Turning back the pollution trend in New Jersey

by Matt Elliott

I released a report called “Too Much Pollution” this week, a new analysis of government data on global warming pollution trends in New Jersey and nationally.

The report finds that New Jersey’s pollution increased by 16 percent from 1990 to 2007, and that the Garden State ranks 16th nationwide for the highest levels of pollution.

More pollution than ever isn’t a record we want to set. It’s time to take back control of our energy future. By harnessing the power of the wind and sun, we can cut pollution and transition to clean energy sources that don’t harm the environment, never run out, and create new, local jobs.


Let me provide a little context for this report. Then I’ll get into the details of our analysis, and what our findings mean for policymakers.

For decades, America’s use of fossil fuels — and the global warming pollution that results — have been on the rise nationally and within states. For New Jersey, global warming means a lot of things, but the impact that is perhaps most worrisome is sea level rise. If we do nothing to solve global warming, we will lose most of our treasured beaches by the end of the century. This would jeopardize our $30 billion tourism economy, much of which is shore-based. And it would eliminate critical habitats for a large number of species.

The science is clear: The U.S. must reduce pollution 35 percent by 2020 to be able to stop the worst effects of global warming. And New Jersey has a large role to play.

Our report investigates how the states are doing at cutting global warming pollution and moving to clean energy. We used the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy on fossil fuel consumption by state to look at trends in carbon dioxide emissions. We look at the trends by state and nationally, as well as by economic sector and fuel source. This is the first time the state-by-state emissions data have been released for 2006 and 2007.

Here are a couple of our major findings:

– Transportation was far and away the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel consumption, responsible for more than 53 percent of the state’s emissions in 2007. Unfortunately, we remain married to automobiles for our transportation needs. In fact, CO2 emissions from burning oil jumped by 6.7 percent from 1990 to 2007, as demand for travel — thus, driving — increased. Until New Jersey invests in public transit and other transportation alternatives, and also land use policies that encourage more compact development patterns that reduce the need for driving in the first place, emissions from transportation will continue to increase.

– Nationally, emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel consumption increased by 19 percent between 1990 and 2007. Power plants and vehicles, the largest sources of CO2 emissions in the United States, were responsible for the lion’s share of the increase.

– In contrast to the trend in New Jersey, more than one-third of states succeeded in cutting pollution from 2004 to 2007 — before the onset of the recession. The initial success of these states shows that moving to clean energy can have a significant and immediate impact on overall emissions — and that emissions reductions and robust economic growth can occur side by side. For instance, four Northeast states — Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and New York — cut their pollution levels by 5 percent since 1997, while increasing their gross state product by 65 percent.

We can drive the economy without driving up pollution. And moving to clean energy can help boost the economy and create millions of new clean energy jobs around the country.

Moving forward, it’s clear we have to move quickly to enact some key policy standards.

First, the federal government must pass strong clean energy legislation and adopt common-sense EPA rules to cut pollution from aging coal plants and big smokestack industries. Specifically, the Senate must pass the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733), sponsored by Sens. John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. In addition, EPA has proposed a rule to require coal plants and other large smokestack industries to use available technology to cut their global warming pollution when new facilities are constructed or existing facilities are significantly modified.

As for New Jersey, this problem now sits in Governor-elect Christie’s lap. Christie has no choice but address this pressing issue, as the policy decisions he makes over the next four years will determine whether we cut emissions and move toward a clean energy future, or continue the trend toward more pollution.

Specifically, Christie must:

– Oppose new mega power lines from coal country in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. PSE&G is lobbying to build a dirty coal power line from plants in Pennsylvania. Given that New Jersey is downwind, we’ll see our pollution rise even more dramatically.

– Oppose any new coal plants in New Jersey. A Massachusetts-based company is fighting to build a new coal-fired power plant in Linden. From here on out, new coal plants must be off the table — no exceptions. We have better solutions.

– Move toward more clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. With strong policies, we could triple the amount of solar in the state over the next two years. And we could power over 1.1 million homes with offshore wind energy — but only if the new governor moves quickly and decisively.

– Immediately finalize a long-term plan to cut global warming pollution 80 percent by 2050. The 2007 Global Warming Response Act requires the state to produce such a plan, yet the Corzine administration has so far failed to do so. As our report indicates, most of the cuts must come from the transportation sector, and this plan should detail specific policies that will guide policymakers in slashing pollution from transportation and all sectors of the economy.

It’s a heavy lift for sure, but we can’t wait another day. And we can no longer afford to watch our pollution rise in New Jersey. It’s time that we lead America toward a clean, renewable energy future — before it’s too late.

Green Jersey Contributor Matt Elliott is Global Warming and Clean Energy Advocate for Environment New Jersey.

