Earlier this month, NASA reported that June had been the hottest June on record. The world may not be on fire per se, but it is smoking hot. It remains a really open question if the current political class of leaders have the imagination to marshal the collective action that’s required.
In June, New York and New Jersey found themselves enveloped in a morass of toxic air drifting downward from 400 wildfires in Canada that experts link to the climate crisis and our inability to reduce the carbon we release into the atmosphere.
It was so bad on June 7 that Gov. Murphy sent state employees home early and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey had to reduce the speed limit on its Goethals, Outerbridge Crossing and Bayonne Bridges to 30 miles per hour.
“Make no mistake, from the wildfires in Canada to those cropping up with increasing frequency and severity in our own backyard, these extreme weather events are tangible – and devastating – evidence of the intensifying climate crisis,” Murphy wrote in a statement. “As the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Forest Fire Service works tirelessly to protect our residents and properties across the state, we will continue to do our own part by pursuing the bold action our climate reality demands.”
On July 10, Gov. Hochul convened a press conference after a 35-year-old woman from Highland Falls had drowned after being swept away by catastrophic flash flooding caused by torrential downpours that dropped eight inches of rain in less than a 24-hour period.
“So, I’m joined here by local leaders to give an update on the current situation we’re anticipating going forward, and what residents need to do together, how we can stand up and using every bit of our power mobilizing to fight the ravages of climate change because again, these are unprecedented weather events that keep hitting us over and over and over again,” Hochul told reporters.
Hochul continued. “So, we must change our behavior as a planet, as a country, as a State, and in our own homes, and we’re going to continue that conversation in earnest because we have to know that we have to do everything in our power to protect our citizens.”
So, it would appear that we have two Governors, both Democrats and from neighboring states sounding the alarm about the importance of taking “bold action” to address the climate crisis that’s already upon us.
Yet, as we have seen over the dogfight over New York City’s congestion pricing scheme, which could impose as much as $23 on each vehicle entering midtown Manhattan, when it comes to money, our political leaders on both sides of the Hudson play to the tabloids by resorting to legal action and talking tough.
Whether it be fighting in the courts over which state had claim on Ellis Island, or the bi-state legal bickering over disbanding the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, our two states’ leaders are all too often like the suburban pinhead neighbors who have to call the local police to adjudicate their boundaries.
If ever there were a time for them to get over themselves, it would be in the midst of an existential planetary crisis. When neighbors fail to cooperate all the parties involved end up usually being diminished. States are no different.
That’s not to say that there aren’t significant issues that need to be addressed from New Jersey’s perspective.
Once congestion pricing is in place, New Jersey Transit, as well as the Port Authority’s PATH train are likely to feel the effects in terms of additional demands and both are every bit as worthy of additional support as is New York City’s MTA. Similarly, corridor communities in places like Bergen and Hudson counties are likely to experience additional vehicle and truck traffic that will bring additional air pollution to those neighborhoods. A global ecological crisis transcends state boundaries, and any real remedy has to recognize that.
“I think it’s a fool hearty attempt at impeding another state’s ability to reduce their emissions and fight the climate crisis,” Renae Reynolds, executive director of the Tristate Transportation Campaign told CBS-TV News. “He [Gov. Murphy] should focus on fighting the climate crisis and we know one of the best ways to do that is to invest in mass transit.”
Paula Rogovin, a Bergen County climate crisis activist, was one of dozens of protestors that showed up at Gov. Murphy’s press conference in Fort Lee to announce the lawsuit challenging federal regulators’ approval of the New York City congestion pricing program.
Rogovin said the climate crisis would require dramatic shifts in long standing government plans like a multi-billion-dollar project to expand the capacity of the portion of the New Jersey Turnpike that feeds traffic into the Jersey City approach to the Holland Tunnel.
“The number of cars and trucks going into New York City is already horrendous—the pollution is just awful,” Rogovin said. “It can be changed by the expansion of mass transit. Gov. Murphy has $10.5 billion allotted to that highway expansion……Can imagine what would happen in that situation in what is already an environmental justice community with even more cars and trucks trying to get around the congestion pricing? Gov. Murphy can instead take that $10.5 billion and use it for mass transit.”
Rogovin noted that there have been several high-profile fossil fuel projects in communities like Newark and Kearny, already environmentally burdened, that continue to move forward over community opposition. The Bergen County activist wishes Murphy would express the same concern about the impact of emissions from these plants as he did over the pollution generated in New Jersey as a consequence of motorists trying to avoid New York City’s $23 levy.
There were a couple of months during the worst days of the COVID pandemic where Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Murphy worked in collaboration to reconcile their respective states’ responses to those devastating surges of the virus that killed so many. They filled the leadership void left by President Trump, who had actually pitted the red states against the blue states, as he drove a wedge deeper and deeper into the heart of the nation.
It would seem, perhaps with President Biden’s facilitation, Hochul and Murphy can be encouraged to work out a congestion pricing strategy that uplifts the entire region. The ravages of the climate crisis transcend borders and so should our thinking.