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Legislators: We’ve kept the Garden State green

Senator Bob Smith, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin & Assemblyman John McKeon | April 22, 2020 | Star-Ledger |

It’s been 50 years since the first Earth Day, when people all over the country joined to demonstrate the need for environmental protection. Now, with the Earth hurtling toward climate disaster, those days seem like simpler times. Yet, despite current challenges, New Jersey should be proud of all we’ve achieved and recognize that our state is at the forefront of the battle to reduce – even eliminate – greenhouse gas emissions.

New Jersey is particularly vulnerable to threats — the most densely populated state in the country yet with wide swaths of environmentally sensitive lands and 141 miles of ocean coastline. Thus, we’ve had to take on multiple problems at once: battling climate change through forging a clean energy economy and other measures; cleaning up the state’s many hazardous waste sites; and protecting our fragile open space to ensure we have clean drinking water as well as natural habitats. We are now pursuing further steps to reduce pollution by banning plastics and Styrofoam.

While COVID-19 is the immediate global threat, climate change is the existential threat, and this federal administration has not made it easier to combat, given that it’s withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement, which sets strict global guidelines for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. So instead, state and local governments have taken the reins to ensure we reach climate goals.

First, New Jersey has set strong energy standards. We plan on becoming a carbon-neutral state by 2050. To do so, we’re pushing to make electric cars more affordable, allowing more people to purchase them with the help of the state government. We have found ways for our nuclear power plants to remain open and operating. They continue to be the state’s most important source of renewable energy, as well as the most significant generator of power.

New Jersey’s coastline has some of the highest potential for off-shore wind generation in the entire country. We will be taking advantage of this, as we are now laying the groundwork to build hundreds of wind turbines, which will eventually power over 1 million homes in New Jersey.

Recently, we returned to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative of states from Maine to Virginia, which limits the amount of carbon dioxide each state can emit as well as creates a cap-and-trade market.

While New Jersey has been doing its part in the global battle, we have also not ignored the problems specific to our state. Originally signed into law in 2009 under Gov. Jon Corzine, the Site Remediation Reform Act has resulted in the cleanup of thousands of hazardous waste sites. New stringent standards guaranteed that sites would have strict investigations and be cleaned up by professionals. Before the law was signed, New Jersey had over 20,000 contaminated sites. Over the past decade, 14,000 sites have been remediated. We updated the legislation last year to prioritize the protection of public health and safety, as well as ensure the sites are cleaned up in a timely fashion. New Jersey’s past of being a highly-polluted state will soon be behind us.

Even with New Jersey’s high population density, the Legislature and environmentalists have worked hard to protect undeveloped land. Due to these actions, you may be surprised to learn that the majority of the state’s geography is covered with forests, wetlands, mountains and farmland. To allow us to keep up this battle, through a successful referendum last year, we were able to secure a stable source of funding to protect farmland, Greenacre projects, Blueacre projects, historic preservation and open-space.

Our most recent pursuit is the ban of single-use plastics and Styrofoam food containers. Although we have not yet crossed the finish line, we continue to work to have businesses find alternate products and prevent these pollutants from harming our health and fragile ecosystems – whether they be in the Highlands, Pine Barrens or the Jersey shore.

We are fortunate that our representatives in Congress and the state Legislature have made it a priority to protect our natural environment. When everyone starts believing in protecting the environment and preserving our country’s greatest natural assets, only then will we be able to heal our natural world.


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