New N.J. rules would crack down on pollution from power plants, trucks, industrial boilers

Trucks are pictured on a highway in this file photo.

Trucks are pictured on a highway in this file photo. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

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New rules to curb global warming pollution from power plants, smaller commercial and industrial boilers, and to shift New Jersey’s medium- and heavy-duty truck market from fossil fuels to zero-emission vehicles are being drafted by the state.

The proposals, expected to be published this spring by the Department of Environmental Protection, stem from a nearly year-old executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy aimed at helping achieve the goals of a new Energy Master Plan and the more than decade-old Global Warming Response Act (GWRA).

The Energy Master Plan provides a blueprint to transition New Jersey to a clean-energy economy and the GWRA directs the state to reduce carbon pollution by 80% below 2006 levels by 2050 as a way of fighting climate change. The emerging rules are part of a new effort by the DEP to achieve both goals in what has been dubbed Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJ PACT).

While short on specifics, DEP staffers gave a broad outline last week on how the state intends to crack down on both so-called stationary sources of global warming pollution — like power plants and commercial and industrial boilers — and mobile sources, such as medium- and heavy-duty trucks that primarily rely on fossil fuels to move goods around.

For instance, the department plans to establish new limits for carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas pollutant, for existing power plants, otherwise called electric generating units (EGUs) in agency jargon. The yet-to-be-set limits would ratchet down over time, according to Kenneth Ratman, assistant director of air quality planning and monitoring at the DEP.

Boilers, a heated issue

The agency also expects to propose a rule that would phase out older, smaller boilers (less than 5 million British Thermal Units) that use fossil fuels. The impact of such a rule would be significant, potentially affecting apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and other facilities, according to business lobbyists.

“It is going to affect an awful lot of people at a huge cost,’’ said Raymond Cantor, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “I don’t think the boiler issue has been well-vetted.’’

Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council, agreed, saying it “costs a fortune for industry to replace those boilers.’’ Among other things, the rule would require owners of fleets of boilers to submit a boiler fleet report and replace smaller, older fossil fuel combustion boilers with non-fossil fuel boilers.

With the state transitioning from the use of fossil fuels to cleaner but more costly alternatives, critics argued the department needs to begin prioritizing what new costs the public and businesses must absorb from these programs.

Following California’s lead

But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, defended the rules, saying their targets “are major sources of air pollution. If we don’t go after these sources, we will never get the reductions we need.’’

In the transportation sector, the DEP plans to adopt, with some modifications, the California Advanced Clean Truck Act, a law approved there last summer. The law requires increased zero-emission requirements for medium- and heavy-duty trucks — everything from delivery vans to long-haul tractor-trailers. In New Jersey, the requirements would start with the 2025 model year and continue to be scaled up until 2035.

“It is a 2021 version of the Clean Car Act,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, referring to a similar mandate governing light-duty zero-emission vehicle sales that the state adopted after another California law.

O’Malley defended the scope of the proposed rules, saying they are desperately needed to reduce emissions from power plants, boilers and mobile sources. “Climate action is a question of whether we pay now or we pay a lot more later,’’ he said.

Another new rule proposal would clamp down on emissions of nitrogen oxide from some medium- and all heavy-duty vehicles. The pollutant is one of the primary ingredients in smog, or ground-level ozone, during summer days throughout New Jersey, but particularly in urban areas among people with respiratory ailments.

Moving forward with the rules will help communities long-suffering from unhealthy levels of air pollution, advocates said. “Decarbonizing and electrification of the transportation sector provides outsize benefits to environmental justice communities,’’ according to the DEP.

In other proposals, the department plans to establish a new program to periodically inspect certain medium-duty diesel vehicles — large pickups, walk-in vans (such as those used by plumbing and heating contractors) and delivery trucks, the only classes of vehicles not currently covered by periodic inspections.

Finally, the agency is drafting a proposal to require diesel-powered equipment at ports to be converted to cleaner technologies. Eventually, the DEP may adopt another California program to transition this equipment to full electric.

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