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Menendez Calls on NJ Business Leaders to Step Up on Climate Change

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a speech to members of New Jersey’s Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez challenged the business community and corporate leaders to put their assets, investments, ingenuity and political influence into finding, implementing and fighting for climate change solutions.

Governor Murphy, it speaks volumes that not even cancer can keep you away from this event. I’m praying for your speedy recovery, my friend.  Senator Booker, it’s no secret I wish you were campaigning in South Carolina tonight. But I know I’m fortunate to have you as my partner in the Senate, and I’ll be there for you this November just as you were for me.

I’m glad to see many friends here tonight. We’ve worked together on so many shared priorities, whether it was passing my Autism CARES Act of 2019, which for the first time recognized the lifelong needs of people with autism; or protecting $41 million for Picatinny Arsenal from being diverted to the border wall; or securing the upgraded rating for the replacement of the Portal Bridge.   

But as you all know, on nights like this one, I’m not one for laundry lists. When we have New Jersey’s private and public sector leaders together in one room, I like to focus on the bigger challenges of our time.  

In the past I’ve called on corporate leaders to take action on issues like gun violence and immigration.  And many of you answered the call: From Wyndham Hotels, Chubb and others cutting ties with the NRA; to the Amicus Brief defending protections for Dreamers signed by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Prudential Financial and the New Jersey Chamber itself. 

Tonight, I will again raise another great challenge; perhaps the greatest long-term threat to the security and prosperity of our state, nation, and the world:  The threat posed by climate change. 

For decades, the scientists who warned us were shrugged off as alarmists. But it turns out they were right – we are hurling towards a climate cliff and if we don’t change course, we risk doing irreversible damage.

There’s now near universal recognition that man-made carbon emissions are warming our planet. According to NOAA, the hottest January on record was this past January. The hottest decade on record was this past decade. And the past five years were the warmest years on record.

This month alone, temperatures in Antarctica reached a record-breaking 65 degrees.

Meanwhile, the Arctic is warming at twice as fast as the rest of the world. And as the ice caps melt, our sea levels rise, posing an existential threat to New Jersey’s environment, our economy, and our entire way of life.  

From raging wildfires to more powerful storms, the consequences of unchecked climate change are not up for debate.  According to Rutgers University research, over the last century sea levels in our region rose almost a foot and a half – compared to 7.6 inches worldwide. And they will continue to rise until we take action.[1]

I don’t need to tell anyone in this room that the Jersey Shore is a national treasure. We must protect it.  Millions of New Jersey families depend on a safe climate and healthy coast to support everything from our tourism and commercial fishing industries to coastal properties valued at $800 billion. 

We in New Jersey have seen it firsthand. We bore the brunt of Superstorm Sandy.

We watched deadly storm surge wipe away entire neighborhoods, powerful floods submerge small shore towns and large cities, and critical infrastructure take a beating. 

Of course, climate change brings more than rising sea levels. A recent Washington Post analysis of NOAA data found that over the last century, New Jersey’s temperatures have increased by nearly two degrees Celsius—twice the average rate of the rest of the lower 48. Towns like Lake Hopatcong have seen the summer swimming season fall victim to unsafe algae blooms and winter ice skating business melt away.

And as our health experts know, climate change threatens public health, from driving up asthma rates to increasing exposure to tick-borne and mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Simply put, New Jersey is uniquely imperiled by climate change. But compounding the threat are policies that risk taking us backwards.

It took us years to convince the Obama Administration to adopt a five-year ban on drilling in the Atlantic. But now we have an Administration actively working to open up our pristine coast to offshore oil drilling. 

They’re also dismantling the safety standards we put in place after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. That’s right – they don’t just want more drilling, they want more unsafe drilling – drilling that is more likely to cause spills, cost lives and ruin communities.  

Likewise, the President’s team is working to throw out the strong car fuel economy standards we have in states like California and New Jersey.  As if there are consumers clamoring to pay more at the pump, or families who want their children breathing in more smog. 

From abandoning the Paris Climate Accord to rolling back President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, this Administration is ceding U.S. global leadership on climate change and dismantling our nation’s only tools for keeping emissions in check – all for the sake of a Big Oil donor base.

Meanwhile, even the President’s own Defense Department understands the threat!

Nearly half of DoD sites already face risks from climate change and extreme weather events. And our military leaders warn of climate change’s role as a threat multiplier worldwide.

As Ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this is the stuff that keeps me up at night.

We’re talking about unprecedented disruptions to global food supplies. Storms that cost economies billions of dollars and destabilize global markets. Rising temperatures and sea levels that drive migration unlike anything we’ve ever seen. 

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that we can prevent such chaos – so long as we cut carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of taking action. Superstorm Sandy alone inflicted $72 billion worth of damage. And every year without action, our targets get harder to meet. 

