Clean cars bills weighed

TRENTON – The Senate Environment and Energy Committee dealt today with a series of bills dealing with different aspects of “clean” cars. The bills were up for discussion only during a lengthy, wide-ranging give-and-take hearing.

The bills touch on various aspects of the issue: charging stations, business tax credits, alternative-fueled vehicles, hybrid electric cars, and sales tax exemptions.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, said at the opening of the hearing that the timing is crucial, especially considering the vast reserves of natural gas discovered in this country.

And committee member Sen. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro, said with concerns over hydraulic fracturing persisting, the discussion about cleaner vehicles is relevant.

Smith said he has a roughly three-month timetable: Discuss these bills, then consolidate or whittle them down to the ones having the most merit, then at a later meeting vote on the ones that seem best.

Transportation is the cause of 50 percent of New Jersey’s pollution, witnesses and committee members pointed out.

The discussion came down,  to a degree, to the chicken or the egg question: does the infrastructure such as charging stations have to be in place before there will be a consumer demand, or is the demand there already just waiting for the vehicles and the infrastructure.

New Jersey is party to a 14-state effort to increase zero-emission vehicles on the market in coming years.

Earlier in the day, the committee released a bill to create a “clean car” commission to study numerous related issues.

Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic City, raised one issue for everyone to be aware of as they move forward: Does this effort become a boon for middle-class suburbanites while it leaves urban residents behind, residents who don’t necessarily have a garage to accommodate compressed natural gas equipment?

Among some other comments made during the hearing:

The Fuel Merchants Association would like to see the same level of taxes for all fuels.

Environmental groups such as Environment New Jersey, the Sierra Club, and Food and Water Watch raised concerns over various fossil fuels as well as contamination from methane and radon as reason to aggressively pursue electric or hybrid vehicles.

Replacing one fossil fuel with another fossil fuel solves nothing, testified Jim Walsh of Food and Water Watch. “The inertia needs to shift,’’ he said, and private-sector investment and development can help accomplish that.

Some of the bills would establish tax breaks to encourage the clean-car movement.

Smith told the packed hearing room that a motorist could get as many miles from natural gas as they could from regular gasoline for half the price.

Among the bills that were on the agenda:

S340: A bill sponsored by Sens. Linda Greenstein, (D-14), Plainsboro, and James Beach, (D-6), Cherry Hill, that would provide a corporate business tax credit for purchasing hybrid or electric cars.

S345: A Greenstein bill offering similar tax credits for compressed natural gas vehicles.

S346: Again, a Greenstein bill, this one offering the tax breaks on fuel cell vehicles.

S371: This Beach-sponsored legislation would authorize state and local governments to enter into group purchasing agreements for alternative-fuel cars.

S400: This proposal by Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), Edgewater Park, would have the Board of Public Utilities set up a pilot program to allow free parking for alternative-fuel vehicles.

S595: Sens. Jennifer Beck, (R-11), Red Bank, and Bob Gordon, (D-38), Fair Lawn, sponsored this bill offering a two-year sales tax exemption for fuel-efficient vehicles.

S955: This Allen bill would exempt electric vehicle charging stations from property taxes.

S980: A Greenstein bill that would encourage development of electric vehicle charging stations in transportation projects.

S983: A similar bill by Greenstein that would encourage a pilot program for level three charging stations. These would be systems providing 480-volt alternate current in a three-phase circuit at three different locations along the N.J. Turnpike.

S984: Greenstein sponsored this proposal to set up a pilot program for a public/private alternative fueling station.

S1004: This directs the installation of electric vehicle charging stations on state toll road service areas.

S1186: This bill would exempt from the sales tax some labor and parts used to convert vehicles into plug-in hybrids.

Clean cars bills weighed