Posted by Green Jersey on November 14th, 2009 | Filed in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »


6 Responses to “Turning back the pollution trend in New Jersey”

  1. JoeB Says:

    How can pollution be up only 16% in the economy that’s 80% larger? I realize our economy has become less pollution-intensive per unit of GDP, but I didn’t realize it was that much less! Granted, we need pollution to be negative, but I’m still amazed how how much less of a pollution increase we’ve seen than I would have expected.

  2. Bill Wolfe Says:

    The data in the Report, particularly the transportation sector, are misleading. It considers emissions from ports (planes and ships) and trains, which serve far beyond NJ’s borders. It is not clear how those regional energy uses and emissions are allocated to NJ. So I looked at similarly situated land use and transportation states (Conn, RI, Mass, Del) to compare. The data show NJ allegedly using FAR more energy on transportation than these similar states. THis suggests something is very wrong with how the data were assigned to NJ. I also looked at energy by fuel type – assuming that transportation was primarily oil. Again, the data don’t make sense.

  3. Bill Wolfe Says:

    This Report shows that what we are doing now in NJ is NOT working. The Report also casts strong doubt on whether the current cap and trade and non-regulatory market based approach in national legislation is workable. NJ is part of a regional cap and trade program known as RGGI – it is seriously flawed but was supported by NJ environmentalists, as was NJ’s other law that set toothless emission reduction goals, the Global Warming Response Act. Read why cap/trade won’t work and what we need to do instead – great YouTube as well:

    Green House gas emissions continue to rise – NJ’s control efforts a sham
    http://wolfenotes.com/2009/11/green-house-gas-emissions-continue-to-rise-njs-control-efforts-a-sham/

  4. MattElliott Says:

    Bill – we crunched the data from the EIA. The numbers in the report have never before been made public. EIA data includes ports and air transport, which is noted in our report. All told, those two sources account for about 17% of NJ’s transportation emissions. And the reality is that, ports and planes, or no ports and planes, our transportation-replated emissions are rising, mostly due to more cars, and we need to do something about it.
    If you read the report, we make clear that the data is from 1990-2007, which is the most recent federal data available. The Global Warming Response Act was not signed into law until July, 2007, and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) took effect in NJ on Jan 1, 2009. When we have the data that tells us whether or not these programs are working, we will certainly report it.

  5. Bill Wolfe Says:

    Matt – Transporation sector emissions are large, which has been known for many years. So why aren’t you advocating for electric cars, urban trolley systems, and employer trip reduction? Worse, false solutions are working on and did support (i.e. GWRA and RGGI) both completely ignore transportation sector impacts. So please, let’s not let that issue divert from more basic problems I am trying to bring out – i.e the strategy ENGO’s are pursuing is fatally flawed. .

    I strongly disagree with you – the Report’s data are relevant because they absolutely call into question both GWRA and RGGI.

    DEP adopted regulations that define GHG as a regulated “pollutant” back in 2004. DEP failed to implement that regulatory authority (which could have dampened the emissions increases that your report documents). ENGO’s ignored those DEP regs. Instead of regs, DEP and ENGO’s worked on market approaches, including RGGI

    Worse, the 2007 GWRA stripped DEP of that regulatory authority, yet it was supported by NJ ENGO’s. .

    EPA is now doing the same thing at the federal level – avoiding tough choices and foregoing regulatory tools that work, in favor of market based solutions that are fatally flawed and demonstrably failures.

    The Report is relevant to RGGI because of the RGGI caps, which your report show to be way too high. Why aren’t you demanding renegoatition of RGGI caps?

    Also, RGGI was exaggerated as means to reduce emissions and its weaknesses were ignored by ENGO’s. Your Report illustrates these failure because electric sector emissions (in state) are small percentage of total and out of state are not counted (or allocated to NJ – just the opposite of how the transportation data work).

    The public and activists are not aware of any of this debate. Maybe if they were, things might change for the better.

  6. MattElliott Says:

    The purpose of this report was to detail pollution trends across the country from 1990-2007. This data has never been made public, and I think it’s important to get it out there.
    We can’t cover everything in one report. But if you look at our previous research and public statements, we document NJ’s pollution problems, and identify key transportation policies that must be adopted. They include:
    -mandatory employer ride reduction programs.
    -bus rapid transit along the state’s major roads.
    -tax breaks for plug-in hybrids.
    -a low carbon fuel standard on all fuels sold in NJ.
    -a tax on the most polluting vehicles in NJ, with funds re-directed as rebates for the consumers buying the cleanest vehicles on the market.
    -more funding for mass transit.
    -expanded rail lines.

    If you’d like to help us make these policies law in NJ, please contact me: melliott[at]environmentnewjersey.org We need more people to add their support, join us, and help us curb global warming pollution in NJ.

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