Sierra Club, NJ and Enviros Speak on Climate at Special Senate Environment Cmt.

For Immediate Release 

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Sierra Club, NJ and Enviros Speak on Climate at Special Senate Environment Cmt. 

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee have invited guests to testify on strategies that the State and industries could implement in order to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey Director of the Sierra Club was selected as a guest and released the following statement: 

“Thank you, Chairman Smith and members of the committee for giving me the opportunity to testify today and for all of the work you do to protect the environment. Today I am speaking on behalf of the Empower Coalition, to which I am a member, as well as on behalf of the NJ Sierra Club. 

Affordability, as my colleague previously mentioned, is the new buzzword in town, and we understand the reasons why. We are going through a period of record inflation, our markets have all been impacted, our supply chain is suffering, and the price for gas at the pump is record high. Of course, I cannot miss the opportunity to say, record high prices at the pump while oil companies are reporting record-breaking profits by utilizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as their excuse. This is all to say, yes we understand why the focus on affordability. We are all going through it. 

I believe we all here agree that the ratepayer should not be impacted by the cost of our inability to be energy independent, and of most importance, should not be impacted by the urgent and necessary energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables.  This is why we need your help. 

The longer we allow for the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure and for the modernization of the existing one, the longer we will be hooked and dependent on a volatile and geopolitical fossil fuels market. I am not going to preach to the choir here, because I am well aware that you all understand the environmental and health impacts of Climate Change. We see it with our own eyes. However, what I will mention is the economic impact of climate change to our State. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration otherwise known as NOAA recently released a report on Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disaster Events. Last year, NJ was hit by 4 different “billion dollar weather and climate disaster” events, and by a total of 71 “severe weather” events. This data indicates that last year NJ’s total cost from these events was $10 billion, with more than $5 billion in property damage. Last year was the most expensive year in terms of weather and climate disasters after 2012, the year we got hit by Superstorm Sandy. How does this fit under affordability? New Jersey is losing a lot of money, and the data shows that the cost of inaction is higher than the cost of actually investing in climate change mitigation as well as being proactive about it.

Thus, when I ask for your help, I specifically ask, for example, to not allow for the usage, let alone the construction of new infrastructure for the incorrectly marketed “renewable natural gas” or RNG, especially while subsidized by the ratepayer. My colleague Ken spoke briefly about this, however, I would like to go into detail because the greenwashing of dirty fuels like RNG is one of our most significant challenges. Members of the committee, as introduced by the Legislature this past session, RNG can be one of any of the following options: (1) biogas upgraded to pipeline quality, which is still the burning of a fuel made out of carbon and still contributes to significant leakage of methane to the atmosphere; (2) hydrogen gas derived from Class I or Class II renewable energy which I will further explain why it is not a good use of our resources; and (3) methane gas, which again, is just simply the burning of more carbon. 

RNG is highly expensive to make because it depends on the supply of biological sources, one that is limited. Costs can range from 4 to 17 times higher than natural gas. Investing more money on constructing and prolonging the so-called transition to renewables or low carbon energy no longer passes as a smart or efficient idea, it is a waste of resources that will lock us into the burning of carbon beyond 2050. Time that we do not have. 

Now, going back to hydrogen. As a chemist, I can inform you that this type of energy source is a technology we can truly say that, as of today, it is not ready to be scaled up in a clean way. In order for us to be able to use hydrogen produced in a clean way, it needs to be generated in an electrochemical or fuel cell environment, which does not include any form of carbon. Unfortunately, this technology is not yet scalable to our energy demand levels, and, as of today, it has a high cost. If not done this way, hydrogen is otherwise generated with the usage of biogas, which ends up producing carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. 

Additionally, if we combust and/or mix hydrogen with RNG or natural gas in order to be able to use our existing pipeline infrastructure and reduce usage of gas, we end up generating the deadly and potent climate co-pollutant black carbon and up to six times more emissions of nitrous oxides or NOx than if we were just simply burning natural gas or RNG. It is also worth mentioning that there are numerous studies in the scientific literature about the difficulties of controlling NOx emissions from hydrogen combustion in various industrial applications.

Emitting NOx and the creation of ground-level ozone which we know as smog is something that we are all well acquainted with and we understand the health impacts and the unnecessary toll it takes on public health, especially our communities overburdened with pollution. However, it is especially important to mention that the entire state of NJ is currently under non-attainment by the U.S. EPA  for ground-level ozone, an extremely toxic air pollutant, which is produced in the atmosphere at ground level by high levels of NOx and Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs, yet another co-pollutant from fossil fuel combustion regardless of the source. 

The key takeaway from this is that there is no fossil fuel transition solution to reaching renewable energy, and these “solutions” are costly, a waste of resources, and will continue to harm our health and exacerbate the impacts of climate change. The solution is to simply invest more in renewable energy, while incentivising its incorporation and usage and protecting the ratepayer from more economic impacts of climate change. 

Members of the committee, I would like to explain further why we need your help. As NJDEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette explained to you when he previously testified to this committee on the impacts of climate change to NJ, time is of the essence, and we need to urgently do more. However, the Administration’s progress on implementing the Governor’s vision has been painfully slow. To be specific, the revision of the Energy Master Plan took longer than expected which then resulted in a further delay in rulemaking by the DEP that took the Governor’s entire first term. All PACT or Protecting Against Climate Threats rulemaking deadlines have been missed and thus far only one has been adopted. The goal was to adopt these rules by January 2022, and a huge subset of rules under PACT that focus on resilient environment and landscapes are still at least months away from even being proposed. Additionally, we have yet to see the establishment of interim benchmarks under the Global Warming Response Act and the use of a 20-year timeframe for all greenhouse gas computations by the DEP as enacted into law by the Legislature and Gov. Murphy in July 2019 and January 2020. The 20-year timeframe is of special importance because not all greenhouse gases have the same global warming potential as carbon dioxide. To be specific, those short-lived climate pollutants like methane and black carbon, which are present in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time but have a significantly higher warming potential than carbon dioxide.  

