Fate of Office of Green Energy Uncertain

Tom Johnson | July 12, 2011
Unclear whether New Jersey will retain its Office of Economic Growth and Green Energy

This story is inaccurate. It is based on incorrect information provided to NJ Spotlight. The Governor did not restore the $1.3 million in money for the Office of Economic Growth and Green Energy, although the DEP is searching for ways to fund the program going forward. NJ Spotlight regrets the error.

While much of the attention focused on Gov. Chris Christie’s line-item vetoes, which slashed $900 million from the current state budget, the Republican governor did restore $1.3 million in funds trimmed by the Democratic-controlled legislature. The cut would have eliminated the Office of Economic Growth and Green Energy within the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The office, established by DEP Commissioner Bob Martin more than a year ago, has been leading efforts to attract an offshore wind manufacturing industry to New Jersey, a top priority of the administration.
It has generally won praise from the business community for helping developers navigate the DEP bureaucracy, but has drawn criticism from some environmentalists for distracting the agency from its core mission of protecting air and water quality and cleaning up pollution.

Democratic leaders said they voted to slash funding for the office after conferring with environmentalists who told them they had little confidence the money for the office would be spent on protecting the state’s natural resources. In hearings on the DEP budget, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) questioned the creation of a new layer of government, duplicating functions already being performed by the state Economic Development Authority.

The Christie administration and legislature have enacted a series of laws and programs aimed at attracting offshore wind developers to build wind turbines in the state’s coastal waters. Eleven developers have expressed an interest in leasing tracts of water off the coast of New Jersey. In addition, the state is scheduled to begin stakeholder hearings later this summer on ways to help the offshore wind developers attract financing from Wall Street.

The move to restore funding was criticized by Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “At a time when the state is broke and there is no money to keep our parks open, clean up toxic sites, or keep our air and water clean we have money to help special interest and polluters,” Tittel said.

The office accounts for a mere fraction of DEP’s overall budget of $330 million, which is $16.7 million less than budgeted this past year.