NJ has good clean energy goals — but must act fast, advocates say
A new report jointly released by NJPIRG, Environment New Jersey, and the Frontier Group finds New Jersey has the ninth-highest potential for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in the United States within the next 30 years.
The report, Electric Buildings, suggests that transitioning homes and businesses to electric-only power by 2050 would equate to removing more than 2 million gasoline-powered cars from Jersey roadways.
The groups behind the study now say it is up to the state government to decide how swiftly and decisively it wants to act to meet this goal.
Gov. Phil Murphy's Energy Master Plan, unveiled in early 2020, is well-intentioned, according to Hayley Berliner, Environment New Jersey clean energy associate.
That being said, Berliner urged the governor and legislators to ensure the Clean Energy Fund that supports the plan isn't raided to cover other costs and causes.
"Utility customers pay into the fund, and deserve to see the savings, environmental and health benefits that electrification and other energy efficiency programs will bring," she said.
One such objective would be to make electrification mandatory for all new building construction, which would make use of more efficient technologies, cut emissions, come at a cheaper cost, and ultimately improve public health.
Addressing the last of those outcomes, Dr. Elizabeth Cerceo of Cooper University Hospital cited a Harvard University study that found in 2018, more than 8 million worldwide deaths could be connected to harmful pollutants.
"Air pollution from burning fossil fuels like coal and diesel was responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, which is the population of New York City," Cerceo said.
That's a much higher number than previously assumed, and one which Cerceo said translated to 350,000 premature deaths in the United States — with New Jersey ninth in the rate of deaths per capita.
So while total electrification is a noble goal for the entire country, NJPIRG advocate Emma Horst-Martz said it would be particularly game-changing within the Garden State.
"New Jersey itself could stand to reap some of the highest benefits in the country if we electrify our buildings by 2050," Horst-Martz said, specifically pointing to heat pumps, water heaters, and induction stoves as major adjustments.
Cerceo mentioned the link discovered in the past year between high pollution exposure and increased risk for severe COVID-19 infection, a relationship not lost on Dan Quinlan of Health Care Without Harm.
He said just as Americans have been urged to trust the science with regard to COVID, they must do so when it comes to clean energy and the threat of continued and dangerous emissions.
"It's time to wake up and listen to what leaders from across the healthcare sector have been talking about for a long time now, and that is, the climate scientists and the building scientists know what they're doing," Quinlan said.