ENVIRONMENT

Lawmakers hear about climate change and how to mitigate its effects

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

A joint legislative committee heard the impact of climate change and ways to mitigate it from invited speakers. Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso said prolonged power outages after three straight nor’easters last year taught some important lessons — lessons the BPU thought Irene and Sandy had taught.

The board is moving on establishing a dozen town center microgrids to keep the power on for essential services.

“We are never going to eliminate power outages. Our goal is to reduce the duration of those outages,” Fiordaliso said.

He said 46% of air pollutants come from transportation — fuel for the state’s big quest for cleaner energy.

“Up until about 16, 18 months ago, the Board of Public Utilities was this sleepy little regulatory agency making sure that our investor-owned utilities played nice in the sandbox. We are now, because of, not only our solar program, but the initiatives regarding our wind program have become an international powerhouse,” Fiordaliso said.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is using money from the VW settlement for electric buses and charging stations.

“If you don’t have many electric vehicle charging stations in your community, our electric vehicle program can help,” said Debbie Mans, deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

And Rutgers scientists blame humans.

“The planet is running a fever,” said Robert Kopp, the director of Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Rutgers University. “In order to stabilize global climate, human emissions of carbon dioxide must be brought as close to zero as possible.”

A forest conservationist said urban forests are doing the most to reverse the impact of climate change.

“15 percent of carbon emissions are captured in our forests and forests products. So forests in the U.S. are already a huge part of the climate change solution,” said Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests.

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll sampled opinions on the environment for the New Jersey Climate Change Alliance.

“Two-thirds of New Jerseyans are concerned about the effects of climate change on their life, family members and people around them. Their level of knowledge about climate change varies, with more people reporting higher knowledge on the causes, environmental impacts, and how it may affect them in the future, but lower knowledge on how to prepare,” said Marjorie Kaplan, co-facilitator of the New Jersey Climate Change Alliance.

Environmentalists like Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club says they’ve been listening to these kinds of legislative hearings for the past 15 years, it’s well past time to act.

“We’ve had this discussion when we passed the Global Warming Response Act in 2007 and before that. We had this after Hurricane Sandy and now here we are. There’s a real sense of urgency. They have to move now or the clock is going to run out,” Tittel said.

The committee co-chairs say they have no delusions.

“What we really have to work so hard on is applying that and making sure the work that’s happening and all the academic and private initiatives is included in government,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, chair of Environment and Solid Waste Committee.

“We’re working on legislation to require that any new energy producing facilities in New Jersey are non-fossil fuel,” said Sen. Bob Smith, chair of Environment and Energy Committee. “We cannot have any more carbon dioxide put into our air.”

Lawmakers, environmentalists and scientists say they hear the clock ticking.