Dunellen Mayor Jason Cilento: A climate issue Republicans and Democrats should agree on
A climate issue that Republicans and Democrats should agree on
By Dunellen Mayor Jason Cilento
Whatever your politics, no one likes being lied to.
But nearly all of us have been deceived for decades about something that is now costing New Jersey a fortune: climate change. The liars are multi-billion dollar oil and gas companies that, like the tobacco and opioid industries before them, have waged massive public relations campaigns to mislead the public about the known dangers of their products and the costs. that they would impose on all of us.
Fossil fuels cause climate change, but the companies that produce and sell them have long tried to hide that fact to keep us hooked. For New Jersey and the borough of Dunellen, where I have the privilege of being mayor, we are paying the price for more devastating floods, storms and heat waves. These disasters impose an enormous burden on our infrastructure, and the bill is constantly falling on the taxpayers. It’s time for the companies that are knowingly fueling this crisis, and profiting from it, to help upgrade our infrastructure.
If you haven’t heard this story, I urge everyone to watch the recent PBS Frontline special, “The power of big oil companies” which says it in depth: As early as the 1970s, Exxon scientists told executives that the unrestricted use of fossil fuels could cause, in their own words, “catastrophic events” that “may not be reversible”. But over the following decades, oil executives chose to fund climate denial rather than support bipartisan solutions.
After watching “The Power of Big Oil,” it’s hard not to conclude that if you or someone you know has ever doubted the reality of climate change, chances are you’ve been unwittingly misled by experts, politicians or fake advertisements that may be related to the oil industry.
I say this as a proud Republican. I support American business, free enterprise and free markets. But for free markets to work, companies must play by the rules. Don’t lie about the products they sell. If a company does not play fair, it must face the appropriate consequences. I’m not saying rid the market of fossil fuels, it’s an energy source we rely on, but there needs to be more transparency and accountability.
As the documentary shows, leading Republicans were also victims of Big Oil’s deception. Former U.S. Senator and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who helped industry oppose an international climate deal, said if he had known what Exxon knew at the time, ” that would have changed everything.”
“I was misled. Others were misled,” Hagel said. “When they had evidence in their own institutions that contradicted what they said publicly…they lied.”
As a fiscal conservative and mayor responsible for a municipal budget, I am alarmed by the growing price climate change is creating for communities like Dunellen, which have long prided themselves on affordability and responsible spending.
About one in four households in Dunellen are in FEMA-designated flood zones. When our waterways overflow, as they did during Ida, municipalities and landowners may qualify for federal relief, but that relief takes time and always ultimately comes from the taxpayers. Hurricane Ida cost our little borough close to a million dollars. Long-term protection for New Jersey will be expensive: $16 billion to counter backbay flooding; $25 billion to combat sea level rise.
Meanwhile, the oil companies responsible for those costs are making record profits – more than $170 billion last year – while charging working families record prices at the pump.
New Jerseyans may disagree on the best approach to climate change, and that’s healthy for our society. But I believe there could be common ground on the issue of infrastructure costs – and who should pay them. Rather than relying solely on the taxpayer, we should make the polluters pay.
Several communities – including Hoboken – have taken oil companies to court to make them pay for the damages they have caused. If New Jersey takes similar action, I would support it and call on my fellow Republicans to do so as well. As 2021 Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli said after Hurricane Ida, “we’re going through something when it comes to our climate.” It’s time we saw this as a bipartisan issue about simple fairness. Republicans, Democrats and Independents can all agree that polluters, not taxpayers, should help pay to help clean up their mess.
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