Environmentalists Score Big Win on Electric Vehicles, but Bag Ban Among Measures that Falter

Tom Johnson | January 14, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Bill to ban single-use plastic and paper bags doesn’t get through last legislative session; nor does a bill to protect Liberty State Park
Credit: John Cameron/Unsplash
Legislation, now on the governors’ desk, would provide up to $30M in state-funded rebates for the purchase of electric vehicles.

By some estimates, the legislative session that ended yesterday wound up giving clean energy advocates huge victories — a long sought-for blueprint for electrifying the transportation sector, as well other smaller bills to address climate change issues.

But environmentalists failed to convince legislators to deal with other pressing concerns — a much debated bill to ban single-use plastic and paper bags as well as polystyrene containers and a bill to protect Liberty State Park from converting portions of the land to an expanded golf course.

The close of the legislative session, however, marked a big win for those seeking to push the state to incentivize consumers to switch to plug-in electric vehicles, a step many view as critical to achieving New Jersey’s goals of reducing global warming pollution.

“This bill represents a long-overdue commitment on the part of state government to put money where its mandates are,’’ says Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

The legislation, now on the governors’ desk, will provide up to $30 million in state-funded rebates over the next decade to convince consumers to buy electric vehicles. The bill (S-2252) also provides incentives to build out the charging infrastructure in New Jersey to reduce range anxiety among motorists, who fear vehicles will run out of power without finding any place to refuel.

“The electric vehicle program will stimulate sales and ensure charging infrastructure to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels and clean up the air,” said Mary Barber, director of regulatory affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Failure of bag bill disappoints

 The approval of other bills to address climate pollution was offset by legislation that failed to pass, most notably the proposed ban on plastic and paper bags and other plastic products.

The legislation (S-2776), cleared the Senate, in a narrow 21-14 vote, but never was taken up by the Assembly. “It’s a disappointment,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We are just going to fight to have it adopted among the 100 towns who have yet to adopt local ordinances to ban plastic bags.’’

Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council, said his organization would hope to work with local governments to provide funding and technical support to help develop polystyrene recycling in New Jersey.

Conservation groups also failed to win approval for a bill that would have added protections to prevent portions of Liberty State Park from being converted to private use; the owner of the Liberty National Golf Course had sought an amendment to gain control of a natural area in the park. The bill (S-3357) won approval in the Senate by a narrow 21-13 vote but was not taken up by the Assembly.

Other bills the Legislature sent to the governor’s desk include a long-debated measure (S-1683) that would clamp down on so-called dirt brokers who dump contaminated soil in areas around New Jersey. The State Commission of Investigation has been pushing for such legislation for the past few years.