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.