Commentary

In New Jersey, we need to partner with business to fix climate change

January 10, 2024 6:51 am

Activists rallied at Rutgers University ahead of a speech Gov. Phil Murphy delivered on Feb. 15, 2023, to announce new goals in the state’s fight against climate change. (Photo courtesy of Food & Water Watch)

Climate change is a serious problem that requires serious and actionable solutions.

One “solution” that certainly won’t bring tangible change in New Jersey or elsewhere is climate litigation.

As a New Jersey resident, a lifelong conservationist, and the Hackensack Riverkeeper, I know that tackling climate change through conserving public and private lands is critical in our state. Given these paramount societal goals, it’s worth pointing out what will bring true progress in advancing climate action — versus frivolous actions and posturing for political gain, none of which move the needle to address real challenges.

Lawsuits by states and municipalities over climate change – which have been increasing in the U.S. since 2017 – are not an effective means of tackling the issue. Right here in New Jersey there are two cases, one by the state attorney general and another by the city of Hoboken, alleging the same thing: Energy producers deceived the public regarding the impacts of fossil fuel use, and advertised in such a way to mislead. Without getting into the weeds, such suits are for headlines, and will not have a positive impact on solving climate change. They are more likely to enrich out-of-state trial attorneys than to protect and improve our environment.

If you ask me, money is better spent elsewhere than going to lawyers on useless cases. The attorneys in question could make hundreds of millions of dollars in winning, or even settling, just one of those cases. That kind of money would certainly create a windfall for them but wouldn’t make their motivations altruistic. Real solutions come from working with all segments in the greater energy supply chain.

When I founded Hackensack Riverkeeper back in 1997, few people paid any attention to the river. It required a significant amount of outreach, coordination, and fight to get people to the table and realize restoring and protecting our public waterways was a worthy cause. Over the years, our organization led the way in protecting over 12,000 acres of wetlands, woods, and waters throughout the Hackensack River watershed.

We were instrumental in stopping the proposed Meadowlands Mills mall, which would have been built on 600 acres of wetlands. Once the fight turned in our favor, we began working with the developers, the Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce, and two governors to find an appropriate location that would benefit the community, improve the economy, and preserve wetlands. And we did. You know it now as the American Dream mall.

Simply put, public-private partnerships with the business community are a tried-and-true pragmatic method for addressing New Jersey’s environmental impacts. Our organization has been doing just that for over a quarter-century now.

Similarly, we must work together with energy companies rather than against them with frivolous lawsuits. For as long as I’ve been riverkeeper, our organization has had a collegial working relationship with PSE&G – to the benefit of both parties and the river. New Jersey’s officials can learn a few things from what I’ve experienced in my career and my door is always open. Partnerships with energy producers can fix the gaps in infrastructure through government funding paired with private innovation.

Plus, innovative technology from the private sector can help capture carbon in the air to mitigate emissions from affecting our air and water. These partnerships and innovative solutions – paired with ongoing land and water conservation – should be the future of the fight against climate change.

As I see it, since each one of us emits carbon through our daily activities, we are all responsible for working together to move the needle on climate change. Ineffective and frivolous lawsuits are simply not realistic solutions for addressing one of the greatest challenges of our time. New Jersey’s environmental future depends on turning away from quixotic efforts and recommitting to pragmatism. We must move forward together to tackle climate change.

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