The Senate gave final approval yesterday to legislation that would extend permit approvals for projects derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a tactic lawmakers have favored in the past during prior economic downturns.
The bill (A-3919) won unanimous approval without any debate despite opposition from many environmental groups. The permit extensions would include those for land use, wetlands, stream encroachment, water quality, coastal and other uses. The measure had backing from most business interests, including the New Jersey Builders Association and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
In voting for the legislation, the Senate chose to back the Assembly version of the permit extension bill instead of its own. The Senate bill was viewed as less expansive in granting extensions for much older projects, under amendments worked out with the Governor’s Office.
“They took the worst of the two bills,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He said the organization would press Gov. Phil Murphy to veto the bill. “If signed into law, there will be no room for the public to comment on these extensions.”
Approved projects could move forward
Proponents argued the bill would help restart the economy by not unnecessarily delaying projects that had already won permit approvals from state, county and local authorities, but had been blocked from moving forward because of a halt ordered by the governor on all nonessential construction.
“Work has been frozen,’’ said Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), a co-sponsor of the bill, in a statement. “The economy was stopped in its tracks by strict social distancing orders to slow the spread of the virus. Extending permits during the state of emergency will prevent important, already-approved work from being abandoned.’’
Tittel argued the state should be extending permits for some projects, but said this bill is too broad and will extend bad permits and projects that will cause more damage by increased flooding.
Business groups countered the approvals all were done in accordance with existing environmental rules. “This bill in no way does not degrade environmental standards,” Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, told legislators last week.