Like many parents, when on a long car ride, games and activities are key to keeping my little ones entertained. While some families play “I Spy” or look for funny license plates, our kids shout with delight while pointing out solar arrays or electric vehicle chargers on the highway. Ten years ago, there wouldn’t have been much for my kids to point out, but thanks to the work of states like New Jersey and significant support from Washington, 10 years from now, these technologies will be so commonplace it will be akin to counting gas stations or utility poles.
As the director of the Governor’s Office for Climate Action, I know that this transition and the gains we’re making to address climate change aren’t accidental. As the densest state in the nation, New Jersey is unique in its vulnerability to climate change. While devastating natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Ida make the news, more incremental impacts like sea level rise, the increase in urban heat islands, and heavier precipitation threaten our state’s health, equity, and economy.
Gov. Phil Murphy is keenly aware of these impacts, and addressing climate change has been central to his agenda since he took office. The Murphy Administration’s key initiatives around offshore wind, solar, EVs, green infrastructure and resilience planning have already made the state safer and cleaner. Core to all of this is environmental justice, and under Murphy’s leadership, New Jersey saw the strongest environmental justice provisions in the country become law.
But there’s so much more to do. Last month, I sent a letter to all state agencies and authorities laying out critical areas of focus toward implementation of our clean energy and emission reduction targets. The letter underscores the importance of electrifying our transportation sector, which accounts for almost half of our emissions. It highlights new areas of work for the administration, including reducing emissions in buildings and adding a mechanism for state agencies to assess the social cost of carbon in their decision-making. The letter also reconfirms the administration’s commitment to equity and environmental justice.
Laying out policy and identifying tools is important, but every component of transitioning to clean energy is complex and requires resources. While the governor spent his first three years without a climate partner in the White House, all that changed with the arrival of the Biden Administration. Recent federal investments, first through the infrastructure bill and now through the Inflation Reduction Act, represent a watershed moment for New Jersey and an opportunity to take a major leap forward on addressing climate change. Through the IRA, the most significant investment in climate funding to date, there are tax credits for renewable energy projects, consumer incentives for technologies like EVs and heat pumps, and investments to reduce emissions from industry and utilities. Likewise, the infrastructure bill provides investments for EV chargers and upgrades to our electric grid to handle the increased electrification necessary to decarbonize our state.
But new green technology is only as useful as our capacity to disseminate and employ it. A well-trained and inclusive workforce ready to capture good, green jobs is crucial, and federal investments build on the work we are already doing to not only make New Jersey greener and safer, but to grow our economy and create tens of thousands of jobs. To that end, Murphy created the New Jersey Council on the Green Economy with the mandate to set the state on an intentional path toward transitioning to a green economy while working with organized labor and diverse communities.
Through this work, we’re already seeing pathways for transitioning away from fossil fuels and toward a green economy. I recently met with a geothermal heat pump company working with a utility to replace delivered-fuel home heat systems with efficient, geothermal heat pumps. This company is in critical need of well-drillers and pipelayers, tradespeople from fossil fuel-related industries who can transition directly into the green economy with wage parity, long-term job prospects, and minimal additional training.
While some people may be able to enter these jobs without much additional training, many have never had access to jobs in the energy sector before. This is our opportunity to create programs that not only provide training but also remove barriers to employment like childcare and transportation. We must think creatively and work with partners, including in the private sector, on expanding pre-apprenticeship programs with direct employment opportunities.
I feel a renewed sense of optimism during this year’s Climate Week. With the commitments of states like New Jersey, combined with significant federal support, we have the opportunity to change the future. And if we all work together, who knows what my grandchildren will be spotting from the window of their electric car 30 years from now.
Jane Cohen is executive director of the Governor’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy.