Monday, May 12, 2014

State DEP Rapped for Diverting Dioxin Cleanup Cash to General Fund

Governor's budget plan calls for continued reallocation of environmental funds, but there's not much money left to divert

When the Christie administration looks to plug an $800 million shortfall in the current state budget with less than two months to do so, it probably will find few opportunities in the state’s environmental programs -- for a change.
Most of those programs may be tapped out. The budget proposal before the Legislature already diverts close to $200 million from various environmental and clean-energy initiatives, That includes diverting $147.5 million earmarked for the cleanup of dioxin pollution in the Passaic River to the general fund -- even before the latest shortfall was announced last week.
The issue sparked some heated debate last week when state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin appeared before the Assembly Budget committee. Of particular concern: Reallocating the settlement with polluters to deal with the dioxin problems in the Passaic River.
In two separate court settlements reached this past December, the administration won $165.4 million from the parties responsible for polluting the river, a case that could eventually amount to one of the largest cleanups ever undertaken.
“You didn’t go after them to balance the books,’’ said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union), questioned Martin, referring to the diversion of the money back into general fund. By some estimates, the projected costs of cleaning up dioxin in the Passaic River could run from $400 million to $500 million; the undertaking will take many years to complete
Martin defended the budgetary move. “We’re not diverting funds at all; this is to cover previous (incurred) costs,’’ he told the committee.
Cryan disagreed. “I think it’s completely wrong to cover the shortfall,’’ he replied.
It is not anything new. For much of his administration, Christie has diverted funds from environmental and clean-energy programs to plug holes in the state budget. The clean-energy reallocations, which total nearly $1 billion, shift money paid by utility customers on their gas and electric bills to the state budget.

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