Environmental justice. Electric buses. Plastic.
There’s no shortage of environmental-related bills and climate change issues at the top of mind for residents and activists across New Jersey heading into 2023. Some bills are still under consideration. Others have opens in a new windowalready been approved by state lawmakers or signed by Gov. opens in a new windowPhil Murphy — and will be put in place in the next 12 months.
Here are a few to have on your radar this year. View the opens in a new windowstate’s Legislative schedule to see how certain proposals are progressing.
1. Environmental justice
Among the most prominent on this list: the Environmental Justice Law.
It was opens in a new windowsigned by the governor in 2020 and requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to consider how pollution from certain types of new projects, and facilities seeking to renew environmental permits, could impact communities already vulnerable to contaminants. Specifically, if the DEP discovers that such proposals would have a disproportionate negative impact on the host community, the department is required to reject permit applications for the facility. The law would impact facilities like power plants that generate 10 megawatts or more of electricity, incinerators, sewage treatment plants with a capacity of more than 50 million gallons per day, solid waste facilities, landfills and anything defined as a major source of air pollution under the federal Clean Air Act.
About 348 municipalities with 4.6 million residents will be affected by the new law, according opens in a new windowto the state.
An opens in a new windowadministrative order established by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette in 2021 required the agency to follow the spirit of the law, but the landmark Environmental Justice Law is expected to be officially adopted between February and March 2023.
2. Electric school buses
Last August, Murphy signed a bill, opens in a new windowA1282, that would provide $45 million over three years for an “Electric School Bus Program” — a opens in a new windowpilot for the purchase and charging needs to support up to 18 school districts or contractors.
The program, which the state is still rolling out, is part of the New Jersey’s efforts to move away from carbon emissions and reach its opens in a new windowgreen energy goals. That includes 50% clean energy by 2030, and 100% clean energy by 2050, including offshore electric wind generation reaching 11,000 megawatts of usage by 2040.
When announced, the state said at least half of the grant awardees selected by the DEP each year — as well as half of the funding granted by the agency in each year — will be provided to low-income or environmental justice communities.
3. Renewable natural gas
Renewable natural gas bi-partisan legislation, opens in a new windowA577, was advanced by the state’s Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee in December – worrying opponents who say increasing the energy resource’s role here could be detrimental to residents.
The opens in a new windowbill would require the state’s Board of Public Utilities to create a renewable natural gas program and give gas public utility companies a system to have ratepayers pay for pipeline and other infrastructure upgrades to supply renewable natural gas as well as hydrogen.
Environmental activists against the bill said establishing the system could mean ratepayers being forced to shoulder billions of dollars to support an industry New Jersey has previously said it opens in a new windowholds responsible for negatively impacting the health of residents.
4. Clean(er) energy
According to the state, New Jersey’s renewable energy portfolio standards — which opens in a new windowbreaks down how the state wants to reduce emissions toward cleaner energy sources — is among the most ambitious in the U.S.
The standards require 35% of the energy sold in the Garden State to come from qualifying energy sources by 2025 on the way to, ultimately, 100% clean energy.
But some climate activists want to take that a step further. Organizers with the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, a non-profit, told NJ Advance Media revisions made possible by bill opens in a new windowA4658 would ultimately make those goals even loftier and aim instead toward 100% clean energy by 2035.
As opens in a new window of September the bill has only been referred to Senate Environment and Energy Committee. It would also tweak New Jersey’s renewable energy portfolio standards in a number of other ways including an even stronger shift toward electric energy resources.
5. Inland flood rules
New Jersey is still collecting feedback on plans to opens in a new windowupdate rules regulating new construction in flood-prone inland parts of the state, which supporters say will better protect people and property against future storms made fiercer by climate change.
Last fall, officials said the rules would move forward but opens in a new windownot on an emergency basis as originally announced.
The proposal, which came a year after the remnants of opens in a new windowHurricane Ida left 30 people dead in the state, would update flood maps and rainfall data for new construction along rivers and streams for the first time since 1999, increasing inland areas included in flood zones and guiding construction there.
Residents can comment on the rule between now and Feb. 3 by visiting opens in a new windowdep.nj.gov/inland-flood-protection-rule/.
6. Low carbon concrete
Advanced last summer, the opens in a new windowbill S287 (which still needs Murphy’s signature to be installed) would provide tax credits to spur New Jersey businesses to use low carbon concrete.
According to non-profit the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, currently about 7% of total global carbon emissions come from the production of concrete.
7. Plastic reduction
The state’s strict plastic bag ban — which also banned paper bags for most stores and Styrofoam-like products everywhere — began last May. According to the opens in a new windowNJ Food Council, which represents about 1,400 supermarkets, independent grocers, and convenience stores, from May to December of last year the plastic bag ban eliminated a total 4.8 billion plastic bags and 95.9 million paper bags from the waste stream based on what stores typically use.
