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Let New Jersey Lead the Way in Environmental Efforts

Senate President Steve Sweeney

By Steve Sweeney

THE MAD MEN era of the 1960s was a time of little-to-no environmental regulations, where pollution was tolerated as a sign of economic stability and progress rather than a threat to our precious resources. In 1969, after witnessing the devastation caused by the Santa Barbara oil spill, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin saw the opportunity to unite individuals and demanded stronger environmental standards.

In 1970, 20 million people celebrated the first Earth Day and the modern environmental movement was born. Tuesday, Earth Day is celebrated in 192 countries and serves as a yearly reminder that we cannot neglect our environment.

We are now witnessing another watershed moment in the environmental debate. Devastating communities from Atlantic City to the Hudson waterfront, Superstorm Sandy left a path of destruction in New Jersey that still haunts us. The aftermath left residents without power for weeks, crippled our transportation system and created a gasoline scarcity that kept New Jerseyans stranded.

Climate experts across the globe have warned that devastating storms like Sandy will become more common unless we enact serious reforms that limit carbon emissions, promote alternative energy sources and preserve our precious resources.

New Jersey should continue to be a leader in establishing common sense environmental policy. While acting alone will not solve the massive problems the entire globe faces, New Jersey can join other states like California and New York in shaming Republicans in the nation’s capital to ditch their fake science and help save our cities and towns from impending environmental disaster.

Warning from the United Nations

Earlier this month, the United Nations warned of the deadly consequences of not limiting our country’s – and the world’s – carbon dioxide emissions. The report stated that without aggressive changes to climate change law, the world will sooner rather than later see the catastrophic impact of global warming including world-wide food and water shortages, drastic sea-level changes, wild storms and increased poverty and disease.

The hope for federal intervention is unlikely. An obstructionist Congress, held hostage by the right-wing Tea Party and the fossil fuel industry, won’t even acknowledge the existence of climate change, let alone listen to the warning signs of scientists from around the globe.

So it’s up to New Jersey and other states to be bold in creating policy that will improve the environment in hopes that our actions will trickle-up to the federal government.

New Jersey is uniquely set up to be a leader in off-shore wind, with a shallow continental shelf that is perfect for installing the huge turbines. We cannot continue to squander the opportunity to be a leader in this industry that has the potential to create thousands of jobs, just as California did when it recognized the economic importance of the tech industry. It is time to set the regulations and begin to approve projects off the Jersey Shore.

The recent U.N. study calls for state-level programs to force carbon polluters to pay for their pollution, a practice that was already been done in New Jersey as part of our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI, a collaboration of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states that placed carbon emissions in an auction with the funds supporting renewable and alternative energy programs, created jobs and spurred economic growth in New Jersey. We must reenter this collaboration that is improving the air quality of our neighboring states.

A leader in preservation

It was during the Mad Men era of the early 1960’s that New Jersey became a national leader in open space preservation. In 2014, however, we continue to punt on vital open space funding. Often the misconception regarding these funds is that they only go to our rural communities and the Pinelands to preserve farms and open space, but they also provide needed funding to our congested cities to create livable environments and parks for our children to enjoy.

Additionally this fund helps to purchase flood-prone lands through the Blue Acres program, an essential investment in a post-Sandy New Jersey. We must come together to agree on a path forward for continued funding for these programs.

Hydraulic fracturing is providing the nation an abundant source of natural gas, but at what cost? We cannot allow New Jersey to become a dumping ground for radioactive fracking waste. If nearby states want to take advantage of this new, largely unregulated industry, we should not pay the environmental price.

So, as yet another Earth Day comes upon us, we should all renew the fight for New Jersey to be a national leader in environmental policy.

Read the Senate President’s editorial in The Record here.