Empower NJ 2020 year end campaign updates 1/7/2021

Hello awesome climate activists!

First of all, thank you for all of your relentless activism in 2020. In a year of unprecedented challenges, you rose to the occasion, helped us reorganize to a more digital approach, and kept the pressure on Governor Murphy and our elected officials to stop all fossil fuel projects. The climate clock continues to tick, pandemic or not, so all of us on the steering committee appreciate the precious time you devoted to pushing for a livable climate future.

We wanted to take a moment this week to look back on the work we all did in 2020 and update everyone on the status of our main campaigns heading into 2021. Despite the extensive challenges we faced, we had some major victories! Both NJ and NY denied critical water quality permits for the Northeast Supply Enhancement (NESE) project, a fracked gas pipeline and compressor proposed through Central NJ and the Raritan Bay. In addition, massive grassroots pressure forced NJ Transit back to the drawing board on their proposed frack gas plant which will now be “reimagined” with the objective of a 100% renewable energy solution. As we move forward to 2021, don't forget to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for the campaigns that we won. 

Heading into 2021, EmpowerNJ is still committed to fighting for 3 core campaign goals: 

  1. A moratorium on all fossil fuel expansion projects to protect our health and prevent any additional increase to climate destroying greenhouse gases (GHG).
  2. Immediate implementation of policies to achieve a 45% reduction of GHG emissions in NJ from their 2010 levels by the year 2030 per the IPCC’s warning. Emissions reductions must be prioritized in environmental justice communities.
  3. An urgent comprehensive plan to move NJ off fossil fuels, create green jobs, and leverage our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to transition rapidly onto 100% clean renewable energy sources such as wind and solar no later than 2050.

Toward that end, here are 7 major campaigns we worked on this year that we will continue to work in 2021:

