Senator Ronald L. Rice Senator, Chair of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, today issued the following statement on the proposed Board of Public Utilities’ Straw Proposal for New Jersey’s Energy Efficiency and Peak Demand Reduction Programs with his conditional support based on seizing the opportunity to harness real benefits for minority and marginalized residents:

As Chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, I have written to New Jersey Board of Public
Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso to commend the Board’s attention to the important issues of energy efficiency access, decreased ratepayer burden and expanded economic opportunities to already burdened urban communities. Any public utility measure that demonstrates a reverence for our planet and conserves its resources in this time of ecological imbalance, is noble and laudable, and New Jersey stands at the national vanguard in its efforts.

That said, I have strong concerns over the absence of Straw Proposal specifics that would safeguard and ensure positive outcomes for low- and moderate-income families and individuals. Without a concentrated focus on marginalized residents and the particulars of their housing structure and home economics, the working poor, urban and minority homeowners will be excluded from the Straw Proposals important energy and cost saving provisions. Similarly, People of Color, women, and the under- and unemployed must be prioritized as potential employees and as integral contributors to industry growth.

Sign Up for Bloomfield Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

While my letter applauded the Board’s commitment to mitigate climate change, lower consumer costs and incentivize economic opportunity, it stressed the vital imperative of putting New Jersey’s Blacks, People of Color, minorities and women at the forefront of their endeavors. As a founding member of the New Jersey Black Elected Officials Statewide Policy Alliance, I cautioned:

        Environmental Justice … is never in a separate context from our fight for Economic Justice for people            of color. Our focus embraces jobs, contracts and business opportunities that are denied to people of              color and women in the environment and energy fields.

        Environmental groups lobby to clean up urban and minority communities but, in most instances, they              do not prioritize … the awarding of contracts, jobs and income to Blacks and other ethnic minorities.              Without inviting people of color and women to share in profit-making and economic advancement, the            ‘environmental’ agenda is not necessarily our agenda.

         If we fully invest now, [The Straw Proposal] will reduce the burden for consumers and significantly                 reduce the negative effects of climate change. However, we must fully invest, and not underestimate             the costs necessary to achieve proposal objectives and effective implementation of energy efficiency             programs in low- and moderate-income communities.

        Recent studies have revealed that more low-income families reside in owned single-family homes than          originally thought, but that many of these homes may have underlying issues that must be resolved               before effective energy efficiency strategies can be implemented….Addressing barriers such as home           suitability, trust, consumer costs, credit worthiness and other factors will be costly and are conditions              precedent to successful energy efficiency implementation.

Setting the right framework for the investments and the financing of the programs can yield to realsavings to these already burdened customers. Being sensitive to customer bills at this time is more
important than ever. As the country rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, Straw Proposal training,
employment, contracting opportunities and supplier chain investments in targeted low- and moderate-
income communities will be effective strategies to compliment economic stimulus implemented at the
federal level.

Now is the time to harness the full scope of these programs and harvest the greatest benefit. Let’s work
together to ensure that New Jersey leads the nation in both compassionate care of our planet and
progressive empowerment of our people!