Now is time for Sustainable Green Jobs Recovery plan for N.J.

Governors’ State of the State addresses routinely highlight important new policy and economic opportunities, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent speech was no exception. We couldn’t agree more that a “clean energy economy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” and achieving that goal requires a “robust and equitable green jobs workforce development strategy.”

The hard part is making sure that happens. Words can get the job started, but we need adequate funding to get it done.

On behalf of the 16 organizations listed below, we offer a Sustainable Green Jobs Recovery plan of common-sense public investments to not only reverse the economic devastation from the COVID-19 pandemic, but build a stronger, healthier and more equitable state. We call upon Gov. Murphy and legislators to ensure that the state budget that takes effect July 1 promotes economic growth and job creation, reduces public health disparities in underserved communities, and builds a sustainable economy for our children and grandchildren. These five areas are priorities for reaching those goals:

  • Advance clean energy;
  • Improve water and community infrastructure;
  • Build resilience to climate disasters;
  • Fully support New Jersey Transit;
  • Fund parks and trails.

New Jersey’s clean energy economy already has created more than 50,000 jobs, nearly 35,000 of them in energy efficiency alone. Research shows that wind and solar projects generate about twice as many jobs per million dollars of investment as do coal, oil and natural gas projects. Retrofitting buildings offers a massive opportunity for local jobs that can’t be exported and can be targeted in places that have older, less efficient housing stock, including low- and moderate-income communities. Workers in clean energy make up to 20% higher wages than the national average, and these jobs have lower barriers to entry and fuel small businesses. To maximize use of these opportunities, New Jersey needs, once and for all, to stop diverting money from the state Clean Energy Fund.

Contamination from lead and other substances, as well as leaking pipes and antiquated water infrastructure, threaten residents and businesses, particularly in New Jersey’s urban areas. Robust funding for state water programs and lead remediation will promote environmental justice in communities with limited access to clean, safe drinking water and lead-safe homes. Comprehensively addressing lead poisoning also requires returning the Lead Hazard Control Assistance Fund to its original purpose: Removing any lead-based paint from residences.

Climate change is a direct and imminent economic risk, bringing increasingly severe weather, flooding, sea-level rise and related dangers that threaten lives and property. Investment in resiliency programs, projects and policies are crucial, as is supporting such nature-based solutions as “green infrastructure.” Every dollar invested in pre-disaster risk reduction saves about $7 from reduced flood risk. This is especially crucial as New Jersey is among states with the most to lose in real estate value from anticipated impacts of climate change — over $4.5 billion in coastal real estate alone. But it’s not just Shore homes at risk, as many of New Jersey’s cities and overburdened communities of color lie within areas threatened by severe floods.

A strong and modernized public transportation system can serve as a core bedrock component of a thriving economy. We need to be able to ship goods, move people, and deliver services across the state, and connect to the global markets to our northeast and southwest. Lack of a dedicated funding source for its operating budget leaves NJ Transit vulnerable to the annual political budget process, at the expense of millions of train and bus riders’ mobility. Commuters, forced to pay too large a share of operating costs, have endured five fare hikes since 2000. We need to break its reliance on diversions from the Clean Energy Fund — or on raids from its own capital budget, hindering the ability to invest in long-term projects, fleet modernization and electrification upgrades to help reduce emissions that worsen the impact of climate change. Actions should be guided also by the fact that investing in public transit creates jobs at a rate of 49,700 jobs per $1 billion in investment.

While coping with the pandemic, New Jerseyans rely on parks and trails more than ever, but too many communities lack sufficient access to open space, especially in urban areas. Outdoor recreation in New Jersey contributes $25 billion in consumer spending, wages and state and local tax revenue annually, as well as 158,000 jobs. Additionally, park investment significantly raises property values and helps reduce asthma and childhood obesity rates. New Jersey needs to keep the Clean Communities and Recycling Funds intact and prevent harmful diversions to ensure parks receive all the funding they deserve without robbing local governments of much-needed resources. We also urge the administration to fully fund the PILOT program to offset the tax revenue municipalities lose from hosting state lands.

This plan outlines a sensible, achievable path to a more sustainable and prosperous state. Investment in clean energy and other green initiatives will create thousands of good, local jobs, improve our water resources, bolster community and transportation infrastructure, prepare our state to recover from climate disasters, and provide parks vital to our quality of life. We look to Gov. Murphy and the state Legislature to prepare a state budget that is equipped to support sustainable green jobs for all New Jerseyans.

Ed Potosnak is executive director, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

The Sustainable Green Jobs Recovery plan is a collaboration of NJLCV and the following organizations: New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Nature Conservancy – New Jersey Chapter, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, Energy Efficiency Alliance of New Jersey, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey Audubon, New Jersey Future, New Jersey Sustainable Business Council, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Raritan Headwaters Association, Regional Plan Association, the Watershed Institute, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Waterfront Alliance.