By Maria Lopez-Nunez, Melissa Miles and Amanda Devecka-Rinear
No one can truly understand a disaster unless they have lived through it. We’re all living through COVID-19 now, but for many of us, this is only the latest disaster.
President Joe Biden has made economic recovery and responding to the climate crisis key priorities and hopes to roll out trillions of dollars in spending on infrastructure and green energy.
Several members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation will play a critical role in shaping this legislation, particularly Rep. Frank Pallone, D-Monmouth, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will be tasked with writing the bill.
While this is promising, there has been no shortage of promises made to our communities. That’s why a ground-breaking new generation of leaders at opens in a new window NJ THRIVES is stepping on the scene. For too long, outsiders have shaped and decided what is best for frontline communities. NJ THRIVES is committed to building a future for New Jersey where all of us matter. It’s a future to heal our lands from a toxic past and restore our communities, where we are ready for flooding and storms, where our kids can count on good jobs, clean air to breathe, and where we protect our air and water for future generations. It’s a future where we thrive.
Powerful corporate interests have long used their political connections to profit at the expense of New Jersey residents. They have concentrated toxic industries in working-class communities, polluting our air and leaving behind a legacy of contamination like that of the opens in a new windowFord Factory in Ringwood. While we bear the brunt of waste and pollution, our communities are already feeling the impacts of the climate crisis — from heat waves to superstorms.
Our groups have already demonstrated an ability to shape powerful environmental legislation. Last year, we worked with Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers to opens in a new window pass a landmark law that recognized the disproportionate burden that frontline communities have borne from generations of pollution and environmental degradation. After Sandy, we won rental assistance and foreclosure protections for families fighting their way home.
Increased opens in a new window coastal flooding and more frequent storms threaten the working class back bay communities located just miles from the Jersey Shore barrier islands, cities like Atlantic City, Camden and Newark are vulnerable. We face a threat to our communities and to our way of life.
The current crisis also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to break through cycles of disinvestment and systemic racism by leveraging the massive investment required to curb climate change in order to build back a fairer economy that extends opportunities to families that have been traditionally
As President Biden and our elected leaders plan for investments in industries like solar, wind and green infrastructure, they must expand opportunities to the very families that have borne the brunt of prior, failed policies. There must be no false solutions like incineration as renewable energy or carbon trading instead of mandating pollution reduction at the source, or increasing flood insurance instead of addressing the root causes of flooding.
Officials have said thousands of additional jobs could also be created if the state achieves its goal of becoming a opens in a new windowwind-manufacturing epicenter. Most jobs will stem from a few key locations within the state: The Paulsboro Marine Terminal in Gloucester County, a yet-to-be-built Wind Port in Salem County, onshore operations and maintenance facilities in Atlantic City, and a yet-to-be located Wind Institute.
These principles need to be expanded on a statewide scale, funded by resources that only the federal government can bring to bear to tackle problems like Superfund sites that mar our neighborhoods and an aging housing stock that drives up utility costs for seniors living on fixed incomes.
Our coalition is prepared to work with elected officials at every level to help them realize this future and end the era of insider-driven politics in Trenton. Frontline communities have the solutions, they must lead the way not be on the margins. NJ THRIVES will bring the strength of our communities to the forefront through place-based wisdom of opens in a new windowRamapough Culture and Land Foundation, opens in a new windowSouth Ward Environmental Alliance, opens in a new windowNew Jersey Organizing Project and opens in a new windowIronbound Community Corporation; the community-driven policy approaches from opens in a new windowNew Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance and opens in a new windowFair Share Housing Center; and the mega-organizing power of opens in a new windowWorking Families Party and opens in a new windowSEIU 32 BJ.
Getting the country and New Jersey back on track will require the help of the experts — the folks who are most directly impacted by the climate crisis, systemic racism and classism, all compounded by COVID-19. This is an invitation to listen deeply to the visions of frontline communities to get us closer to an equitable and fairer New Jersey.
Maria Lopez-Nunez is the deputy director, organizing and advocacy for the Ironbound Community Corporation.
Melissa Miles is the executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance.https://68754b9d4eb02528fe218df8b5368181.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Amanda Devecka-Rinear is the executive director of the New Jersey Organizing Project. All three serve on the steering committee of NJ THRIVES.