Gottheimer Announces New Five-Point Green Action Plan

May 07, 2019
Press

Green Action Plan Aimed at Protecting Air, Water, and Open Space Today and for Future Generations

Today, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced his Five-Point Green Action Plan to ensure concrete steps are being taken to protect our air, water, and all of our open spaces today and for generations to come.

The five points of Gottheimer’s Green Action Plan include:

  1. Fighting for Clean, Lead-free Water in Our Schools and Communities 
  2. Protecting our Cherished Parks, Natural Treasures, and Open Spaces 
  3. Working Quickly and Globally to Tackle Climate Change
  4. Protecting the Jersey Shore from Off-shore Drilling
  5. Combating Toxic Dumping in Our Communities

Gottheimer’s Green Action Plan thinks big and sets significant, long-term goals for the climate. The Green Action Plan also reflects Gottheimer’s environmental record by taking practical steps that, by working together, can be achieved in the short term.

“We’ve laid out an aggressive agenda today, but every prong is doable, practical, and possible to accomplish right now. After all, protecting our environment should be something that everyone, Democrats and Republicans, should come together around,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Together, we can rid our schools of lead water, support the bipartisan fund to protect our Appalachian Trail and open spaces, work around the world to keep our air and water clean, stop off-shore drilling, and combat toxic dirt piles wherever they may be.”

“Congressman Gottheimer is continuing to deliver on his commitment to protecting New Jersey’s families and environment with the release of his Five-Point Green Action Plan,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “Our children and grandchildren will benefit from Congressman Gottheimer’s bipartisan efforts to clean up legacy toxic pollution, combat climate change, protect our coastal economy, natural lands and coasts from off shore oil and gas exploitation, and safeguard clean drinking water.” 

“LCV applauds Representative Gottheimer for taking quick action to build upon the recent passage of the first pro-climate action bill in the U.S. House in almost a decade and putting forth a plan to protect New Jersey’s air and water for future generations,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, the League of Conservation Voters Senior Vice President of Government Affairs. “Congressman Gottheimer’s continued leadership on the environment and public health is a benefit to every New Jersey family.”

“We are proud to be standing here with Congressman Gottheimer to work together to protect our environment. We are here in support of the Congressman’s Green Action Plan. He is becoming a leader for the environment on a national and state level by protecting open space, clean air, and clean water. He is leading the charge to combat New Jersey’s lead problem in our drinking water. The Congressman is also standing up to the Administration’s disastrous offshore drilling plan off our precious Jersey Shore,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, at an event earlier today. “Congressman Gottheimer is also working with communities like Vernon to end their toxic nightmare of illegal dumping. He is taking the lead to work with our legislators and come up with a long-term fix to this problem in Vernon and many other places in New Jersey. He is working to make New Jersey and the country a better place environmentally.”

Read an overview of the legislation here.

Video of the announcement can be found here.

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

It’s great to be here in beautiful Alpine with you all today – I’m glad the sun pushed through the clouds. Thank you to Mayor Tomasko for having us in Alpine today. Thanks to my friend, Jeff Tittel, the Senior Chapter Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, for being here this morning, for his regular counsel, and for all the work he does to keep our air and water clean – and for keeping all of our feet to the fire. I’d also like to thank, Ed Potosnak, the Executive Director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, and for LCV’s important role here and in Washington, protecting open spaces here, and always pushing for smart solutions.

I am here this morning, in this breathtaking setting, to announce my Five-Point Green Action Plan — to ensure we are taking concrete steps to protect our air and water and all of our open spaces today and for generations to come. No more lead in our water fountains at school, no more toxic-laced dirt piles, no more go-it-alone climate policy, no drilling off of our Jersey shores.

Now, as ever, reaching this goal isn’t as simple as it sounds. After all, protecting our environment should be something that everyone, Democrats and Republicans, should all come together around. We should all agree that our ultimate goal is to get off of our dependence on foreign oil, to invest in alternative energy and new technologies, and to do whatever we practically can to keep our air and water clean. More than anything, like President Kennedy declared in his moonshot speech, we should all be thinking big and set significant, long-term goals for our climate, for alternative energies, and for our energy independence. If we don’t think big, we will never get there.

But, part of our environmental strategy, as my record reflects, must also include protecting our air and water and our parks and public spaces right now. We must take practical steps that, working together, we can achieve in the short term.  After all, if we cut off our oil supply now, or shut down our natural gas production, our country and economy would come to a screeching halt. We couldn’t light our schools and hospitals, drive our kids to baseball practice, or even run our solar panel factories.

