Biodiesel fuel bill advances out of committee

TRENTON – The Senate Environment and Energy Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would help spur the use of biodiesel fuel in New Jersey.

The committee heard conflicting testimony about the environmental and economic pros and cons before the bill was passed by a vote of 4-0.

S2268: The “Bio-based Heating Oil Act,” requires that all heating oil sold for residential, commercial, or industrial uses meet a compliance schedule that would see gradual increases in the amount of biodiesel content.

Under the bipartisan-sponsored bill, introduced in October by Sens. Jim Whelan, (D-2), Atlantic City, and Christopher  Bateman, (R-16), Somerville, such fuel would have to include at least a 3 percent biodiesel content in the first year, 4 percent in the second year, and at least 5 percent after that.

The bill also says that the heating oil must be blended at the wholesale point of distribution, but it adds that no one is prevented from doing so at some other point.

The bill had included a provision so that the governor could suspend temporarily this bill’s requirements by issuing an executive order. An amendment has shifted that waiver authority to the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Bateman said that a number of other states are headed in this direction. “We don’t want to be the last state in,’’ he said.

Rebecca Richardson of the National Biodiesel Board said this bill offers the state a chance to attract a brand new industry in green jobs.

She said New Jersey is the only state along with Alaska that lacks a technical definition for biodiesel fuel standards that other states have agreed upon, and New Jersey does not want to position itself as the only state that receives fuel that does not meet specifications that all other states have agreed to.

The N.J. Petroleum Council, however, opposed the bill.  Scott Ross of the council said that as an industry his group is concerned when it has been given a mandate. “We believe the free market can take care of this,’’ he said. “We’re not opposed to bio-heat, we just don’t think a mandate is necessary.’’

One of the nation’s leading biofuel producers, Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group, supported the bill as a modest but necessary step toward biodiversity. REG’s Scott Hedderich said that by passing this bill, New Jersey would send a message that it is a player in this field. His company has seven plants, mostly in the Midwest, but is looking toward the East for future growth.

On the aspect of mandates, Hedderich said there is a role for mandates to play.  Biodiesel improves the environment, he said.

But there was opposition from environmentalists. The N.J. Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel said they don’t have a problem with biodiesel, but where it comes from. He said such fuel derived from waste is one thing, but fields being cultivated primarily to provide this fuel hurts poorer people, increases food prices, and actually harms the environment. “You’re going to end up using more energy to produce it than you’re going to be getting,’’ he said, when one factors in the growing, shipping, and processing. “It is a net environmental negative.’’

However, Chairman Sen. Bob Smith said he was persuaded by the testimony that the net environmental effect would be positive.

Biodiesel fuel bill advances out of committee