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If Trenton Were Serious About Climate Change

No More Rubber Stamp Budgets, Press Conferences, Sound Bites, and Symbolic Stunts

Legislature Must Use Powers of the Purse, Oversight, and Legislation To Force Gov.’s Hand

Time For Vision, Public Mobilization, and Heavy Lifts

Last week, reading the northeast regional Chapter of the third US National Climate Assessment, I came across this:

Massachusetts became the first state to officially incorporate climate change impacts into its environmental review procedures by adopting legislation that directs agencies to “consider reasonably foreseeable climate change impacts, including additional greenhouse gas emissions, and effects, such as predicted sea level rise. 166

Here’s what the Massachusetts law actually says:

“In considering and issuing permits, licenses and other administrative approvals and decisions, the respective agency, department, board, commission or authority shall also consider reasonably foreseeable climate change impacts, including additional greenhouse gas emissions, and effects, such as predicted sea level rise.”

NJ has nothing like this law on the books – and activists and legislators aren’t even trying to get it.

Instead, we have recycled appeals to restore RGGI or support the Obama EPA timid measures.

But we can’t rely on narrow, single sector, single purpose, incremental, low cost, “politically feasible” and largely “symbolic” reforms –  stuff like RGGI – to get us to the required deep 80% greenhouse emissions reduction goals of the Global Warming Response Act.

Vision and a bold program are required, including heavy lifts like entirely phasing out fossil fuel based energy production, and massively ramping up energy efficiency and renewables and electric cars and public transit and bicycles and local food and reforestation and a strategic retreat from the shore. And coming up with the money to pay for it.

Climate change emissions mitigation and adaptation planning must be incorporated in everything we do- as Al Gore once said, a “central organizing principle” –  including a revenue source based on the social costs of carbon (energy tax).

And most everything we do needs some kind of local or state government approval, so government leadership and public policy must once again be part of the heavy lifting too – Van Jones and the Green New Deal and all that jive. Old School Big Progressive Coalition Movement politics.

So, as a first step, just think if we enacted law , based on Massachusetts law, amending all NJ land use, transportation, housing, energy, agriculture,  budget, tax, finance, infrastructure, planning, redevelopment, and environmental laws to mandate that new AND existing developments that are subject to state and local permits (AND permit renewals) specifically address climate?

As Mr. Rumseld once said: Go large, sweep it all up – one big omnibus bill amending everything.

Better yet, mount a Constitutional amendment campaign and put that question to the people on the ballot.

A ballot Question merely requires simple majorities of both houses of the Legislature, not the Governor’s signature, so Democrats have no excuses.

That’d be something worth fighting for, instead of all this tinkering, stunts, and spin.

That would be something the big Foundations could get behind instead of small bore items, voluntary feel good measures,  and carnivals.

In addition, confirming criticism I’ve made numerous times, according to the National Climate Assessment, NJ is the only northeastern state that lacks a climate change adaptation plan: 

Of the 12 states in the Northeast, 11 have developed adaptation plans for several sectors and 10 have released, or plan to release, statewide adaptation plans. 139

Imagine that – NJ, a highly vulnerable coastal state, almost 2 YEARS after Sandy, still lacks an adaptation plan and has no plans to develop one.

I raised these same issues with the Pinelands Commission during last year’s debate on the South Jersey Gas Pipeline and BL England plant re-powering, requesting that the Pinelands Commission – like NY State’s Adirondack Park Agency – incorporate energy policy and climate mitigation and adaptation policy in its review procedures under the CMP.

So, to get the Massachusetts law idea on the radar screen, I wrote NJ’s legislative leaders a nice note.

Haven’t heard back – not even an automated email – and I’m not holding my breath.

Like I said – if Trenton were serious…

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