Let’s not cling to the familiar. Let’s do better and create green jobs | Opinion

As we continue to follow safe social distancing protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19, Governor Murphy, business groups, and health officials are discussing gradual steps we can take to resume regular activities and reignite our struggling economy. I hope that after the pandemic, New Jersey will move away from an economy that has worked for a few but failed so many. 

This new economy should aim to reduce environmental hazards caused by air pollution and climate change, and make the necessary investments in the sectors that will lead to a sustainable, expanded green economy. There must be a strong focus on social justice and helping marginalized communities that have been left behind and bare the unjust burden of pollution. This change will require bold action by our elected leaders and community support. 

The framework for this new economy has already been established in Governor Murphy’s Energy Master Plan (EMP), which outlines key strategies to reach the administration’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The plan would see billions of dollars invested in electrifying our vehicles, ports, and homes, and an all-electric public transit system that is affordable, reliable, and expanded. It also sets bold goals for offshore wind, energy storage, and community solar. 

The EMP is a great start, but we can do even more to rebuild after COVID-19. New Jersey can create a prosperous future for all by focusing on creating green jobs. These good local union jobs cannot be outsourced and will provide a fair wage that can sustain a middle-class lifestyle. New Jersey already has over 52,000 people working in the clean energy economy, and that number can increase with the right investments. In addition to expanding clean energy jobs in energy efficiency, solar, and emerging offshore wind, we should use this moment to catalyze investment in lead pipe remediation, park management, replacement of antiquated stormwater management infrastructure, and resilient green infrastructure installation that will protect us from the increase in flooding and polluted stormwater runoff exacerbated by climate change. 

At a time when the state is looking at significant budget deficits, a green jobs recovery can kick start our economy and put workers back to work in good local jobs that enhance our quality of life. Given historically low interest rates, there are several ways to fund these new green jobs. Some recommendations are state bonds, “green” bonds, a public bank, stimulus funding from the federal government, and special social impact funding.

New Jersey LCV recently testified in support of New Jersey Assembly Bill A4175, “The New Jersey COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act,” authorizing the issuance of state bonds totaling $5 billion and borrowing from the federal government to plug major, possibly catastrophic budget holes.

Another way to finance the green jobs recovery would be through the use of a green bond, a financing vehicle designed specifically for projects that are intended to offer environmental benefits as well as a financial return. A bond is “green” when we raise capital to fund green projects or activities that prioritize an environmental issue, such as expanding green infrastructure to clean up and manage polluted stormwater runoff or investing in expanding our clean energy economy to catalyze jobs that can’t be outsourced and save families and businesses money, as well as updating centuries old water pipes to stop flooding in neighborhoods. 

Stimulus funding from the federal government could also be provided in block grants to states like New Jersey whereby the Garden State can dedicate itself to creating green jobs. 

Other avenues for funding a green jobs recovery could be a public bank. The public bank could support green jobs through projects that are short of funding, but that offer taxpayer benefits such as water supply projects, flood reduction efforts, and energy projects. 

We could also develop a funding source similar to the Sand Dollar Funds in North Carolina, which provide financial and technical assistance to economically depressed and disadvantaged minority-owned businesses. The intent is to stimulate environmentally sustainable economic development in distressed areas that have historically been underdeveloped and underutilized due to institutionalized racism that has prevented minority-owned businesses from accessing traditional funding.  

The previous New Jersey legislative session was the most environmentally productive in over a decade. Now, as we face severe financial and societal challenges, the legislature must utilize innovative tools like green bonds, public banking, federal stimulus investments, and New Jersey’s version of the Sand Dollar Funds to create good-paying local jobs and put New Jerseyans back to work on projects that will rebuild our environmental infrastructure, restore our natural habitats, and mitigate the harmful impacts of climate change. 

During a time of crisis we often cling to what is familiar, but I am challenging us to think and act differently. The revenue generated from impact investing can be used to build New Jersey’s new 21st century-green economy, clean up pollution that disproportionately impacts communities-of-color, ensure clean drinking water for generations, and prepare all New Jerseyans for the clean economy of the future, not the fossil fueled, status quo economy we have now. It is a win-win for everyone.