NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR PHIL Murphy’s environmental goals for New Jersey include setting the state on a path to 100 percent clean energy by 2050; addressing the effects of climate change being felt along the Jersey shore; building a clean energy economy with well-paying green jobs; and restoring the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“New Jersey has a long tradition of being a national leader in environmental protection, and the Murphy administration plans to promote solar energy and jumpstart the offshore wind industry, protect air quality and water supply, and focus environmental efforts on low income communities, which are disproportionately impacted by pollution,” says New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Acting Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe.
McCabe, who was most recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Deputy Region 2 Administrator in New York City, was appointed to head the NJDEP by Governor Murphy, pending confirmation by the New Jersey State Senate.
“I am excited to join the NJDEP and its thousands of expert professionals to help continue the Garden State’s leadership on the issues of climate change and renewable energy, sustainability with economic growth, and environmental protection based on strong science and facts,” she says.
Speaking at a Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ) Environmental Forum with Continuing Professional Education Services, LLC (CPES) at Montclair State University, State Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14) acknowledged the challenge.
“I don’t know that we’ve had a USEPA that’s been in a very conservative government versus a government like our state is about to have which I assume will be pretty progressive,” said Senator Greenstein, vice chair of the Senate Environmental Committee. “I’m not sure how we are going to work with some of the things they are putting forth.”
Dennis Toft, Esq., a member of the law firm Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, and chair of the firm’s environmental group, explained the situation: “What’s coming out of this administration in Washington is this concept called new federalism, in which there is a deliberate effort underway, particularly in the environmental arena, to shift more of the regulatory burden back to the states.”
Irene Kropp, a senior environmental consultant with Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, said she believes money for Superfund sites will potentially be problematic for New Jersey. “With this new federalism, I wish the USEPA would keep their hands off a lot of the things the state can do and can do better.”
Former New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) President Jeanne Fox, now a commissioner with the agency, supported the idea that climate change is a key issue. “Climate change is really the number one issue that affects every species on this planet.” she said.
Senator Greenstein, unsure of any pending action by the New Jersey State Legislature, suggested cooperation as a likely path: “It is important for us to be a part of larger discussions with other states and countries on this issue. I’m also a part of the manufacturing, caucus and I get to hear what businesses think of certain regulations that can be onerous. We need to consider all of the things people care about when making policy.”
Clean energy and renewables, part of the discussion on climate change, were highlighted as key issues.
“By 2050, 80 percent of energy has to be clean energy, and Governor Murphy has said he’d like to see 100 percent clean energy by that time, and I think it is doable,” explained Greenstein. She also mentioned offshore wind as a priority for the legislature to examine.
Amy Greene, president and owner of Amy S. Greene Environmental Associates, explained that “there is a huge emphasis on renewables and off-shore wind; but, if we do offshore wind, siting is an important factor because we need to keep in mind fisheries, sensitive ecological areas and more.”
Resiliency of the coastline as well as the interior of the state is another key issue that needs to be dealt with by the state’s new government, experts agreed. Superstorm Sandy made it clear to many in New Jersey that the state needed to take a long hard look at becoming more resilient in the face of changing weather patterns and rising sea levels.
“We face a challenge in this state, since we have been living with draft FEMA maps since Sandy,” said Toft. “We need to pay attention to see if the science supports these FEMA maps. We need to look at creative ways to make the state more resilient, such as creating oyster reefs along the shoreline and other smart ways to enhance the environment and make the state safer for the next storm.”
Greene agreed with Toft that resiliency must be a priority. “The increased severity of storms not only impacts the coastline but also inland with flooding and erosion and we need to think of natural systems to help remediate these issues like wetlands,” she said.
Site remediation was another key issued cited, and changes to the Licensed Site Remediation Professional (LSRP) program through the NJDEP have been a big improvement, according to Kropp.
“The number of staff required for cleanup of contaminated sites has been greatly reduced, the process is now paperless, and one of the main benefits of cases clearing more quickly is that staff have been freed up to address items requiring immediate action, enforcement for those not complying by deadlines and identifying unknown sources of contamination,” she said.
Toft agreed, saying it is important to examine legislation and policies because as things change, the laws and policies need to change with them. “As programs evolve, and things change, we need new legislation. A new bill to use recycled asphalt for fill more widely is a good example of necessary change by making a clarification on direct oversight.”
Toft also said things could be done under the current program to empower the LSRP board on enforcement.
Experts said the evaluation of natural resource damages (NRD)—hazardous waste sites, oil spills and more along the coastline as well as inland—are also going to be a challenge for the new administration.
“For the last eight years, we haven’t had much on NRD because the state hasn’t pursued it, but I think that will change,” said Toft.