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N.J. needs the most ambitious climate bill in history. And here it is

November 24, 2021
In The News

New Jersey has 114 Superfund sites – the most in the nation – and the pace at which these savagely polluted quagmires are cleaned up is unacceptably slow. That will change if the Senate passes the Build Back Better Act, which reinstates two of the three “polluter pays” taxes that would make oil and gas industries pick up the cost to remediate 1,300 hazardous sites nationally.

If that sounds ambitious, buckle up.

New Jersey is more vulnerable to coastal flooding than any other state, sea level has risen three inches in the last two decades, and it could rise another foot by 2030. Build Back gives us a fighting chance: It invests $6 billion for coastal resiliency, which will fund climate-resilient “living shorelines” projects that protect beaches and restore natural habitats.

 
New Jersey has about 300,000 lead pipes across the state. The Build Back plan tops off the funding from the infrastructure bill passed last week to invest a total of $25 billion to replace old pipes and upgrade sewage treatment plants.
 
New Jersey abhors offshore drilling. This bill ends it – not only off the coast of Toms River and Cape May, but throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Forever and always.
 
And New Jersey has extraordinary ambition, notably Gov. Murphy’s goal of being 100-percent clean energy by 2050. The Build Back plan will invest $320 billion in the form of tax credits for expanding wind and solar power, clean energy transmission, home efficiency retrofits, and the purchase of electric vehicles.
There’s much more in the sprawling $1.75 trillion climate and social safety net package, so Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) took his case to the water’s edge in Long Branch Monday to assert a self-evident truth: New Jersey will directly benefit from the $555 billion invested in addressing climate and energy, which is good timing, because this is our break-glass moment.
 
“This is once-in-a-generation legislation,” Pallone said. “It invests in the American people, responds to the great challenges of our time, and builds a better future for generations to come.”
 
But the bill has only passed the House, and as it marinates in the Senate, it is difficult to predict what objections will be forthcoming from Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the two Democrats who have caused President Biden to scale back on the scope of this package in recent months.
 
In its current incarnation, however, its authors can say that no other climate legislation has ever come this close to matching the desperation of this moment. And, yes, the challenges still to come: Build Back even establishes the Civilian Climate Corps (its homage to the New Deal), which will train 300,000 young workers to restore public lands – notably, forests and wetlands -- and tackle climate change in their own communities.
This cheer from director Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey Monday was typical: “This is the make-or-break moment for climate action,” he said. “We need to put the nation on a path to reduce climate pollutants by 50% this decade. Build Back Better is a big freaking deal to move the country off fossil fuels and make truly historic investments in clean energy.”
One can appreciate the jaunty optimism from the architect. Pallone even believes much of the bill will survive “because we worked with the Senate -- not only Chuck Schumer, but with Manchin and Sinema. Most of what’s in this bill has been agreed to.”
 
Still, it’s not sausage yet. Much of fight will be over the SALT deduction that is still in the House bill, and it remains to be seen what will be bargained away.
 
Even in its present state, Build Back Better won’t be the entire solution to the climate crisis; at best, it will get the U.S. halfway to President Biden’s target of reducing emissions by half by 2030, according to the Rhodium Group. With supplemental action from states and aggressive federal regulations, however, the climate research firm says the goal is within our reach.
 
But it builds momentum in three significant ways: It signals that the US will take the lead in the search for a solution to the pending disaster; it expedites the transition to renewables in earnest; and it mitigates climate-related problems that now arise with alarming regularity.
 
It’s a good start. And it can no longer be postponed, especially in New Jersey.