Energy

Clean energy, climate change focus of joint legislative hearing

Environmental advocates sounded the alarm about escalating climate change and recommended solutions lawmakers should consider at a joint legislative hearing Thursday in Toms River.

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette was the first to testify before the Senate’s and Assembly’s environment committees, and he set the tone for the two hours of wide-ranging testimony that followed.

“We have to make faster and more considerable changes to reduce emissions and to build our resilience to the climate impacts that we already are experiencing and — let me be clear — only get worse from here,” LaTourette said. “We should all be alarmed.”

Climate change has caused extreme weather, wildfires, deadly flooding, and more, LaTourette said.

He and others then advocated for everything from upgrading the state’s stormwater management and flood hazard rules to expanding New Jersey’s Blue Acres program, which returns developed, flood-prone properties to open space.

Pete Kasabach and Kim Irby from New Jersey Future urged lawmakers to require flood disclosure for prospective renters and buyers. The state’s home and business owners have filed 160,000 flood insurance claims totaling over $5 billion in the past 55 years, said Irby, the group’s policy manager. Rising sea levels will put more properties at risk, she added.

Eric Olsen of the Nature Conservancy’s New Jersey chapter called on lawmakers to do more to restore salt marshes, which protect shorelines from erosion and reduce flooding by absorbing rainwater.

Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society echoed that call.

“We’ve lost over 50% of the tidal wetlands base in the state of New Jersey that was here at the time that the first Europeans showed up,” Dillingham said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to go back and restore that.”

Lawmakers also heard testimony on two bills that would require the state to divest its public employee pension fund from fossil fuels and increase New Jersey’s renewable energy sources of electricity.

New Jersey has had an Energy Master Plan in place since 2020, with the goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.

One bill heard Thursday would require the state to get to that goal quicker, by 2045. That bill also would require, by 2030, at least half of the renewable power used by New Jersey companies to be generated in the Garden State.

Fred DeSanti of the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition estimated that bill could save New Jersey ratepayers more than $250 million a year.

Lawmakers took no action on either bill. Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), who chairs the Senate’s environment committee and sponsored both bills, said Thursday’s hearing was the first of several opportunities the public would get to weigh in on them.

LaTourette urged lawmakers to “summon political courage” and set protective policies that he warned “will take time to show their benefits.”

“We have to acknowledge that it may not be possible to measure our success in the next budget or on the next ballot,” he said.

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