The recent appeals court decision to stop PennEast from using state-owned lands for its proposed natural gas pipeline is not a good look for the State of New Jersey, which fought and won the appeal. Continuing this trend will put the Garden State in the same dangerous straits as its neighbor New York, where moratoriums on new natural gas customers threaten to crush the pocketbooks of small businesses and working-class New Yorkers.
The PennEast pipeline is one of several proposals designed to bring natural gas from Pennsylvania into New Jersey. Gov. Phil Murphy’s master plan for New Jersey’s energy future, published earlier this year, aims to decarbonize the state’s energy production to a point where it can achieve 100% clean energy by 2050. But unlike New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan that claims to do the same, the New Jersey plan takes a proper measure of nuclear power and natural gas, using both fuels as a “bridge” to a low-carbon future.
Fellow Democrats claim to be unsatisfied with Murphy’s plan, arguing that many of the natural gas pipeline projects pending in the state will damage waterways and add to climate change concerns. But such fears are both unfounded and counterproductive. Not only does natural gas already provide 40% of the electricity in New Jersey and heat 85% of its homes and businesses, a recent study showed that a continued shift toward natural gas would lower net greenhouse gases and other major pollutants dramatically.
The study, published in June for the utility National Grid, focused on demand generated by users in Long Island and the outer boroughs of New York City, and found that many buildings that cannot get new natural gas, or cannot convert to natural gas due to insufficient supply, will continue to use heating oil for space and water heating. Yet conversion to natural gas in these buildings could cut carbon emissions from these users by up to 37% by 2030, cut particulate matter by up to 12%, and reduce smog-creating nitrogen oxides by up to 50%. The same savings likely apply to New Jersey users as well — so long as the state doesn’t block natural gas pipeline construction into the state going forward.
Cuomo, of course, has been doing the opposite. His environmental deputies have been busy blocking several pipelines using dubious bureaucratic actions on water permits, leading to supply curtailments in suburban counties north of New York City. More curtailments could be on the way in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, making it impossible for more buildings to switch from heating oil to more environmentally friendly natural gas.
What’s more, whether New Yorkers realize it or not, over the last several elections they effectively voted for cuts in emissions at an extremely high cost. Murphy’s plan for New Jersey is sustainable largely because of its targeted use of natural gas and nuclear as solar and offshore wind build up capacity in the next 20 years. In contrast, New York’s plan calls on 70% of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030 but ignores the fact that the state added five times as much electricity generation via gas than all other sources combined in the past decade. The plan also calls for the installation of nine gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2035 from zero now, with the first producing wind farms not up and running until the mid-2020s at the earliest.
Like so many other things in modern politics, a consensus about blocking natural gas infrastructure only exists for those in political power and farthest from the pain of higher energy prices. There is no realistic, cost-conscious way to a cleaner environment that doesn’t involve natural gas. It’s simply time to admit the truth.