Studies show that it will take us at least until 2030 for renewable energies to replace just 25 percent of our daily energy needs. In fact, as you know, we still can’t store mass amounts of solar energy, so it’s hard to rely on that power when the sun isn’t out. And there’s just not enough wind to meet our current energy demand.

I drive a Ford Escape Hybrid. I’ve owned plug-in hybrids, too. I always had to remember that when I put the plug into the socket at night, there wasn’t a magical place on the other end. It was a power plant. These are just the facts. But, even as we deal with these realities, we must always be thinking about how we can do it better. It’s a false choice to say we can’t grow our economy and grow our environment. I understand, like most, for now, that we need an all-of-the-above approach to energy. But, ultimately, we’ve got to get off foreign oil with more wind and solar and other alternative sources of energy — and we should push it hard. And we should take every practical step possible to protect and grow our open spaces, and keep our air and water safe, and free from toxins that will do our children or families harm. That’s the real way we have to deal with the world we’re living in.

As President Teddy Roosevelt said, “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

My point, as President Roosevelt stressed, is that part of any environmental strategy has to think short-term, and long-term, and it has to include practical solutions – solutions that we can actually get done now — what we can do here and now to protect our climate, ensure that our water is safe to drink, and that our national parks, forest, lakes, rivers and oceans stay clean.

That’s really what I want to dig into today. It’s what my Five-Point Green Action Plan is all about. Real environmental action – because, like all of us, I want to get things done and find solutions that are practical, bipartisan, and achievable – and that can get done and have a real green impact now.

The first cornerstone of my Green Action Plan is clear: We must fight for clean water for our children, for our seniors, for all of our families. I hear from so many parents concerned about lead in the drinking water at their child’s school or from the faucet in their own home. We read about it all the time. One headline in the Record screamed “Elevated lead found in water in six of seven Bergenfield public schools.” Another recent headline declared, “Elevated lead levels found in drinking water in Bergen, Hudson county homes.”    

This is unacceptable, but it’s not surprising given how old our infrastructure is in many of our communities.  Some of our schools date back more than a hundred years, our water fountains are decades old, and many of our homes pre-date the 1980s, when we built homes with lead-coated pipes. We know what lead it can do to our children – their development can be delayed, they face learning disabilities, and become prone to appetite and weight loss. In the worst cases, children can develop permanent damage to their kidneys and nervous systems. They can experience seizures, hearing loss, and vomiting. And the greatest risk is to brain development, with subtle and irreversible damage.

It’s no wonder so many moms and dads are worried in every corner of my District. Parents want information. They don’t know if the water in their kids’ school is lead-free. They don’t know what’s in the fountains and sinks. And, more than anything, they want to know what we can – and should – be doing about it.

I don’t want any parent, here in the Fifth District, our state, or across the country, to have to worry if the water their child drinks contains lead. As parents, we have a right to know what’s in our kids’ water. We have a right to know that our children will be safe at their schools.

In the coming weeks, I will also be reintroducing my bipartisan Lead-Free Schools Act, which will require testing in schools for lead in the drinking water. My legislation increases the resources available to our schools to help test drinking water, in our school’s dozens of water fountains and sinks. That’s thousands of dollars per school that many of our communities in Bergen, Passaic, Sussex, and Warren counties simply can’t afford.

Second, my bill requires that school districts, via the state, report annually on a user-friendly website the status and outcome of lead water testing, this transparency will have a huge impact in empowering parents.

In New Jersey, we also need to start enforcing the laws we have on the books that let parents know if there is lead in their child’s school.

The law requires the annual testing and public release of schools with lead-tainted water — but we don’t know if it’s being followed. It’s outrageous.

In 2017, it was reported that only 95 school districts out of nearly 600 in New Jersey had forwarded information describing positive lead test results to the Department of Education. These reports show that among those 95 districts, more than 300 schools had tested positive for lead. In these 95 districts, at least 14,598 water outlets were tested, and of those outlets tested, 8.1 percent exceeded the threshold for lead in drinking water.

I’ve even written to the Governor about this multiple times – as recently as January. Crickets. I haven’t heard a word back about why we aren’t demanding more accountability to help stop lead-tainted water in our schools.

I’m also working with local and private utilities to hold them accountable for replacing, at a faster pace, old, lead-tainted pipes that are harming our children’s drinking water. 

In Congress, I am also strongly supportive of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which I have advocated for year-in and year-out, which claws federal resources back to local communities for state safe water programs. I’m also working with Democrats and Republicans to pass a significant infrastructure plan that includes addressing our aging water systems.

