By Erin Flaherty
Climate change undoubtedly poses a threat to the entire global community, but its impacts are hitting closer to home than most may think. When you consider that New Jersey’s coastline is 130 miles long and is home to 9 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, it's no surprise that climate change disproportionately impacts New Jersey in comparison to many other states. A Rutgers University report states that the “sea level in New Jersey was rising more than two times faster than the global average; Since 1911, the sea level rose 1.5 feet, compared with the global mean of 0.6 feet.” The impact that rising sea levels will have on coastal residents and businesses will be detrimental; in fact, the Rutgers study further concludes that, by 2050, Atlantic City will most likely experience high-tide flooding 120 days a year. On top of that, New Jersey’s yearly temperature average has been increasing at a rate that’s double the average for the continental United States.
These environmental issues have already led to several detrimental economic impacts, including a loss in revenue from tourism and agriculture. With a staple of the state economy under strain, local politics have become increasingly focused on the unmitigated impacts of global warming, and how these issues can be confronted efficiently and with the urgency needed to lessen these impacts. Current New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ran his campaign with a strong focus on environmental reform. He sees environmental progressivism as entirely necessary considering the impact that climate issues are having on the entire state, which explains why he signed Executive Order No. 100 in January, also known as Protecting Against Climate Threats (PACT). This executive action has been labeled the most aggressive and comprehensive climate change regulation plan in the United States.
Governor Murphy’s PACT sets a sizable goal for New Jersey’s energy usage: 50% clean energy by 2030, and 100% clean energy by 2050. He claims that this type of goal will stir up the urgency needed to combat the threat of climate change, stating that “New Jersey faces an imminent threat from climate change, from rising seas that threaten our coastline to high asthma rates in some of our most vulnerable communities due to fossil fuel pollution.” Despite its lofty ambitions, there has been heated controversy over the efficacy of PACT. In the past, Murphy’s environmental plans have received criticism for being superficial and not inciting enough action. Fred Fastaggi, a consultant with Shoreline Energy Advisors, an energy efficiency consulting firm explains this in his opinion on New Jersey’s past energy goals: "Visions and strategic plans are two different things. Energy master plans have been visioning statements without the nuts and bolts of a true strategic plan to successfully attain that vision." This time around, Murphy came prepared with a detailed Energy Master Plan that has seven main clauses, from reducing energy consumption in the transportation sector to the building sector. These clauses outline and address different areas where the state can reduce emissions and include regulations that will be put in place to ensure that these plans are put into action.
The most controversial clause is Murphy’s plan to strictly regulate new infrastructure construction. New Jersey is the first state to require builders to consider the impacts of climate change in their planning and usage in order to be granted government approval. In the past, Murphy has stayed silent and allowed fossil fuel infrastructure projects to run without much regulation. Jon Bramnick, the republican minority leader in the New Jersey General Assembly, believes that this type of developmental regulation will hamper business growth. Another perspective that clashes with Murphy’s plans for clean energy is the idea that the transition away from natural gas is being rushed and isn’t ideal for the economy. New Jersey could keep natural gas sources in its energy portfolio for important and urgent development projects while targeting environmental reform in other areas.
Despite expressed disapproval from republican assembly members, Murphy’s PACT has received support from some prominent republicans, such as Michael Egenton, the executive vice president of governmental relations for the state Chamber of Commerce. He has supported the regulation as long as the business community is considered in the process. This is why Murphy has invited both business and environmental leaders to the table to participate in the rule making process. His efforts to include varied voices in the conversation show that his intent is not to slow down business growth, but to create an economy that considers the impacts of its practices and works in a sustainable way.
Ultimately, Murphy’s goal signifies an important shift in focus from rapid state development to sustainable practices. The governor hopes to set a powerful precedent and example from the rest of the country. “We are going to make New Jersey the place that proves we can grow our economy, create jobs, and fight climate change all at the same time,” he stated in response to backlash from the Trump administration in regards to his lofty goals. If the governor's goals are met with tangible action and fierce enforcement of his clauses, the Garden State’s PACT agenda will set a nationwide standard for future climate progress.