Governor's Budget Steals from the Environment: Priorities are Wrong

Governor’s Budget Steals from the Environment: Priorities are Wrong
Date : Tue, 22 Mar 2016 16:21:46 -0400

Governor’s Budget Steals from the Environment: Priorities are Wrong

Today the Assembly Budget Committee is holding a public hearing on the FY2017 budget. The Governor’s proposed budget still targets the environment. It takes monies from NRD settlements for the general fund. The Governor’s plan is to steal settlement money from the Exxon settlement as well as monies from the Clean Energy Fund. Other targets include open space and lead abatement. His budget has the wrong priorities and takes money away from where it is needed.

“The Governor’s budget priorities are wrong. The proposed budget steals money from important environmental and energy funds and uses it to balance the budget. Meanwhile it cuts necessary programs for the environment and public health and safety. The money he is taking from these environmental and health programs could be used to remove lead from schools in Newark and elsewhere or to fix Combines Sewer Overflows. Yet, he diverts the funds and gives tax cuts to developers and polluters. There’s money for the American Dream mega-mall but no money to fix the lead pipes in Newark. He steals money from environmental settlements and open space programs. He takes money away from people who have been affected by pollution and uses it to plug holes in the budget. He takes from the Clean Energy Fund that would create green jobs while trying to privatize parks and open them up for logging. The Governor is balancing the budget on the backs of the environment and the people of New Jersey” said Jeff Tittel, Director of The New Jersey Sierra Club.

Exxon Settlement

This year’s budget continues to steal funds from settlements like Exxon the way it has in the past. The FY2017 budget language is as follows:

“Except as otherwise provided in this act and notwithstanding the provisions of any other law or regulation to the contrary, the first $50,000,000 in natural resource, cost recoveries and other associated damages recovered by the State, along with such additional amounts as may be determined by the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting, in consultation with the Attorney General, to be necessary to pay for the costs of legal services related to such recoveries, shall be deposited into the Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund established pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1985, c.247 (C.58:10--23.34), and are appropriated for: direct and indirect costs of remediation, restoration, and clean up; costs for consulting, expert, and legal services incurred in pursuing claims for damages; and grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to further implement restoration activities of the Office of Natural Resource Restoration. Recoveries in excess of the amounts appropriated pursuant to this paragraph, consistent with the terms and conditions of applicable settlement agreements or court rulings, shall be deposited into the General Fund as general State revenue.”

The budget’s language allows the Christie Administration to take the settlement money and use it for purposes other than environmental remediation or helping victims of the pollution.

“Based on the budget language, they can steal $175,000 of the $225 million of blood money from the Exxon settlement to fill holes in the budget. Of the $50 million that’s remaining, almost all of it will go to legal fees, leaving almost nothing for the environment and the people suffering from the pollution. This is on top of the $140 million from the Passaic settlement that the Administration took last year. Funds from environmental settlements such as the Exxon deal or Passaic settlement should be used to help communities who have suffered from their actions, not to make the Governor look like he is fixing the budget. They’re using too much of this money for the wrong purposes and robbing the environment to plug budget holes,” said Jeff Tittel. “The blood monies from the settlement will not go to the environment. Instead the money will go to the General Budget.”

The Exxon case was settled for only $225 million, despite being worth $8.9 billion. Now the budget will prevent even more of those funds from going where they belong.

“The Christie Administration sold out the people of New Jersey for less than pennies on the dollar with the Exxon settlement. The settlement was worth $8.9 billion yet they settled for $225 million. Monies from natural resources belong to the public not to politicians and under this deal the politicians get the money. Out of the $225 million settlement: $50 million would go towards legal fees. That means no monies will go to restoration or the environment and $175 million will go to the General Fund. This settlement violates the Public Trust Doctrine because these lands belong to all of us,” said Jeff Tittel. “Under New Jersey law, the public is to be compensated for the loss of those public resources, however now they no longer are. Now only they did accept Exxon’s sell-out of a deal, but the Christie Administration is using the settlement money to fix the budget instead of to cleaning up communities who need it.”

DEP Funding Continues to Drop

The Christie Administration is continuing to divert DEP funds to general parts of the budget including:

Money is being diverted from Open Space and Parks Capital to pay for park salaries.

