Op-Ed: This Burdensome Bill Would Shut Down Economic Opportunities in NJ’s Urban Areas

Ray Cantor | July 10, 2020 | Opinion
Though well-intentioned, S-232, if signed into law, would limit job growth for many of New Jersey’s major manufacturers
Credit: NJBIA
Ray Cantor

The efforts made to improve the environmental conditions in urban communities in New Jersey are laudable and necessary.

A well-intentioned bill that attempts to further New Jersey’s progress in solving challenges in these areas has now passed the Senate. Unfortunately, the legislation is so broad and overreaching that half of the state — with 300 municipalities encompassing 4.5 million residents — would be designated as overburdened and denied economic growth opportunities.

More tangibly, the new and complex requirements set in S-232, if signed into law, would:

  • Stop any expansion at universities like Rutgers, Rowan and Stockton;
  • Cease the expansion of many hospitals required to keep up with needs in urban communities;
  • Stop the expansion of other facilities, like the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City;
  • Effectively ban the creation or expansion of any recycling facility, rendering the new food waste law useless and setting back our recycling efforts.

It also goes without saying this legislation would greatly impact major manufacturers in the state, while effectively turning away others — and the good-paying jobs they would bring to these areas.

While environmental challenges do remain in New Jersey, it is worth a look at the improvements already made without this overly burdensome legislation.

Through vigorous environmental standards and industry actions, New Jersey is now in attainment with federal standards for PM2.5, which is small particulate matter that causes localized air pollution. Ozone, which is largely due to out-of-state pollution sources that travel to our state, is also on the decline.

New Jersey has spent more than $30 million over the last decade to retrofit diesel buses to improve air quality in urban areas. More than 10,000 contaminated sites have been cleaned up since the enactment of the Site Remediation Reform Act in 2009.

Hospitalizations for asthma have declined significantly over the past decade. And with more electric cars on the road, incentivized by legislation passed this session, we can anticipate these positive air quality trends to continue and improve.

Issues with bill’s requirements

The problem with S-232 is many of its requirements range between extremely onerous to simply unattainable. As a start, it would necessitate a permit applicant to assess myriad factors beyond its control and quantify how they would impact a community. There is no scientific way to make this assessment.

The legislation also mandates that the state deny permits for projects in any community whose “stressors” are greater than “stressors” elsewhere. In other words, if the community “stressors” in Paterson, as an example, are greater than in areas of, say, Hunterdon County, than the state Department of Environmental Protection “shall” deny the permit. This provision will prevent any new or expanded facilities in over half the state.

The New Jersey Business & Industry Association does support some parts of this legislation. We agree with the provisions requiring open public hearings and other outreach efforts. We also support mitigation measures to improve the lives of those in a community where a facility is located.

But ultimately, there are other proven approaches that can have far more meaningful impacts on residents’ lives without limiting opportunities for clean economic growth.

Look no further than the DEP’s Community Collaborative Initiative, which dedicates the agency’s personnel and monetary sources to solve on-the-ground environmental issues. Through this effective program, New Jersey has already seen the elimination of sewer flooding in Camden, the cleanup of a brownfield near a school in Perth Amboy that has been converted into a waterfront park, and the day-lighting of a once-covered stream here in Trenton.

It is this kind of proactive and practical approach that will bring about greater improvement in our truly overburdened communities. In these challenging economic times for New Jersey, we can and must do better than imposing unnecessary and overly burdensome requirements that slam the door in the face of manufacturers and job-creators.