The COVID-19 crisis has introduced us to an unimaginable reality. Many New Jersey families are juggling job and income loss with timely payment of monthly bills and providing food and shelter, all while taking care of at-risk or already infected family members. The grave truth is that our friends and neighbors are struggling to keep up with this new reality.
But many hardworking New Jersey families were already struggling with financial burdens and pollution-related health concerns. Low-income families spend three times as much on energy bills as a percentage of their income than other households. And air pollution from fossil fuels and other heavy industry has had a detrimental effect on their health. New Jersey’s low-income and environmental justice communities were already living in crisis, well before this pandemic.
As New Jersey works to establish a path to economic recovery, as elected public servants, we must seize the moment to work toward a future that is affordable, equitable, accessible, and sustainable. And we must ensure that as we deploy clean energy, we also simultaneously reduce pollution in these communities.
For this reason, I am proud to sponsor the Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts bill, Senate Bill 232, and the NJ Clean Energy Equity Act, Senate Bill 2484. The Environmental Justice proposal calls for the Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the cumulative impacts of potentially polluting facilities such as power plants, garbage incinerators and waste-transfer facilities before they can be constructed in environmental justice communities. The Clean Energy Equity Act then prioritizes the clean energy needs of those communities to help us build back better through energy security, resilience, and energy affordability well beyond the current crisis.
Both of these proposals are essential to improve the quality of life of New Jersey’s environmental justice communities. The Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts bill will fix the immediate issue of reducing local pollution and the Clean Energy Equity Act will ensure that these communities get access to clean energy.
Specifically, the Clean Energy Equity Act will establish an Office of Clean Energy Equity (OCEE) at the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities charged with equitable deployment of clean energy technologies. This office will ensure that our energy policies put the needs of disadvantaged communities first. The office will also be charged with deploying onsite solar or community solar and energy efficiency to reduce the energy burden of at least 250,000 low-income households and deploying 400 megawatts of storage in overburdened communities to enable energy resilience for these communities, all by 2030.
In addition, we must ensure that low-income households have equal opportunity to find meaningful careers in the clean energy sector. To do so, this proposal calls for workforce training for 2,500 individuals from overburdened communities by 2025 in the clean energy sector. As unemployment in New Jersey and across the country continues to grow, creating paths to long term, well-paying and accessible jobs is more important than ever. Spurring clean energy investment through smart policy is a modern, community-centric solution to the growing jobs crisis.
None of this will be possible without substantial financial commitments from the state. New Jersey’s low-income families are already supporting renewable energy programs in the state through their energy bills. However, few have seen the financial, community and health benefits of the clean energy economy. Therefore, I am asking that the New Jersey BPU allocate at least 10% of its clean energy program budget to support the implementation of the bill.
We have the opportunity to rebuild better. We are all witness to the suffering COVID-19 has caused, and we must all commit to change this reality. Energy should not merely provide us with power – it must also build healthy and sustainable communities. Clean air and clean energy access are essential for all human beings to enjoy a basic quality of life.
I encourage my colleagues in the Legislature to join me by co-sponsoring S2484 and S232. Let’s work together for a healthy, equitable and sustainable New Jersey for all.