Fine Print: Helping Wean New Jersey Off Its Dependence on Oil

Tom Johnson | January 14, 2013 | Energy & Environment
Bills promote alternative-fueled vehicles, essential to state's aggressive goal of reducing emissions

What the state is doing: The Legislature today is expected to act on a number of bills that would reduce the state’s reliance on petroleum to fuel its transportation network.

Why the bills are important: The state has established aggressive goals to reduce fossil-fuel emissions, which contribute to global climate change. To achieve that target, many environmentalists say the state needs to use cleaner fuels to run vehicles, as well as increase the efficiency of vehicles relying on diesel and gasoline.

What’s new: A bill (S-1035) sponsored by Sen. Christopher Connors (R-Ocean) would require the state to calculate a motor vehicle fleet’s average miles per gallon and increase it over four years. The measure would not apply to vehicles used for law enforcement or emergencies. The bill is expected taken up by the Senate Transportation Committee.

How lawmakers would promote plug-in electric vehicles: Two bills to establish new incentives to develop the infrastructure for plug-in vehicles will be considered by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. One (S-980), sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein, encourages the state Department of Transportation to promote the installation of electric charging stations in their transportation projects. The bill establishes a special transportation fund to pay for the charging stations.

The committee is also expected to take up a bill (S-2193) that would provide sales and use-tax exemptions for hybrid electric cars and those powered by compressed natural gas.

Why some view the incentives as important: Without incentives, proponents fear the cost of the more expensive alternative-fueled vehicles will deter customers from buying them. The bills also try to deal with the issue of range-anxiety, a factor that discourages customers because of their fear that they will not be able to recharge or refuel cleaner vehicles.

Why some oppose the bills: Some lawmakers question whether the state should be picking “winners and losers’’ in the move away from gasoline-fueled vehicles. Instead, they say the marketplace should determine what vehicles emerge. Princeton-based NRG Energy, for example, is installing the infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles in Houston and elsewhere in Texas, and plans a major investment in California.

How the bills fared in the past: Some of the bills have languished in the Legislature for years. Others are more recent. Clean-energy advocates say the state needs to aggressively promote cleaner-running cars, given that motor vehicles are the biggest source of pollution in New Jersey. The state’s Energy Master Plan also pays too little attention to the transportation sector, according to some environmentalists.