All of these delays speak volume to the fact that the NJDEP is understaffed and underfunded, something that you can all help with during this Budget season.  NJDEP has had flat funding since 2005, not a cut, but also not an increase. When considering inflation, this results in a 40% cut in funds and a 30% cut in staff. Personally, prior to joining the NJ Sierra Club, I used to work for the NJDEP to which I can attest to the good will and the hard work the staff puts forward in order to protect our environment and public health. Good people trying to accomplish a lot with not a lot of resources. More funding is essential.    

In regards to the actual rules that have been proposed and undergone public comment, one of the most important rules which targets the electric generating sector does not truly contribute to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t even acknowledge, let alone is informed, by the Governor’s Executive Order 274 despite being drafted concurrently. This proposed rule would only contribute a 4% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and this is only after full implementation by 2035. This is in direct contrast to  Governor Murphy’s climate goals and Executive Order 274, which states that by 2030, we are supposed to achieve a reduction of 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, the proposed rule only considers the electric generation sector, thus is it not expected for this rule alone to reduce all 50% of emissions or even close to that. However, the most up-to-date data reported by the DEP shows that the electric generation sector is the third highest contributing sector in the State and it comprises 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions. What we do expect is that this proposed reduction at least comes close to 20%. The proposed rule is packed with loopholes that bypass many greenhouse gas emitting electric generating sources, the most egregious ones are those sources that burn 50% or less of fossil fuels and the sources that contribute less than 10% its annual gross electric output to the grid - like all back up generators or self-powered facilities in the State as well as co-generation units and incinerators. All those sources would be exempted. There is so much more than these proposed rules can cover and enforce and a stronger political will from the Murphy Administration as well as the Legislature can get this done. 

In order to holistically reduce greenhouse gasses, there needs to be broad government action. As previously mentioned by my colleague Ken Dolsky, we need more concrete action from the BPU, DCA, DOT, EDA, NJ Transit and any government agency that may play a role in reducing emissions, developing the market and creating clean jobs. We ask ourselves, where are the good and efficient climate plans and actions by these agencies? The BPU currently refuses to include a cost analysis that includes the true social, health and climate costs of greenhouse gases in their “Ratepayer Impact Study” of clean energy policies presented in the most recent Energy Master Plan, let alone frame the analysis around them. Additionally, the DCA and DOT for example have not even developed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation and building sectors as required by Executive Orders 28 and 274. And the Senate hasn’t made things easier with its passage a few months ago of a bill that would undermine DCA’s consideration of electrifying buildings and plays into the extremely misleading campaign of the Fuel Merchants concerning affordability, mandates and the climate emergency we face . 

Moving forward, with this rate of implementation of regulations and the potential increase in greenhouse gas emissions as described by my colleague, it is impossible to see a clear path to achieve our climate goal of 50% reduction by 2030. For these reasons, we call on the Administration and Legislature, as well as individual legislators to do everything in your power: 1) to prevent the current seven pending fossil fuel projects from being approved and built; 2) to direct all State agencies, especially NJDEP, DCA, BPU, NJTA and DOT, to urgently provide written executable roadmaps and rules by the end of 2022 to implement Executive Order 274 and achieve our existential goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030, 3) to oppose the usage and the creation of new infrastructure for renewable natural gas or RNG, 4) to help with the cost-effective electrification of our buildings, 5) to give the DEP the funding to do the job and 6) to empower all the markets, businesses and individuals through this energy transition.  We also urge the Legislature to pass budget resolutions that restore the raids of more than $83 million from the NJ Clean Energy Fund so we can more fully fund clean energy and energy efficiency programs. 

In conclusion, we ask the Legislature to be proactive instead of reactive. Don’t leave New Jersey behind. Just 2 weeks ago New York State adopted a budget that: 1) includes a $4.2 billion environmental bond act to protect against climate change; 2) requires all new school bus purchases be zero-emissions by 2027 and all school buses on the road be zero-emissions by 2035; and 3) funds electrifying an additional 50,000 homes.

Climate change, regardless of current political and economic situations, is society’s true existential threat. Action is required now. At this point, we are and will continue to suffer from the imminent and irreversible impacts of climate change. There is no more time for planning – we are already so behind. We ask the Legislature to recognize the urgency to mitigate the impacts and protect the public. So many are already suffering and dying due to overburdening pollution, and by floods, drought, fires, tornadoes and tropical systems. The list of environmental, health and economic benefits of fully transitioning into true renewable energy is endless. Promote climate mitigation and renewable energy bills and stop those that do not push NJ forward. 

And we understand how difficult this is going to be for legislators. It is going to require heroic action to stop new fossil fuel projects, shut down existing sources and develop programs to replace them with renewable energy ones.  Some of these actions may not be popular in the near term and residents may not see the benefits until some of you are gone from office.  But this is reality.

Factoring all the social costs of carbon, accelerating the transition to clean renewables, not delaying it, not the business as usual fossil fuel approach. That’s how you make New Jersey more affordable. Again, thank you for the opportunity to speak.”