A controversial bill that would have provided subsidies to nuclear power plants has likely been pulled from the agenda for the lame-duck legislative session in New Jersey, meaning that Gov. Chris Christie probably will not get to weigh in on whether or not to provide state assistance to certain PSEG plants before he leaves office on January 16.
The bill would have effectively charged ratepayers up to $41 per year to pay for subsidies. But PSEG said that the subsidies were a necessity because plants in Salem and Hope Creek would cease to be profitable in two years and that closures and job losses would follow. The legislation, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), was fast-tracked through the session after being introduced in mid-December.
Environmental groups like the New Jersey Sierra Club opposed the bill from the start, claiming it was the “biggest energy tax and corporate subsidy in state history” and that the fast-tracked timeline did not allow for proper scrutiny on the bill. Environmental groups also said the lack of scrutiny ahead of the bill meant that not enough information was present before scheduled votes. After the legislation was pulled, NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said the “bill being held is a big win for the people and environment of New Jersey.”
“The public’s outrage over the bill that would give PSEG subsidies has led to this bill being moved in the Legislature,” Tittel said. “We are happy to see this terrible subsidy bill stopped. Now we can move forward with 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. This is not only a win for the ratepayers, but a victory for renewable energy and green economy.”
Dale Bryk, chief planning officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also supported the bill’s removal from the schedule, calling it a “significant victory.”
“New Jersey consumers and businesses have been urging the Legislature to not ram through a hasty bailout for the state’s currently thriving nuclear plants,” Bryk said. “Delaying action not only stands up to Chris Christie, it allows a new legislative session and a new governor to take the time necessary to carefully plan next steps and implement best practices if a bailout is needed. It’s critical that any nuclear subsidies be done right so that New Jersey consumers, workers, communities and the environment are protected.”
If the bill does not make it to Christie’s desk by the end of the session, the legislative leadership will decide whether to move forward with the bill next session. Despite the setback, Sweeney said that he will continue to push for subsidies, noting that the bill moved forward following a number of legislative hearings. He said he is “downright angry” with Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto for his decision to pull the bill from Assembly consideration.
“Holding this legislation hostage at this juncture is not only shortsighted, but it is a mistake,” Sweeney said. “We are talking 2,000 direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs. We are talking about the generation of 40 percent of the state’s electricity. This is rushed? I have worked with my colleagues for over a year; it’s not simple stuff. We have had two joint hearings that were hours long. The end result? Unanimous, bipartisan approval!
“My efforts to stabilize our nuclear plants in New Jersey are far from over,” Sweeney continued.
Prieto rejected Sweeney’s claims that his decision to pull the bill was “holding it hostage.”
“No bill is being held hostage, and to make such a claim is a ridiculous exaggeration,” Prieto said. “PSE&G itself has said the nuclear plants are turning a profit and will for at least two more years. The supporters of this complex bill are of course free to continue working on it with PSE&G, soon-to-be Governor Murphy and the incoming legislative leadership to ensure that – when all is said and done – any legislation is completely in the public’s best interest.”
The bill was initially scheduled to go up for a vote on Thursday, but the legislative session was canceled due to snow. It is possible that it could be put up for a vote on or before January 8, the last session day of the session, but that looks unlikely.