Thursday, August 12, 2010

Environment vs. Economy at Senate & Assembly Environment Committee joint hearing

A joint panel of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee and the Senate Environment and Energy Committee chaired by Assemblyman John McKeon and Senator Bob Smith approved a multi-package of bills aimed at improving the health of Barnegat Bay.

Toms River Township Hall was packed today as more than 500 people including elected officials, stakeholders, and members of the public showed up to voice their concerns.

The package of four bills includes one that regulates fertilizer content. Another bill creates soil restoration standards. Two others regulate stormwater runoff, including one that would allow Ocean county to charge developers a fee to repair old storm basins.

The most controversial in the group is the fertilizer bill, which would establish a statewide fertilizer standard, the most stringent in the country. Under the bill, individuals would be prohibited from applying fertilizer within 10 feet of any water body in the state. It would also require the use of slow-release nitrogen in retail sale fertilizers. Additional requirements include training professional landscapers on the proper use and hazards of fertilizer application and prohibits application from November 15th through March 1st.

Environmental groups including the New Jersey Sierra Club, Save Barnegat Bay, the Surfrider Foundation and Clean Ocean Action support the fertilizer bill, which would help reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality.

But fertilizer companies and retailers are concerned.

John Holub, President of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association says the bill could hurt businesses. "The potential for the window becoming much smaller in the time when people can apply the product, that would definitely impact sales."

Nancy Sadlon, Executive Director of the NJ Green Industry Council says it would also impact fertilizer companies. "The 30% slow-release number being required by this bill impacts the ability to make a product that works."

Ocean County Freeholders had a different message.

Both John Bartlett and Gerry Little say they will not impose a new tax on constituents.

Freeholder Bartlett says this bill would authorize Ocean County to create a stormwater management utility with the ability to tax. "If they want to see this occur, than mandate it. You mandate it and then the state will pay for it. We will not create a new tax on our residents, we just won't do it."

Little agrees, "The legislation that they are proposing would impose a new tax of perhaps up to hundreds of millions of dollars. If the state wants this, the state should mandate and pay for it."

It is essentially a Catch-22 situation.

For decades people have been complaining that not enough is being done to protect, repair, and restore the dying Barnegat Bay. Yet some elected officials and industry leaders say they can't afford it, residents can't afford it, businesses can't afford it.

What is the price of a healthy watershed in New Jersey?

“Today, we are turning the tide to stop the degradation of Barnegat Bay and breathe new life into its waters. This multi-bill package gives us the tools we need to reduce further contamination of an ecological treasure that is an important economic driver for our state,” said Assembly Environment Chairman John F. McKeon (D-Essex).

No comments: