NJ Sierra Club End of Year Review – 2019
We have had a very eventful and busy year in 2019. We accomplished a lot to protect New Jersey’s environment. We won some battles and lost some, and there are a few that keep coming back. In addition to everything we have accomplished this year, we still have a lot that we are trying to get done.
“This has been a year of many accomplishments and many disappointments at the state, local, and national level. We still have a lot of work to do. The Murphy Administration has been frustrating because of their failure to move forward, especially on issues like climate change and sea level rise. We have been calling for a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects for over a year, but Governor Murphy has failed to act. He has also failed to repealed a single Christie-era rule,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The current administration does not see the urgency of climate change and the extreme impacts it is already having on New Jersey. In spite of these drawbacks, we are seeing some environmental progress and we hope to see more in 2020.”
Environmental Battles Still in Progress
- We are still trying to get bills passed in lame duck, including S2252 (Smith/Greenstein), a bill that would set up EV charging infrastructure, and S2776 (Smith/Greenstein), a bill that would comprehensively ban plastic across the state
- NJ Sierra Club is suing BPU and Pinelands Commission for approving the Southern Reliability Link (SRL), but the Murphy Administration has refused to issue a stay. This means the pipeline could be built before we have a chance to stop it in court
- Murphy has made three nominations to the Highlands Council and five nominations to the Pinelands Commission, but the Senate has yet to vote to appoint the nominations
- The Pinelands Commission has failed have a full quorum to vote on withdrawing their approval for South Jersey Gas’s pipeline
- The DEP has denied permits for Williams Transco’s Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE) three times without prejudice, but the Transco keeps reapplying
- New Jersey’s new smoking ban, which prohibits smoking on public beaches and state parks, went into effect at the beginning of this year
- B.L. England, the last major coal-powered plant in New Jersey, closed after more than 50 years of burning fossil fuels
- The DEP purchased Holley Farm, a vital ecologically important area in the Pine Barrens and Delaware Bayshore forest region, after a 20 year battle to protect it
- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the PennEast Pipeline cannot use state lands. This will delay the project for at least two years and could possibly stop it or cause it to be rerouted
- BPU granted the state’s first offshore wind solicitation of 1,100 megawatts to Ørsted, setting the record for the single largest award for offshore wind in the U.S
- Governor Murphy raised New Jersey’s offshore wind goal to 7,500 megawatts by 2035
- Governor Murphy came out against the Meadowlands Power Plant, although he has yet to take any action to stop it
- Keegan Landfill in Kearny and Silver Spruce Drive in Vernon will be finally closed and cleaned up after illegal dumping of materials by NJSEA in Kearny and Joseph Wallace in Vernon.
- The Murphy Administration has failed to repeal a single Christie-era rule
- Lead levels in Newark’s drinking water were at record highs this year, reaching 52 parts per billion between January and June.
- The Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI), the agency responsible for setting standards of acceptable limits for toxins and carcinogens in our water, has not had a single meeting in 2019
- This summer had a record number of algae blooms due to climate change and water pollution
- New DEP Stormwater Rule fails to properly manage certain contaminants and will lead to more flooding and pollution. Even Trump’s FEMA criticized the rule.
- Several bills that had consensus in the Legislature were weakened by last-minute amendments that came from the DEP and the Governor’s Office, including the Beach Access Bill S1074 (Smith), the Carbon Bill S3207 (Smith), and the Environmental Justice bill S1700 (Singleton/Weinberg).
- DEP granted permits for the Roseland Compressor Station even though the compressor station is unneeded and will create more pollution and flooding in the region
- Governor Murphy’s Energy Master Plan draft changes the definition of clean energy to include dirty energy like natural gas, fossil fuel plants with carbon sequestration, and incinerators
- The New Jersey Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) Program is close to crashing because of the cost cap on solar energy
- The DEP has fewer employees now than under Christie, and New Jersey is 10th in the nation for the reduction of environmental staff
- NJ Transit is rated the worst in the nation. They need to move forward with electric buses.
