If you’re of a certain age, New Jersey brings to mind Bruce Springsteen and … songs that feature cars: Born to Run, Thunder Road, Racing in the Street, Cadillac Ranch, Drive All Night, Used Cars. You get the idea. The characters in Bruce’s songs “hit the gas” in cars that are “chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected” so they can tear “up the highway like a big old dinosaur.”
The romance of the open road will always be a powerful metaphor in American popular music. But the Springsteens of the future will need to find new language to describe traveling it — thanks in part to the groundbreaking, climate-protecting legislation signed on Jan. 17 by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and backed by Environment New Jersey, part of The Public Interest Network.
Under the new law, New Jersey will race ahead to a future where drivers may tap an accelerator pedal, but “hitting the gas” will be as anachronistic as “dialing a phone.” The steps mandated by the law include:
• 330,000 electric vehicles (EVs) on New Jersey roads (including Highway 9) by 2025.
• Up to $5,000 rebates for new EV purchases.
• High-speed EV charging stations on major roadways in downtowns across the state.
• A requirement that NJ Transit purchase only electric buses by 2032.
These steps will make it easier for New Jerseyans to buy an electric car, find a charging station and ride an electric bus — and put a big dent in New Jersey’s climate-changing carbon emissions. But the hope behind the law is even bolder: that these changes will accelerate the state’s arrival at an elusive, but mission-critical destination for the planet: zero-carbon transportation.
“Starting today, New Jersey will take its rightful place as a leader in the electric vehicle revolution that is changing the way Americans drive,” said Gov. Murphy at the signing.
Which is super-cool for New Jersey. But the hope, too, is that the law’s effects will be felt beyond the Garden State — an echo of what happened more than 15 years ago.
Starting in California in 2002, our network advocated for and won groundbreaking Clean Car standards limiting tailpipe emissions. New Jersey was the first state to win clean cars legislatively in 2004. Over eight years, thanks to our efforts, Connecticut, Washington state, Vermont, New York, Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Delaware all followed suit. In 2009, we and our allies campaigned successfully to convince the Obama administration to adopt clean cars at the federal level.
All along the way, as those people of a certain age can tell you, America’s air has gotten noticeably cleaner. We’ve also kept making steady, if fitful progress in tackling the climate crisis.
Then, as now, the victories were the products of advocacy and organizing. Environment New Jersey State Director Doug O’Malley has championed the new EV bill for two years — hosting EV Ride and Drives across the state to spread awareness, testifying in support of the legislation, and serving as president of ChargEVC New Jersey, a state-wide EV coalition.
Now we’re challenging more states to catch up to, or even pass, New Jersey on the race to that zero-carbon destination. To paraphrase a certain aging troubadour, it’s time to make that highway run … not on fossil fuels, but on the carbon-free power of the sun and the wind.