environment News

Climate groups sue Murphy administration, claiming inaction on curbing greenhouse gas emissions

Empower NJ, a coalition of environmental groups, filed a lawsuit against the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy on Jan. 20 claiming it hasn’t taken enough meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The suit comes after the coalition filed a petition with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) last year that called for the agency to adopt rules to reach a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases (from 2006 levels) by 2030, implement rules to achieve that goal, and restrict new fossil fuel projects. DEP rejected the petition in December, even after Gov. Murphy rededicated the state’s intent to reach that emissions reduction goal.

“There are only two ways to look at DEP’s outright denial of our petition: DEP has gone rogue or this administration is uninterested in pursuing its own stated policies and state law,” said John Reichman, Esq., chair of BlueWaveNJ’s Environment Committee, a member of Empower NJ, in a statement. “If the governor’s recent State of the State address is any indication, where climate change was virtually ignored, the latter appears to be the case. Anything less than 50×30 would be too little and too late so we’re taking DEP to court.”

New Jersey has larger climate goals on the books; in 2017, the state passed legislation that calls for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050; the goals for 2030 are intended to serve as a benchmark for reaching the bigger goal. In codifying the 2030 benchmark, the Murphy administration noted the pressing need for climate action, given recent, devastating weather events likely hastened by climate change, and the fact that disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of these severe events.

Empower NJ, however, pointed out that the state could have cited other reasons for climate action—that renewable energy is often less expensive than fossil fuels, and that continuing to build fossil fuel infrastructure not only prolongs our reliance on them, but also affects health in nearby communities.

“None of the administration’s existing or proposed climate rules will prevent the continued proliferation of dirty pipelines, power plants and other new sources of climate destroying pollution in New Jersey,” said Matt Smith, NJ state director for Food & Water Watch, a coalition member, in a press release. “The proposed power plant rule doesn’t even require polluters to use the best available technology, let alone do anything to stop new fossil fuel plants, like the one proposed by the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark, from being approved.”

DEP’s inaction and, as the coalition says, failure to adequately create reduction benchmarks is par for the course in NJ. For every positive action—killing the PennEast Pipeline and incentivizing wind energy—there are an equal number of negative actions or inactions—allowing the construction or expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, and allotting money to highway expansion in lieu of public transportation or electrification, for instance.

For those looking from the outside in, there sure seems to be a lot of talk (and executive orders and speeches) about the importance of curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the state, but action (and results) have been minimal. As Ken Dolsky, co-leader of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition pointed out: 

“The DEP denial of EmpowerNJ’s petition for rulemaking states, ‘Statewide climate policy development [has been] underway since January 29, 2018.’ Yet there is no mention of any GHG reduction it has achieved over the past four years due to any of its policies, nor has any such estimate been found in any administration announcements.   Essentially, the administration has spent four years issuing executive orders, conducting studies, writing reports and updates, proposing regulations, and reorganizing itself. It is past time for real action and clearly the administration will not do so without being sued.”

The suit was filed in the appellate division of the state Superior Court.