- Governor Murphy has failed to stop the bear hunt, even though he said the he opposes it
Although there has been some progress, the Murphy Administration has continued to move much slower than we had hoped. State agencies are still implementing many of Christie’s policies because they are led by the same people and the same rules. The Trump Administration has continued to attack the environment by rolling back critical rules that protect our clean air, clean water, and open space. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, released the following statement:
“There have been many successes and progress in the environment. But this is the year that climate change, toxins in our drinking water, and dirty water have really hit New Jersey hard. We saw climate impacts with sunny day flooding, sea level rise, storm surges, and more pollution in our waterways. Our water systems were contaminated with lead and chemicals like PFOAS. Newark’s drinking water had record levels of lead this year, and we had 70 suspected and 39 confirmed harmful algal blooms in New Jersey. Invasive clinging jellyfish were found in larger numbers in our bays and rivers. A DEP report showed that we can only consume 38% of our drinking water supply because of contamination and pollution. The report also showed that only 5% of our streams and rivers meet criteria for fishing and swimming.
“We had a lot of environmental wins this year. Environmental victories this year include the implementation of New Jersey’s smoking ban for public beaches and state parks, the closing of our last coal-fired power plant B.L. England, and the DEP’s purchase of Holley Farm to preserve it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed approval of the PennEast Pipeline, slowing them down for two years and perhaps stopping the project or causing it to be rerouted. The BPU granted the state’s first offshore wind solicitation of 1,100 megawatts and Governor Murphy raised NJ’s offshore wind goal to 7,500 megawatts by 2035. Governor Murphy also came out against the Meadowlands Power Plant, although he has yet to take any action to stop it.
“There have been many environmental lows this year. The Murphy Administration has still failed to repeal a single Christie-era rule. Lead levels in Newark’s drinking water reached a record 52 parts per billion, which is over ten times the federal limit. The DEP signed off on a weak Stormwater Rule and also granted permits for the Roseland Compressor Station. NJ Sierra Club is suing BPU and Pinelands Commission for approving the SRL pipeline, but NJ refuses to issue a stay which means the pipeline could be built before we have a chance to stop it in court. Murphy has redefined clean energy to include dirty energy, the Solar Program is close to crashing because of the cost cap, and NJ Transit is rated the worst in the nation. New Jersey is also 10th in the nation for environmental staff reductions, with fewer DEP staff now than under Christie.
“Climate change is here, and it is only getting worse. A recent DEP study projects dramatic sea-level rise in New Jersey of up to 8.8 feet over 2000 levels by 2100. Instead of limiting development and pulling back from building on flood-prone areas, we are putting more homes in flood risk zones. According to a new Zillow report, New Jersey is developing in flood prone areas faster than any other state. We are still using Christie-era rules like the Flood Hazard Rules, Waiver Rules, Stormwater Rules, and CAFRA rules that encourage development and cause more flooding and pollution. We are also still the only state in the region without a Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Plan.
“New Jersey needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help mitigate climate change impacts. There are currently over a dozen new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in New Jersey that will increase emissions by over 32%. Last year, we formed a coalition called Empower New Jersey that now has over 90 groups. The coalition has been calling on Governor Murphy to put a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects until we have the programs and standards in place to achieve our 100% clean energy goals. So far, Murphy has not been willing to put a moratorium on these projects. Our state can be a national leader in clean energy and green jobs if we aggressively move forward with renewable energy.
“Governor Murphy’s draft Energy Master Plan does not address the urgency and existential threat that we are facing. The Governor has made a commitment for 100% clean energy by 2050, but instead of trying to meet that commitment he has changed the definition of clean energy to dirty energy. He redefined clean energy to include natural gas, fossil fuel plants with carbon sequestration, nuclear power plants, incinerators, biomass, carbon credits and offsets. The Plan fails to mention the 15 fossil fuel projects in the state, which means that New Jersey supports moving forward with these projects even though they will undermine GHG reductions and renewable energy.
“This was a record year for algae blooms and closed lakes. The DEP failed to clean up our lakes and get rid of this problem. They need to reverse Christie’s rollbacks, restore New Jersey’s lake management program, and deal with phosphorus. A recent Environmental Working Group report showed levels of cyanotoxins in lakes, rivers, and other water bodies across the country at levels higher than EPA health guidance standards. New Jersey needs to be doing more when it comes to preventing toxic algae blooms in the future. DEP needs to establish stream buffers and enforce real Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards that limit pollutants in our lakes. We also need to reduce overdevelopment and sprawl in environmentally sensitive areas.
“Another major water problem we faced this summer was the presence of an invasive species of clinging jellyfish in our waterways. The jellyfish were first spotted in New Jersey in 2016 and have turned up every year since. This is a stinging rebuke of failed policies to deal with overdevelopment and stormwater runoff. Seeing jellyfish in New Jersey waterways like Barnegat Bay and Shrewsbury River is a canary in the coal mine. These jellyfish thrive in warm water and areas with pollution because they need less oxygen than other sea life. The state needs to work to reduce pollution and address climate impacts. We also must work to restore watersheds, wetlands and streams, and preserve environmentally sensitive areas.
