POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Environmentalists call on Murphy to halt fossil fuel projects

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

The governor touts the state’s progress toward a clean energy future, but protesters say his actions speak louder than his words.

“The climate crisis is very real, very much here. It’s just a huge issue in terms of the future,” said environmental activist Ted Glick.

That’s why he’s fasting. Glick’s had only water for two days now, as part of a protest called Climate Fast NJ — organized by a coalition of environmental advocates. They’re pointing to frequent floods, rising sea levels, and destructive storms and saying Gov. Murphy should not permit any new fossil fuel projects.

“Expanding pipelines, primarily gas pipelines; compressor stations that push the gas along; expanding existing compressor stations; power plants. There are 11 of them the DEP is dealing with. All of them should be rejected,” Glick said.

“I fasted because I feel like we’re in an emergency — a planetary emergency — of too much fossil fuels, too much crazy weather,” said Jane Califf with Bloomfield Citizens Solar Campaign.

“I personally was flooded out of my home by Hurricane Sandy. Many of my friends were,” said Jean Marie Donohue with the group Water Spirit. “These climate events are getting worse and bigger. It is irresponsible to build new fossil fuel infrastructure right now.”

The coalition gathered Friday morning at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment in Princeton, where Gov. Murphy delivered the keynote address.

Environmentalists applauded Murphy’s goal of making New Jersey energy 50 percent renewable by 2030 and promoting solar and wind industries, but protesters complain that’s only half the battle.

“The governor wants to have it both ways. He wants to be seen as a climate leader by promoting renewable energy, while at the same time, approving the expansion of dirty fossil fuel infrastructure in New Jersey. And so, the first rule, when you’re in a hole, is to stop digging,” said Matt Smith, senior organizer with Food & Water Watch.

These protesters say that when it comes to fossil fuel policy, Gov. Murphy’s plans are no better than former Gov. Christie’s. In fact, they say, they’re worse.

The EPA says, New Jersey power plants emitted 12.1 million tons a year of climate-warming carbon dioxide in 1990 — 17.6 million when Gov. Christie took office — and ramped up to 18.6 million tons last year. That could soar to 23 million tons, the Sierra Club warns, if the fossil fuel projects before Gov. Murphy’s Department of Environmental Protection all come online.

“The NJ DEP has had, since 2005, the power to regulate greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide. They have never set a standard. We’ve asked the governor to set that standard so that he could block these power plants,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel.

“I would say — with all due respect to them — and I respect what their doing, and I share their passion and objectives. I don’t think there’s a state, including Jerry Brown in California, that’s doing more right now to move toward a clean energy future. So they’re talking about building out fossil fuel infrastructure. That’s not what I’m spending my time on,” said Gov. Murphy.

Andlinger Center director Yueh-Lin Loo welcomed the governor’s speech, but she made one thing clear.

“I don’t think we should be building new fossil fuel plants. We should be thinking about how we can move forward in terms of a low-carbon future,” she said.

That issue will gain urgency as New Jersey tries to rejoin RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. New Jersey needs to set an annual carbon cap, and environmentalists consider 12 to 13 million tons a year by 2020 achievable. Protesters will fast for two weeks, hoping the governor will see it their way.

Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim, III.