As New Jersey takes steps to rebuild its economy, it is important to embrace equity, environmental and economic goals
Published by Insider NJ on 6/4/2020
(TRENTON, NJ) June 4, 2020 — A diverse group of environmental, outdoor recreation, planning and business organizations today urged New Jersey state officials to invest in programs and projects to advance clean energy, create parks and trails, improve water infrastructure and make communities more resilient to flooding and rising seas as an effective way to create much-needed good local jobs while improving public health and safety.
The call to action comes as Gov. Phil Murphy, his Restart and Recovery Commission and the Legislature consider plans to address the severe economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has driven New Jersey into an unprecedented and dire financial situation in which some very difficult decisions will have to be made to balance the budget,” said Tom Gilbert, campaign director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and ReThink Energy NJ. “This is not the time to make short-sighted fiscal decisions. Rather, the current conditions present an opportunity to make choices that will put the state on the right path to a healthier, more equitable, sustainable and prosperous future.”
The group highlighted numerous studies demonstrating that green projects create more jobs per dollar of investment than other types of infrastructure projects. A recent analysis of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars and an economic return of $2.4 for every $1 invested. Another study found that wind and solar projects generate about 13 jobs per million dollars of investment while coal, oil and natural gas projects generate only about six to seven jobs for the same investment.
“We need to create new green local union jobs for the trade workers and others who have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic.” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of New Jersey League of Conversation Voters. “Investing in these green sectors will create more jobs and make our communities healthier and safer places to live.”
The groups detailed the following priorities and related economic benefits:
• Advance Clean Energy. The recently adopted state Energy Master Plan identifies a low-cost clean energy system based on wind, solar, energy efficiency, grid modernization and electrifying the transportation and building sectors.
o New Jersey’s clean energy economy now supports 51,000 jobs, with 34,000 of those in energy efficiency alone.
o Wind and solar projects generate about 13 jobs per million dollars of investment while coal, oil and natural gas projects generate about 6-7 jobs for the same investment.
o Building retrofits offer a massive opportunity for new local jobs – and create more than 17 jobs per million dollars invested.
o Workers in clean energy earn wages 8-19% higher than the national average wage, have lower barriers to entry and fuel small businesses, according to the Brookings Institute.
o More than 60% of all energy efficiency jobs are in construction, a sector especially hard hit during the pandemic.
• Update Parks and Trails. New Jerseyans rely on parks and trails more than ever, but not all communities have sufficient access to open space – especially in urban areas. Existing parks and trails also need improvements and better stewardship.
o Outdoor recreation contributes $17.8 billion annually in consumer spending, $6.1 billion in wages and salaries and $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue, as well as 158,000 direct New Jersey jobs.
o Every dollar invested in open space preservation yields $10 of economic benefits from ecosystem services (such as water purification, waste treatment and flood mitigation), natural goods (such as fish and farm products) and outdoor recreation activities across the state.
o According to the Trust for Public Land, every million dollars of direct agency spending on park operations creates 23 jobs are created for; every million dollars of direct agency spending on capital projects creates 16 jobs; and every million dollars invested in trail development creates 17 jobs, according to East Coast Greenway.
“New Jersey residents are seeking refuge in nature during these uncertain times, enjoying the calming effects of parks, forests and even local community gardens,” said Barbara Brummer, Ph.D., state director, The Nature Conservancy. “Nature is a constant reminder that we are all part of something larger than ourselves and the COVID shutdown has reinforced how important a healthy environment and access to outdoor space is for people. It is smart from every angle to create jobs that further our state’s clean energy future and ensure our parks, beaches and other natural areas are optimized to provide the benefits people rely on.”.
• Build Resilience to Climate Disasters. Climate change poses such enormous economic and health risks to New Jersey as sea-level rise, flooding and extreme weather events. An interagency task force is developing statewide and coastal resiliency plans that emphasize nature-based solutions.
o Every dollar invested in pre-disaster risk reduction saves an average of $7 from reduced flooding risk.
o New Jersey is among states with the most to lose in real estate value due to anticipated impacts of climate change – over $4.5 billion in coastal real estate alone.
“New Jersey and the entire country need a sustainable and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis that prioritizes green jobs, including those that enhance the outdoor recreation economy, which has been so important for mental and physical health during these challenging times,” said Eric Stiles, president and CEO of New Jersey Audubon Society. “We stand together with our partners in calling on our elected officials to ensure the recovery from this crisis creates a healthier environment as well as new booming green economy that all our residents can enjoy.”
Improve Water Infrastructure. Clean and abundant water is critical to public health and economic growth, but climate change impacts, lead and other threats to water quality and quantity must be addressed.o Green infrastructure investments help mitigate these impacts by absorbing water and cleaning up polluted runoff water. These investments have significant economic benefits: Every dollar invested in green infrastructure can realize $7 to $27 in ancillary benefits for communities, as well as reducing crime, improving health, enhancing water quality, increasing property values and reducing pressure on current, antiquated stormwater infrastructure.
o Green infrastructure investments in Philadelphia support 1,000 jobs annually.
“At the beginning of Atlantic hurricane season, the time is all the more critical to invest in resilient infrastructure as part of a green recovery that puts our region back to work and benefits communities, reaping a return of seven dollars for every one invested,” said Roland Lewis, President and CEO, Waterfront Alliance. “As we do so, we must ensure that investments prioritize frontline communities and jobs.”
“If it hasn’t been clear enough, COVID-19 brought to light the socioeconomic disparities that low-income and communities of color are challenged with every day,” said Katharina Miguel, Clean Energy Advocate, Isles. “While many of us are privileged to be able to sit in the comforts of our home during this quarantine, staying indoors isn’t necessarily safe for everyone. Poor housing conditions continue to burden the most vulnerable communities, and health hazards such as lead, mold and other unsafe living conditions only put people in more danger. If there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s that justice means taking deliberate action to make homes safe, prioritizing people’s health, addressing energy and food insecurity and paving a path for economic resilience. We need to build a workforce that will address these issues immediately.”
“The pandemic and its impacts serve as an imperative – not to simply reopen our economy, but to build it back better,” said Richard Lawton, Executive Director of the NJ Sustainable Business Council. “Thanks to Governor Murphy’s leadership, the updated Energy Master Plan outlines an achievable and scalable path toward a more sustainable, equitable and resilient clean energy economy. Redoubling our commitment to implementing the EMP is critical for guiding the types of market-driven innovation, infrastructure investment and job creation that we need in order to adapt to and thrive in a rapidly changing climate and world.”
“As New Jersey makes steps to rebuild its economy, it is important that it embraces equity, environmental and economic goals,” said Erin Cosgrove, Policy Counsel for Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance and Energy Efficiency Alliance of New Jersey. By prioritizing energy efficiency, it can do just that. Energy efficiency creates local, sustainable careers; lowers businesses bills; empowers homeowners to take charge of their energy consumption; and improves public health through reducing pollutants in both indoor and outdoor environments. With New Jersey’s ambitious clean energy goals, now is the time to prioritize energy efficiency with a green job recovery.”
“COVID-19 has brutally exposed the inequalities and realities of life for people of color and those who are poor in the United States,” said Julia Somers, Executive Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. “We have an opportunity now, more than ever, to rebuild our state and economy to meet the needs of our most vulnerable and underserved residents, as well as, lay a foundation for a 21st century economy that addresses our most urgent needs, like combating climate change and local infrastructure investments to protect our clean drinking water resources.”
“Investing in multi-use trail networks like the Circuit Trails provides a unique opportunity to address transportation, public health, economic development, and climate issues all at once,” said Sonia Szczesna, Advocacy and Campaign Manager of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “In a state as dense as New Jersey, trails provide much-needed access to open space, while also creating resilient, active transportation networks – connecting people to the places they want to go.”