New Jersey is once again a leader on clean cars

New Jersey has joined the ranks of the nation’s clean transportation leaders by setting into law ambitious steps toward an all-electric, zero-emissions future.

Olivia Valicenti

New Jersey has joined the ranks of the nation’s clean transportation leaders by setting into law ambitious steps toward an all-electric, zero-emissions future. 

Environment New Jersey’s Doug O’Malley, a leader in the campaign, introduced Gov. Phil Murphy at the signing and represented The Public Interest Network’s efforts in this and all the efforts nationwide that led up to it.

It’s no coincidence that, in New Jersey and around the country, leading the charge for clean cars has been some of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) movement’s best, most celebrated work. 

The mystique of the American automobile is familiar to all of us. For generations, the American Dream itself came with a car or two included. The widespread availability of vehicle travel helped usher in an age of unprecedented material prosperity, opening up the world and imbuing it with a life-altering sense of freedom and possibility for millions. 

But along with freedom, cars brought problems. Cars are the largest source of ground-level ozone, which means more smog-forming pollution, asthma attacks, and trips to hospital emergency rooms — the price of our progress. Our friends at the American Lung Association estimate that 600,000 New Jersey adults suffer from asthma. 164,000 additional Garden State children suffer from pediatric asthma.

And how did we arrive at the era of climate change? By car, in large part. Transportation, both in New Jersey and nationally, is today’s largest source of global warming pollution. Within the transportation sector, the biggest culprits are cars and light trucks. More than three million cars and light trucks drive the Garden State’s roads.

This is why the PIRGs’ message has been consistent for nearly 50 years, presaged by Ralph Nader’s critique of the Corvair, Unsafe at Any Speed: Now that we can get to wherever we need to go, let’s harness the abundance of our material wealth and innovative capacities to figure out how to get there safely, cleanly, and sustainably.

Starting in California in 2002, PIRGs and their spinoff state Environment groups advocated for groundbreaking “Clean Cars” standards to limit tailpipe emissions. We succeeded through administrative channels in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York, and in 2004, foreshadowing our latest success, New Jersey was the first state to pass Clean Cars legislation.

Over the next five years, thanks to our efforts, Connecticut, Washington state, Maine, Rhode Island, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Delaware all followed suit. In 2009, we and our allies campaigned successfully to convince the Obama administration to adopt Clean Cars requirements at the federal level. 

All along the way, America’s air has gotten noticeably cleaner — just ask anyone who can remember — and our communities have gotten healthier. We’ve also maintained, however tenuously, a fighting chance to prevail in the climate crisis.

New Jersey’s new law will ramp up the number of electric cars on the road there from around 30,000, where it sits currently, to more than two million heading to 2040. NJ Transit bus purchases will go all-electric by 2032. Expansive fast charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and consumer-friendly policies will make New Jersey one of the best states to live for folks who want to put their values at the wheel. 

We applaud Gov. Murphy and New Jersey legislators for their leadership. We also thank our partners at ChargEVC and Jersey Renews for all that they do. As much as the tangible benefits of New Jersey’s breakthroughs matter, this joint effort is all the more significant because it shows what can be done in any state when the status quo takes a back seat to the quality of our lives. 

For now, we’ve got a lot more to do to protect our health and save the planet. But as one of New Jersey’s favorite sons once sang, “I know it’s late. We can make it if we run.”


Olivia Valicenti