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Vote on major clean-energy bill is put off

NJ Spotlight News

Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent

November 20, 2023

Environmental advocates want a law that sets hard deadlines for well-defined renewable energy standards in New Jersey. They made their case to state lawmakers who on Monday were considering a bill that would require 100% clean electricity from suppliers within a dozen years.

“Please — as you’re building the future — don’t build it dirty. Make it squeaky clean,” said Maria Lopez-Nuñez of the Ironbound Community Corporation. She lives near New Jersey’s largest garbage incinerator in Newark — an environmental justice community where one in four kids suffers from asthma. Lopez-Nuñez supports the bill (S-2978), which requires electricity suppliers to provide increasing amounts of clean energy: 80% by 2027, 85% by 2030, and 100% by 2035.

The mandates would replace Gov. Phil Murphy’s current executive order and better withstand changes in the State House, said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), who chairs the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

The bill also sets a standard for how much clean energy should be generated in-state versus be bought from outside.

For environmental justice advocates, the bill is a game-changer.

“It will literally save lives. I’m not saying that lightly. The cumulative burdens of pollution disproportionately harm communities of color,” said Ben Haygood of Trenton’s Isles, Inc.

But advocates told the committee the bill should include a clearer definition of clean energy — as close to zero as possible — for pollutants like particulates. And they don’t want power companies to buy their way out with carbon offsets. “I do think there’s some key things you need to fix so that it’s consistent with the intent of the law. Otherwise, we’re creating massive loopholes” Lopez-Nuñez said.

The bill did encounter resistance, mostly from business representatives. Ray Cantor of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association asked for more clarity. Opponents are worried about jobs moving out of state and about meeting growing need for power.

“We just don’t think it’s feasible,” Cantor said. “So what we’re asking the community to do is pause, let’s take a step and plan things better. Let’s take a step to analyze costs better, and we will ultimately have a decarbonized and green-energy future, but setting artificial deadlines to get there just doesn’t work.”

The committee decided not to vote on the bill and to make amendments to it. A vote on the bill has been rescheduled for Dec. 18.

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