N.J. should focus on real solutions, not climate lawsuit

Practical solutions and good faith cooperation are the keys to solving public policy problems, not lawsuits. That’s especially true of a challenge as large and as complicated as climate change. But on Monday, members of the state Senate will consider another approach to combating climate change: a lawsuit. This approach is more than just misguided and doomed to fail; it overlooks the fundamental point that fossil fuels such as natural gas are the key to solving climate change, not part of the problem.

Suing the oil and gas industry is not a new idea. Lawsuits brought by San Francisco and Oakland, as well as New York City, have already had their day in court and failed. The reason? Federal judges have ruled that climate change is a global issue and should be addressed not by the courts, but by lawmakers and the executive branch. The U.S. Supreme Court has already unanimously ruled in American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut that the regulation of emissions is outside of legal jurisdiction, because it is covered under the Clean Air Act. Clearly, the Legislature has the power to act and work with the industry to solve problems.

If we really want climate change solutions, New Jersey should embrace innovation, a point made persuasively by New Jersey small businessman Shawn Kuehn this past October when discussing the many reasons why frivolous climate lawsuits are bad ideas. After all, oil and gas companies are a lifeblood of the American economy and are today providing climate change answers. Those energy manufacturers have lowered their greenhouse gas emissions by 10% over the past decade while adding 19% more value to the American economy. Because of efforts across the energy industry, national pollutants concentrations have dropped dramatically since 1990.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we should not be wasting our time and efforts on lawsuits. We need our oil and gas sector more than ever to help provide solutions to an ailing economy while providing for a clean environment. The world continues to use between 70 and 80 million barrels of oil per day and consumers are using 4% more natural gas as a result of the lockdown. With production and exports both at record levels, it will be U.S. natural gas that helps refuel the world’s economy following COVID-19.

Today, the natural gas industry supports nearly 3 million jobs and adds about $385 billion to the national economy each year. As a result of utilities pursuing natural gas-derived clean technology and transitioning away from coal, the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that carbon emissions have dropped 28% between 2005 and 2017. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there has been a 10% decrease in net greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 to 2018, in large part “due to an increasing shift to use of less CO2-intensive natural gas for generating electricity.” Per the EIA, the U.S. once again led the world in reducing energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019, largely due to fuel switching to natural gas.

These are all examples as to why the industry is so important to our economy and what it has been doing to improve our environment. We can’t have renewable energy without natural gas and oil. Fossil fuels are essential in the building of renewable energy and providing critical baseload “always on” and flexible energy that makes electricity from wind and solar possible. U.S. natural gas will continue to play a critical role in meeting long-term demand while reducing global emissions.

The truth is that climate lawsuits are really about making money for trial attorneys. Lawyers in the cases stand to make millions of dollars. These lawsuits cost the public much and deliver little. A related lawsuit pursued foolishly by New York’s attorney general — which did not succeed — cost taxpayers $500,000 for one expert witness alone and $330,000 for another.

A climate lawsuit by New Jersey will do nothing to reduce emissions. It won’t move the needle on pulling carbon dioxide out of the air or mitigating other harmful emissions. It won’t help to create innovative solutions to our energy needs, and it won’t lead to economic growth in such a critical time. But it will cost New Jersey taxpayers dearly and take our focus off other important issues that will allow our economy to grow again. The message will be clear that New Jersey is more interested in suing these companies than working alongside them. Hopefully, New Jersey lawmakers will pursue more practical solutions. A climate lawsuit isn’t the answer.

Bob Prunetti is a former Mercer County executive and former president of the MidJersey Regional Chamber of Commerce.