Consider this. If the world aggressively acted back in 2010, we would have only had to reduce carbon emissions by 3.3 percent per year. But today? We are tasked with cutting emissions by more than 7 percent PER YEAR year between now and 2030.[2] 

We can’t afford another lost decade. We must answer the climate threat. 

We can start by killing off truly bad ideas – like bringing offshore drilling to the Jersey Shore.  That’s why I reintroduced the COAST Anti-Drilling Act to permanently ban drilling and seismic testing in the Atlantic – with record support. We must also pass bold legislation to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, like my colleagues and I have proposed with the Clean Economy Act.

I want to commend those who are already taking action, from Governor Murphy’s focus on making New Jersey a climate leader to PSEG’s commitment to make its power plants net-zero emitters by 2050. 

But we must do more. We could create thousands of good-paying Jersey jobs by dramatically investing in renewable energy. Take the wind power company Orsted, which opened a new office in Atlantic City in 2018. Their Ocean Wind project is expected to boost in-state spending by up to $695 million and create up to 3,500 construction jobs and 369 long-term jobs. 

And that’s just for one project. Imagine if our wind energy sector took off statewide.

That’s one of the reasons I’m fighting for the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act – to help make New Jersey a leader in offshore wind.  

We also need to think big on infrastructure. Transportation will continue to drive significant carbon emissions in the coming years.[3]  We must invest in multimodal transit, including rail systems that emit far less carbon per passenger than cars. Creating options beyond sitting in traffic won’t just reduce pollution and help us reach our climate goals, but eliminate a whole lot of commuter headaches too.

It’s just one more reason we must build Gateway. Yes, the Portal Bridge finally won that upgraded rating—but this delay should have never happened in the first place!

And the Hudson River tunnels remain mired in the Administration’s bureaucratic graveyard.

Enough is enough! The Northeast Corridor supports 20% of our national GDP. 

This is the most economically vital infrastructure project in America!  We can get Gateway done cheaper, better, and faster with this Administration fully onboard – and avoid the kind of transportation Armageddon that would grind the Northeast Corridor to a halt and could cost our economy $100 million a day.[4]

My friends, when it comes to advocating for climate solutions, I will always strive to do my part. What I want everyone in this room to ask themselves is, are you doing yours? 

I will continue calling for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris agreement. Fighting for infrastructure. Pushing for bold climate legislation.  But we have a serious problem when so many in Washington still put fossil fuel profits above the future of our planet.  

Some of my colleagues on the other side understand the threat. But they fear the political consequences of going against the grain.

Well, it won’t be Democrats like me who change their calculus. It will be leaders like you.  Many of you have extensive footprints in other states. Imagine if you raised climate change to those public officials at your next meeting. 

Imagine if they couldn’t count on your PAC contributions so long as they denied the science. Imagine if companies in every sector – not just energy – incorporated reducing emissions into your business plans.  

Some of you command tremendous assets. We all heard about JP Morgan’s recent decision to suspend lending for drilling in the Arctic. I say it’s time to think even bigger. We must invest more in the green energy of the future than the dirty energy of the past.

Think of the influence in this room. You are innovators. Small business owners. Investors and industry leaders. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – when you take principled stands, it echoes throughout the halls of Congress. It turns heads. It makes policymakers think twice. 

We are staring at two future — one in which we shrink in the face of the climate challenge, just because change is hard.  We give up on treasures like the Jersey Shore. We let China win the green energy race. We allow the climate deniers to keep calling the shots. We let the Earth grow warmer. Sea levels creep higher. Global instability run wild. 

I believe there’s a better way. A future in which we do not cling to the status quo, but rise to the challenge together. A future in which we view limits on carbon emissions not as costly government mandates but as opportunities to innovate. A future in which American companies invent, sell, and build the energy solutions of tomorrow to the benefit of our nation and countless others worldwide 

I know which future I want — I see it every time I look into my granddaughters’ eyes. They’re on a day trip to the Jersey Shore. Eating ice cream on the boardwalk. Treating their own children to rollercoaster rides powered not by fossil fuels but by wind turbines blowing in the distance, or perhaps some new technology we haven’t heard of yet.

In that future, the world still grapples with climate risk, but the crisis has subsided. Indeed the history books say that 2020 was the year the tides began to turn. Because of elected officials willing to stand up for clean energy.  

Because of corporate leaders willing to put their dollars, their voices, and their companies behind solutions. Because of every day New Jerseyans who stood up for clean air and water, for environmental justice, for sustainable communities, and demanded a brighter future for their children.

Let that brighter future start right here, tonight, in this very room. Let us keep the Jersey Shore in our hearts. Let us harness the innovation in our blood. And let us pave the way for New Jersey to lead. 

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