How We’re Building a Movement for Climate Justice in New Jersey

Published Jun 5, 2024

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Climate and Energy

At a recent event, New Jerseyans across the labor, climate, and environmental justice movements came together to celebrate, strategize, and learn from each other.

At a recent event, New Jerseyans across the labor, climate, and environmental justice movements came together to celebrate, strategize, and learn from each other.

When Lorin Fernandez first heard about plans for a new gas power plant in Woodbridge, NJ, she knew she had to do something to stop it. “I was terrified to learn how much pollution was going to be dumped in the air,” she remembers.

So Lorin, a mother and nurse living in nearby Rahway, joined the Food & Water Action Central Jersey Volunteer team leading the fight against the power plant. In doing so, she became part of a statewide movement for climate action and environmental justice that has grown remarkably in the past few years. 

Since 2019, Food & Water Watch has worked with incredible volunteers and allies to stop several other fossil fuel projects, including the Williams NESE Pipeline project and an NJ TRANSIT power plant.

To celebrate and build on this growth, Food & Water Watch hosted the first-ever New Jersey Climate Action Gathering this past April. The event brought together allies in environmental justice and labor organizing, as we work toward a shared goal: a just transition from dirty energy to a bright, clean future where no one gets left behind.

Almost 200 New Jerseyans attended the event, hosted at Rutgers University: organizers, academics, workers, students, and families. Together, we danced and played music; shared meals and stories. In workshops and discussions, attendees detailed their victories and strategies. Leaders from across the movement shared their knowledge and experiences from previous wins, while outlining what’s next for New Jersey and the major obstacles we face.

“Designed to get people into action on several specific in-the-streets campaigns and legislative battles, the Gathering did so by first getting participants moving to lively music and dance instructions provided by local group Zona Oriente… It was fun, it was energizing, and it created a sense of unity and possibility in the standing-room-only crowd that filled the venue.”

— Keith Voos, chair of NAACP Metuchen-Edison’s Environmental Justice Committee.

Environmental Justice and a Just Transition Are Key to Climate Action

With 50 organizations, local residents, and volunteers, our campaign against the CPV2 plant achieved victory in October 2023. “We created a unique, unstoppable grassroots movement,” said Lauren at the Climate Action Gathering; one that made clear “that the era for gas plant development in New Jersey is over.” Now, we’re building on this momentum to stop more dirty projects across the state.

In June 2023, Food & Water Watch joined allies to march and rally in Newark, calling on Governor Murphy to stop gas plants proposed in Newark and Kearny.

Many of these projects have been proposed for communities already overburdened with pollution, like the gas plant planned for Woodbridge. These environmental justice communities are often majority low-income or majority people-of-color, so that pollution builds on existing economic and racial injustices. 

We know that we need to end dirty energy like gas-fired power plants. But we also know there are workers who currently depend on these industries to make a living. That’s why a Just Transition to clean energy is so important.

We need to ensure that as we rapidly phase out fossil fuels, workers get the support they need to transition away, too. At the same time, growing clean energy industries must provide high-paying union jobs. 

As we say at Food & Water Watch, we’re building a livable future for all. And that means building a broad, diverse coalition of allies that lifts up environmental and economic justice. Unlike earlier environmental movements, Food & Water Watch and our allies are making sure that climate policy does right by workers, families, and frontline communities.

Moreover, we know that the only antidote to corporate greed and moneyed interests is people power. Politically, a wide coalition is absolutely necessary to fight these interests and build that livable future.

Esta energía limpia que el Gobernador Murphy ha hablado tanto no solamente sea para las grandes corporaciones y millonarios — sino que tambien la comunidad inmigrante pobre tenga acceso a esta energía limpia

The clean energy that Governor Murphy has talked about so much should not only be for the big corporations and millionaires — the immigrant and poor communities should have access to this clean energy.

— Reynalda Cruz Perez, keynote panelist and organizer with New Labor

We’re Fighting False Climate Solutions That Threaten Environmental Injustice 

Dirty energy companies know that the movement against them is growing. So they’re creating new strategies to continue profiting from pollution, while claiming to benefit the planet. These include climate scams like carbon capture and storage, which aims to pull emissions from polluting facilities and “store” them underground.

These scams don’t actually fight climate change. Instead, they distract time and resources from the real solutions, like renewables and battery storage. Moreover, these scams are getting billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded support, lining corporations’ pockets. 

They also perpetuate environmental injustice by failing to cut pollution at the source. For instance, the carbon capture industry won’t help us end fracking or drilling; in fact, it encourages more fossil fuels, by claiming it can keep emissions out of the atmosphere. That means drilling, fracking, and fossil fuel-power will continue to pollute neighboring environmental justice communities.

“Historically, communities of color have been left behind in our country. Let’s not leave communities of color and low-income communities behind while we fight climate change.”

— Dr. Nicky Sheats, keynote panelist and Director of Kean University’s Center for the Urban Environment

Right now, we’re seizing several opportunities in the state legislature to combat these scams and push for real solutions. 

For the past few years, we’ve worked to improve a Clean Energy Standard bill so it only supports real clean energy. We’ve also been fighting a “Dirty Gas Ripoff” bill that would subsidize mis-named “renewable natural gas” while raising folks’ energy bills. 

In November 2023, Food & Water Watch joined allies in Trenton to call for truly 100% real clean energy in New Jersey.

This year, we’re also facing down a bill that would create a “low carbon” fuel standard. While boosters claim it would clean up New Jersey’s transportation sector, it would only really prop up greenwashing scams like factory farm gas.

Tell New Jersey legislators and Governor Murphy: NO to dirty gas and YES to 100% truly clean energy!

We’re Building an Inclusive, Intersectional, Irresistible Movement in New Jersey

The Climate Action Gathering didn’t only celebrate victories — we also surveyed the challenges we face and how we can work on them together. For many participants interested in climate action but unsure of where to start, the gathering was an entry point. Others were veteran activists looking to make new allies and connect with other groups. 

“This event brought people from many groups together, which is far too rare in New Jersey,” said participant Mark Lesko. “We need to work together.”

At the Gathering’s workshops, participants heard from activists working on different campaigns across the state. Students calling on Princeton and Rutgers to divest from fossil fuels; community organizers fighting power plants, a fracked gas pipeline, a highway expansion, and more. Participants strategized tactics and brainstormed solutions together. They made plans for next steps at future actions and celebrated each other’s wins.

“I think we need to employ a lot of imagination and reject this idea that in order for our causes to win, somebody else has to lose. That’s not true. We can build alliances, we can build solidarity as a coalition.”

— Brooke Helmick, keynote panelist and Policy Director at the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance
Panelists speak at the workshop “Front line unity to stop fossil fuels and transform the extraction economy in New Jersey,” sharing their experiences from site fights for environmental justice around the state.

Any grassroots organizing, including climate activism, can be incredibly challenging and sometimes disheartening. The stakes are high and our opponents are powerful. But we’ve seen in New Jersey and across the country that progress is possible. And we know that we gain energy and power when we come together and learn from each other. 

“The all-day event was the most inspiring and, I believe, effective that I have attended in a lifetime of anti-war and social and environmental justice activism,” said Keith Voos, chair of NAACP Metuchen-Edison’s Environmental Justice Committee.

With events like this, we’re building the strategies, knowledge, and relationships we need to effect real change. As Food & Water Watch New Jersey Director Matt Smith put it, we’re building a movement that is “inclusive, intersectional, joyful, and irresistible.”

To build this movement, we need you! Find events and opportunities with Food & Water Watch near you.

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