Barnegat Bay, other bills clear Senate Energy panel

TRENTON – The Senate Environment and Energy Committee released several bills today, including bills affecting Barnegat Bay watershed and the value of conveyed public lands.

S1084, This bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, would allow a business entity or nonprofit organization to adopt certain responsibilities related to a stormwater management basin located in the Barnegat Bay watershed by entering into an agreement with the state or local government agency that owns or controls the stormwater management basin.

Some supporters called this bill a good first step but said it is not a substitute for a comprehensive plan to protect the watershed.

Chairman Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, said that an amendment would have an entity  be eligible for a $1,000 credit for such a project in the Barnegat Bay watershed but not for other watersheds because he said he is worried that a high-cost bill may not get enacted.

Sen. Jennifer Beck, (R-12), Red Bank, also said that a limited bill would have a better chance at passage and then if it succeeds possibly it could be expanded at some point.

The amended bill was approved unanimously.

S826: This bill, sponsored by Sens. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, and Gerald Cardinale, (R-39),  Cresskill, would revise the procedures that must be followed before lands acquired by the state with Green Acres funds may be conveyed.

“For so long we’ve been giving away our public open spaces,’’ Sierra Club state director Jeff Tittel said, adding this bill is long overdue.

The bill seeks to ensure fair market value is used and that the money originally spent to acquire such a site can be recouped, he said.

Some of the overall concerns relate to the lands the Tennessee Pipeline Co. seeks to use for its northern New Jersey project that goes through public lands, and the low rate the state was going to receive.

Tittel testified to the committee that a Sierra Club forester has estimated that in one case, the pipeline company may have seen as much as $7 million income from harvested logs.

“It seems to me our taxpayers are not being well-served,’’ Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, said.

The bill cleared the committee unanimously.

S81: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Kip Bateman, (R-16), Somerville, would prohibit a health care institution from discharging any unused prescription medication into a public wastewater collection system or a septic system.

This bill passed in the Senate last year but the Assembly did not vote on its version.

The bill has been clarified to permit non-prescription medications’ discharge.

Bateman said that the pharma industry has been on top of the issue and does not oppose it.

The bill passed unanimously.

S84: This bill, sponsored by Sens. Kip Bateman, (R-16), Somerville, and Bob Martin, (D-17), Piscataway, would establish a “Schools Chemical Cleanout Pilot Program” in the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The purpose of the program would be to implement a chemically safer school environment. Within 18 months after establishment of the program, the Commissioner of Environmental Protection would report to the Governor and the Legislature on the effectiveness of the pilot program and present recommendations for continuing and, if appropriate, expanding the pilot program.

The bill was released unanimously.

S1270: This bill, sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, amends a statute which exempts certain renewable energy systems from real property taxation. This bill would establish a uniform property tax exemption rate.

This bill fell victim to a pocket-veto of the governor at the end of the last session.

The bill says that a system will be assessed $7,000 for each kilowatt of direct current capacity, for the first year of operation, with the amount increasing annually by 1 percent until a system is decommissioned.

Smith said he had no idea why the bill – which passed the Senate 31-4 last summer – was pocket-vetoed. He said the original bill emanated from tax assessors’ concerns about how to assess such systems.

Sen. Jennifer Beck, (R-12), Red Bank, raised concerns about the escalating costs over what could be a long lifetime of some of these systems.

The bill was approved unanimously.

Barnegat Bay, other bills clear Senate Energy panel