Blue state sues Biden admin over climate plan to reduce traffic
Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday announced that his administration has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its approval of a New York plan to reduce traffic congestion.
Murphy said New Jersey filed the lawsuit against the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and accused the federal agencies of violating environmental laws. In May, the FHWA authorized a plan from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to charge commuters an increased fee to enter Manhattan in an effort to reduce congestion and improve the city’s air quality.
‘After refusing to conduct a full environmental review of the MTA’s poorly designed tolling program, the FHWA has unlawfully fast-tracked the agency’s attempt to line its own coffers at the expense of New Jersey families,’ Murphy said Friday in a statement. ‘The costs of standing idly by while the MTA uses New Jersey residents to help balance its budget sheets are more than economic.’
‘At the MTA’s own admission, its tolling program would divert traffic and shift pollution to many vulnerable New Jersey communities, impacting air quality while offering nothing to mitigate such considerable harm,’ he added. ‘Today we stand as a unified front against this reckless scheme and reaffirm our commitment to combat the unjust taxation of our hardworking residents by other states.’
After the plan received federal approval in May, Murphy said it also violated President Biden’s own environmental justice agenda and Justice40 initiative, which requires 40% of certain federal investments to flow to disadvantaged communities that are ‘marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.’
In a letter to New York officials dated May 5, the FHWA approved the release of the proposal’s final environmental assessment, one of the final hurdles the project faced. The agency said it determined the assessment met the statutory threshold to move forward.
Under the plan, which the state is planning to begin implementing in 2024, commuters entering midtown or downtown Manhattan could be hit with a fee of up to $23 during peak hours and up to $12 during nighttime hours. The program is projected to boost state revenue by about $1 billion.
While the proposal was heralded as a major climate win by top New York officials — New York City Mayor Eric Adams said it would clean up the air in the most polluted communities — New Jersey lawmakers blasted it, saying it would force traffic through and increase emissions in New Jersey.
‘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.
‘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,’ Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., added. ‘I don’t know how the MTA Chairman looks at himself in the mirror.’
Gottheimer and Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., introduced legislation earlier this year that would strip federal funding from infrastructure projects in New York unless the state exempted commuters from all congestion pricing fees.
Local lawmakers and business groups like the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce and New Jersey Business and Industry Association also opposed the plan.
In addition, Murphy signed legislation Friday that would enable New Jersey to tax remote employees who live out of state but work for companies based in New Jersey.
The FHWA declined to comment, saying it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.