$16 million diverted from the Spill Act

$18 million diverted from the Hazardous Discharge Fund

Millions of dollars from the DEP is being taken to fund non-environmental programs. This is money that is supposed to be for cleaning up dangerous pollution but instead is going to be diverted to the general funds. The FY2017 Budget’s Environmental Protection breakdown is as follows:

State Appropriations: $394,113

Federal Funds: $170,332

All Other Funds (Dedicated): $106,528

Special RevenueTrustBond Funds: $146,618

Total: $817,591

Total DEP budget: $343,401,000 (Operations: $225,332,000)

“This is a death by a thousand cuts. The DEP’s budget has been down a third under the Christie Administration: we now have the lowest level of DEP funding since the Kean Administration. Just this year we’re seeing $100 million being transferred out of the DEP for other purposes,” said Jeff Tittel.

Replacing Staffing with Stewardship

DEP staffing is still down by more than a third under Governor Christie and more positions continue to go unfilled. There are many gaps in programs and they are cutting staff at core programs in the agency like enforcement and water. Instead the budget is shifting money to vague “stewardship” programs. Stewardship is not defined and often used for logging and other things that undermine the protection of natural resources in our parks. For example, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife cut down trees to create grass habitat. We could be clear-cutting the Pinelands to create habitat for invasive species. Giving money to stewardship would mean it ends up being used for the wrong purposes.

“The Governor’s policies side with stewardship over actual environmental programs. Pushing for stewardship on public lands is a way to allow for private companies to log environmentally sensitive public lands. Cutting staff at core programs in the agency like enforcement and water put our environment and public health at risk,” said Jeff Tittel. “The Governor is using the idea of stewardship to try to privatize Liberty State Park. He has cut staffing for parks to lowest level in 30 years so he can use ‘stewardship programs’ instead. He is trying to turn New Jersey’s famous historic landmark into a shopping mall or entertainment center.”

Money for Lead Abatement Stolen

The budget also continues in previous year’s patterns of stealing money for lead abatement. In it, we see $10 million diverted from lead abatement money. This money assists homeowners and property owners in reducing lead-based paint hazards in housing units. Lead is one of the most hazardous substances known to man and it impacts children, especially small children, in our urban areas. Lead paint is a danger that can cause illness and even in small amounts can lead to brain damage and learning disabilities.

“Children in our cities have higher levels of lead in them then Flint, Michigan. It’s unconscionable that the Governor is robbing money that would help protect children from lead paint. This money is used to remove this dangerous substance from homes across the state. By diverting these funds, the Governor is showing he cares more about plugging budget holes than he does the health of our children. Yet again the Governor is taking money from a program to remove poisonous lead from children’s homes and using it to fund the budget,” said Jeff Tittel.

Clean Energy Fund Robbed Once Again

There is $112 million directly being diverted from the Clean Energy Fund with $53 million of that going towards lighting on governmental buildings and $63 million for New Jersey Transit. This is also only what’s listed so far and more money may get taken as it has in the past.

“The Governor has turned the Clean Energy Fund into an ATM. He is taking money that should be used to make New Jersey greener in order to balance the budget. This is on top of the over $1.1 billion that he has already stolen over his years as Governor. This is the money that helps people buy energy efficient products and weatherize their homes. This money could be used to help people rebuild their houses in an efficient way and instead it is going to the General Fund. This money also funds offshore wind and other renewable energy programs. We have been waiting more than 5 years for the administration to act on offshore wind. Other states around New Jersey will be reaping the economic and environmental benefit of offshore wind, while New Jersey is left in the wind,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

The hearing is being held on Monday, March 21st at 9:30am at the Statehouse in Committee Room 11, 4th Floor, State House Annex, Trenton, NJ.

“The Legislature needs to act. They need to change the priorities in this budget. They need to stand up for the people of New Jersey. They need to work to protect the environment and make sure that key environmental programs that protect our air and water, clean up toxic sites, and preserve open space get funded. The Legislature needs to work to change the priorities in budget so that we clean up and protect drinking water in Newark and throughout the state. We need money to go to homeowners to make homes more energy efficient. We need to have enough money to make sure that the environment and public health is protected,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Jamie Zaccaria Administrative Assistant New Jersey Sierra Club office: (609) 656-7612