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NJ's Effort to Promote Zero-Emission Vehicles Stalled in Slow Lane

New report shows NJ being passed left and right by neighboring states' drive to get electric vehicles, hybrids on road

charging station
Charging station for plug-in electric vehicles. Right now, there are only 120 public charging stations in the state.

New Jersey is lagging behind neighboring states in promoting the market for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, which hurts efforts to reduce air pollution that contributes to summertime smog and greenhouse gas emissions, according to environmentalists and clean-car advocates.

“Right now, New Jersey is being left behind by neighboring states,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, which yesterday released a report claiming that electric vehicles could prevent significant amount of climate-changing pollution each year.

The report suggested that by 2025 widespread use of electric vehicles could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars -- one of the biggest sources of pollution contributing to global warming -- by nearly a half-million tons, the equivalent of taking more than 104,000 cars and trucks off New Jersey’s roads.

In a press conference at a few plug-in electric charging stations at Bergen Community College in Paramus, the Christie administration was criticized for a decision by the Motor Vehicles Commission banning the direct sales of the Tesla, a high-end electric vehicle. The administration also caught flak for its refusal to join an eight-state compact to deploy zero-emission vehicles.

The Legislature is poised to overturn the Tesla ban if a bill (A-3216) with near unanimous support in the Assembly is posted for a vote in the state Senate before lawmakers adjourn for the summer break.

The goal of the eight-state initiative is to spur the sales of 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles by 2025 through consumer incentives and regulatory action. In New Jersey, there are approximately 3,500 electric vehicles on the road today and only 120 public plug-in charging stations, according to Chuck Feinberg, chairman of the Clean Cities Coalition, which has been trying to promote cleaner-running vehicles.

Nationwide, there are more than 200,000 electric vehicles on the road.

“Any electric vehicle driver can tell you the economic benefits of driving these vehicles,’’ Feinberg said. “Why not encourage the use of electric vehicles?’’

Among other things, the initiative includes efforts to promote deployment of recharging stations at workplaces; expand both cash and noncash incentives for consumers to buy electric cars; and push dealers to more aggressively market electric cars.

Rick Engler, director of the NJ Work Environment Council, said the state should promote zero-emission vehicles.

“We see the future as one where we can transition to a green economy,’’ Engler said. “We can usher in a new period of manufacturing in the state.’’

The event attracted several owners of electric plug-in vehicles, including Sal Cameli of Roselle Park, who has owned a Nissan Leaf zero-emission car for 15 months. “I love it,’’ he said. His license plate reads “UBUYGAS.’’

The Legislature is trying to pass a range of bills to bolster electric-car infrastructure, including one to encourage development of electric-vehicle charging stations in transportation projects (A-1719), as well as requiring charging stations at rest areas along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway (A-1728).

Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), the sponsor of the bill trying to overturn the ban on Tesla direct sales to consumers, is optimistic about the future of electric vehicles. “Hopefully, one day soon, we will have chargers everywhere we need them,’’ he said.

Whether the Tesla bill gets out of the Senate remains in question. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the bill is stalled in that chamber. “Right now, it’s moving like the traffic on the Garden State Parkway on a Friday afternoon,’’ he said.

Clean-car advocates argued there is much more the state can do to accelerate the market for electric vehicles and make them a more attractive choice for drivers. One of the biggest hurdles is dealing with range anxiety among motorists with electric vehicles who worry their cars and trucks will run out of juice if there are no public charging stations nearby.

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