PETITION TO THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO PROMULGATE RULES IMPLEMENTING EO 274 AND EO 23 AND FOR OTHER RELIEF
Petitioners EmpowerNJ, BlueWaveNJ, Clean Water Action NJ, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition, Environment New Jersey, Food & Water Watch, and the New Jersey Sierra Club hereby submit the following rule-making petition to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (“NJDOT”) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 52:14B-4(f) and N.J.A.C. 16:1A-3.1. This petition is also supported by the organizations listed in Appendix A.
I. PETITION SUMMARY
NJDOT is not in compliance with Executive Order 274 (“EO 274”)[i] which directs all State agencies to develop strategies to accomplish New Jersey’s policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (“GHGs”) by 50% below 2006 levels by 2030, the 50 x 30 Goal. Reducing GHGs in the transportation sector is crucial to accomplishing the 50 x 30 Goal. Vehicles account for 40.6% of the State’s net GHG emissions, making it the highest GHG source in the State.[ii]
Instead of complying with EO 274, NJDOT and its divisions, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (“NJTA”) and the New Jersey Transit Authority (“NJT”), are either ignoring it or undermining it. There is not a word about climate change in NJTA’s 2020-2029 strategic plan[iii], ten-year capital plan[iv], rules[v], or on its website.[vi] The failure to adopt a climate reduction strategy also conflicts with federal law and makes New Jersey ineligible to obtain any grants available under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.[vii] Even worse, under its capital plan, NJTA is planning to spend more than $16 billion on new highway expansion projects on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike (“Highway Expansions”)[viii] with little or no analysis of whether they would increase GHGs, conflict with this State’s climate goals; be cost effective; improve traffic congestion; or whether the money could be better spent on other transportation projects that would generate more jobs and economic growth without adding toxic pollutants to our already bad air.
NJT is also acting contrary to EO 274 by proposing a methane gas power plant in the Meadowlands, known as the Transitgrid Project. Notwithstanding its ostensible purpose, providing back-up power from climate-induced storms, it will run 24/7 and emit 600,000 tons of CO2 per year along with other toxic pollutants into the air in the Kearny/Newark area, which are already overburdened communities.[ix]
NJDOT is also not complying with Executive Order 23[x], which requires all state agencies to consider environmental justice in all its decision making. We are unaware of any action NJDOT is taking or considering addressing environmental justice. When asked at the May 2, 2022 Assembly Budget Committee hearing what NJDOT was doing to comply with EO 23, NJDOT Commissioner Gutierrez-Scaccetti was stumped; she could not cite a single example.
This Petition demands that NJDOT adopt rules: (1) implementing EO 274 by establishing a carbon reduction strategy to reduce GHGs in the transportation sector to meet the 50 x 30 Goal; (2) requiring any Highway Expansion or any other project to build or expand highways in the State (collectively “Road Expansion” or “Project”) pass a climate impact test showing that the Project does not conflict with the 50 x 30 Goal and the goal of reducing GHGs by 80% by 2050 as required by the Global Warming Response Act (the “80 x 50 Goal”); (3) requiring a cost-benefit analysis for any Project, which considers whether the Project would increase or decrease traffic and vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”), potential increases in budgeted construction costs, the social and health costs of carbon and other pollution and alternatives to the Project such as public transportation, repair projects, safe street projects, bikeways and walkways; and (4) requiring environmental justice to be considered in all of its decision making as required by Executive Order 23 and rejecting any Project that disproportionately harms already Overburdened Communities, as defined in N.J.S.A. 13:1D-157 to -161. A companion petition is being submitted to NJTA demanding that NJTA also adopt rules that comply with EO274 and EO 23. The contents of that petition are incorporated by reference herein.
EO 274 states that, “it is vital that … we take decisive action in the immediate term … to meet our longer-term emissions reduction goals and protect our people, economy, and environment from the worsening impacts of climate change”; and “effective action to achieve the necessary emissions reductions requires a coordinated whole-state approach that addresses all sectors of the economy, including transportation….” (emphasis added). In the transportation sector, this means reducing VMT by stopping further Road Expansions. Funding Road Expansions relative to other strategies is “the main driver of emissions outcomes.”[xi] Road Expansions produce more traffic, VMT, and carbon and co-pollutant emissions, because of induced demand, whereby expanded highways fill to capacity. Induced demand is the fundamental law of road congestion.[xii]
But it is not just climate considerations that are behind the proposed rules; it is health, economics, and common sense. NJDOT and NJTA should not be spending tens of billions of dollars on Road Expansions without a rigorous analysis of whether they are worth the cost, including their environmental, economic, quality of life, opportunity, and health costs. Vehicles generate toxic pollutants – particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, and ground level ozone – that are particularly harmful to our most vulnerable citizens including the elderly, children, and asthma sufferers. Expanded highways mean more vehicles and more of these pollutants. New Jersey has one of the highest premature mortality rates in the nation caused by PM 2.5, with more than an estimated 17,000 lives lost per year because of the impacts of air pollution.[xiii] The placement and expansion of urban highways have disproportionately harmed not only the health, but the economies of minority and low-income communities, who have suffered the most with the least benefit from highway projects.
