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A Renewable Energy Future for New Jersey

After the sudden withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement last year, statewide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has never been so urgent. The time to transition to renewable energy is now, and our state is finally able to do something about it!  At our April general meeting, speakers from the NJ League of Conservation Voters, ReThink Energy NJ, and Food & Water Watch NJ described how to get New Jersey off fossil fuels and onto a path towards 100% renewable energy. Then, attendees participated in our first-ever “action hour” session, writing letters to the governor, state legislators and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. If you missed our meeting, but want to learn more about what actions you can take, text ‘Renewables’ to 797979 to learn about important upcoming events from ReThink Energy NJ, and text ‘NJOFF’ to 69866 to receive updates and alerts from Food & Water Watch NJ.

Guest speakers (from left): Ed Potosnak of NJ League of Conservation Voters; Patty Cronheim of ReThink Energy NJ; and Junior Romero of Food & Water Watch NJ.

 

The time to transition to renewable energy is here     After eight years under the Christie Administration, New Jersey finally has an opportunity to make progress on environmental issues. Already, in the first 2 1/2 months of Gov. Murphy’s administration, “we’ve seen a whirlwind of environmental action,” according to Ed Potosnak, executive director of NJ League of Conservation Voters. And now, major legislation for renewable energy is on the horizon. “New Jersey’s on the cusp of passing one of the most aggressive and bold” plans to fight climate change in the country, says Potosnak.

In fact, New Jersey legislators have 2 such plans to choose from, both bringing the state to 100% renewable energy sources, but on different timelines.

Ed Potosnak, executive director, NJ League of Conservation Voters

Bill A3723/S2314, supported by NJLCV and ReThink Energy NJ, would power the state with 100% renewable energy by 2050. Components of the plan include: moving to 52.5% renewables by 2030, then to 100% by 2050; a price cap that protects ratepayers from excessive charges; investment in community solar programs; and energy efficiency goals for utilities.

Food & Water Watch NJ is supporting a bolder plan, bill A1823/S1405, that would get New Jersey to 100% renewable energy by 2035. According to Junior Romero of Food & Water Watch, this more aggressive plan is necessary because “the next ten years are critical” if we want to avoid a climate tipping point. Supporters of this plan fear that if we wait until 2050 to get to 100% renewable energy, we will be passing this critical issue off to the next generation to deal with.

Patty Cronheim, ReThink Energy NJ

While the goal of transitioning to renewable energy may seem impossible, extensive research prepared for ReThink Energy NJ by the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research and PSE Healthy Energy has actually shown that “it’s essential, its achievable, and its affordable,” says Patty Cronheim. “It’s actually cheaper to follow a clean energy path than our current path.”  ReThink Energy NJ’s report estimates that the cumulative costs of continuing with our current energy portfolio from 2018-2030 (which unfortunately has led to a 27.6% increase in greenhouse gas emissions in 2013-2015 alone!) would cost $130,200 billion. Meanwhile, moving to 50% renewable energy sources by 2030 would cost less, at $129,800 billion.

Saturday’s guest speakers emphasized the high number of jobs that would be created in New Jersey by transitioning to 100% renewable energy and increased energy efficiency. For example, according to Potosnak, an energy efficiency program (like the one required in bill A3723/S2314), would triple the number of jobs in New Jersey’s energy efficiency industry to over 100,000. Cronheim estimates that growth in the offshore wind industry during a transition to 100% renewable energy would lead to 70,000 local jobs.

As we consider the steps we will take to reach 100% renewable energy, Food & Water Watch’s Romero warns against ‘greenwashing’ dirty energy. Renewable energy systems should not use garbage-incineration, which is a major health concern for people who live near incineration plants. High rates of asthma have been found in these communities. The burning of animal waste or manure is also problematic. While it is a ‘renewable’ source, it is far from ‘clean’, as it affects air quality, and relies on industrial livestock production, which has many negative environmental consequences.

