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Jul 06th
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Christie’s budget attacks NJDEP and clean energy economy

titteljeff042411_optBY JEFF TITTEL

Governor Christie continues to attack our clean energy economy and the environment and promote harmful policies through his 2012-13 budget. This is a continuation of the damage done by his last two budgets, hurting the environment and economy.

Again the governor is diverting money from the Clean Energy Fund and the state Department of Environmental Protection to close budget gaps. This budget will negatively impact job creation, public health, and our environment.

The governor is giving tax cuts to millionaires with the money that should be going to clean energy programs and protecting our environment. This not only hurts the environment but our economy and job creation.

The governor is taking $210 million out of the Clean Energy Fund. This money is supposed to be dedicated to energy efficiency, weatherization, and renewable energy. This is the money that gives you a rebate when you buy a new energy efficient appliance or furnace and the governor is taking this money to give a tax cut to millionaires. The fund gets between $240 and $260 million a year so the governor is taking almost all of it.

This fund comes from a small fee on our energy bill that is supposed to be dedicated to these clean energy programs. The governor has already diverted $107 million from the fund in 2011-12. Two years ago $400 million in clean energy monies was diverted from the Clean Energy Fund, the Retail Margin Fund, RGGI and other sources.

The governor is trying to balance his budget on the back of the environment by raiding the Clean Energy Fund. This means not only more pollution, but a loss of jobs in New Jersey. This will cost our state up to 3,000 jobs from energy efficiency programs to installing solar panels.

The DEP currently has 2,877 positions and the governor wants to cut that back to 2,829 under the budget. In 2008 they had 3,400 employees. DEP staff is down by almost 40 percent since the mid-1990’s when the department had 4,400 employees and the operating budget was $329 million in 1995.

DEP staffing is already at a record low and with the hiring freeze in place many positions remain unfilled as staff retires. There are probably hundreds of positions that are unfilled. While the DEP’s staffing continues to be cut drastically, major programs have been added including clean cars, Highlands, and global warming. With the economy starting to turn around there may not be even be enough staff to write the permits to help get businesses and our economy going.

The DEP still faces a death by a thousand cuts. They are eliminating more staff as part of their rollbacks on environmental protections. They are going to use this budget to outsource, privatize, and weaken environmental protections. The DEP operational budget is shrinking while the overall budget is growing by $2 million dollars. The staffing for major programs to make sure our air is clean and our water is pure is being cut back.”

Increases in the DEP overall budget come from increases in the constitutionally-dedicated corporate tax revenue including funding for watershed management planning, brownfield redevelopment, diesel programs, and parks capital improvements. This money is required to go to these programs as a result of the increase in the corporate tax revenue.

The Sierra Club is concerned that a significant portion of the increase will go to the DEP’s Division of Economic Development, which basically supports industry lobbyists’ interests within the department, and not towards staffing. The slight increase in the budget comes from money for staffing diverted from the corporate tax revenue for planning or an increase in the Division of Economic Development. When it comes to the major environmental programs within DEP, there is less money for staffing.

Some groups are praising the governor’s budget because it increases the funding for our parks, but this comes from the corporate tax revenue increases. The Green Acres Program funding has some increases for staffing (although staff numbers are declining) but remains about 45 percent below funding levels from four years ago. $135 million will go to the program now versus $250 million in 2007-08. The average over the past eleven years has been $235 million. The budget does not include debt service for the 2009 bonds, indicating that the administration will continue to sit on them despite being approved by the voters. The money from that Bond Act was supposed to be spent by now yet the governor is not releasing the funding, significantly reducing the amount of money available for open space preservation.

The governor is taking money from the DEP to close up budget holes. $10 million will be taken from the Sanitary Landfill Closure fund. This money is supposed to go to capping and cleaning up landfills. While the governor balances the budget, these sites will continue to leech pollution into the environment. Another $18 million will be transferred into General Fund from the Hazardous Discharge Fund. Most of the DEP budget, over 75 percent, comes from fees, fines, and federal grants.

The $500,000 going to the Global Warming Response Act fund is the last of the RGGI money. Last year the governor announced New Jersey will no longer be participating in the RGGI auctions so no new revenue will be coming in, costing us $65 million and about 1,800 jobs. Now he is going after the rest of the clean energy monies.

This budget proposal continues Governor Christie’s attacks on the environment and DEP, along with the DEP Waiver Rule, the State Strategic Plan, rollbacks to various DEP programs including stormwater, wetlands, stream encroachment, water quality management planning, site remediation, beach access, and flood hazard areas. The administration continues to promote industry interests and removing staff that have knowledge of regulated areas to different programs. Essentially this budget is another step in turning the DEP over to industry.

The biggest threat to New Jersey’s environment is not just the budget but also the changes that are taking place in DEP: weakening protections and bringing in industry lobbyists to undermine public health and safety.

Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club.


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