Environmentalists say new fossil fuel projects could derail New Jersey’s climate goals

In this Tuesday April 10, 2018, file photo are sections of Newark and the Passaic River in New Jersey. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In this Tuesday April 10, 2018, file photo are sections of Newark and the Passaic River in New Jersey. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Environmental groups say New Jersey will not meet its climate goals unless it blocks several proposed fossil fuel projects, including a natural gas pipeline compressor station and an LNG export terminal in South Jersey.

Gov. Phil Murphy set a target of slashing the state’s current greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. But Empower New Jersey, a coalition of more than 135 groups that oppose new oil and gas infrastructure, points to seven pending projects it says would raise those emissions 38% if approved and completed.

“We stopped the PennEast pipeline but now there’s a new pipeline,” said Empower New Jersey spokesman David Pringle. “The Regional Energy Access Expansion pipeline is a major project, and accounts for almost half of the additional emissions, 18 million metric tons.”

Pringle says the emissions estimate assumes the facilities would operate at full capacity and include all parts of the expansion, including miles of pipe in Pennsylvania. Empower New Jersey released a report on Monday detailing its estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from newly built or proposed infrastructure projects.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Williams, which operates the Transco network of natural gas pipelines, plans to add an additional 36 miles to its current pipeline in Northeast Pennsylvania, along with a new compressor station in Gloucester County, New Jersey. It’s part of its plan to increase natural gas service to New Jersey customers. The company says the pipelines could be used to transport hydrogen and “renewable natural gas,” also known as bio-gas that utilizes either methane from wastewater treatment, livestock, or agricultural waste.

Pringle also points to the proposed Gibbstown liquid natural gas export terminal, which he says would emit about 13 million tons of carbon. That project has hit delays, and it’s unclear if and when it will move forward.

Expansion of the New Jersey Turnpike, three pending natural gas power plants, along with additional natural gas compressor stations for the Tennessee Gas pipeline in north Jersey are also on the group’s list of potentially large greenhouse gas emitters.

Pringle says six projects approved during Murphy’s first term increased the state’s climate emissions by 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. “[The DEP] says they are working on it but it’s too little and too slowly,” Pringle said.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection declined to comment but pointed to its response to a lawsuit filed by Empower New Jersey. The group sued the DEP last year claiming the state has not taken enough action to reach its climate goals as outlined in the Global Warming Response Act, which commits New Jersey to reducing carbon emissions 80% of 2006 levels by 2050.

In response to Empower New Jersey’s original petition seeking more action on climate, the DEP detailed the difficulty in acting alone.  “Coordinated action by all levels of government, economic sectors, communities, and individuals” is necessary to “transform the State’s building sector, transportation sector, and electricity generation systems and the associated infrastructure,” read the response. The DEP pointed to new rules it established to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road and reduce power plant emissions.

Gov. Phil Murphy has committed the state to developing 7,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035 as part of the state’s overall goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“The Governor’s efforts on offshore wind are excellent,” said Pringle.  “But offshore wind is only a piece of the solution. If these [fossil fuel] projects go forward, we’re not going to reduce the emissions we need to avert climate catastrophe.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal