Catherine McCabe, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), believes that good environmental policy and good business go hand in hand.
“We all share a common goal in building a strong resilient New Jersey for the future, both economically and environmentally. The best way to ensure that is to maintain strong, open dialogues,” McCabe said at a virtual town hall meeting this morning sponsored by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
McCabe said the DEP’s greatest priority right now is climate change, which she called the “No.1 threat to New Jersey’s long-term future. We need to build our resiliency to ensure the state remains not only safe for its citizens, but also a hub for businesses,” she said.
McCabe talked about the state’s first Scientific Report on Climate Change, which serves as the foundation for policy decisions going forward. “Raising awareness [of climate change] is perhaps the most important thing we can do. Issuing the report is good for all academicians, policy people and business people,” McCabe said.
The most important message from the report is that climate change is already here as seen by higher temperatures, more severe storms and an increase in coastal and inland flooding,” McCabe said.
“What do we need to do to combat the issue?” she asked. The state must do its share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she said. Already, Gov. Phil Murphy has taken action by rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which McCabe said has already delivered $180 million to the state, with money going toward reducing the state’s greenhouse gas footprint.
The DEP also worked closely with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority in promoting the development of offshore wind, which McCabe said is a key component of the state’s plan for a cleaner, renewable energy future.
McCabe said the state must also start depending on its own funding solutions to solve the resiliency cost problems as the federal government is rethinking how it will fund states in the future.
McCabe also touched on the recently signed environmental justice permitting law, in which the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities (sewage treatment plants, incinerators, gas fired plants, cogeneration facilities and more) will be evaluated when the DEP reviews certain permit applications. The law will “require us – for the first time – to evaluate the localized impacts of these types of facilities when they are located in overburdened communities that have a high level of vulnerability to public health factors,” she said.
In a Q&A session, Ray Cantor, vice president of Government Affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, told McCabe there were some concerns regarding the new regulation revolving around existing facilities that have been “good actors complying with all stringent environmental requirements. But now they have to undergo an environmental justice review process every five years?” Cantor asked. “That may put extra requirements on them, limit their hours of operations, shut down processes, or even put them out of business,” he said.
He asked McCabe directly, “Can you give us some assurances on how those processes are going to work? These facilities want to be good neighbors and work on the issues, but they are concerned about their future.”
“An existing facility will not be shut down,” McCabe responded. “We are not in the business of doing that. I don’t think the law authorizes that, but if there are things we could do to improve whatever impacts these facilities may have on local communities, then we will talk about them in an open and transparent process.”
She said that transparency will give the communities the facts and may work to a business’s advantage because residents may not know, for example, how state-of-the-art [and non polluting] a power plant may be.