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Democrat state sues Biden admin over ‘climate plan’

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat, revealed on Friday that his administration had initiated a legal challenge against the U.S. federal government. The dispute centers on the federal approval of a New York scheme to alleviate traffic congestion.

The lawsuit sees New Jersey pitted against the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Governor Murphy asserts that these federal bodies have disregarded environmental regulations.

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Higher fees to be imposed on commuters entering Manhattan

Back in May, the FHWA approved a proposal from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of New York. The scheme, designed to lessen congestion and enhance air quality in the city, imposes a higher fee on commuters entering Manhattan.

On Friday, Governor Murphy noted his concerns, “The FHWA has improperly expedited the MTA’s ill-conceived tolling plan without undertaking a comprehensive environmental assessment. As a result, they are facilitating a process that unjustly burdens New Jersey families to bolster the MTA’s finances.”

Traffic to be re-routed to susceptible neighborhoods

The Governor pointed to the potentially damaging repercussions for New Jersey residents, both economically and environmentally. “The MTA’s tolling program, by the agency’s own admission, will reroute traffic and intensify pollution in numerous susceptible New Jersey neighborhoods. It does this without offering any countermeasures to offset such extensive damage,”

He added, “Today, we unite in opposition to this irresponsible plan, underscoring our determination to resist the unfair taxation of our hardworking citizens by neighboring states.”

Proposed plan contradicts Justice40 initiative

Following the green light from the federal government in May, Governor Murphy argued that the plan also contradicts President Biden’s environmental justice policy and the Justice40 initiative.

This initiative stipulates that 40% of certain federal investments should benefit disadvantaged communities that are “marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.”

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On May 5, the FHWA sanctioned the release of the proposal’s conclusive environmental evaluation in a letter to New York authorities. This was one of the last obstacles the project had to overcome, with the FHWA asserting that the evaluation satisfied the statutory requirements to progress.

Commuters could be slapped with hefty fines

Photo Credit: DepositPhotos

The scheme, set to be initiated in 2024, might see commuters entering midtown or downtown Manhattan slapped with a fee of up to $23 during rush hours and up to $12 during the night. The program could increase state revenue by around $1 billion.

Although high-ranking New York officials, including Mayor Eric Adams, lauded the proposal as a significant environmental victory, New Jersey legislators have criticized it. They argue it would reroute traffic through New Jersey, consequently heightening emissions.

Congestion ‘tax scheme’ must be defeated

“As the senior senator of New Jersey, I have made it abundantly clear that it’s unacceptable for New York to try balancing its budget on the backs of New Jersey commuters. Their proposed congestion tax scheme is nothing more than a shakedown and must be defeated,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Friday.

Echoing this sentiment, Representative Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., also expressed his objection. “If the MTA gets its way, trucks will be backed up here in North Jersey, billowing cancer-causing pollution into the lungs of our children. I want to thank our Governor for punching back at a state that decided to use Jersey as their piggy bank to solve their years of criminal mismanagement at the MTA,” he said.

“I don’t know how the MTA Chairman looks at himself in the mirror.”

Earlier this year, Gottheimer and Representative Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., introduced legislation that would withhold federal funding from New York’s infrastructure projects unless the state exempts commuters from all congestion pricing fees.

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The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, and the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, along with local legislators and business organizations, have also expressed their opposition to the plan.

Furthermore, on Friday, Governor Murphy ratified a law that would permit New Jersey to impose a tax on out-of-state remote employees who work for New Jersey-based companies.

The FHWA refrained from commenting on the matter, stating that it does not discuss ongoing legal matters.

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