Enhanced Environmental Laws in NJ for 2022

The Garden State offers many diverse habitats supporting unique and rare plants and animals. Only 30 years ago, just one nesting pair of bald eagles remained in New Jersey. Today, the population has grown to over 60 active bald eagle nests — and 18-20 pairs of peregrine falcons.

The state’s three large regions include the Highlands, Pine Barrens, and Delaware Bayshore. 

The Highlands—with its forests and wetlands, rivers and streams—generates 379 million gallons of drinking water for the state’s residents. It’s home to over 135 endangered and threatened plants.

Spread over about 1.1 million acres, the Pine Barrens holds aquifers containing 17 trillion gallons of water and supports over 850 plant species plus numerous rare animals like the Pine Barrens tree frog and pine snake.

Delaware Bayshore includes the Lower Delaware River Estuary and nearby Atlantic coast. It’s a bird-watcher’s paradise for anyone eager to spot spring and fall migratory flights along the Atlantic Flyway. There are hundreds of state endangered and threatened plans found only here—it’s truly one of the Garden State’s hot spots of botanical diversity.

In recent years, the state’s government has taken steps to protect its valuable resources and address the effects of climate change.

Serious Environmental Issues

With all this wonderful diversity in flora and fauna, however, New Jersey faces serious environmental issues: bad air quality, polluted waterways, smog, sewer overflow, former manufacturing and other sites contaminated by toxins, and more. Perhaps the biggest challenge in addressing these problems is the huge cost associated with fixing each one. 

Late in 2021, New Jersey’s re-elected Governor Philip Murphy’s administration shared its robust environmental agenda which, during his previous term, led the U.S. on several key issues. The trend will continue over the next four years, with a renewed focus on climate change, enforcement policy, and environmental justice in particular. 

Climate Change

Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 274 on November 10, 2021. This order establishes “an interim greenhouse gas reduction target of 50% below 2006 levels by 2030, strengthening [the state’s] path to achieve an 80$ reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

To help reduce vehicle emissions from the transportation sector—the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and a significant contributor to global warming and climate change—the governor also announced:

  • $20 million expansion of the NJ Zero Emission Incentive Program (NJZIP) into the greater Jersey Shore area.
  • $13.7 million investment in electric trucks and buses to improve air quality and reduce emissions in overburdened communities.

Since February 2021, the state has already committed about $71 million from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to purchase electric vehicles and install charging stations in many communities. The multi-state, market-based program, launched in 2005, establishes a regional cap on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, requiring fossil fuel power plants with capacities greater than 25 megawatts to obtain allowances for each ton of CO2 emitted annually. RGGI was the U.S.’s first mandatory greenhouse gas “cap-and-invest” program.

In December 2021, NJDEP also adopted the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule. It’s one of several states driving forward to create a regulatory path for electrifying delivery vans, tractor trailers, and other medium- and heavy-duty trucks. 

This ACT rule requires manufacturers “to sell and deliver pollution-free zero-emission trucks to NJ beginning in 2025 and requires 40-75% new zero-emission truck sales by 2035.” Studies show clean truck rules can reduce millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas, NOx, and PM emissions, significantly reducing respiratory illnesses, and potentially saving hundreds of lives.

The Murphy Administration will leverage the New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (PACT) program to pursue other climate initiatives designed to strengthen air pollution rules and address the reduction of future greenhouse gas.

Enforcement Policy

NJDEP will appoint a Chief Enforcement Officer tasked with leading the newly-created Office of Enforcement Policy in the Office of the Commissioner. This CEO and office will help shape NJDEP’s enforcement agenda and the future of environmental policy. Designed to facilitate separate enforcement programs operating under a unified command, this office will oversee all NJDEP enforcement policies. Violators can expect to see NJDEP issuing more stringent penalties and violation notices and initiating more lawsuits.

Environmental Justice

On April 20, 2018, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 23. This order directed the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) “to develop guidance for all executive branch departments and agencies on environmental justice considerations in policymaking.” 

Later that year, NJ launched a statewide environmental justice initiative. It established a new Environmental Justice Section within the Office of the Attorney General and included filing civil actions related to contaminated sites in “minority and lower-income communities.” Another 18 environmental justice actions were filed between 2019 and 2020. 

On September 18, 2020, Governor Murphy signed the Environmental Justice Law N.J.S.A. 13:1D-157 (“EJ Law”) requiring NJDEP to “evaluate environmental and public health impacts of specific facilities in ‘overburdened communities’ when reviewing certain permit applications.” It also authorizes NJDEP to “deny or condition certain permits based on the agency’s assessment.” 

This year, NJDEP will develop regulations to implement the EJ Law, propose and open regulations for formal public comment, and adopt the new rules during the latter half of 2022. NJDEP is also launching EJ initiatives designed to foster community engagement in decisions affecting overburdened populations. 

A Bold Approach to Protecting the Environment

New Jersey has taken a bold approach to creating policies designed to improve the environment and become a national leader in environmental policy. The state is part of the United States Climate Alliance. The Murphy Administration will continue using tools at its disposal to reduce the impact on climate change that includes rising sea levels predicted to increase by 1.3 feet by 2050. Such a rise would have a devastating effect on the Jersey Shore, which has a population density of up to 5,000 people per square mile

It isn’t just citizens and residents who should be thinking about how they can help their state reach its environmental goals. Those involved in commercial real estate have a responsibility to do their part, too. Here to help are the professionals at CREA United. Our members include professionals involved with all aspects of the commercial real estate industry, including those who can help ensure buildings comply with stricter environmental regulations no matter what their sector. We work with landlords, building owners, and tenants within the corporate, industrial, medical & healthcare, office, retail, cannabis, central NJ industrial, construction, dentistry, and multifamily group sectors.

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