The second prong of my five-point Green Action Plan takes on issue that should be a no brainer – preserving our state and federal parks, waterways, trails, and open spaces.  I’m very blessed to have the most beautiful District in the state. Just look around us!

All seventy-two miles of the scenic Appalachian Trail that runs through New Jersey goes directly through the Fifth District — right in our backyard. I’m fighting to make sure our very own sliver of this national treasure is protected and that it remains untarnished. That’s why I support the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the bipartisan legislation that protects and invests in the Appalachian Trail and other federally-protected areas throughout the country.

I’m also making sure we claw back federal resources for the 70,000-acre lynchpin of the Warren County ecosystem — the magnificent Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.  It includes three states and is one of our nation’s jewels. If you haven’t spent time canoeing, swimming, camping, or fishing there – it’s a must do!

Speaking of beautiful stretches of the Garden States, the third leg of my Green Action Plan is all about protecting our beaches and shores from off-shore drilling.   The calculus is simple: the risk of a massive oil spill of our beautiful beaches is just too risky, not just to our oceans and wildlife, but to our tourism and eco-economy.  To help protect the Jersey Shore, I helped introduce the COAST Anti-Drilling Act, bipartisan legislation that will permanently prohibit drilling off the Atlantic Coast.  I’ve also worked with Democrats and Republicans in our Congressional delegation to urge the Secretary of the Interior to halt any plans to drilling off of our coast.

Fourth, one thing you learn from staring at the ocean, is just how interconnected our world is.  A spill that happens off the Jersey Shore or off the Pacific, or overfishing, has a real impact on the coastlines of Asia, Europe, South and Central America, and Africa.  The same goes for our air.  If one nation pours a plume of coal ash into their skies, it affects our climate, too.  In other words, we are all in this together – and we have to tackle it, and take green action, together. 

That’s why I co-sponsored and voted for H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act, which requires the United States to meet its international commitments to the Paris Agreement. This legislation also helps the United States ensure other countries are fulfilling their obligations. It’s outrageous that we are planning to walk away from 194 other countries that have all committed to joint action to combat climate change. We need to get back to the table.

Finally, the fifth prong of my Green Action Plan takes on an issue that’s become very personal to me – and issue that’s affecting far too many of my constituents, especially in the western part of my District: illicit dumping of waste and other toxic materials. It has to end right now.  I dove head first into this issue with local elected officials and community activists in Vernon, led by Mayor Harry Shortway, and helped by a tireless investigative reporter at the Herald.  Together, we’ve taken on the Vernon Waste Mountain, and a convicted illegal dumper, who, for years, has been trucking in waste from out-of-state, into our pristine Highlands, with little or no accountability. Now, we are working to stop another polluter in Wantage. 

I’ve urged the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to use its enforcement authority to conduct further testing of the Vernon Waste Mountain, to ensure our families and communities are safe, and illegal dump toxic solid waste at the site ceases immediately.  The DEP Commissioner will be briefing and taking questions from the community on May 20th because the people of Vernon deserve to know whether their air and water are clean, and their families are safe from lead and any carcinogens.

Unfortunately, these illegal dirt piles aren’t limited to Sussex County; they’re all over Jersey. We have people coming from all states dumping concrete, tar, rebar – and other toxins – without any kind of permit.  It’s time we pass tougher legislation that’s long sitting in the State House to give more teeth to our local law enforcement to stop these polluters and help keep our communities safe and clean. I plan to work with State elected officials to do just that.

Finally, on the same vein, after years of neglect and lack of support for Superfund cleanup, New Jersey has been left with the most Superfund sites in the entire country. I’ve been fighting to claw back much needed federal resources to New Jersey to keep our Superfund Program funded, so that we can safely clean up toxic sites throughout the Fifth District and throughout the entire state.

I am going to review the EPA decision that came out yesterday on the Ringwood Superfund site. We must make sure we are protecting this environment. I will be speaking with the EPA for a full briefing on these issues.

We’ve laid out an aggressive agenda today. But every prong is doable, practical, and possible to accomplish right now. Most of everything we discussed today has bipartisan support. It’s what we must do in Washington, and here with our State partners, to make sure our children and families have clean air and clean water – today and tomorrow. Together, we can rid our schools of lead water, support the bipartisan fund to protect our Appalachian Trail and open spaces, work around the world to keep our air and water clean, stop off-shore drilling, and combat toxic dirt piles wherever they may be.

My Five-Point Green Action Plan helps ensure that, here in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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