By Maria Lopez-Nunez
You can do – and undo – a lot with a trillion dollars.
The Murphy administration needs to consider both sides of that equation as policymakers craft a plan to spend New Jersey’s share of the federal $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act (IIJA) funding.
Suggestions for allocating this one-in-a-generation pot of federal funds abound, but spending decisions must be guided by transparency, reducing climate pollution and fairness. Neighborhoods overburdened by pollution and underserved by clean energy tend to be communities of color.
Typically near power plants, incinerators, ports, highways and other pollution generators, our residents often struggle daily to make ends meet, suffer more than most from diesel fuel exhaust and disproportionately suffer the health effects of past energy and transportation planning decisions. The IIJA represents an opportunity for the Murphy administration to show leadership and help transform New Jersey into a stronger, fairer and more resilient place for all residents.
I am a member of a coalition representing New Jersey’s environmental, labor, business, planning, social justice, and climate advocacy communities. We are committed to ensuring that federal funding is used wisely. When we met with the governor’s staff this spring, we emphasized the importance of investing strategically and equitably in initiatives that improve the state’s persistent environmental, economic, and health inequalities. The IIJA, passed by Congress with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Joe Biden, is for investments in physical infrastructure and mitigation measures to address the impacts of climate change. Our proposals include:
- Invest at least 40% of funds to help reverse the disproportionate damage that existing energy infrastructure and policies have perpetuated in environmental justice communities, as outlined in President Biden’s report Justice40 Initiative
- Allocate funds to school districts to invest in improving energy efficiency and renewable energy
- Improving the resilience and reliability of the electrical grid, including preparing our grid for increased offshore wind power generation
- transitioning school, transit and government fleets to zero-emission vehicles; prioritize charging infrastructure, including in new office, retail and multi-unit housing developments; and electrified bus stations
- Reduce port emissions, especially from trucks traveling through residential areas
- Support pedestrian-oriented developments that reduce reliance on vehicles and create more cycling, breathable and walkable communities
- Fund “green infrastructure” projects in overburdened communities that create jobs, mitigate flooding, eliminate combined sewer overflows and reduce temperatures in urban heat islands
- Distribute grants to support energy efficiency, weatherization and electrification of buildings
These recommendations align with the appropriate uses of IIJA funds, as outlined in the law, and will accelerate our clean energy transition, improve health, support New Jersey families, and build the state’s economic resilience.
The Murphy administration’s funding strategy presents an opportunity for our state leaders to put their money where its climate goals aspire – in the counties and cities most affected by the devastating effects of global climate change. These communities deserve support in our quest to advance New Jersey’s clean energy goals. Scaling up and investing in clean energy infrastructure provides workers with the opportunity to retrain or learn in-demand new skills needed to compete in our economy. We can simultaneously address the climate crisis and create family-supporting jobs.
Our coalition also recommends investing in state resources, personnel, and technical assistance to help counties, municipalities, and community organizations apply for competitive IIJA funding and manage and oversee implementation. work. All levels of government must have the appropriate capacity to secure funding and maximize its impact.
President Biden said it well: “The federal government cannot build a better America alone – it needs state and local leadership to act as coordinators and help prepare communities to benefit from infrastructure funding. transformers.” We strongly believe this means an open and transparent process with plenty of opportunities for strong dialogue and input from stakeholders – especially in overburdened communities – who need to have a say in decisions that will impact and change their neighborhoods. for decades to come.
We look forward to working with the Murphy Administration to craft the highest and best use of these federal funds to improve the lives of all New Jerseyans.
Maria Lopez-Nuñez is director of environmental justice and community development for the Ironbound Community Society (ICC) and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC). Founded in 1969, ICC strives to engage and empower individuals and families to collaboratively create a just, vibrant and sustainable community.
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