in New Jersey. The plan also includes energy sources such as incinerators, carbon sequestration for fossil fuels, biogas, biomass, and nuclear power, which the Sierra Club describes as “dirty, dangerous, and costly sources of energy.”

As of summer 2019, 12 new gas-based projects were being planned and developed. If all 12 projects are in operation, carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) GHG emissions would increase by 32 million metric tons a year, according to a report by Empower New Jersey. The state’s total GHG CO2s emissions from all sources were 101 million metric tons in 2015. The new projects would increase total GHG emissions by 30 percent.

New Jersey is at the frontline of climate change

The climate of New Jersey is changing, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated in 2016. Sea level is rising faster along the famed New Jersey shore than the global average due to sinking. As sea level rises the damage from storms will increase. Sea level rise is not the only climate change impact the state is facing. The States At Risk project ranks New Jersey the sixth-fastest warming state and its average temperature has risen by nearly two degrees Celsius since 1895, which is double the average for the 48 contiguous states, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Image credit: Ryan Stone/Unsplash

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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