The dust has settled on the annual budget debate, and despite a state shutdown, New Jersey once again has a signed budget in place. The $34.7 billion budget includes tradeoffs in the energy and environmental realms.
Once again the Societal Benefit Charge (SBC) was diverted from the Clean Energy Program, not once, not twice, but three times. It started with $161 million earlier this year, and then another $50 million was tapped in May to cover a revenue shortfall. That diversion ultimately came out to $75 million under A-5000, the budget bill. NJBIA has sought to lower the SBC charge. If it is not being spent for its intended purpose, then the rate should be reduced or the money should be returned to ratepayers.
On the environment side, the Governor line-item vetoed restrictions on natural resource damage payments. There had been a discussion of how capping the amount of money that went into the general fund versus pollution settlements back to DEP. The line item veto allows the governor to redirect the settlement funds if need be. Like the Clean Energy fund, these monies have been redistributed in the past several years to fill budget gaps.
On the good news front, changes to liability laws to allow for food donations and gleaning passed both houses. Energy storage study bills also moved through the legislature.
I expect that there will be a lot more action on energy and environment issues. We expect the Senate to return this summer, and Senator Smith usually convenes an Environment & Energy Committee meeting in August as well. On our watch list is legislation providing public access to waterways, changes to the renewable portfolio standard, and energy efficiency legislation.