Road Expansions, despite their heavy costs, often provide little long-term benefits. Traffic studies and experience, described more fully below, universally show that highway widenings, particularly in urban areas, will only provide temporary, if any, reduction in traffic congestion because of induced demand. Long term, expanded highways will be as congested as they were before.[xiv] Meanwhile, NJDOT is also ignoring studies, including one done for NJT, that prove that funding and improving public transportation promotes far more economic growth than Road Expansions.[xv]
The United States Department of Transportation has directed that transportation funding should prioritize fix-it-first projects over road expansions.[xvi] Numerous states – such as California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Virginia, among many others – are aligning transportation planning with climate goals as is the federal government. NJDOT should be following their leads.
II. PETITIONERS’ INTEREST IN THE PETITION
Petitioner EmpowerNJ is a coalition of 135 environment, community, religious and grassroots groups located in New Jersey. EmpowerNJ’s mission, endorsed by its coalition partners, seeks to reduce GHG emissions and other pollutants as the climate science demands.
Each of the Petitioners actively seeks to reduce GHGs and other pollutants and recognizes that
climate change constitutes an existential threat to New Jersey, the country and the world. Indeed, every New Jersey citizen has an interest in the rules Petitioners are seeking.
III. NJTA’S AUTHORITY TO TAKE THE REQUESTED ACTION
Executive Order 274 establishes the 50 x 30 Goal as State policy and requires all state agencies to develop and implement objectives and strategies to accomplish that policy, the policies detailed in the 2020 Energy Master Plan and the 80 x 50 Report issued by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Executive Order No. 23 directs all Executive Branch departments and agencies to consider environmental justice in implementing their responsibilities.
The Global Warming Response Act, N.J.S.A. 26:2C-40, sets the 80 x 50 Goal. The GWRA permits any State department or agency to limit or regulate GHGs pursuant to law. N.J.S.A. 26:2C-42(e).
IV. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE PROPOSED REQUEST
This Petition demands that NJDOT adopt rules: (1) implementing EO 274 by establishing a climate action plan to reduce GHGs in the transportation sector to meet the 50 x 30 Goal; (2) requiring any Road Expansion Project pass a climate impact test showing that the Project does not conflict with the 50 x 30 and 80 x 50 Goals; (3) requiring a cost-benefit analysis for any Project, which considers whether the Project would increase or decrease traffic and VMT, potential increases in budgeted construction costs, the social and health costs of carbon and other pollution and alternatives to the Project such as public transportation, repair projects, safe street projects, bikeways and walkways; and (4) requiring environmental justice to be considered in all of its decision making as required by Executive Order 23 and rejecting any Project that disproportionately harms already Overburdened Communities.
SOURCES AND ENDNOTES
[v] N.J.A.C. 19:9
[xii] Duranton, Gilles, and Matthew A. Turner. 2011. “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from U.S. Cities.” American Economic Review, 101 (6): 2616-52. https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.101.6.2616
[xiii] Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/air-pollution-linked-with-higher-COVID-19-death rates/. See also “New Research Links Air Pollution to Higher Coronavirus Death Rates,” New York Times (4/7/2020)
[xiv] Adam Mann, What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse, WIRED, June 17, 2014, https://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffic-induced-demand
Lewis M. Fulton et al., A Statistical Analysis of Induced Travel Effects in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region, J. TRANSP. & STAT. 2 (2000).
The EPA’s Guidebook on Induced Travel concluded studies showing that a 10% increase in highway capacity caused an immediate 3% to 5% increase in VMT in 1 to 2 years and a 5% to 9% increase in VMT over 10 to 20 years.
[xv] “Economic Impact of NJ Transit’s Five Year Capital Plan.” Rutgers Center for Advanced Information and Transportation (June 5, 2020) www.njtplans.com; https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/APTA-Economic-Impact-Public-Transit-2020.pdf