Climate Change and Preserving Clean Air for Vulnerable Communities (Sponsored Content)

By Rick Thigpen

Our lives have been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic even as we all reckon with the impacts of climate change. It has never been clearer: Science matters if we are to fulfill our responsibility to preserve the things we hold most dear, our families, our communities and our way of life. But science alone cannot achieve these goals if we do not continue to talk about the concepts of social justice and equity. They are as much a part of building a brighter future together as vaccines or clean energy.

NJ Spotlight recently reported a higher impact of the COVID-19 disease is associated with existing health factors and social factors, with African Americans and Latinos more than twice as likely as whites to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. This dreadful pandemic has reminded us again that disparities not only continue to exist in our society, but also that their existence poses a threat to all of us.

So what does nuclear energy have to do with equity or supporting our citizens’ health?

We all need clean air to breathe. Environmental impacts – particularly those associated with poor air quality, like ozone and particulates – are greatest in urban areas with larger populations of low-income residents.

In its October 2020 application to extend New Jersey’s Zero Emissions Certificates (ZECs), PSEG noted that the American Lung Association has found that poorer people and ethnic minorities often face higher exposure to air pollution. Exposure to high levels of ozone and fine particulates can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma, leading to an increased need for medical care. Blacks, Hispanics and urban residents are more likely to be affected with asthma symptoms, as are individuals with a family history of the disease. Further, a recent study performed by scientists at Harvard University shows a linkage between higher fine particulate levels and increased mortality rates due to COVID-19.

In New Jersey, nuclear provides more than 90% of the clean energy generated in the state. And if our nuclear plants were to shut down for any reason, more than 90% of the electricity we use would come from power plants burning fossil fuels. This would cause an increase in emissions of harmful byproducts in the form of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, including carbon dioxide, ozone and fine particulates. These concerns are not theoretical. When New Jersey’s smallest nuclear plant, Oyster Creek, shut down permanently in October 2018, the electricity it generated was replaced with coal and natural gas, resulting in an additional 3.1 million tons of carbon released into the air in just one year.  Retiring more nuclear plants would just make an already bad situation worse.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show that New Jersey has been one of the fastest-warming states in the US, with average temperature increases approximately double the average for the Lower 48 states over the last 125 years.  And, studies have already shown significant impacts of climate change in the State as well as underscore the risks to New Jersey’s coastal property if sea levels rise.  Further, the United Nations has made it crystal clear that the effects of climate change fall the hardest on the most disadvantaged groups and that it can increase poverty and worsen inequality.  Are we going to heed this warning and what it portends for our state?

The best public policies for our state will combine an understanding of science and climate change with considerations of equity and social justice and, of course, affordability.

If you believe that climate change is not only a global challenge, but also one that hits New Jersey particularly hard, then the battle to preserve New Jersey’s nuclear plants is one we can’t afford to lose. At PSEG, we’re committed to supporting our state and doing what is in the best interests of our customers and communities.

From the air we breathe to how we treat each other, we’re all connected. This makes our approach to tackling climate change and preserving clean air relevant and meaningful for everyone.

Rick Thigpen is PSEG’s senior vice president for Corporate Citizenship and chairman of the PSEG Foundation.

This post is sponsored content from PSE&G.

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  • Bruce Todd

    It is high time the nation takes advantage of the stellar production of energy that has virtually gone unnoticed by our fleet of nuclear power plants across the nation. Instead of sinking that fleet through decommissioning, of plants some of which had undergone huge upgrades for safety and efficiency, we should encourage keeping them open, and in fact plan for the ultimate replacement of any that need it with the most modern 4th Generation nuclear plants, and encourage huge investment in finally and as rapidly as possible developing Fusion Technology . As Texas has identified, reliance on solar and wind is a costly and deadly mistake, as its unreliability has shown as opposed to the needed baseload requirements that nuclear has shown it is perfect for.

  • NJSolar2

    So PSE&G is currently correct that NJ and the PJM region need their nuke plants to run to help reduce emissions for fossil fuel power plants, which will help improve and maintain good air quality especially for disadvantage neighborhoods. And that we need to treat each other fairly. True, but nothing sez treating folks fairly like asking for $300M from all NJ customers to stay open because you support clean air for equity for disadvantaged neighborhoods and threatening to shutdown if you don’t get your way, when according to the Rate Counsel the NJ nukes have been paid for twice over.

    Yes we need the current nukes to operate for now and unfortunately the NJBPU may need to pay PSE&G the $300K to stay economical so more fossil fuels dont replace the nukes. (Just a sidebar what does the G stand for in PSE&G?) But let’s not invest any more in this technology that was too cheap to meter.

    Also lets not use Texas as the bell weather example of what and what not to invest in for our future energy systems. Texas did so many things wrong from not updating building codes in homes to address pipes from freezing to not weatherizing anything in their energy systems. (PS do wind turbines in Alaska and the Artic operate during the winter ? yes someone needs to tell Texas why that is a fact).

    We need to invest in a better cleaner energy system that does account for local energy social equity for disadvantaged neighborhoods. But that is not going to be the very expensive nuke plants that will never stop spinning your electric meter (even your new advance smart meter) faster and faster. We need to bring the clean energy economy to downtown Newark (next to PSE&G’s HQ) and urban neighborhoods across NJ..

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