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                                                On Juneteenth, let’s reflect on environmental equity | Opinion

Juneteenth, the annual holiday recognizing when some of the last enslaved people in Texas were notified they were free, is a time to celebrate, but it is also a time to reflect on where we’ve been - and where we are going — when it comes to racial equality.

As champions for environmental protection in New Jersey, we realize we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to environmental equity and justice. Our state’s industrial and commercial operations, like polluting oil and gas fossil fuel facilities, have been intentionally sited in Black and brown neighborhoods — and the impact is deadly.

Asthma is a major public health indicator in low-income Black and brown communities. Evidence of disproportionate impacts of negative air quality are made clear in the incidence of asthma-related emergencies. According to a study done by the State’s Department of Health, the rate of emergency visits due to asthma is more than four times higher among Black residents than their White counterparts.

But living closer to polluting facilities doesn’t necessarily mean lower energy bills. Oil and gas infrastructure is heavily subsidized by New Jersey customers, and as this infrastructure gets older or even becomes obsolete, New Jerseyans end up fronting costs to replace leaking pipes on their energy bills. Transitioning to the future of clean electricity ensures customers aren’t throwing hard-earned money into “stranded assets,” like new methane gas and oil pipelines that won’t be used a couple of decades down the line.

New Jersey has worked to address some of these disparities by passing on Juneteenth 2020 the nation-leading Cumulative Impacts Law, which requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a full assessment, with input from local residents, of any potentially major polluting project.

However, there is still more to be done. We need to build on the work of this landmark law, which has served as a national model for addressing the disproportionate burden that communities of color and low-wealth communities have faced from pollution and broken environmental policies.

We were proud to support Gov. Phil Murphy’s commitment to 100% clean electricity on an accelerated timeline, speeding up from 2050 to 2035, through Executive Order 315. Now we want this commitment to become law.

Enshrining our state’s commitment to 100% clean electricity by 2035 into law is one of the most important pieces of legislation to protect the environment our state will ever consider; especially for communities of color that have been impacted by environmental racism. When solar panels and wind turbines go up across our state and off our shore, polluting oil and gas power plants will be shut down in communities of color, displaced by the new clean electricity.

A 100% clean electricity future means a brighter future, with fewer heart attacks, cancer diagnoses, and other health-related diseases from breathing dirty fossil fuels. It means good-paying union jobs installing solar panels, working at the New Jersey wind port, addressing climate change, and protecting our families and businesses. It means a more optimistic, livable environment for many generations to come.

The fight for the right to breathe clean air isn’t going to be easy. The oil and gas industries, which have deep pockets are spreading campaign funds into the accounts of decision-makers nationwide and are continuing to spread misinformation and propaganda. They are raking in billions of dollars in record profits at the expense of the health and safety of our communities.

We’re united with our clean energy champions in the legislature to get this legislation over the finish line, because we know 100% clean electricity by 2035 is vitally important for our state, improving public health, and our planet’s future.

We also know we can’t do this without you. If you care about the health and safety of all residents in New Jersey no matter their zip code, we need you to join us in this fight to get New Jerseyans the clean energy future we all deserve — a cleaner, healthier, safer future, a place we, our children, and our grandchildren will be proud to call home.