New Jersey needs equitable access to off-shore wind power | Opinion

New Jersey needs equitable access to off-shore wind power | Opinion opens in a new window / / August 18, 2022

Cameron Foster, Jody Stewart and Meghan Mertyris
Special to the USA TODAY Network

Nearly a decade ago during Superstorm Sandy, my Point Pleasant home flooded with 4 feet of water, displacing my family for nearly six years. Fast forward to today, and I now live in Somerset, right outside New Brunswick. I thought I could put the storm behind me. When the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit last year, however, my first-floor rental flooded, partially displacing me once again and transforming the only two places I’ve ever called home into two sites damaged by disasters.

New Jersey is among states most vulnerable to sea level rise. More than 70,000 homes are expected to see at least one major flood annually by 2050. We need to start thinking critically about what we want for the future of our communities, from the shore to the cities and everywhere in between. Part of that future, I believe, lies in renewable energy like offshore wind.

I know firsthand how life-altering climate-related disasters can be, and I’m not the only one. My colleagues at the New Jersey Resource Project, Jody Stewart and Meghan Mertyris, and countless other New Jersey residents have experienced the devastations of climate change firsthand.

Jody has lived at the Jersey Shore for the past 40 years, and in that time, has witnessed the evolution of flooding and severe weather events. She worked in the bait, tackle and marina industry, but fishing is not the same as it once was — now more than ever, the fish are just not there. Without fish to catch, fishermen step back, small businesses feel the financial impact and marinas lose business. Meghan, like me, has been a storm survivor since she was young — she was 12 when Sandy hit her home and flooded her basement, washing away her family’s belongings and memories.

Communities historically overburdened by pollution also face flooding — toxic flooding. Cities like Newark experience catastrophic and toxic floodwater polluted with chemicals from nearby Superfund sites caused by generations of environmental injustice.

Three wind turbines from the Deepwater Wind project off Block Island, R.I. Deepwater Wind's $300 million five-turbine wind farm started operating Dec. 12, 2016, making it the first operating offshore wind farm in the United States.

Across the state, more and more people are at risk of disaster. Our stories may be different, but they’re connected by the broad effects of extreme weather and rising seas. As storms continue to get more frequent and extreme, water is coming closer to our homes each year. We must mitigate community impacts, or this cycle will continue, repeat and worsen. We need to stop waiting until more residents become disaster survivors. We must act now.

In-depth coverage opens in a new windowJersey Shore residents demand more time to review offshore wind project

Offshore wind can help communities thrive. It is among a host of clean energy solutions that will help protect homes, businesses and lives. Building the turbines will create artificial reefs, giving fish a place to live, grow and repopulate and leading to a healthier and more abundant aquatic ecosystem. Beach town businesses will also reap the economic benefits of a clean energy future.

Offshore wind has the power to put an end to the pollution burden that makes New Jersey the Garden State for some and the Garbage State for others. For the past 10 years, activists, legislators and community members have worked to advance a landmark environmental justice law allowing the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to deny permits to any facilities that would add pollution to already overburdened and over-polluted communities. However, a proposed exemption to this law may create a loophole allowing polluting industries to be granted a permit if they generate economic interest, such as bringing new jobs to the area.

There should be no economic exception for industries that hurt communities, especially when clean alternatives exist to bring good jobs and a healthier environment. Industries like offshore wind have the potential to generate jobs without increasing pollution, offering sustainable ways to spur economic activity in New Jersey’s cities without making exceptions for polluters.

In fact, offshore wind can be — and must be — an economic investment that directly benefits us. If we do this right, New Jersey residents should be able to access family-supporting jobs in an offshore wind industry that prioritizes project labor agreements, prevailing wages, union neutrality agreements, and workforce opportunities for underrepresented populations, such as workforce development and local hire provisions.

What’s at stake if we don’t shift to more sustainable energy sources are the beautiful cities, beaches, boardwalks and farmlands that past generations worked hard to create and sustain. Offshore wind has the potential to be both an environmental and an economic investment in the past, present and future of our state. For any of these innovations to work, though, we need robust stakeholder engagement at every step of the process ensuring that everyone has meaningful access to a seat at the table — so we can have offshore wind that works for everyone.

Cameron Foster, Jody Stewart and Meghan Mertyris are members of the New Jersey Resource Project, a community organization working in New Jersey’s rural and suburban regions with a mission is to educate and empower community leaders to work together on solutions and take action toward an economically just and resilient future.

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