Romero also reminded us to make sure that our efforts bring about a “just transition.” We need to ensure that people who lose their jobs in the shrinking fossil-fuel industry have access to job training programs for the renewable energy industry. We also need to make sure that the communities who have borne the brunt of our current energy policy — typically low-income communities and people of color who live near energy plants, and whose health suffers greatly as a result — have a seat at the table when renewable energy transition plans are made, and have access to the jobs created by that transition.

The state Assembly and Senate are voting this afternoon, 4/12 on A3723/S2314, the 100% renewables by 2050 plan. If you would like your state legislators to support this bill, or to keep pushing for 100% renewables by 2035 (A1823/S1405), make your opinion known Thursday morning, 4/12! You can find out who your state legislators are here. Click on their names to see their contact information.

The pipeline battle

Weaning off of fossil fuel energy sources requires putting an end to new construction of fossil-fuel energy infrastructure. To that end, environmental organizations and concerned residents are fighting to stop the construction of new pipelines in our state, which is already home to 1,500 miles of major interstate pipelines carrying upwards of 70% fracked gas, according to Cronheim of ReThink Energy NJ. In fact, experts argue that there is no need for more pipeline capacity, and in fact, New Jersey is too reliant on natural gas for energy, leaving us vulnerable to price fluctuations. Cronheim sees proposed new pipeline construction as “the last gasp of the oil & gas industy to get us hooked on natural gas for the next 30 to 40 years.”

Central Jersey residents are currently fighting to stop 2 proposed pipeline projects, the PennEast pipeline and the Williams-Transco NESE project, which includes a gas compressor station to be built in Franklin Township.

The Penn East Pipeline

Local residents and advocacy organizations have been working for several years to stop construction of the proposed Penn East pipeline. The route of the pipeline would cross 67 bodies of water in NJ, some of which are considered “exceptional” in ecological, recreational or water supply significance. The pipeline route would cross the Delaware River, source of drinking water for millions of people in the region. Many are concerned about the possibility of these waterways being catastrophically polluted by an pipeline failure. Pipeline accidents are on the rise, Cronheim reports, due to aging pipes already in the ground, and rushed construction of new pipelines. Local residents are also nervous, as the blast zone of the proposed pipeline route is close to many homes and schools.

The company behind Penn East has recently received a certificate of approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but the fight is not over yet! Before any construction can begin, the pipeline must be approved by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. It is crucial to contact the NJDEP Commissioner now.  Urge her to reject this unneeded pipeline and fully enforce our state’s rules protecting our water, land and air. You can write to her at: DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe, 401 E. State Street, 7th Floor, East Wing, Trenton, NJ 08625-0402. You can find information about other actions here.

The Williams-Transco NESE Project and Franklin Twp Gas Compressor Station

Similar concerns are motivating residents to stop the construction of the proposed NESE project and compressor station in Frankling Township. The proposed pipeline route would cross the Raritan Bay, and run alongside the Sandy Hook National Recreation Area. It would also be built near a toxic Superfund site. This has created concerns that digging in the area would disperse all kinds of toxic pollutants, says Romero of Food & Water Watch.

The proposed gas compressor station in Franklin Township is a major concern, as the intended location is very close to housing developments. Local residents are worried about the risk of deadly gas leaks or explosions, as well as all the negative health risks associated with compressor stations. Additional, the toxic gas plume that a compressor station produces would travel far beyond the immediate vicinity of the compressor station, threatening the wider region.

The NESE project is still being considered by FERC. It is urgent that as many as people as possible sign up to become intervenors and submit public comments to FERC opposing the project. Several important events are coming up for concerned central Jerseyans. An action session is scheduled for April 18th in Somerset, where you can learn how to become an intervenor and make effective public comments. Also, FERC will be holding 2 public hearings in the coming weeks, one on April 25th and another on May 2nd. It is vital that people show up to these meetings and make comments! To learn more, go here.

Working together

We have a lot of work ahead of us to transition our state to 100% renewable energy and stop the construction of new pipelines. But it can be done: “We have so much potential with offshore wind and solar in New Jersey,” says Romero. The critical thing is for local residents and organizations to join together. Cronheim and Potosnak emphasize the importance of working together and showing up at rallies, meetings and other events. As Potosnak said, “If we don’t speak up, [officials and legislators] move on to the person who’s squeaking.”

