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Special Event: An Afternoon of Wellness

Have you been feeling tired and worn out from making phone calls, writing letters and going to marches? You are not alone! Last Sunday, STAND CNJ invited speakers Jasmine Ueng-McHale and Stefanie Lachenauer to discuss the importance of self-care for concerned citizens.

Jasmine Ueng-McHale, and our “brick road”

“Many of us…have felt called to show up in our communities in a new way” since 2016, says, Ueng-McHale, a psychologist who practices in Princeton and Pennington. To commemorate all this new activity, Ueng-McHale guided participants to create a “brick road” of notecards describing every action they had taken in the last 2 years. An impressive array of civic engagement soon made its way across the floor: making phone calls, going to marches, attending town halls, canvassing for candidates, donating money, meeting with elected officials, researching legislation, learning about important issues at STAND CNJ meetings! While these new experiences of engagement have been exciting and meaningful, we’re also encountering new stressors, says Ueng-McHale: revved up news cycles, friends and family who don’t seem to care, and the feeling that we are “surrounded by messages that nothing matters…people don’t matter, facts don’t matter.” With all this activity and frustration, we risk burning out if we don’t remember self-care.

Practicing self-care does not come easy to most of us. In our culture, “we don’t have a norm of self-care. We have a norm of achieving and doing. We might want to question that,” suggested Ueng-McHale. We also tend to think that self-care is not only separate from the work we want to do in the world, but that the time we spend taking care of ourselves is a drain on how much of this work we can do. Ueng-McHale urges us to stop seeing our own wholeness as separate from the world’s wholeness; in fact, you take care of both yourself and the world when you leave time for self-care. She recommends that we remind ourselves of this important message: “Even when there’s so much work to be done in the world, your well-being is so important.”

How can we preserve that well-being? According to Ueng-McHale, we need to find self-care practices that incorporate one or more of the following activities: maintaining connections and relationships; being outside in nature; creating moments for stillness and reflection; playing and laughing; creating. It can also be helpful to find a friend who’d like to do these activities with you.

Stefanie Lachenauer

Practicing mindfulness is a perfect example of an effective self-care technique. Stefanie Lachenauer, a local teacher with the Healthy Mind Healthy Body Initiative who combines instruction in active citizenship and mindfulness in her work, provided a mindfulness tutorial for attendees. It’s a simple technique – “paying attention on purpose” – that has deep benefits. Lachenauer uses the analogy of a glitter jar to explain how mindfulness works and how it helps. As a jar is shaken up, glitter floats all around, making it hard to see through the water, just like our thoughts when we are agitated and busy. As we calm ourselves and still our minds, our thoughts slowly settle, allowing us to see clearly, just as glitter in a still bottle slowly floats to the bottom of the bottle, leaving clear water.

Lachenauer recommends finding a comfortable spot in your home where you can sit undisturbed. Start with just 5 minutes of mindfulness. You can also practice mindfulness in other situations, like waiting in line. Sunday’s attendees had the chance to practice a variety of mindfulness exercises that can be used at home in your own practice too:

  • Listening to all the sounds you can hear. Start with the sounds you can hear from far away, then the sounds you can hear in the room, then the sounds you can hear inside your own body.
  • Heart and Belly Breathing meditation. Put one hand over your heart and another over your belly. As you breathe pay attention to the movements of your chest and belly. Think of the air you inhale filling your chest and belly. Think of the air you exhale emptying your belly and chest.
  • Shades of a Color Game. Look around the room and count how many shades of a particular color you can find.
  • The Body Scan Exercise. Direct your attention to the sensation in your toes. Then your feet. Then your ankles. Then your calves, and so on. Work your way slowly up to the top of your body.

As we approach the crucial 2018 mid-term elections, its more important than ever to keep ourselves healthy. Remember to take care of yourself, so that you can help take care of your community in the days ahead!

If you missed our Afternoon of Wellness, you can watch the FB Live recording here.

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.