Senate panel advances bills dealing with Spill Compensation Fund and grease recycling

TRENTON – The Senate Environment and Energy  Committee on Monday released two bills dealing with the Spill Compensation Fund and grease recycling, held a “fracking” ban bill, and oversaw a wide-ranging discussion on other bills dealing with open space preservation and assessing mileage-based fees on some vehicles.

The panel unanimously advanced S576, which would provide that systems used to remove contaminants from wells on residential properties would be covered under the state’s Spill Compensation Fund.

Regarding the latter bill, such compensation has been prohibited once a property has been sold, penalizing a new homeowner whose property is contaminated through no fault of his own, according to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Fred Madden Jr., D-4, Washington Township.

The amendments included a prohibition against holding up a closing if the seller was unable to provide the name of the installer of a water treatment system.

Hal Bozarth of the N.J. Chemistry County opposed the bill, and pointed out that the N.J. Spill Compensation Fund is having a disproportionate effect, taxing a greater amount from fewer companies whose raw material values keep rising.

He said the owner of a sold property should bear some responsibility. “You should not get a lifetime guarantee,” he said.

Committee Chair Sen. Bob Smith countered that by pointing to New Jersey’s dubious history  as host to the most Superfund sites in the nation.

The committee also passed unanimously S2176, which would mandate that grease recycling businesses be licensed and monitored by the state.

Sponsor Sen. Ray Lesniak said he saw this as something of a follow up to earlier legislation to monitoring the solid waste industry.

“The bad guys never go away altogether,’’ he told the committee. 

Supporters included national food waste recycler Darling International, which has a location in Newark, whose representatives testified that the bill’s background checks provision would help deter such bad actors.

‘Fracking’ held

The panel held S247, which would put in place a moratorium on the controversial practice of gas exploration known as hydraulic fracturing until the Environmental Protection Agency concludes a study.

A previous moratorium, signed last January, was for one year only.

Sen. Bob Gordon had requested the bill be held, but co-sponsor and committee member Sen. Jennifer Beck was disappointed it was not acted on.

She said that previous bills that sought a permanent ban were unsuccessful, but this narrower, targeted bill might find favor with the administration.

Mileage-based fees

A bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Whelan that would exempt passenger vehicles from the motor fuels tax and establish a mileage-based fee instead was up for discussion only as Whelan sought input.

Issues that need to be considered, according to witnesses and Whelan, included how to deal with N.J. residents who do a great deal of out-of-state driving; how to assess fees, at the pump or possibly when a vehicle is inspected; and avoiding creating a disincentive to the increased use of alternative fuels.

Open space

Former Assemblywoman Maureen Ogden kicked off a wide-ranging discussion of how to fund land and water preservation now that previous bond issues have been exhausted.

“There’s no more open space money,’’ Chair Sen. Bob Smith had said, and Ogden, of the N.J. Conservation Foundation and the Keep it Green campaign, said a recent survey showed a majority of respondents support dedicating $200 million annually over 30 years from sales tax revenue for open space.

She said the recent hurricanes “sent a clear warning of the vulnerability of our cost.”

There was a package of bills up for discussion:

S2529, Preserve N.J. Act of 2013, would mandate use of sales tax revenue for open space, including flood-prone areas.

S2530, Green Acres Bond Act of 2013. This would authorize bonding for $400 million toward floodplain, farmland, and historic preservation.

S813 would impose water consumption fees to help fund acquisitions and preservations.

Two constitutional amendments, SCR44 and SCR138, would go before the voters, ensuring that public input and approval will be received, Smith said.

He also urged voters to ask the two gubernatorial candidates – Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Barbara Buono – where they stand on the issue.

Committtee member Sen. Christopher Bateman said he hoped to hear some of this mentioned in the governor’s upcoming budget message this month.

 The Keep it Green Campaign supported, for example, both SCR138 and S2529, which would deal with dedication of the $200 million from sales tax.

And Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society, echoing Ogden, said these bills “represent a tremendous opportunity built upon an unfortunate tragedy,’’ a reference to Superstorm Sandy.

Senate panel advances bills dealing with Spill Compensation Fund and grease recycling