ENVIRONMENT

Energy Master Plan Committee holds hearing on clean transportation

BY Andrew Schmertz, Correspondent |

A new poll sends a strong message to policy makers. Fully two thirds of voters surveyed for a new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll do not view natural gas as clean energy — that’s a 23 percent increase since 2016. It also shows three-quarters want New Jersey to achieve a goal of 100 percent of renewable energy by 2050. The state’s enlisting the public in crafting its new energy master plan at a hearing that drilled down on transportation technology. Andrew Schmertz has this report on Peril and Promise: The challenge of climate change.

By 2025, one in seven cars on New Jersey’s roads must be zero-emission electric vehicles. A government commission known as the Energy Master Plan Committee heard from a range of groups Thursday on how to meet that goal, which some say has been stalled since the 2004 Clean Car Program passed.

“We’re choking on it. There are parts of New Jersey that have the worst air quality in the United States, especially in urban areas, places like Linden, Elizabeth, Camden. If we want to reduce greenhouse gases and reduce air pollution, we need to electrify our transportation network,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.

The committee is made up of members of the state Board of Public Utilities. At the hearing, they listened to testimony focused on transportation solutions. New Jersey is one of several northeastern states that have signed on to California’s plan mandating the number of electric vehicles by the middle of the next decade. New Jersey will need more than 300,000 electric cars on the road to comply — currently there are 14,000. A group representing New Jersey auto dealers say consumers need more government incentives.

“With respect to price, the average transaction price on a new, electric vehicle, pure electric vehicle, is $10,000 or more than the average transaction price on a comparable internal combustion engine vehicle. Now there are tax incentives that are in place today that help close that gap, somewhat, but we’re still finding that consumers, when they do the math, are not embracing EVs as a value proposition,” said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

Thousands of charging stations still need to be built to reduce what’s known as range anxiety among EV drivers. For some who testified, the issue goes beyond electric cars.

“There are vast health disparities between environmental justice communities, specifically communities of color, as compared to suburban communities from air pollution and we should really be prioritizing our children within this,” said Henry Gajda, public policy associate at the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

The state Department of Environmental Protection says nearly 50 percent of greenhouse gases in New Jersey are caused by transportation. Seven in 10 Garden State residents commute alone each day by car, according to the most recent census.

“A place like Newark has incredible concentration of cars, trucks, goods being moved from the port and so they’re breathing in on the bus, they’re breathing it in on the street as they’re walking to school, and they’re confronted with it every day,” said Amy Goldsmith, the state director for Clean Water Action.

New Jersey law sets a goal of selling 24,000 electric cars this year. The group representing car dealers say they’ll sell about 2,000.