By Chris Rotolo |
HOLMDEL – Monmouth County is rapidly developing vacant land along its highways and waterfront, but there is a renewed desire by the state to preserve open space.
At a July 16 meeting of local environmentalists in Holmdel, deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Debbie Mans, said state planning could have an impact on conservation efforts.
“For a long time we did have a state plan that really did try to direct nodes of growth and open space preservation, in conjunction with counties and local entities. And that’s sort of been withering on the vine for the past few years,” said Mans, who was appointed to the NJDEP in February after serving as the executive director of the Keyport-based NY/NJ Baykeeper.
Though Mans understands that most land use choices are decided at the municipal and county levels, she did state that Gov. Phil Murphy is interested in bringing the idea of conservation back to the forefront with state planning.
The mindset of Mans and Murphy is aligned with Two River-area citizens groups like the Neighbors for Waterfront Property in Atlantic Highlands who are working to preserve one of the last remaining tracts of undeveloped land on the Bayshore from being developed into 21 homes, and those in Middletown who are entrenched in a battle to hinder the Village 35 project.
“A lot of these choices are very local, but when our regulations are triggered we have permitting authority,”
Mans said. “And we can step in to help groups and municipalities financially to purchase land, if and when they find a willing seller.”
CLEAN ENERGY BY 2050
With approximately 25 members of the Holmdel-based Citizens for Informed Land Use organization in attendance, Mans discussed NJDEP’s agenda under Murphy, including a commitment to completely renewable clean energy by 2050.
One aspect of that process includes the NJDEP rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort among 10 Northeast and mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, including the placement of mandatory compliance obligations on fossil-fueled power plants.
THE POWER OF WIND
Mans explained that the NJDEP is looking both outward and inward to see where the state can plug into federal clean energy initiatives, as well as act as a leader.
Mans spoke of an executive order signed by Murphy in May that set a goal of 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity to be generated off New Jersey’s coast by the year 2030.
“This is an area where we’re playing a bit of catch up with other coastal states,” Mans said, noting recently announced projects in Massachusetts and New York.
The NJDEP has pinpointed four favorable sites at least three miles off the coast of southern New Jersey in federally regulated waters. The state recently concluded several stakeholder meetings, including one in Belmar, and is currently in the midst of a public comment period to better understand the ramifications of developing these sites and what impact they may have on surrounding wildlife, including bird migrations.
UPHOLDING PARIS AGREEMENT
Mans also stated that New Jersey had joined the United States Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of 16 states and Puerto Rico, which is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
President Donald Trump announced in June that he intends to pull the country out of the international accord on Nov. 4, 2020 – the earliest possible withdrawal date – due to cost concerns, job loss and negative impacts on the coal industry.
“Just because the United States pulled out of it doesn’t mean that we as a state can’t go and achieve the goals,” Mans said. “There’s a lot we can be doing locally and as a state to make a difference.”
This article was first published in the July 26-Aug. 2, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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