Mayors are the new front-line leaders on climate change

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Executive Director, Sustainable Jersey

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Sustainable Jersey Gold Star in Energy provides pathway to goal

Franklin Township Mayor Phil Kramer was distraught when it was announced the United States was pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords.

“I actually said to myself, someone should do something about this and then I looked down at my business card and saw the word mayor and said ok,” Kramer told a sold-out New Jersey Mayors’ Climate Summit, at which over 175 mayors, officials, and leaders from municipalities large and small attended.

“This is a proud moment for New Jersey and I’m happy to be here to show leadership on this issue,” said Mayor Ravinder Bhalla of Hoboken.

The Mayor of Princeton Liz Lempert agreed. “Although this is a bipartisan issue, we have a lack of leadership from Washington D.C. and the fact is a lot of the efforts that are going to go into helping our country do its part with the worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is going to come at the local level,” Lempert said. “It is really important that as mayors, we step up. I’m proud to be a Climate Mayor and to be a part of this effort.”

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Mayors from across New Jersey agreed to take a leadership role on climate change. By the time of the event, the first twelve mayors formally pledged to work with Sustainable Jersey to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their towns. The list will be updated as the additional mayors officially sign-on. See the list and read the pledge here.

Mayor Bruce Packer of Glen Rock added, “For my part, I’m happy to be a Climate Mayor, I hope every mayor will sign up. This is a bipartisan issue; this is not political.” Mayor Vic DeLuca of Maplewood said, “It is very important as elected officials that we speak up and speak out about our commitment to climate action.”

Sustainable Jersey’s Gold Star in Energy

Mayor John C. McCormac of Woodbridge Township noted, “There are a couple thousand athletes in South Korea doing what we are doing right now — going for the gold. They are looking for gold medals in the Olympics and we’re going for the gold in energy with Sustainable Jersey.”

Woodbridge Township is well poised to achieve gold as it has, under Mayor McCormac’s leadership, received our Sustainability Champion award eight times in the large population category. Woodbridge has achieved the highest point totals in the state for each year it participated so far.

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Twelve New Jersey mayors publicly pledged to collaborate with Sustainable Jersey and make a significant effort to achieve Sustainable Jersey’s Gold Star Standard in Energy. It’s one thing to sign a pledge, it is another to have an action plan to achieve it and a way to track progress. By working toward the Gold Star Standard in Energy, these municipalities will be implementing proven strategies that will make a major contribution to our statewide effort to reduce greenhouse gasses.

Nine of the 12 towns have achieved silver-level certification with Sustainable Jersey. Bruce A. Harris, the mayor of Chatham Borough, said, “We are committed to being a sustainable community. When we think about going for the gold, we say we have no choice because that is what we have been doing. We are a small community of 9,000 people and are dependent on the work of volunteers. We have a core group of very committed volunteers to work on this.”

Any municipality that achieves the Gold Star in Energy can say with confidence — backed up with rigorous documentary evidence — that they are on a clear trajectory to solving the climate crisis. Mayor Phil Kramer agreed, saying, “It’s a high hurdle to get that gold and it should be a high hurdle. We should all strive for it.”

Sustainable Jersey staff will work with municipalities moving forward on the energy actions.

Many of the municipal leaders gave a brief review of what they are working on and their plans for the future.

“Hoboken is an urban laboratory and a national model for climate adaptation with more than $90 million dollars invested in resilient stormwater management by the city and local partners, as well as almost a quarter of a billion dollars in state and federal funding through our Rebuilt By Design program, which protects us from the coastal flooding we saw with Super Storm Sandy and about three million invested in energy security through PSEG,” Mayor Ravinder Bhalla of Hoboken said. “We continue to be a leader in climate mitigation as well as part of that effort working on our Master Plan. We incorporated a green building and environmental sustainability element in the Master Plan that includes a goal to exceed the carbon reduction goals established by the Paris Climate Accord and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles by increasing walking, biking, and mass transit use. As we work to undertake these goals in 2018, we will be doing a feasibility study for a city-wide microgrid.”

The primary goal is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. New Jersey’s Global Warming Response Act calls for an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by the year 2050. To meet this target, New Jersey will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a rate of 3.6 percent a year, every year.

The Gold Star in Energy identifies the specific actions and levels of performance that municipalities can, and must, achieve for us to reach our goals for a sustainable New Jersey.

“This year we plan to work with Sustainable Lawrence and our local business community to get more people involved in the Direct Install Program. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Mayor Christopher Bobbitt of Lawrence Township said.

The Direct Install component of the New Jersey Clean Energy Program is an example of an action that will contribute to bringing down energy consumption and emissions in the community.

The Start of Something Great

NJ First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy made a surprise appearance at the Summit and addressed the group. She said, “It is especially nice to be here when it is to bring leaders together to discuss climate change and the steps we can take together to protect our residents and communities. After eight years of standing still, New Jersey is ready to lead again. Thankfully even when there was not much to cheer about at the state level, you and your fellow mayors stood up to do what was right by your communities. Unfortunately, you largely had to do this on your own. I think that is changing. I cannot wait to do things together.”

Mayor Victor Sordillo of Warren Township concluded, “This is the start of something great. We all see the effects of climate change in the floods and storms we have; we feel the impacts of climate change in the extreme cold days and extreme warm summer days and now we must act or else our grandchildren, and I have seven grandchildren, will not have as good a world to live in as we do now.”

For those who missed the event, view a highlight reel of First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy’s speech and post-event mayors’ news conference here.

A recording of the full event will be available shortly. Sustainable Jersey, the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy hosted the NJ Mayors’ Climate Summit.


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