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New Legislative Session Offers Second Chance for Bypassed Bills

Lawmakers have already reintroduced a slew of clean-energy bills, expecting them to have a better reception now that Christie’s out and Murphy’s in

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Thousands of bills are introduced each legislative session, but barely a couple hundred or so make it into law. Many of the others don’t fade away, but are revived to vie for enactment in another term.

With a new governor being inaugurated Tuesday, that is particularly true for a whole range of environmental and energy bills. Gov.-elect Phil Murphy campaigned on an ambitious clean-energy agenda, giving hope to advocates that the time to embrace a future less reliant on fossil fuels may be at hand.

“This ends eight years of inaction on clean energy that has been bottled up and now is being released,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, referring to a slew of bills that are now pending in the Legislature. “The Murphy administration will hopefully move quickly to remove the Christie climate curse.’’

Legislation reflecting that goal can be seen in the hundreds of bills already introduced in the new term. Sen. Richard Codey, a Democrat from Essex County, has reintroduced three bills to implement Murphy’s clean-energy agenda.

One (S-811) aims to develop 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity. Another (S-813) requires power suppliers to achieve aggressive goals for storing energy, a priority if the state is going to ramp up its reliance on renewable energy and phase out more-polluting fuels.

Ever since 2014, the environmental community and clean energy advocates have pushed bills (S-1707) that would mandate 80 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy with very little movement on the legislation. That bill did not re-emerge, but other options did.

Fully renewable by 2050

This session, there is a bill (S-812), also sponsored by Codey, that would require 100 percent of power come from renewable sources by 2050. Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) is pushing another measure (S-610) to have 30 percent of electricity produced by renewables by 2025. Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen) wants 100 percent from renewables by 2035.

One of the most controversial bills in the lame-duck session is back again, as predicted by Senate President Stephen Sweeney. The bill (S-877) would create subsidies that would have ratepayers shell out up to $300 million annually to prop up three nuclear power units in South Jersey, operated by Public Service Enterprise Group. The bill unexpectedly died in the session’s final days amid strong opposition from consumers, energy rivals, and businesses.

The legislation is likely to be pushed again early in the session, but this time, Murphy is expected to seek a carve-out in the bill for other clean energy investments.

Speaking of $300 million, legislation also has been introduced by several lawmakers to have New Jersey rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate attempt to curb carbon pollution from power plants. Gov. Chris Christie pulled out of the program in his first term, and three times blocked legislative efforts to rejoin the program.

Money from a tax on carbon pollution is returned to member states that can use the funds for a variety of clean-energy initiatives. In New Jersey, Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, wants the first $300 million (S-612) the state will receive from RGGI to go to paying to build the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and other ways to promote their use.

Backup bills

A bunch of bills is sitting on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk for enactment, but identical legislation already has been introduced in the coming legislative term, just in case. They include bills to revamp and ramp up the state’s solar requirements (S-592); a measure (A-1929) to have New Jersey join the U.S. Climate Alliance to fight global warming; and legislation to create a task force to explore how to promote wider use of electric vehicles (A-1223).

“What we’ve been trying to get for a long time is finally moving closer to reality,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

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