Want to make some noise about this crucial issue at this critical time? Sign up for alerts from our guests organizations and stay involved!

  • Sign up for email updates from the NJ League of Conservation Voters here
  • Text ‘Renewables’ to 797979 to hear about important events where people need to show up, from ReThink Energy NJ
  • Text ‘NJOFF’ to 69866 to receive action alerts from Food & Water Watch NJ

Better Choices for NJ Coalition Urges Passage of Gov. Murphy’s Budget

STAND CNJ is proud to be a part of the Better Choices for New Jersey coalition. We join our fellow coalition members in expressing our support for Gov. Murphy’s budget proposal. This bold vision has the potential to address inequalities and ensure a fairer budget for all New Jersey residents.

On a blustery Wednesday morning last week, the Better Choices for New Jersey coalition gathered for a press conference outside the Statehouse to express our support for the governor’s budget proposal. According to Analilia Mejia, executive director of NJ Working Families Alliance, coalition members are “unified on one thing: the state needs to raise revenues in a smart, transparent, just way. The last 8 years have left us…in shambles and we demand that our representatives put the interests of working families before partisan interests.”

Member organizations, including NJ Working Families, NJ Citizen Action, New Jersey Policy Perspective, NAACP, NJ Work Environment Council, the Anti-Poverty Network of NJ, the New Jersey Education Association,  the NJ Sierra Club, the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, the Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of NJ, South Jersey Women for Progressive Change, and dozens more, recognize the importance of joining forces. “It’s absolutely essential that we work together in a coalition. Working in silos doesn’t get us anywhere,” emphasized Bruce Davis, Economic Development chair of the NAACP, who spoke at the press conference.

Governor Murphy’s budget proposal is a much-needed departure from the failed trickle-down policies of the Christie administration. It raises state revenues by increasing taxes only on those earning more than $1 million per year, closing a carried interest loophole that only benefits billionaire hedge fund managers, and ending the tiny 2016 reduction in the state sales tax, which was imperceptible to families but very detrimental to the state’s ability to provide much-needed services, said Gov. Murphy in his March 13th budget address.

The Better Choices for NJ coalition supports the new budget’s emphasis on asking the wealthy to pay their fair share. Speaking at last Wednesday’s press conference, Ann Vardeman, program director for NJ Citizen Action, said “Asking those who have benefited the most…to invest a little more, while also giving badly-needed, hard-earned money back to those who need it the most — that’s something that I think we should all support. Its an increase in tax fairness and it is helping to level the playing field.” Staci Berger, director of the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ, applauded the proposed budget for “mak[ing] sure that those who have been very successful in our economy and in our state will be part of the solution to our state’s [financial] crisis.”

Murphy proposed a budget of $37.4 billion, with a surplus of $743 million, emphasizing that “we must invest in our state if we are to grow once again.” He described his proposal as “balanced both fiscally and morally. Our constitution requires the former, but our conscience demands the latter.” Some highlights from his budget proposal include:

  • increased investment in our public schools, and a 4-year ‘phase-up’ to full funding
  • increased funding for statewide pre-K programs
  • a $50 million increase in community college tuition funding, the first step in a 3 year plan to make community college tuition-free
  • a new student loan forgiveness program for NJ college students in STEM fields who go on to STEM jobs in NJ
  • the establishment of the NJ Career Network, a workforce development and retraining center to help older workers and those who have been unemployed for a long time
  • 3 times more funding for NJ Transit, plus a much-needed $242 million boost to help revive the agency, whose funding was decreased 90% by Chris Christie
  • an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit over three years, from 35% to 40% of the federal benefit
  • support for the gradual increase of the state’s minimum wage to $15/hour, and an immediate increase to $11/hr for state workers in 2019
  • support for enacting paid sick leave protections for all New Jerseyans (more than a million of whom lack these protections today)
  • an increase in the state property tax deduction from the current $10,000 to $15,000
  • a new child and dependent care tax credit
  • the establishment of a new gun violence research center at a state university
  • support for the legalization and taxation of marijuana, which will bring the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year

