Early Prognostications on New Jersey Governor-Elect Phil Murphy’s Environmental and Energy Agenda

November 27, 2017
Bruce S. Katcher
MGKF Special Alert

With the recent announcement of Governor-elect Phil Murphy’s environmental and energy transition team (which is heavily populated by representatives of the energy sector, government officials and environmental groups), it seems appropriate to begin to speculate on what may be the key environmental and energy issues that the new administration will want to address.  With a healthy dose of trepidation, here’s some initial thoughts based on issues he promoted during his campaign and other likely targets. We intend to supplement this report as the new administration comes into focus. 

  • Greenhouse Gas - Re-entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and reinstitution of the CO2 cap and trade program are likely to be among the first of the Murphy Administration’s actions. A bill to lock in New Jersey’s RGGI membership is also currently pending in the legislature. Related measures may include the following:
    • Expansion of RGGI objectives - At the recent Bonn Climate Summit, seven of the nine current RGGI members indicated their interest in exploring a cooperative arrangement similar to RGGI with respect to capping transportation emissions and investing the proceeds in electric vehicle infrastructure. New Jersey environmental groups are already expressing their support and such an expansion of RGGI would be consistent with the Governor- Elect’s campaign platform.  
    • Paris Accords - It seems possible that Murphy will also support joining the U.S. Climate Alliance – a group formed by the governors of New York, California and Washington to uphold the United States’ commitments to the Paris Climate Accord in light of the Trump Administration’s decision to pull the US out of the Accord. There is currently a bill in the legislature that would accomplish just that.

  • Electric Vehicle Use and Infrastructure – A big administration and legislative push to promote the development of electric vehicle infrastructure (charging stations) and accomplishment of the goals of the California Zero-emission vehicle program is expected. Because NJDEP has already taken several steps to increase electric vehicle infrastructure in New Jersey under Commissioner Martin, it would appear that efforts by the new administration to build upon or expand these programs could happen very soon.

  • Renewable Energy and Storage – New Jersey’s energy landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years with New Jersey becoming a net exporter of energy during the last two years and the shuttering all but two of New Jersey’s remaining coal-fired electric generation facilities. New Jersey now generates almost all of its electricity from nuclear, natural gas and renewables.  As the Murphy Administration prepares to take the reigns in Trenton, various efforts to reprioritize renewable energy are in the offing, although those efforts could be impacted by tax reform efforts at the federal level which could eliminate tax incentives for renewables.  Separate from these Washington developments, the Murphy administration is likely to:
    • Wind - Promote setting an ambitious off-shore wind target of 3500 MW by 2030 (similar to the goal set forth in a bill currently pending in the legislature).
    • Solar - Promote increased investment in solar energy to recapture New Jersey’s leadership position (also consistent with pending legislative goals). According to NJDEP, New Jersey is currently the fifth leading state in installed solar capacity, although that represents a drop from second place(after California) since the beginning of the Christie administration.
    • Portfolio Standards - Support the continued increase of the energy portfolio standards for solar and wind. The Governor-elect has also announced support for a move to 100 percent clean energy sources by 2050.
    • Storage - Promote clean energy storage – while there is an existing program, it is not funded now. This goal is also similar to recently introduced legislation. 
    • Siting - Continue NJDEP’s emphasis on siting solar projects to minimize other environmental impacts (such as solar on landfills).

  • Nuclear – About half of New Jersey’s electricity is generated by its three nuclear power plants. One of those plants (Oyster Creek, owned by Exelon) is scheduled to close by the end of 2019 and the owner of the other two (PSEG’s Hope Creek and Salem plants) has recently painted a bleak financial picture for the plants’ future after 2020 without regulatory measures to incentivize the use of nuclear power at the state or federal level.  The Governor-elect voiced support for nuclear energy during the campaign, although various public interest groups are in opposition.

  • Fracking – The new administration is likely to support initiatives that would disincentivize the use of fracking technology, including banning fracking and the storage of fracking waste in New Jersey and supporting the Delaware River Basin Commission’s efforts to institute a permanent fracking ban in the Delaware River Basin.

  • Resiliency – A climate change counterpart, these efforts could include the following:
    • Grid Enhancements - Prioritizing investment in resilient grid infrastructure such as smart grids, micro grids and advanced metering
    • Federal/State Shore Efforts - Continue working with the federal government to protect the shore from damaging storms.

  • Urban toxics, diesel emissions, environmental justice programs and ports – There is an emphasis in Murphy’s campaign materials on the importance of addressing disproportionate impacts of climate change and other environmental impacts on lower income and politically vulnerable communities. A portion of RGGI funds may be dedicated to these issues.
    • Toxics and diesel emissions programs seem likely to receive increased attention as well as the siting of new industrial facilities in these communities.
    • Another effort to reduce urban emissions will focus on incentivizing the use of clean energy and electrifying the ports.
    • Also, be on the lookout for the use of funds from the Volkswagen litigation settlement for the “green” port upgrades and other green purposes.  

  • Land Use Regulation
    • Smart Growth - An important plank of the Murphy platform was returning New Jersey to a leadership role in smart planning. This could mean a return of the State Development and Redevelopment Plan to a central role in land use regulation that it has not seen since the days of past Commissioners Brad Campbell and Lisa Jackson. 
    • Re-evaluate recent Land Use regulatory changes - The environmental groups were not happy with a number of the changes made and proposed to the land use regulations (especially in the flood hazard, wetlands, waterfront development/coastal and stormwater regulations). Although many of the changes were beneficially aimed at rationalizing a set of complex and often inconsistent requirements, we might expect to see some re-examination of those programs in the coming administration. 
    • Highlands and Pinelands - A new look at regulation in the Highlands and Pinelands to address recent actions that are perceived to increase growth pressure seems likely together with composition of the commissions which control those areas.

  • Site Remediation Program – While this was not a hot topic during the campaign, there is a move afoot to amend the Site Remediation Reform Act to address a variety of problems associated with its implementation that have been identified by industry since the law was enacted in 2009. Hopefully this effort will focus on improving the Act, which has generally worked well and will be supported by the new administration.  Whether administrative changes will be made to the Site Remediation Program remains to be seen.  

  • Emerging Contaminants – The NJDEP under Commissioner Martin recently indicated that it was moving forward to establish very stringent drinking water standards for perfluorooctoanic acid (PFOA) and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), often referred to as emerging contaminants of concern. NJDEP’s Division of Science, Research & Environmental Health expects to issue proposed standards for three more PFASs in December bringing the total to six and the Water Quality Institute recently announced a draft report recommending a new drinking water standard for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).  It seems highly likely that the new administration will continue with these efforts and possibly expand the regulation of emerging contaminants to other constituents and in other areas, making New Jersey a leader in setting standards for contaminants of emerging concern. 

  • Strategic state leadership on environmental issues where EPA retreats – We’ve already identified climate change as one such issue. Another issue is the recent bill introduced in the legislature to ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which EPA recently decided not to ban.  A third issue is opposing off-shore oil drilling, which the Trump administration supports.  To some extent, New Jersey’s role in this endeavor will be limited by threatened cutbacks in EPA’s funding, some of which are designated for state delegated EPA programs and are critical to NJDEP.    

For questions or additional information, please contact MGKF Partners Bruce Katcher, John Gullace or Nicole Moshang at 484-430-5700.