“New Jersey has far too many water problems, whether it is PFOAs, chlorpyrifos, cyanobacteria in our reservoirs, or lead. For too long, New Jersey has failed to adequately protect its drinking water and is putting the public at risk. Our Water Supply Master Plan is still outdated, and DEP have yet to adopt strict standards for hazardous chemicals in our drinking water. The Drinking Water Quality Institute, the agency that is supposed to set standards and protect public health, did not meet at all in 2019. The Murphy Administration made a commitment to move forward with protecting our drinking water, but no drinking water standards have been set or amended this year.
“Plastics have become a bigger and bigger problem that affects our environment and our water. They are a menace and an existential threat to our drinking water, beaches, and wildlife. So far, over 40 towns in New Jersey are moving forward on banning plastic. New Jersey needs a comprehensive plastic ban bill that will protect our environment and public health. We are still trying to get S2776 (Smith), a comprehensive statewide plastic ban bill, passed in the lame duck session. We need to keep fighting to get this bill heard and released before our plastic waste problem gets worse.
“There were several bills that had consensus in the Legislature that were weakened by last-minute amendments. Governor Murphy signed a weakened Beach Access Bill, S1074 (Smith), and a weakened Carbon Bill, S3207 (Smith), into law this year. The Beach Access Law still allows towns to block access to beaches and waterfront that should belong to all of us, and the Carbon Bill falls short of steps taken by other states to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Other bills that have been weakened by amendments include the Electric Vehicle Bill S2252 (Smith/Greenstein) and the Environmental Justice bill S1700 (Singleton/Weinberg).
“We are fighting multiple battles to protect the integrity of New Jersey’s environment. We are in court challenging a BPU and Pinelands Commission approval of NJNG’s Southern Reliability Link Pipeline. We have asked for a stay because we believe they will cause irreparable harm by moving forward with the construction of the SRL pipeline, but the state has refused to issue a stay. This means that the pipeline will be built before we have a chance to fight it in court. The Pinelands Commission has a resolution to withdraw their support for the South Jersey Gas pipeline, but the resolution has been tabled since April. New Jersey Sierra Club is also involved in litigation against the Bellemead Sewer Plant and in a rate case challenging a powerline for the Meadowlands power plant.
“The current Administration has made some environmental progress this year, although much more needs to be done. Governor Murphy finally signed the stormwater utility bill S1073 (Smith) into law this year, which will help us mitigate stormwater runoff. In August, Murphy made three nominations to the Highlands Council, finally replacing Christie appointees. He has also made five nominations to the Pinelands Commission so far, but he and President Sweeney need to get these nominations moving. In October, Attorney General Grewal and DEP Commissioner McCabe announced new Environmental Justice actions targeting polluters in lower-income and minority communities in the state.
“New Jersey came out blue with a green tide in this year’s elections. Environmental champions were selected on a state and local level. An overwhelming majority of our endorsed candidates won by comfortable margins. Many returning legislators have been leaders on a variety of environmental issues, from pushing electric vehicles to securing critical environmental protections to advocating for environmental justice. This year’s election day was a win for the environment on a state and local level. Now with re-elected incumbents and new leaders, we must move forward to fight climate change and protect New Jersey’s clean air and clean water.
“Our legislative priorities for 2020 include 100% renewable energy by 2035 and zero carbon by 2050. The Murphy Administration needs to take climate change and water pollution more seriously in 2020. They need to fix outdated rules like CAFRA and move forward with a Coastal Commission. They also need to work on removing lead from our water and banning dangerous contaminants like chlorpyrifos. More funding needs to go toward urban and state parks, NJ Transit needs to buy electric buses, and we need to remove the solar cost cap. We hope to see legislation like A5033 (Pinkin) passed that would prevent backsliding of certain State regulations due to changes in federal law or regulation. The Trump Administration has continuously rolled back critical rules and regulations, and we need to build a green wall around our state.
“In 2020, New Jersey can move forward with renewable energy to create green jobs and a green economy. We will continue pushing for a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects because we need to stop dirty power plants and other fossil fuel infrastructure from taking over the state. Let’s start the New Year on the right track toward meeting Governor Murphy’s 100% clean energy goals. Murphy still has time to change, but he needs to act quickly. He needs to step up and take leadership in making New Jersey cleaner and greener. New Jersey can’t afford to wait any longer.”