Gov. Murphy’s proposed budget will now be considered by state legislators (who must approve it with legislation). STAND CNJ urges our central Jersey lawmakers to support the governor’s plan, and finally get NJ back on the path towards fair tax policy and a fair budget. Contact your state legislators and let them know you support Murphy’s progressive budget. (Find out who your legislators are here.) To learn more about the budget process, check out this article.

February Meeting: Organizing Voters for the 2018 Mid-terms

Last year, hundreds of new central Jersey grassroots activists (such as members of STAND CNJ!) learned how to mobilize people for marches and town halls, and flood congressional offices with constituent feedback. In 2018, we find ourselves with a slightly different, but absolutely vital task of mobilizing voters to show up at the polls for November’s mid-term elections. This is likely the most important mid-term election most of us will ever take part in. And it is especially important in New Jersey, where we have the opportunity to elect more progressive candidates in at least 4, and maybe even 5, congressional districts (NJ’s 2nd, 3rd, 7th, & 11th districts, and maybe even the 4th)! Such a feat would go a long way to making Congress as a whole more progressive.

STAND CNJ Vice President Olga Starr

Central Jersey’s grassroots community senses the responsibility before us. As STAND CNJ vice president Olga Starr said, “Really, what it comes down to is that each and every one of us has to do something.”

L-R: Analilia Mejia; Jim Girvan; Liz Glynn; Dena Mottola Jaborska

What is that ‘something’? On February 25th, STAND CNJ and Indivisible Cranbury invited 4 experienced community organizers to our monthly meeting to help us figure it out: Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of NJ Citizen Action; Analilia Mejia, executive director of NJ Working Families Alliance; Liz Glynn of NJ 7 Forward; and Jim Girvan, of NJ 7 Forward and the People’s Motorcade. Together, our 4 speakers drew us a road map for electoral work in 2018 that emphasizes coordinating among groups, broadening the community of voters, and micro-targeting our messages to voters.

COORDINATING

One of the biggest challenges grassroots groups face is “biting off more than we can chew on our own,” says Mejia, of NJ Working Families. Her organization is focusing this year on how to avoid duplicating efforts, and instead coordinate with other groups for maximum effect. Glynn echoed this sentiment. Working in NJ’s 7th congressional district, home to more than 50 community groups, her organization (NJ 7 Forward) is currently working to educate group leaders on organizing strategies, and make sure that each group knows what to do. “It’s an ongoing challenge,” says Glynn. She sees a role in this group effort not only for Indivisible and other broad progressive groups, but also for single-issue advocacy groups. For example, environmental organizations can work effectively to educate voters about the environmental consequences of this election, and mobilize voters who care about the environment to show up at the polls on election day. At the same time, campaigns for specific candidates can also help increase voter turnout by mobilizing voters who are excited about the candidate.

STAND CNJ president Karen Haskin

STAND CNJ President Karen Haskin encourages all central Jersey grassroots groups to share your events with us at standcnj@gmail.com, for publishing on our FB pages and website, so that we can help keep the wide variety of groups in our region connected. (You can also find a list of local groups in our directory).

BROADENING THE COMMUNITY OF VOTERS

Voting in a better Congress in 2018 requires us to reach beyond the members of our own groups and out to the wider central Jersey community. “We need to think about how we can revitalize our democracy,” says Jaborska, of NJ Citizen Action, and go “beyond just taking seats back and think about how we can make our political system more open and more responsive to more people.”

This is a challenge because many potential voters are not aware of or interested in November’s mid-term elections. “There’s still a lot of people outside of our world who aren’t really doing the ‘resistance’ day in and day out,” according to Glynn. Voter turnout in the US is generally low nowadays, and turn-out for ‘off-year’ elections is even lower (often in the range of only 20-40% of registered voters). Grassroots groups who want to help get out the vote need to make sure that New Jerseyans know why this mid-term election is so important.

