An Earth Day reminder: N.J. must move faster toward clean energy | Opinion


By Ed Potosnak


It’s been more than fifty years since we celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970. The world has changed since then - while we’ve made enormous strides in protecting our environment, our climate has been changing around us.


Last year was Earth’s warmest year since modern record-keeping began around 1880, and the last 10 years have been the 10 warmest on record. As New Jersey celebrates Earth Month, it’s critical that our Legislature position our state as a leader in the fight against climate change by passing landmark legislation that puts us on the path to 100% clean electricity by 2035.


The climate crisis isn’t in the future — we’re experiencing the impacts of a warming planet here and now. Families and businesses across our state are increasingly at risk from rising sea levels and more frequent storms, which cause flooding along the Shore and inundate inland communities as rivers and streams overflow their banks.


Securing a clean energy future won’t just help protect us from the next Hurricane Ida or Superstorm Sandy, it will also have immediate benefits for our most vulnerable New Jerseyans: children, seniors and people of color.


Burning fossil fuels has given our state some of the dirtiest air in the nation, and it is concentrated in low-income urban areas like Paterson, Newark and Camden, which bear a disproportionate impact from the legacy of persistent environmental racism.


Yet decades after the full extent of the health impacts of burning fossil fuels have became known, we’re still fighting proposals to burn fossil fuels or place dirty natural gas compressor stations in some of the most overburdened communities in New Jersey.

It’s no surprise then that Black and brown children and seniors are more likely to suffer from asthma, heart disease and cancers caused by exposure to dangerous pollutants in our air and water. One out of four children in Newark has asthma, which is three times higher than the national average.


New Jersey took a step forward in addressing the disparate impacts pollution has on these communities by passing landmark environmental justice legislation in 2020, a decade-long effort led by Sens. Troy Singleton and John McKeon, the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, the Ironbound Community Corporation, and Clean Water Action.


But new 100% clean energy legislation will ensure that all New Jerseyans can breathe more easily as we shift away from dirty fossil fuels and toward wind and solar for our electricity supply.


At the same time, this legislation will ensure that New Jersey is prepared to compete in the growing green energy economy. President Biden’s historic climate law is investing $370 billion in clean energy and creating union jobs manufacturing solar panels, saving families money by making homes more energy efficient, expanding electric vehicle infrastructure, installing offshore wind farms, and upgrading our electrical grid.


New Jersey’s clean energy transition will help us fully leverage these federal dollars to ensure that we get our fair share of clean energy investments and the economic benefits that go with it.


We’re already seeing how our state’s burgeoning wind energy industry is attracting businesses and creating jobs in places like Paulsboro, which has experienced economic challenges in recent years. The 100% clean electricity bill would turbocharge these investments and make sure that the benefits are felt across a wide range of industries, from weatherization to solar energy.


But while Governor Murphy is working through the Board of Public Utilities to put New Jersey on a path to clean energy, its future is not yet secure. The Legislature must enshrine our clean energy goals into law, to ensure that New Jersey remains committed to improving air quality and fighting climate change beyond 2035.


Over the next few months, the fossil fuel industry is going to fight hard against this bill, but the health and economic well-being of New Jerseyans is more important than the balance sheets of multinational big-dirty oil companies.


It’s time to invest in a healthier future for New Jersey families and right the wrongs of environmental racism. And it’s time to secure our state’s dominance in the clean energy jobs of the future. On this Earth Day, let’s recommit ourselves to passing the 100% clean electricity bill.