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- New Jersey Gaslighting
New Jersey Gaslighting
This Week's Trend In Brief:
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s administration spent the summer trying to explain how a ban is not actually a ban on not just one but two different fronts, with Murphy assuring residents “No one is coming for anyone’s gas stove” or will “be forced to do anything, in any way.”
Murphy’s dissemblance came after his administration followed California’s initiative to phase out the sale of gas-powered vehicles after 2035 and put forward a three-year energy efficiency plan that would discourage natural gas usage in homes and new buildings.
Following a similar pattern to what we observed back in January when Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka ignited a war on gas stoves at the federal level, the New Jersey Governor’s team quickly shifted to damage control mode over both measures, and many in the media dutifully provided cover.
The kerfuffles highlight the current state of the climate debate, in which government bodies take aggressive action under pressure from climate activists but deflect when constituents catch wind of the tradeoffs and costs those policies bring to their daily lives.
This debate is playing out in numerous jurisdictions well beyond Washington or Trenton, and industry representatives – whether they favor traditional or renewable energy – will need to anticipate how this narrative is shaped, and what it will take to navigate the debate with their interests protected.
Over the summer, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s administration approved a suite of decarbonization measures as part of a three-year energy efficiency plan that discourages natural gas use in homes, then promptly denied he “is coming for anyone’s gas stove.” Republican lawmakers in New Jersey instantly criticized the Murphy Administration, accusing it of attempting to ban gas stoves, and trade associations in the state condemned what they called an “unconstitutional electrification mandate.” Murphy quickly reassured state residents that “No one is coming for anyone’s gas stove” or will “be forced to do anything, in any way,” and his public utility commission claimed concerned parties were “fearmongering” and spreading misinformation.
Murphy also announced his state would ban car dealers in New Jersey from selling fossil fuel-powered cars by 2035, following California’s similar initiative, even as his administration insists it is protecting New Jersey consumers’ choice in vehicles. California has consistently led the fight targeting natural gas in homes and gas-powered cars over the past five years, and New Jersey is one of the seventeen states that have pledged to follow California’s lead on climate policy, despite criticism from even Democratic lawmakers in the state who oppose bans on “gas-powered consumer products like vehicles or stoves,” and polling that shows a majority of New Jersey residents believe Murphy’s focus should be on other issues in the state. Not surprisingly then, his climate advisor claimed, “There’s a lot of misinformation about” the ban on gas-powered cars because “More than 50% of vehicles that are sold in the state are used. And there is absolutely no change to the used vehicle market,” plus, “you could go to another state that has not adopted (this regulation),” meaning “choices abound.”
The backlash to Murphy’s policies follow a similar pattern to what we observed back in January when Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka ignited a war on gas stoves at the federal level that officials and the media denied was happening. After Trumka called gas stoves a “hidden hazard” and suggested they could be banned, The White House and CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric immediately walked back his statement and the media dutifully provided cover. Factcheck.org declared “Republicans pounced” on Trumka’s statement, while outlets like The Philadelphia Inquirer ran headlines such as “Calm down, the government isn’t coming for your gas stove.” The media in New Jersey provided similar cover for Murphy, quickly asserting “No, NJ didn’t ban your gas stove — despite what some Republican lawmakers said,” and accusing Republicans of using the issue to oppose Murphy’s “ambitious” climate plans. As we noted in January, despite the denials, “the Biden Administration’s whole of government approach to climate policy includes several regulatory and legislative initiatives to electrify buildings and incentivize or restrict gas appliances.” So too does Governor Murphy’s climate efforts.
The movement targeting natural gas usage in homes and vehicles highlights the current state of the climate debate, in which government take aggressive climate action under pressure from climate activists then balks when constituents recognize how these policies will impact their lives. The Consumer Energy Alliance, for example, found a single piece of Murphy’s climate plan that targets natural gas usage in homes could cost households in the state an average of more than $28,000. A separate study found it would cost at least $65 billion to retrofit buildings in New Jersey to remove gas stoves and heat pumps. Not surprising for a state in which many residents identify themselves with particular highway exits, the vast majority of New Jersey residents are likewise skeptical of a ban on gas vehicles.
New Jersey is not alone in its pursuit of electrification policies, and the debate is playing out in numerous jurisdictions beyond Washington or Trenton. Industry representatives, whether they favor traditional or renewable energy, will need to anticipate how this narrative is shaped and what it will take to navigate the debate with their interests protected. Try as activists, officials and the media might to deny what their policies do, Americans have a way of figuring out the truth. It will be crucial for industry public affairs professionals to ensure they do so before it is too late to correct policy missteps and high costs in the process.
Trends in Energy is your weekly look at key trends affecting the energy industry, brought to you by the competitive intelligence experts at Delve. As the political and regulatory landscape continues to shift, reach out to learn how our insights can help you navigate these challenges.