We also need to consider a voter outreach strategy that is broad enough to engage with swing voters and base voters.  Mejia believes its a mistake for progressives to neglect their base while focusing most of their efforts on white working class swing voters, and forcing candidates to avoid certain important issues as a result. Instead, base voters need to be more deeply engaged too, and not just in the two days before an election in a last-minute, door-knocking GOTV effort. “Unless we talk to base voters and give them a reason to go out and vote, they’re going to stay home,” warns Mejia.

Grassroots groups also need to avoid the mistake Hillary Clinton’s campaign made in 2016 by not sufficiently reaching out to communities of color, Jaborska reminds us. It is vital that new resistance groups connect up with organizations led by people of color, as well as recruit people of color for leadership positions in our own groups, says Jim Girvan, of NJ 7 Forward and the People’s Motorcade. Mejia seconds that, and described a trend she has noticed in her extensive organizing background: when there are more women and people of color in the leadership of a group, there are more women and people of color involved in that group. Mejia urges grassroots groups to be intentional about this often-difficult effort: “We have to talk in a way that expands the issues…Are we going to say ‘black lives matter’? Are we going to talk about issues that disproportionately affect people of color? Its okay to feel uncomfortable [with the steps we need to take to deal with the lack of diversity in the ‘resistance’] but its not okay to ignore that we’re not as diverse as we should be.”

Along with communities of color, young voters do not often get sufficient attention in voter outreach and turnout efforts. According to Glynn, young voters tend to have only a vague awareness that an election is approaching, so “its important to engage them early.” She recommends issue-oriented outreach strategies for young voters, who often get excited and mobilized to vote because they care about the environment, gun safety, healthcare or affordable college tuition. “They’re definitely worried about their future,” says Glynn. Its also important to recruit young volunteers to reach out to other young voters. For example, instead of tabling at a college campus with middle-aged or retired volunteers, ask college-age volunteers (and especially students at that very campus) to work at the table, register other new, young voters, and talk to them about issues.

MICRO-TARGETING OUR MESSAGES

Jim Girvan sees micro-targeting and messaging as two of the biggest challenges for grassroots work on the 2018 mid-term elections. Groups need to become more skilled in identifying their target audience and crafting micro-targeted messages for specific audiences. In order to accomplish this, “we know that its important to get the best possible understanding of the electorate as we can,” says Girvan. Mejia adds, “We have to talk to people about the issues that are motivating them to vote.” To help uncover these motivating concerns, Girvan is leading a massive project for NJ 7 Forward, gathering voter turnout data from multiple election cycles. They’re breaking down this data by district (the 7th), municipality, and even precinct, then going door-to-door to talk with voters about their concerns. The patterns they find will help NJ 7 Forward plan its ground game for the 2018 and 2020 elections.

In addition to considering your audience, Girvan also emphasized the importance of context when crafting a message. For example, the most effective messaging at a rally will be different from the most effective messaging in a conversation with neighbors.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN WASHINGTON……

At the same time as grassroots groups consider voter turnout strategies, we also need to remember that “defensive issue work isn’t going away,” as Jaborska reminds us. We still are faced with daily attacks on progressive values at the federal level. But with the end of the Christie administration, we finally are in a situation where we can do a lot at the state level. Mejia wants everyone to know about the NJ Legislative Resistance Caucus, which formed last year and will soon resume its efforts to create “firewalls” to protect our state from damaging rollbacks by the federal government. She also recommends spending time every week catching up on what is happening at the Statehouse in Trenton. Suggested news sites are Politico’s NJ Playbook, Observer’s New Jersey Politics page, NJ Spotlight, and InsiderNJ. And don’t forget to urge your state legislators and local officials to counter damaging developments at the federal level with state and local actions! Check out our calls to action on Facebook or on our website.

A huge thank you to our guest speakers, volunteers, attendees, Indivisible Cranbury, and St. David’s Episcopal Church for making this meeting a success!