By Vin Gopal, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey
As we celebrate Earth Day we are happy to report that several of our environmental initiatives are moving forward in the state Assembly and Senate.
The Senate unanimously passed our bill on March 25 to require State agencies to include consideration of items powered by fuel cells in their requests for proposals for purchasing items that require a power source. Fuel cells efficiently and cleanly produce electricity. Increasing the use of fuel cells within State government agencies will set an example for private companies as we work to meet New Jersey’s ambitious goal of securing 50 percent of its electricity supply from renewable energy by 2030.
On the same day, the Assembly passed our legislation to establish a $20 million Renewable and Efficient Energy Financing (REEF) Program to provide loans and other financial assistance to state and local government entities and school districts to finance cost-effective energy efficiency improvements in buildings they own. In addition to helping the environment through energy efficiently, REEF financing would help reduce the energy costs ultimately paid by taxpayers.
We also have been working to protect shore birds and fish by introducing legislation to prohibit intentionally releasing balloons or other floating devices outdoors. When Clean Ocean Action conducted its 2019 “Beach Sweep” plastic and foam plastic items accounted for 83.2 percent of the items recovered, including 3,858 balloons. That’s not counting lakes, rivers and streams. Balloons find their way into the food chain of birds and fish and kill them. Our bill would help reduce this area of the waste stream.
We also are trying to protect farmland and home gardens from the latest invasive invader of the Garden State, the spotted lanternfly. First seen here in 2018, spotted lanternflies have been reported in eight counties. They excrete honeydew, a sugary substance that encourages the growth of black mold that kills vegetation. This destructive pest is a particular concern for the agricultural industry, but it also can devastate your trees and home garden.
The Assembly Agriculture Committee, which Eric chairs, passed our legislation to create an Invasive Species Task Force to find the most efficient means of controlling the spotted lanternfly and other invasive insects and animals. The task force would bring together the expertise and resources of the heads of the Departments of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, Health and Forestry, as well as the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers. The legislation charges the task force with developing uniform policies and a coordinated response to the threat posed by invasive species as well as a plan to prevent new invasive species from entering the state and limit the spread of the ones already here.
We also have introduced legislation to provide sales and use tax exemptions for retail sales of certain plant species and seeds that are native to New Jersey or attract pollinators that are essential to crops and home gardens alike. Encouraging consumers to use native plants and attract pollinators also is one of the best ways to combat invasive species.
There are many things we can do as individuals to help preserve the planet we share. When each of us does our part, it adds up and we improve everyone’s quality of life and protect the environment for future generations to enjoy.
Happy Earth Day.