Coalition Demands New Direction For NJ Energy Policy

Sentinel — Thursday, July 2, 2015

Staff Writer

A newly formed coalition of more than three dozen environmental, religious and labor organizations took to the state house to champion renewable energy as a must for New Jersey.

Following a day of lobbying members of the state Legislature, the Clean Energy Coalition hosted a rally June 25 on the steps of the State House Annex, where speakers called for policies that protect the state's natural resources.

"My big thing is ocean issues ... but it's all connected," said Bob Sandberg, a member of the Tinton Falls Environmental Commission and Sierra Club's Jersey Shore Group.

"Anything we can do to get cleaner air or cleaner water we should get involved with."

Sandberg was among the crowd of signtoting supporters amassed in Trenton. "I just want to raise public awareness of all the problems in New Jersey and how New Jersey is being dumped on, as always," Sandberg said.

"We're not the revolutionary crossroads of the nation like we once were, but we're the pipeline crossroads of the nation."

A number of speakers noted the influence exerted by the oil industry on state policy and called for drastic change in how New Jersey regulates pipelines and tanker rail cars.

Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Middlesex), who sits on the Environment and Solid Waste Committee representing the 14th district, including Monroe, Jamesburg and Spotswood, was one such speaker.

"We put aside the safety of our environment, the safety of our residents for the profits of large corporations that seem to have a bigger voice," Benson said. "Thankfully, you have representatives here who want to make sure your voice is heard. "I'd like to say how much I support this coalition. I support everyone here, to make sure we stop these unsafe pipelines and ... to make sure we stand up for clean air, for clean water, for clean energy in New Jersey and across the United States."

Benson was not alone among his colleagues, some of whom signed a pledge circulated by the Clean Energy Coalition to sponsor and support bills that would ban hydraulic fracturing and the dumping of "frack waste," oppose the proposed Port Ambrose liquefied natural gas facility off the coast of Long Branch and oppose the construction of additional pipelines in the state.

The first to sign the pledge, coalition members said, was Deputy Assembly Speaker Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-18). Other legislators to sign included Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27) and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27). Groups joining in the coalition include Sierra Club NJ, Surfrider Foundation, Clean Water Action, NJ Citizen Action, Environment New Jersey, GreenFaith and NJ Working Families Alliance.

Sr. Suzanne Golas, founder of Waterspirit, an Elberon-based member of the Clean Energy Coalition, painted efforts to protect the environment as a question of morality, citing Pope Francis' recently released encyclical on the environment and climate change.

"Waterspirit, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and the faith communities that I work with support this coalition because we see it as hope for the future," Golas said. "Very clearly, over and over again, [the pope] states that this is a moral and ethical issue.

"From a faith perspective ... [the environment] is an expression, a gift of the holy and the sacred, but all of us would see it as a justice issue."

Underlying all of the aims of the Clean Energy Coalition is one simple goal, according to Jim Walsh, director of coalition member N.J. Food and Water Watch: "One hundred percent clean energy by 2050 and an immediate move away from fossil fuels.

"The only thing we are lacking is the political will," Walsh said in an interview. "We need to demand a new direction for the future."

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