Considering energy future, N.J. hears out advocates

Source: David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, September 24, 2018

Top officials in New Jersey yesterday soaked up a day’s worth of suggestions on how to rewrite the state’s long-term strategy for cleaner transportation.

It was the third of five energy-related hearings meant to provide grist for a new energy master plan, the compendium of aspirations and strategies that serves as a lodestar for state agencies responsible for environmental protection, transportation, economic development and other areas.

The rewrite, overseen by the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and due for completion in July 2019, should lay out the blueprint for a complete conversion to clean power by 2050, as per a spring executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy (D).

In underscoring the importance of the proceeding, some environmentalists recalled clashes with previous governors, auto dealers and others who sought to block measures to force emissions cuts from the transportation sector.

“We had a knock-down, drag-out fight more than 14 years ago about whether New Jersey should become a clean-car state,” said Doug O’Malley, director at Environment New Jersey, in reference to a debate about whether to follow California’s push for stricter fuel standards.

Since then, the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers has switched sides. Its president, Jim Appleton, also appeared at the hearing to call for incentives that would get sales of new electric vehicles moving.

The Trump administration’s proposal to strip California of its fuel standard authority, said O’Malley, was “a real and present danger to us,” making New Jersey’s work to draw up long-term plans “imperative.”

The hearing apparently held few surprises for most attendees: The Trenton State House venue nearly emptied after a midday lunch break was announced. At least two speakers noted that ChargEVC, a 26-member coalition encompassing environmentalists, utilities, auto dealers, and EV and EV-charging groups, had already published a policy road map synthesizing research and stakeholder input.

Many of them also urged officials to adopt electrification as the prime solution for cutting the sector’s emissions, including for school buses and public transit.

But in keeping with the comprehensive scope of the master plan, discussion also included other large vehicle classes such as those serving ports and airports. A few speakers drew the link between emissions from those industrial areas and poor public health outcomes in Newark, Camden and other city cores.

Clifford Gladstein, president of consultancy Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, denounced the emissions heaped onto those port-side communities as an “insult,” before stumping for natural gas vehicles as the best near-term way to decarbonize industry.

The plan, he said, should emphasize the “immediate and rapid transition of the heavy-duty sector to cleaner technology.”

It could be a busy fall for New Jersey’s clean transportation advocates. At least one EV-charger bill, of the several bubbling in the Legislature, comes up for consideration next month. Utilities have charger plans too: Joseph Accardo, chief regulatory officer at Public Service Enterprise Group, said the company was preparing to submit a proposal to the BPU that could devote as much as $300 million to chargers.