N.J. lawmakers consider climate change measures, as drought looms

Emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun

Emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

The New Jersey Joint Environment Committee met to discuss climate change on Thursday, mulling proposals that would ban state investment in major fossil fuel companies, and require electric companies to provide renewable energy entirely by 2045.

The meeting came two days after N.J. Department of Environmental Protections Commissioner Shawn LaTourette issued a drought watch, and urged residents to conserve water, as the state endured its fourth heatwave of the summer.

“New Jersey is ground zero for some of the worst impacts of climate change. And they’re here and they’re happening now,” LaTourette said during his testimony at Thursday’s meeting.

Commissioner LaTourette said officials must commit to “resilience planning” on the regional and local level — pointing to recent Hurricanes Ida and Sandy, and recent rainfall trends, as evidence that New Jersey has become increasingly vulnerable to extreme precipitation events.

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“In the last 23 years, rainfall has increased between two and 10% depending on where you are in the state,” LaTourette said.

He also said the state should continue to support the Blue Acres Buyout program, among other suggestions. 

The joint committee did not vote on either bill at Thursday’s meeting. Supporters pleaded with committee members to advance the measures expeditiously.

Carol Gay, a Brick resident and president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council, an organization that advocates for workers’ rights, said that “climate protection and pension protection are strongly linked,” and they are both “necessary to protect workers” and for “retirement security.”

“Divestment from fossil fuels is necessary, both financially and morally,” Gay said. “[The fossil fuel industry is] losing money and very much in decline.”

Senate Environment Committee Chair Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) said committees plan to take up the package this fall when lawmakers return from summer recess.

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Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed two laws that authorize and fund environmental infrastructure projects.

One appropriates state and federal funding from the current budget to fund the New Jersey Water Bank, which provides low-cost financing for projects that “protect and improve water quality” and “help ensure safe and adequate drinking water,” according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The other law permits the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank, or NJIB, to spend up to $2.07 billion to provide loans to local governments and privately-owned water companies for the Water Bank projects.

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