For Immediate Release
An environmental advocacy group working to create renewable energy programs in communities across the state is urging Governor Murphy to protect direct democracy for New Jersey citizens by allowing for submission of electronic signatures for municipal and county petition initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food & Water Watch has been working with residents in several cities and towns this year, circulating initiative petitions to create community energy aggregation programs. If enacted, these programs would give residents and businesses access to clean, renewable sources of electricity like solar and wind power at discounted rates. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions, local communities can no longer carry out the necessary petition-gathering work in person.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is proving even more deadly in communities with unhealthy levels of toxic air pollution. Our campaigns to create local clean energy programs can improve public health by reducing the pollution from fossil fuel power generation,” said Food & Water Watch state director Matt Smith. “While we cannot go door to door to build support for these clean energy programs, we can connect with residents online and over the phone. By expanding on his recent executive orders, Governor Murphy can allow residents the opportunity to fully participate in direct democracy, and create programs that will advance long-term public health goals.”
New Jersey Appleseed, a public interest law center representing Food & Water Watch, sent a letter to Governor Murphy, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General today asking them to expand on a pair of recent executive orders (105 and 120) to extend the same electronic signature process authorized for political candidates to include local and county petition initiatives.
In nearly half of New Jersey municipalities, citizens are empowered to engage in direct democracy via petition initiative. When at least 10% of voters sign onto a petition in support of a local policy, municipal councils can either vote to approve the citizen-backed ordinance, or put the policy on the ballot as a question for local voters to decide.
"The importance of this initiative petition drive cannot be under-estimated,” said Renee Steinhagen, Executive Director of New Jersey Appleseed. “It is political activity of a legislative nature that must go on if New Jersey is going to address the climate crisis in a responsible, coordinated manner. We are asking the State to treat it with the same respect and importance that has been afforded to other petitions in light of the pandemic."
The ordinance championed by Food & Water Watch authorizes municipalities to create community energy aggregation programs to transition their residents and businesses to 100 percent clean renewable sources of electricity by 2030. Thanks to the discounts afforded by bulk purchasing, communities with energy aggregation programs aren’t just going green, they’re also saving residents money on their monthly utility bills.
Food & Water Watch’s first successful community energy aggregation campaign came in 2018 in New Brunswick, where the City Council responded to the residents’ petition by creating what is believed to be the state’s first 100 percent renewable energy aggregation program.
Food & Water Watch followed up with a successful campaign in neighboring Piscataway, where the initiative was voted down by the town council before winning at the ballot with overwhelming support.
This year, Food & Water Watch is working in 15 municipalities to enact 100% renewable energy aggregation programs including Edison, East Brunswick, Fair Lawn, Teaneck, Ridgewood, Hoboken, North Brunswick, South Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Long Branch, Asbury Park, Cherry Hill, Mt. Laurel, Burlington Township and Collingswood.