Gov. Phil Murphy (Danielle Richards for New Jersey Monitor)
A coalition of 120 environmental activists have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration they hope will compel the state to issue specific goals to reduce carbon emissions.
The group, known as EmpowerNJ, is appealing the state Department of Environmental Protection’s rejection of its petition demanding the state set enforceable benchmarks to achieve Murphy’s goal of reducing pollution and emissions over the next decade.
The group says the DEP’s rejection illustrates “the disconnect” between the administration’s words and its actions. John Reichman, the coalition’s lawyer, pointed to Murphy’s recent State of the State address, “where climate change was virtually ignored.”
Murphy, who touted New Jersey’s environmental progress last week when announcing an offshore wind port plan, signed an executive order in November aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 2006 levels by 2030. While the order lays out why the state must take steps to fight climate change, activists say, it doesn’t include anything enforceable.
In response to Murphy’s order, the groups petitioned the DEP to adopt rules to meet the governor’s target. The DEP denied the petition in December, and EmpowerNJ is asking the state Superior Court’s appellate division to overturn that denial.
“Biden set up enforceable targets. Many other states have also set legally enforceable targets. New Jersey is an outlier, where there’s no rules or regulations at DEP to actually enforce or achieve these targets,” said Matt Smith, NJ director of Food and Water Watch.
The appeal argues the Global Warming Response Act requires the state to provide interim benchmarks. That act, which was passed in 2007 and updated in 2019, aims to cut emissions 80% by 2050.
The group also is urging the DEP to significantly reduce fossil fuel emissions by requiring investment in other renewable energy projects, like wind and solar plants.
The DEP said in its December denial that it has fulfilled the responsibilities required by the 2007 law, pointing to an October 2020 report delivered to the Legislature that offered recommendations to reach the 80% goal by 2050.
The agency also noted it has set an interim benchmark — cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 — and that previous benchmarks have been reached without setting a specific threshold. The goal of an 80% reduction by 2050 is effectively another benchmark, it said.
Environmental activist Jeff Tittel, former director of the Sierra Club, said the DEP’s denial ignored “the governor, sound science, and the law, which is why we are going to court to compel them to do their job.”
Smith said the state has offered no real direction on how to reach Murphy’s stated goal.
“At the end of the day, the governor said it’s the state policy,” he said. “All we’re asking is for them to implement that state policy by setting a rule and giving the administration the tools they need.”
Other groups listed in the appeal include Blue Wave NJ, Clean Water Action, and Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
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