Now, amendments to the law are expected after residents found they were amassing a glut of reusable bags at home, which they are now required to buy with online orders.
A bill, opens in a new windowS3114, would allow paper bags for online services at grocery stores that are 2,500 square feet or larger, which is most, and big box stores for three years in order to give businesses more time to adjust to the ban. It was tabled at the end of 2022, in part to account for providing food pantries opens in a new windowadditional time to transition to the ban, officials previously said.
8. Electric and water heating
A bill, opens in a new windowS2671, would prohibit the state from mandating electric heating or water heating systems in New Jersey buildings prior to the release of a Department of Community Affairs report that would study the viability of such investments. But some climate organizers say making the shift toward electric energy is already viable and paramount — thus, waiting for the report could unnecessarily stall those shifts.
The bill would require the Department of Community Affairs to work with the DEP and Board of Public Utilities, to hold at least six public hearings throughout the state to outline the impact of electrifying homes and commercial buildings.
The state’s Senate and Assembly Community Development and Affairs committees are currently reviewing the bill.
9. Flood disclosure
Passed by the state Senate and sent to the Assembly at the end of 2022, a bill opens in a new windowA4783, would require home sellers and landlords to better inform prospective tenants or new owners in New Jersey about the flood risks they’re taking on.
“Specifically, the bill requires landlords to notify their tenants if the leased premises have been determined to be located in the FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area or Moderate Risk Flood Hazard Area, and if the landlord has actual knowledge that the rental premises or any portion of the parking areas of the real property containing the rental premises have been subjected to flooding,” an opens in a new windowexcerpt from the bill says.
Peter Kasabach, executive director of non-profit New Jersey Future, an advocacy and research group, said the bill is critical to larger efforts to promote smarter land use and growth policies in New Jersey.
10. Abandoned boats
New legislation to tackle opens in a new windowNew Jersey’s abandoned boat issue was introduced last June and has yet to make further progress.
If ultimately passed, the bill, opens in a new windowS2757, would dedicate at least $25 million in state funds to help reimburse towns for boat removals and create a new group made up of residents, as well as local, state and federal officials focused on opens in a new windowaddressing the costly problem.
11. Invasive species
A new bill, opens in a new windowS2186, which was advanced in December by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, would prohibit the sale and distribution of certain invasive plant species without permission from the Department of Agriculture. Some examples of species (like the Black swallowwort or Japanese knotweed) can be found opens in a new windowhere, although the bill allows more to be added to the list if they are deemed to “threaten ecological, cultural, historical, or infrastructure resources” in New Jersey.
The Sierra Club noted that New Jersey is one of five states nationwide not to prohibit the sale of invasive species plants. Besides establishing fines of up to $500, the legislation would also create the “NJ Invasive Species Council,” charged with managing invasive species in the state.
12. Clawback forgiveness and other disaster recovery
On the topic of storm recovery, members of non-profit New Jersey Organizing Project continue to point to the need to rid of clawbacks — aid money already spent by residents rebuilding that the federal government has signaled it wants back.
Last summer the U.S. House voted to give the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development opens in a new window the power to waive the repayments. The Senate would need to pass legislation that includes the provision and President Joe Biden would then need to sign it. That followed congressional action from four months prior that paused the repayment deadline for everyone to 2025.
And since 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy has put a freeze on requiring repayment from homeowners.
But updates have yet to be offered on a longer-term solution nor pending opens in a new windowstate legislation — sent to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee last May — that would also address the issue.
An organizer with the New Jersey Organizing Project said the group will also be pushing for a disaster appropriation bill meant to help Ida and Sandy survivors. No bill number is available as that is still in the works, he said. Additionally, the organization will be pushing for mortgage forbearance, stalling payments as residents continue to recover post-storms.
13. Pension divestment
Legislation, opens in a new windowA1733, is still being considered to require the state’s opens in a new windowpublic worker pension fund to divest from the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies.
If passed, it would set a deadline for the divestment to take place opens in a new windowno more than two years from the time the bill is enacted. The bill was referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in October.
As of Sept. 30, the Garden State’s pension fund — which supports the retirement of about 800,000 active and retired state and local government workers — was valued at $82.2 billion, according to the state Treasury Department’s opens in a new windowDivision of Investment.
NJ Advance Media staff writers Matt Arco, Derek Hall, Larry Higgs, Brent Johnson, and Tina Kelley contributed to this report.
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Steven Rodas may be reached at opens in a new email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter opens in a new window@stevenrodasnj.