  1. Gibbstown LNG Export Terminal: Without a doubt, the biggest disappointment of 2020 was the Delaware River Basin Commission’s vote to approve the permits for the “Dock 2” project thus setting the stage for the export of liquid fracked gas (LNG) from Gibbstown NJ, to be transported by rail and truck to New Jersey from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. New York state offered a motion to continue to delay the decision so that the full climate and water quality impacts of the project could be understood, but no state would second the motion. Sadly, Governor Murphy was the crucial vote on this horrendous project that risks the health and safety of nearby residents, the safety of residents on the path of the trains and trucks transporting the frack gas, the quality of the water and the living ecosystems of the Delaware River, and our planet’s climate future. Going forward, there are plans to appeal this decision in federal court, and there may be delays to the start of construction caused by the annual river migration of the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. Stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to raise your voice, and if you haven’t already done so, register your disappointment with Governor Murphy and hold him to his word to stop LNG here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-governor-murphy-to-stop-fracked-gas-exports-in-the-northeast
  2. NJ Transit Power Plant: After months of fantastic organizing, including the flooding of NJ Transit Board of Commissioners meetings with public comments from activists, NJ Transit has agreed to reimagine their proposed frack gas plant and work towards an objective of having a 100% renewable energy solution. Don’t Gas The Meadowlands Coalition and EmpowerNJ organizers will continue to monitor this process to ensure a level playing field for renewable energy bidders and prevent NJ Transit from using a biased approach that favors a fossil fuel solution. Most recently, organizers pointed out the biases in the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process that favor frack gas bidders over those who will propose renewable energy solutions and are challenging NJ Transit to stop the RFQ process and rewrite the requirements. And we will continue pressuring Governor Murphy to reject the permit application for the original 140MW gas fired power plant proposal.
  3. Southern Reliability Link (SRL) and South Jersey (SJ) Gas pipelines: We had a court victory regarding the SJ Gas pipeline, but the project has not yet been rescinded. Although work was temporarily stopped on the SRL pipeline after a blowout destroyed a home, work has now resumed. There is a court date coming up January 20th, but we also need Governor Murphy’s DEP to step up and rescind the company’s horizontal directional drilling permits before more properties are destroyed.
  4. Mass Transit not Highway Expansion: 40% of GHG emissions in our state come from transportation. This year, at the height of the pandemic, the NJ Turnpike Authority (NJTA) proposed a $16 billion plan to expand the Turnpike and the Parkway. We were able to quickly spread the word and mobilize a public response. While billions of dollars were proposed for highways, NJ Transit continues to struggle financially. We will continue to advocate for more funding for mass transit as well as support Senator Weinberg’s bill, S2600, to create a truly independent NJ Transit board that works for the riders and other stakeholders such as local residents, not for special interests.
  5. Tennessee Gas Pipeline E300 Upgrade: This project proposes to build frack gas compressor stations in West Milford and Wantage in order to transport gas through the existing pipeline at higher pressures. The West Milford compressor station would be constructed close to the Monksville Reservoir which provides drinking water for ~1 million residents. So far, organizations have filed as interveners and submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). No permits have been issued by FERC yet, but Governor Murphy's NJDEP has approved Wetlands and Flood Hazard permits for the project and the Highlands Council provided an exemption to the Highlands Act for the construction of the West Milford compressor station. EmpowerNJ and our partners will be launching resolution campaigns this winter in Wantage and West Milford, so stay tuned to get involved!
  6. CPV Power Plant in Woodbridge: Competitive Power Ventures previously built a 725 MW frack gas power plant in early 2016, and now wants to build a second 630 MW frack gas plant in this densely populated area. Its air permit application is still pending and has been deemed technically deficient. In 2021, we will be organizing to build local opposition to this horrendous plant that, just as was the case with the North Bergen Meadowlands power plant, violates Governor Murphy’s Energy Master Plan and New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act. Get ready to help!
  7. DEP Climate and Environmental Justice Rules: The devil is always in the details, and EmpowerNJ will be paying extremely close attention to the details of these two regulatory processes. First, the Protecting Against Climate Threats (PACT) rules are coming this spring. We need these rules to effectively regulate all types of GHG emissions to tackle the climate crisis. In addition, the Environmental Justice law that passed this year is a great first step, but it doesn’t take effect for at least nine months and isn’t retroactive, so we will need to watch out for a sudden rush of projects seeking approval before the new law kicks in. We will continue to follow the lead of local EJ activist groups who fought for years and won this important legislative victory. In both cases, it will be up to public pressure from activists to ensure that we end up with strong, effective programs to move towards clean energy and an equitable and just climate future.

As you can see, the theme of the year is public pressure. We have had to improvise a lot, but we have adapted new tactics , and in some ways, our activism can remain more inclusive well after the pandemic ends with these new forms of communication and new ways to hold meetings. It is currently easier than ever before for concerned NJ residents to watch the legislature meet, sign up to testify in Trenton, or attend the public meetings of an obscure board all from the comfort of our living rooms. Not to say that municipal meetings have not presented onerous obstacles for public participation into important decisions, which many of us have had to overcome to allow for free and accessible public input and we will continue to support that effort as a coalition. Moving forward, we need to continue to normalize this expansion of direct democracy and educate the public so that more residents feel comfortable and confident in becoming activists. 

The turn of the calendar page to 2021 and the inauguration of Joe Biden will both be a welcome relief, but they won’t solve all of our problems. We have a lot of work to do and many opportunities. The governor and all 120 state legislators are up for election in 2021. The time to put them on the record with strong climate and environmental justice goals is right now, and we will need all hands on deck to force real and immediate actions to combat climate change into the state political conversation. Get ready for more calls to action, more opportunities to help, and more victories in 2021!

Happy New Year!
Eric on behalf of the Empower NJ coordinating committee

John Reichman, BlueWave NJ
Eric Benson, Clean Water Action
Tracy Carluccio, Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Ken Dolsky, Don't Gas The Meadowlands
Doug O'Malley, Environment NJ
Matt Smith, Food & Water Action
Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club