On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers brought news of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas by declaring all people held in slavery in the U.S. must be freed. Today, Juneteenth has become a national holiday.
While slavery officially ended in 1865, in the almost one hundred fifty years since we still have not achieved racial equality in our nation or state. This injustice is reflected in many of the institutions and decisions made in New Jersey, and the environment is no exception.
Historically, our state’s polluting industries have been placed in Black and brown neighborhoods. It’s not a coincidence that many of New Jersey’s 114 Superfund sites, locations that receive federal funding for pollution cleanup, are located in low-income communities of color.
The impact of environmental racism on communities of color in New Jersey is deadly. Asthma is a major public health indicator in low-income Black and brown communities. The medical cost and lost job productivity directly resulting from costs associated with asthma in New Jersey is $450 million annually. Diesel pollution associated with mobile emissions in urban areas causes nearly 1,000 premature deaths and 1,300 non-fatal heart attacks annually.
That’s why we were extremely excited when Gov. Murphy announced that New Jersey is committing to 100% clean energy on an accelerated timeline, speeding up from 2050 to 2035. In addition to helping with climate change, reducing fossil fuel pollution will bring cleaner air and better health, including reductions in diseases like cancer, heart attacks, and asthma that are exacerbated by burning dirty fossil fuels.
We also applaud the state’s efforts to develop new clean energy industries in our state and the potential to benefit communities of color through business ownership and family-sustaining jobs in the clean, renewable energy sector.
Gov. Murphy has made offshore wind a priority for the state, aiming to reach 11,000 MW by 2040. We support responsibly developed offshore wind to improve air quality while protecting our communities and our oceans from their number one threat — climate change.
There is no better place to anchor offshore wind development, and the good local union jobs, than right here at the epicenter of the nation’s fast-emerging offshore wind supply chain at the New Jersey Wind Port.
We are well aware that communities of color are often left behind during major economic transitions and that jobs and business opportunities often go elsewhere. However, Gov. Murphy has made a commitment that everyone will benefit from our transition to clean energy. He has established the New Jersey Council on the Green Economy to ensure these jobs will provide a living wage to sustain our middle class and help create a prosperous future for all.
New Jerseyans, especially those in our Black and brown communities have borne the unjust burden of pollution in our state.
Keeping clean energy affordable for all families is also critical. That’s why we’re excited the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) is moving forward with a permanent community solar program. New Jersey has a long history of racial residential segregation that has deprived many people of color of safe, secure, energy-efficient housing.
Community solar enables panels to be stationed on a large building within a community, which allows those who don’t own a home, have access to their roofs, or can’t afford their solar panels to benefit from clean, renewable energy at a savings of approximately 100 to 250 dollars a year or more. Residents in Woodbridge and East Brunswick will soon be able to benefit from a community solar program.
Even with the great news about our move toward a clean energy future, there are still problems that must be addressed. This is a historic opportunity to make sure our new clean energy economy is equitable, and we cannot fail in that commitment.
The money collected from businesses and working families’ energy bills is supposed to fund energy cost-saving projects to insulate and weatherize homes of low-income families. Instead of helping reduce costs for families, each year these funds are taken and diverted for other purposes – further burdening working families with unnecessarily higher bills, not to mention efforts to tackle our climate crisis. We are asking that the state stop cheating low-income families and end the raids to the Clean Energy Fund.
We’re also pushing for the BPU clean energy incentive programs to benefit renters as well as homeowners. In New Jersey, 77% of non-Hispanic white households own their home, compared to only 41% of Black households — a difference of 36 percentage points! The BPU must develop incentives that benefit everyone, especially communities of color, as we transition to the new clean energy economy.
We are proud of the work New Jersey LCV and GreenFaith, along with our partners, are doing to support clean energy legislation and programs that will be a win for the environment, workers, businesses, and New Jersey families across the board.
As we transition to a just and equitable clean energy economy, we must remain vigilant about the rights of people of color who for far too long have been overburdened by our reliance on dirty energy. The clean energy future must benefit everyone.
Rev. Ronald Tuff is a GreenFaith New Jersey Organizer, where he specializes in organizing Black churches for environmental leadership. Ed Potosnak is the executive director of New Jersey LCV. The organization works to elect environmentally responsible candidates to state and local offices.