A trip up the New Jersey Turnpike underscores that our bustling and densely packed state requires a lot of energy and reminds us of our obligation to reduce our carbon footprint. The time has come to devote every dollar we can to programs underway to transition to clean energy alternatives and reconsider the cost-effectiveness of the state’s climate lawsuits.
While the link between fossil fuel use and climate change is now clear, attempts to extract billions of dollars through protracted lawsuits increasingly seem like a losing strategy for dealing with extreme weather and threats to our infrastructure.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Hoboken’s 2020 suit against energy companies should be adjudicated in state courts instead of federal court. An actual trial and verdict could still be years away. Similar suits by other states and cities are bogged down as lawyers battle over an endless list of legal concerns and controversies. Federal judges have already dismissed some of these suits in New York City and San Francisco for a variety of reasons — one of them being the impossibility of assigning legal or financial responsibility for a global phenomenon to a specific sector or segment of companies.
There are so many climate suits in the courts, they often even duplicate one another. For example, the state of New Jersey and city of Hoboken are seeking the same damages in their different filings. This is both wasteful and inefficient.
Instead of spending taxpayer money on court costs and legal fees that rely on speculative payouts from energy companies, New Jersey should concentrate on its capacity to be part of the national strategy to transition to a clean energy future.
Earlier this year, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order committing the state to 100% clean energy by 2035, putting the state on the cutting edge of the transition to renewable energy sources. This builds on state law formerly enacted, which set a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030. The adoption of solar and offshore wind alternatives has been spurred by previously approved incentives from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. We already have one of the most aggressive energy storage goals in the country, with an ambitious target of 2,000 megawatts of energy storage by 2030. We should keep the focus on these promising alternative solutions rather than draining lawsuits that won’t really solve the problem.
Already, state officials are engaging with the private sector in innovative ways. For example, PosiGen — a leading provider of rooftop solar and energy efficiency — has partnered with New Jersey cities in the Solar for All New Jersey program to encourage homeowners to switch to solar. In addition, the New Jersey Wind Port — the nation’s first purpose-built offshore wind marshaling port — anticipates supporting up to $500 million in new economic activity in the greater New Jersey area each year. The combined effect of these initiatives will be lower utility bills and build a more resilient power grid.
On top of the inefficiencies surrounding lawsuits, New Jerseyans face real challenges in their daily lives. For example, our state has an inadequate supply of affordable housing, leading to unsustainable housing costs. One survey showed rent is going up faster in Jersey City than across the Hudson in Manhattan. More than that, we have roads and bridges that need repairs or replacement. A new Construction Coverage study ranked New Jersey’s roads as the second-worst in the nation, which will surprise no one. These problems are going to require resources and cooperation with a range of players.
Lastly, lawsuits like those advanced by the state and Hoboken deter business. For our state to attract businesses that will create jobs and add to tax revenues, New Jersey officials need to send a signal that the state is ready to provide incentives to locate here. High-profile litigation based on faulty legal reasoning sends the opposite message. States that sue legally compliant employers create a less-than-welcoming environment, to say the least.
New Jersey’s resilience to climate change will be tested in the years ahead. Paying legal fees and waiting years for less than likely billion-dollar payouts will not help us meet this challenge. What will, though, are state and federal partnerships to build up New Jersey’s infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events. Ambitious state programs, in partnership with the private sector, are the key to ensuring a clean energy future and a more friendly business climate our state needs. Climate litigation is not the solution. Let’s turn the focus on creating real results.
Jim Daly is the mayor of Farmingdale, a small borough in Monmouth County.