2018 Budget Plan Puts Cleaning Up Brownfields Above Easing Climate Change

Budget proposal shifts $6 million from Global Warming Solutions Fund to general budget to help restore contaminated sites

The Christie administration is putting cleaning up contaminated brownfields ahead of trying to ease climate change in its current budget proposal.

In language in the fiscal year 2018 budget, the administration is shifting $6 million in unexpended funds in the Global Warming Solutions Fund to the general budget to provide assistance to developers seeking to return contaminated sites to productive use.

It is not the first, nor probably the last time clean energy funds have been diverted by the administration. Since its inception, it has shifted approximately $1.5 billion in such funds to other purposes, largely to close holes in the state budget. Just last week, the administration announced it was dipping into the state’s Clean Energy Fund, yet again, this time to the tune of $50 million to cover a shortfall in this year’s spending plan, which ends June 30.

The latest budgetary diversion is being done to provide aid to projects that will clean up contaminated brownfields, vacant lands that developers plan to convert to economic uses.

The brownfields program is a two-decade old law that provides tax-increment financing to reimburse developer for up to 75 percent of the cost of cleaning up hazardous wastes on abandoned or underused industrial or commercial properties. It used to be funded by a portion of the corporate business tax, but that money is now being used to preserve open spaces and farmland, another indication of shifting priorities in developing an annual state budget.

The Global Warming Solutions Fund was financed by a tax on power plants that emitted pollution contributing to climate change under a multistate effort known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Gov. Chris Christie pulled New Jersey out of the program in 2011, calling it a tax on utility customers. Prior to pulling out, New Jersey had received $113 million from the program for various clean-energy initiatives, but some of the money was never spent. Most of the money never went to its intended purposes, however, according to the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services.

If lawmakers get their way, New Jersey will rejoin RGGI under a bill (A-4701) that cleared the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee on Thursday. The legislation, opposed by business lobbyists for potentially increasing energy costs, is unlikely to be signed by the Republican governor, who has blocked efforts to rejoin the initiative in the past.

The measure enjoys broad support from Democratic lawmakers, clean-energy advocates, and environmentalists, however, who hope to see it enacted by a new governor early next year.

New Jersey has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In a report put out by the state Department of Environmental Protection, the RGGI program was identified as one of the crucial components of achieving that goal.