Legislators Want to Chop Another $20 Million from Clean Energy Fund

Proposed cuts would be in addition to some $152 million already on the block in Christie’s budget

New Jersey’s clean energy fund is being tapped once again by legislators — this time to provide $20 million for maintenance and salaries for the state’s park system.

The proposed diversion from the often-raided Clean Energy Fund presumably would retain $20 million for a new open-space preservation program instead of being used to finance parks management as the Christie administration proposed in its spending plan for next year.

Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget already is counting on using approximately $152 million from the Clean Energy Fund to finance various energy initiatives and to pay utility bills at state facilities, including NJ Transit.

The persistent withdrawal of money from the Clean Energy Fund by lawmakers and the administration is a source of frustration for clean-energy advocates. More than $1 billion in clean-energy funds has been used to help balance budgets in the past several years. The fund is replenished by surcharges on gas and electric bills for residents and businesses.

[related]The latest diversion sparked opposition from some environmentalists. “The Clean Energy Fund has become everyone’s piggy bank,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “By taking this money, it is a hidden tax on businesses and energy consumers.’’

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, also criticized the move, which is incorporated in budget language proposed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

“Ratepayer funding shouldn’t go for other programs—even if they are for a worthwhile purpose, like parks,’’ he said.

The Clean Energy Fund is viewed by many as critical to the state’s efforts to achieve aggressive renewable energy goals and to cut consumption through energy-efficiency projects. Both programs are important to meet targets to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.

Still, some said money raised by approval of a constitutional amendment by voters last November should go to preserving open space and farms, as well as taking care of natural and recreational resources. By dedicating a portion of corporate business taxes to the program, it is expected to raise about $80 in the coming fiscal year, which is far less than what has been spent in the past on preservation efforts.

“The voter-approved CBT funds should be reserved for acquisition and stewardship as intended by the citizens of this state and should be dispersed through implementation language which would provide predictability and transparency,’’ said Kelly Mooij, coordinator of the Keep It Green Coalition.