TRENTON – A coalition of environmental groups is making its bid to push green issues into state, county and local elections though a 140-plus page policy agenda.

The agenda announced by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and allies encompasses 77 white papers briefing candidates on issues, with recommendations for addressing them. They include pushing the state’s 100% clean-energy goal from the current 2050 target date to 2035.

“New Jerseyans overwhelmingly support action to address these challenges,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

“We don’t force anyone to do anything,” he said. “These are options at the county level, at the local municipal level and of course at the state level for the Legislature and the governor, whoever is the next governor.”

Elyse Pivnick, senior director of environmental health for Isles, said the agenda includes a focus on “the built environment” – lead-safe homes, replacement of lead service lines, replacing old appliances, more urban parks, walkable neighborhoods and ensuring current residents benefit from redevelopment.

“We hope to inspire our next governor to do even more to improve New Jersey’s environment,” Pivnick said.

In addition to topics such as drinking water and air pollution, the agenda addresses warehouse development and ensuring that all newly built residential and commercial buildings are 100% electric, not oil, natural gas or propane, by 2030.

Potosnak said it’s not talked about much but that the combustion that goes into using fossil fuels in homes for things like natural-gas fireplaces creates pollutants.

“Nitrous oxide comes out of there, and it’s toxic. It gets people sick. In addition, volatile organic chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde are produced as a byproduct of combustion,” Potosnak said.

Potosnak said people are moving into smaller urban homes, with better weatherization, and spending more time indoors.

“But that means we’re in those environments that have unhealthy particulate matter and products of combustion, and they’re literally making us sick,” he said.

“What we’re proposing today is not anything to do with the existing stock. What we’re proposing is by 2030, we stop hooking up new homes, new commercial buildings to natural gas. Move all to electric,” Potosnak said. “Hopefully solar will be on the roof, our wind farms will be up and running, and they’ll be heated and cooled with renewable energy.”

“Folks that already have a burner in their home, gas or oil, we want to separately work on programs that would incentivize a transition away from having that oil tank buried underground or under your front porch or in your basement,” he said. “Getting rid of that, getting rid of your burner, and going to a very efficient heat pump, which is going to save you money and save you from getting cancer or asthma.”

Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, said natural gas is affordable, reliable and dependable and that blocking it for new construction could lead to dramatically higher energy prices.

“People deserve to make choices about what level of risk they are willing to take with their own homes,” Bucco said. “While some people may place greater value on the environmental benefits of using fully electric appliances, others have legitimate concerns about losing the ability that is provided by natural gas to heat their homes, cook food, or run a standby generator to power a sump pump or refrigerator when the power goes out. A one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be forced on everyone.”

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Speakers at the Statehouse news conference included Maria Santiago Valentin of the Atlantic Climate Justice Alliance, who made remarks first in Spanish, and Marcus Sibley of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP. Both reflect an effort to diversify the planning and priorities of the environmental movement.

“We are eager to support initiatives aimed at healing historic harms,” said Sibley, the NAACP’s environmental and climate justice chairman.

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

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