Coalition urges statewide plan to electrify transportation sector, making sure that communities hit hard by pollution are prioritized

By Tom Johnson

If and when the state gets around to electrifying the transportation sector, it must ensure urban and low-income communities that bear the brunt of its pollution share in that transformation, according to an advocacy group.

Jersey Renews — a coalition of labor, faith, community and environmental groups — has called on the state to implement a statewide strategic plan to integrate electric vehicles into the transportation network, a priority already identified in New Jersey’s draft Energy Master Plan released this spring.

The white paper, “Transportation Electrification: Keeping an Eye on Equity,” reflects some of the same recommendations suggested by the EMP as well as by a stalled bill that aims to jump-start the electrification of the sector, which contributes nearly half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation (S-2252), cleared a Senate Environment and Energy Committee last fall but has yet to be considered again by lawmakers. It now appears to be on life support, at least until after the November election in the lame-duck legislative session, advocates concede.

“Electric transportation is vital for the health and well-being of our urban communities,’’ said Rev. Ronald Tuff, organizer for GreenFaith. “Faith leaders are calling on the Legislature to make sure that our people have air that’s safe to breathe and clean, affordable transportation that gets them to work, to school and home to their families without an asthma attack. Is that too much to ask?’’

Smog pollution in urban areas

The white paper notes significant improvements to air quality in New Jersey but pointed to some urban areas outside New York City/Newark and Philadelphia/Camden which rank among the 25 worst communities for ground-level ozone, or smog pollution. Black children are admitted to the emergency room for asthma twice as often as other populations, the paper said.

“Electrification is not a privilege or a luxury — it is a necessity,’’ said Norah Langweiler, campaign organizer for Jersey Renews and author of the paper. “As we begin to electrify our transportation system, we need to be sure that communities who have been adversely impacted by irresponsible development are prioritized.’’