Murphy’s Budget Address: Strong Words on Environment
Today Governor Murphy announced his proposed FY2019 budget. While it includes initiatives for clean energy and fighting climate change, it continues the pattern of slashing the DEP budget. This year the agency is allocated $275 million; down from $321 million from last year’s budget. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, released the following statement:
“It’s great to hear a Governor talk about climate change, renewable energy, rejoining RGGI and banning fracking in his budget address. He supports climate initiatives, energy efficiency programs, and protecting drinking water. Murphy has rejoined our state into RGGI to make revenue and fight climate change while also committing to offshore wind programs. He spoke openly about opposing fracking and oil drilling off our coasts. Governor Murphy has strong environmental and clean energy goals for New Jersey including reaching 100% green energy by 2050. This is even more important after eight years of Christie’s attacks on the environment and rolling back protections.
“Governor Murphy’s first budget is an important step in moving New Jersey forward when it comes to clean energy and climate change. Our concern is if it can get done given our state’s budget problems. The budget does include cuts for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that are disappointing. For eight years, Christie continuously sacrificed New Jersey’s environment to balance the budget. He cut staffing and important environmental programs while raiding environmental and clean energy funds to make up for his tax cuts for billionaires. Murphy’s budget will begin to right those wrongs and reverse those cuts. However, it will take some time for the budget to even out and for us to climb out of the hole left by Christie.
“Unfortunately, because of Christie’s policies, in many ways this budget is a continuation of Christie’s when it comes to the DEP. The agency sees a 14.3% decrease from their 2018 budget, with a 3% decrease in operations; going from $213 million to $207 million. The budget still diverts money out of the DEP from programs such as the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund. We must work in the future to restore funding to the DEP and use the budget to make New Jersey cleaner, greener, and stronger than the next storm. This includes stopping privatization of DEP function and work. Under Christie, there was a 40% drop in DEP staff. We need to start hiring more people to do the core work of the department. It will be important to build up morale and funding in the department that’s been disheartened and slashed over the last eight years.
“We also see a continuation of raiding funds from the Clean Energy Fund. The budget takes about $90 million from the Clean Energy Fund for other purposes including $80 million for NJ Transit and $5 million to implement RGGI. This Fund is meant to support projects that make our homes more resilient such as weatherization, along with energy efficiency and green jobs. Energy efficiency and weatherization are some of the most cost-effective ways to reduce greenhouse gasses and air pollution. Energy efficiency reduces peak power needs and therefore saves people money because it could double and triple normal power. The Clean Energy Fund not only creates jobs and reduces energy usage, but it also creates billions in economic activity.
“While the DEP budget has gone down, we still may see increased in funding for environmental purposes. This is because Murphy plans to close loopholes in corporate business taxes. Since 4% of the corporate business tax is dedicated to environmental purposes, these programs will benefit as well. This increase would help programs including open space, farmland, historic preservation, parks capital, clean-up of contaminated sites, brownfield redevelopment, and watershed protection. By funding these projects, we are not only protecting the environment, waterways, and drinking water of the state; but providing the citizens of New Jersey with the natural resources they are entitled to be able to enjoy.
“Despite being held back by Christie’s budget holes, there are some important initiatives listed in Murphy’s budget. He plans to use our rejoining RGGI as a source of income. RGGI, or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is a climate-change compact made up of states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. Christie pulled our state out of RGGI but before he did, we saw $151 million in economic value and almost 1,800 jobs created in the state. When New Jersey participated in the program, the state achieved the RGGI greenhouse gas reduction goal of 10% in the first three years.
“Governor Murphy also mentioned efforts to focus on environmental justice in our state. This means targeting environmental programs towards communities that have been disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change. In his budget, the DEP will receive funds to hire staff to enforce diesel control compliance as part of the Governor’s commitment to environmental justice. We can implement environmental justice by targeting these communities for clean energy projects, environmental clean-ups, and green job creation.
“In his speech, Governor Murphy was adamant about protecting our coasts from offshore drilling threats from the federal government. Offshore wind is the most reliable and cost-effective form of offshore power. Wind energy is renewable and clean. It will help us create thousands of jobs in a variety of fields including construction and operation. Offshore wind will provide electricity and jobs to places where it’s needed most. We’ve been working on implementing offshore wind in New Jersey for fifteen years and are happy to see if finally happening.
“There will also be a $242 million increase in funding for New Jersey Transit. This is important because the agency is falling apart and in dire need of assistance. Investing in NJ Transit is also critical for our economy and environment and putting money into NJT will get people to work on time and reduce traffic and air pollution. NJ Transit has raised fares 9 times while cutting back on services. This has hurt our economy and businesses, caused people will be delayed and get to work late, while worsening our air quality problems.
“Christie may have tied Murphy’s hands when it comes to the budget, but there are other ways for DEP to get more funding. This includes increasing enforcement, Natural Resource Damage Claims and CBT money. Based on NJDEP’s online database, total enforcement actions issued from 2008 to 2013, fell by 77 percent and site inspections have seen an 80 percent drop under Christie. Lack of testing and oversight has put New Jersey at risk, especially when it comes to lead in the drinking water. We must go after polluters and make them pay to clean up their messes.
“It’s more important than ever that we fund environmental programs in our state because of the cuts coming from the Trump Administration. This year’s proposal cuts almost half of grants to state funding. We could see the DEP have to cut staff who are responsible for implementing the Clean Water Act, leaving a huge hole in our budget. With Trump’s cuts, there may be layoffs, closing of parks, and termination of other vital programs. This means New Jersey won’t have funding to keep people and property out of harm’s way or protect us from flooding and pollution during a storm.
“With his budget, Governor Murphy has the chance to make New Jersey a leader once again in clean energy and fighting climate change. We can increase environmental protections and green hobs to help New Jersey protect our environment and public health. We look forward to working with the Murphy Administration to advance clean energy, promote environmental justice, fix NJ Transit, and fight climate change in New Jersey. Murphy said a lot of important things on environment but we need to work to get more funding and get it all done.”