TRENTON – A coalition of environmental groups today sued Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration in an attempt to force more action to reduce the emissions that accelerate climate change.

EmpowerNJ, which includes more than 120 environmental, community, faith and grassroots groups, petitioned the Department of Environmental Protection six months ago to enforce benchmarks for reducing climate-change emissions in half from their 2005 levels by 2030.

Though that is the Murphy administration’s policy, as the governor declared in a November executive order, the DEP rejected the petition for rulemaking last month.

“Meeting the state’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals requires deliberate and coordinated action by all levels of government, economic sectors, communities and individuals to transform the state’s building sector, transportation sector and electricity generation systems and the associated infrastructure,” the DEP said in its decision.

“Given the need for such a comprehensive and coordinated approach, no single state agency or any one regulatory reform or set of regulatory reforms by the department can itself bring about the structural, economic and societal changes necessary to reduce the worsening effects of climate change,” it said.

That rejection is what the advocacy groups are now challenging in the appeals court.

John Reichman, chairman of BlueWaveNJ’s environment committee, said that “the DEP has either gone rogue or the governor is not really interested in implementing his own policies.”

“Simply stated, the governor’s actions aren’t in line with his rhetoric,” Reichman said.

“It’s obviously too slow,” Reichman said of the administration’s work on climate-change emissions. “There has been something called the NJ PACT rulemaking proceeding that’s going forward on a snail’s pace, but even the regulations that DEP is proposing in the course of that proceeding are really inadequate to meet the moment.”

State law requires greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. A 2019 law included interim benchmarks for meeting that target, and environmental groups say action is needed to reach those goals – primarily, the rejection of any new fossil-fuel power plants.

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“None of the administration's existing or proposed climate rules will prevent the continued proliferation of dirty pipelines, power plants and other new sources of climate-destroying pollution in New Jersey,” said Matt Smith, New Jersey state director for Food & Water Watch.

The state Department of Law & Public Safety, whose Division of Law represents state departments and agencies, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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