May 23rd, 2019 marked the one-year anniversary of the landmark Clean Energy Bill, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy. This bill catalyzed our nation-leading offshore wind program, established aggressive annual energy efficiency standards, and expanded solar energy access to ensure cost effective movement away from fossil fuels and to a 100 percent clean energy future by 2050.
As we celebrated New Jersey’s return to a leadership role in expanding the clean energy economy and the good local jobs that come with it, we were met by a harrowing reality, a reality that rightfully serves as a harbinger of what could come with greenhouse gases reaching the highest level for as long as we’ve been around. We are in unchartered climatic territory because the last time CO2 levels were this high, trees grew near the South Pole and sea levels were 50 to 65 feet higher than today. With the unveiling of the IPCC report and the National Climate Assessment last year, we don’t have much time to act – a little longer than a decade -- before we can see irreversible effects of climate change.
May 23rd was an inflection point for our state.
The impacts of climate change will be felt by communities around the world, especially those in coastal regions as they brace for sea-level rise and stronger and increased frequency of storms, exacerbating coastal flooding. Coastal communities, such as those along our 130-mile economically vital and iconic Jersey Shore already experience flooding from sea-level rise and extreme storm events, most notably Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. This could be the new norm.
New Jerseyans who live on the barrier island are exceedingly vulnerable because of its relatively flat topography, high population density, and limited access on and off the island. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, warns that by 2045, more than 62,000 New Jersey homes — valued at $26.8 billion — will be underwater, displacing nearly 80,000 people. That loss would happen with two feet of sea level rise by 2045.
Without comprehensive changes, New Jerseyans will be faced with a precarious reality.
But on May 23rd, 2019, something dramatic happened. The legislature doubled down on its commitment to a clean energy future, to healthy communities, to a decarbonized world. The Assembly passed – in strong bipartisan fashion – an update to the existing, economy-wide, Global Warming Response Act (GWRA) and sent it to the governor’s desk. This legislation proves timely as the federal government has ceded all leadership under the current administration, leaving it solely to states to demonstrate leadership – none more so than New Jersey.
The existing GWRA sets out a goal for the Department of Environmental Protection to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets of 80 percent economy-wide by 2050. It also has limiting language that has allowed NJDEP to delay in assessing the state’s progress in meeting existing greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
Just this Tuesday, Gov. Murphy signed the strengthened GWRA into law. The amendments to the GWRA require NJDEP, and other agencies, to establish interim benchmarks and to take sensible steps forward to achieve our 2050 goals. It also now requires New Jersey to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, which can have a dramatic warming effect much greater than carbon dioxide. Within 12 months, DEP will publish a report detailing measures to accomplish the economy-wide goal of the GWRA, and 18 months thereafter, move forward with regulating greenhouse gas emissions to reach our goal.
In addition, the updated GWRA’s important interim targets will ensure regulators establish a trajectory toward achieving longer-term goals, which is why as of 2017, 10 states and the District of Columbia established interim targets ranging from 2025 to 2035.
Under Gov. Murphy’s leadership – and facilitated by the strong actions of the state legislature - addressing the climate crisis has been a priority over the past year and half. We celebrate the bold leadership of Gov. Murphy, senators Smith, Greenstein and Bateman and assemblywomen Huttle and Pinkin for propelling New Jersey forward and codifing our place as a national leader in addressing the climate crisis.