Stop the greenwashing in NJ

This is an opinion, and only an opinion. Send responses to matt@njindy.com.

Here’s the good news: NJ is investing in offshore wind energy; a planned wind farm will produce enough energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes. Plus, a new study found we have the capacity to produce nearly double our 2050 energy needs via offshore wind.

The state is committed to 100% “carbon-neutral” energy by 2050. And, because the state mandates it, energy providers are investing in clean-energy projects—PSE&G just announced this week it would have net-zero emissions by 2030, for instance.

The bad news: Carbon-neutrality is bullshit, the state’s energy plan doesn’t mandate an end to fossil fuels, AND, we’re a hub for fossil fuel exporting and transportation, and that’s not likely to change soon.

Nowadays, you’re liable to hear a lot of impressive-sounding energy goals and accomplishments (and, to be honest, at least we’re going in the right direction) from the state, energy companies and even the big environmental nonprofits.

But here’s how greenwashing happens: A shareholder-owned corporation owns a natural gas subsidiary. That subsidiary announces it’ll reduce—voluntarily, of course—its emissions by X percent from 2005 levels, let’s say. The company gets come Big Greens to sign on, maybe a Democratic lawmaker to speak in support of it. It all feels like progress.

But basing a percentage of emissions reduction on previous levels—and not 0—makes it look a lot better. John ate 301 Tide pods in 2005. John announced this week he’s reducing his Tide pod ingestion by 60% from 2005 levels. John is still eating a lot of detergent.

Plus, in this totally hypothetical example, the larger corporation that owns the NJ gas company tends to have a ton of other investments in oil and gas throughout the country.

So, look, wind power, voluntary reductions in GHG emissions… great. But if we want to be an environmental leader, we ought to look at banning new fossil fuel projects (and ensure the PennEast Pipeline doesn’t get built, pending what the courts say about it), divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuel investments and, critically, strengthen the environmental regulations on transportation and invest in green mobility options. (Or not, but only if we’re honest about the limitations of our “pragmatic” approach.)

Looking deeper at transportation, a massive culprit of GHG emisions: Recently the NJ Turnpike Authority voted to send over $3.5 billion to NJ Transit over the next seven years to help cover its costs. But, as the enviro nonprofit Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) points out: “While that might sound like a lot, it is not close to adequate. It includes money wrongly held back in prior years; it is less than during the Corzine Administration; and it does not come close to meeting NJ Transit’s capital needs.”

And, as you’ve likely read, the most recent state budget leaves out money for long-term funding for NJ Transit projects.

Investing in NJ Transit—with which, surely, you have a love-hate relationship at best—means investing in public transportation and getting cars off the road. And while the $3.5 billion is helpful, it pales in comparison to the funding recently approved to expand roadways.

Out of the Turnpike Authority’s $24 billion budget, $16 billion was slated (and approved) during the pandemic to expand the Turnpike and the Parkway. Much of this expansion will be done in lower-income areas, already impacted by the traffic and poor air quality caused by motorists on these roadways.

But it’s not only transportation of people that NJ needs to improve. A lot of crude oil and natural gas flows through the Garden State (on rail and through pipelines) before it’s exported outside the state—and, ironically, us residents are one of the lowest per-capita consumer groups of energy in the country, so don’t pull that Do Your Part shit on us. So even though our individual energy consumption may be green, our state still contributes to national and global fossil fuel burning. In fact, officials recently moved forward on a natural gas export station in South Jersey, and they’re considering approving another infrastructure upgrade for another company nearby.

Circling back to carbon-neutrality; it’s the centerpiece of the state’s energy goal, but according to enviro-group Empower NJ: “Carbon-neutral includes energy from fossil fuel power plants combined with ineffective market based schemes like carbon offsets, pollution credits and other pay to pollute policies.”

In other words, companies still burn fossil fuels, they just offset their emissions by planting trees, burning trash (biogas) or buying “offsets”—that is, fossil-fuel-burning companies buy clean energy credits to count against their emissions.

Progress isn’t perfection, but there’s room to be a little more transparent about the overall impact of NJ’s energy goals.