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This Earth Day, commit to a more equitable environmental future | Opinion

By Ed Potosnak

As New Jersey celebrates Earth Day, the state has a lot to brag about, including the creation of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection 52 years ago on the same day that Earth Day was founded.

The NJDEP has excelled at restoring and protecting our various parks, forests and historic sites. These actions, along with the recent passage of laws to protect our oceans from plastics and shield overburdened communities and communities of color from the cumulative and harmful effects of pollution, continue New Jersey’s legacy as an environmental leader.

However, our state still faces major environmental and public health challenges, like dangerous levels of air pollution and greenhouse gases, flooding, environmental racism, contaminated drinking water, inequitable economic development, and overdevelopment. We are all hurt by neglectful environmental policies. But they can be devastating for low-income people and people of color who often don’t have the resources to shield themselves, their children and their communities from the harmful impacts.


Liberty State Park in Jersey City, the site of the NJDEP’s upcoming “50+2 Earth Day Celebration” event on Saturday to recognize the agency’s 50th anniversary after two years of delays due to COVID, is a prime example of the challenges we continue to confront and how frontline communities are disproportionately impacted when we lose those fights.

Liberty State Park is New Jersey’s most popular park in our most diverse city. Yet, it is threatened by private developers who want to enlarge a golf course onto the property. Many of the neighboring communities are historically underserved and lack access to free public green spaces. Private development will limit access to wealthy Manhattanites who do not live in the community and are often seen helicoptering in for a round of golf from the city.

New Jersey LCV opposes the privatization of Liberty State Park, and this Earth Day, as we gather there, we will double down on our efforts to keep the park available publicly to the local community.

While it’s hard to imagine what we’ll be celebrating 50 years from now, here’s what I’d like to see.

Our state, like the rest of the planet, is experiencing the devastating effects of climate change, as evidenced by Hurricane Ida and the deaths of 30 New Jerseyans last year. However, if we do our jobs and make every day Earth Day, here’s what the future can look like for all New Jerseyans.


I hope New Jersey will be a national leader in the fight against climate change, having adopted a 100% clean energy standard by 2035 — significantly ahead of the current 2050 target date and in line with President Biden’s green energy agenda. Families in urban areas will no longer suffer the health disparities that come from breathing polluted air, lead pipes will have been replaced so that residents are no longer drinking contaminated water, and parks for recreation will be just as accessible as they are in other communities.

New Jersey will have tackled its transportation pollution problem by establishing the infrastructure and pricing to help families purchase and charge electric vehicles. The state will have an all-electric fleet, including New Jersey Transit, and children will ride to school on all-electric school buses.


We will have passed President Biden’s climate agenda, including $555 billion in investments for climate, justice, clean energy jobs and other provisions that will have lowered costs and helped families and communities. These climate provisions will have led to good-paying local jobs, lower energy costs and a healthier environment; and we will have achieved the goal of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030.

This equitable environmental future that I dream about is what keeps me going, but it isn’t going to happen by itself. We all have to fight for it and push our local, state, and national leaders to support policies for a more equitable environmental future.

That’s why we’re working hard to elect environmental champions and hold them accountable. New Jersey LCV and 25 partners recently released a “Common Agenda” asking for action on issues relating to clean water, clean energy, transportation, construction, open space, land use, environmental poisons and governance.

As we look to the future, we also need to include more people of color at the table and have them leading these efforts. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation with half the population being people of color. We can’t continue to ignore half our population when it comes to making decisions about the environment and other important issues.


Lastly, if we’re going to see the kind of future we all want, New Jersey’s commitment to conservation must continue, but the scope must be broadened beyond trees and wildlife to include healthy communities for all New Jerseyans, no matter their ZIP code. This Earth Day, let’s pledge to take the kind of action we need so that, 50 years from now, we’ll have long forgotten what it was like to live in a state and nation with such gross inequities and clean water, air, and accessible open spaces will be reality for everyone.

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