Fine Print: Getting New Jersey on the Road to Cleaner-Running Vehicles

Tom Johnson | February 18, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Bill would establish clean-vehicle commission to promote proliferation of low- and zero-emission cars and trucks

electric car (charging)
What it is: A bill (S-985) that would establish an 11-member commission, the Clean Vehicle Task Force, to study ways to promote the use of low- and zero-emission vehicles in New Jersey. The commission’s recommendations would be forwarded to the governor and the Legislature.

What it means: The bill is designed to pave the way for the state to comply with the California low-emission vehicle and California zero-emission vehicle programs, which New Jersey adopted in legislation passed more than a decade ago. Clean-energy advocates view the latter program as crucial to getting more electric vehicles on the state’s roadways.

Why it is important: Air pollution is a major health concern in the state, and vehicles are a main source of the problem. Pollution from vehicles also is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey, which has passed a law setting a goal to reduce global-warming pollution by 80 percent by 2050. Without dealing with pollution from cars, trucks, and other transportation, the state will never achieve that goal, according to environmentalists.

What New Jersey is doing to address the problem: Not enough, according to those concerned with climate change. A study last fall found New Jersey lagging behind other states in several metrics for promoting cleaner-running vehicles with only about 2,500 electric cars in the Garden State. The big problem is the lack of vehicle-charging stations other in an owner’s garage. Charging stations accessible to the public number in the low hundreds, and not many companies offer employees the opportunity to charge their cars while at work.

Why the issue is controversial: Car dealers are required to sell a significant number of low-emission vehicles over the next few years — whether or not consumers want to buy them. If those targets are not achieved, dealers would not be able to sell any new vehicles in the state, even if they are conventional gasoline-fueled cars.

Prospects: Uncertain, at best. The bill, in one form or another, has been kicking around the past few legislative sessions without becoming law. Similar legislation won approval in the session, which ended early in January, but Gov. Chris Christie pocket vetoed the bill without explanation. Previously, he also conditionally vetoed a bill setting up a clean-vehicle commission, suggesting the final decision to adopt the task force’s recommendation belongs to the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The Legislature failed to concur with his recommendation. The latest bill (S-985) to establish the commission passed the Senate Environment and Energy Committee earlier this month.