by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Last week’s news was dominated by the pomp and ceremony of Governor Chris Christie’s inauguration.
Less noticed was the flurry of activity by former Governor Jon Corzine in his final days in office. Following the state Legislature’s lame duck session, Corzine had about a week to turn thumbs-up or thumbs-down on dozens of bills which, by law, could not carry over to the new governor.
First, the good news:
The Forest Stewardship Act, which provides incentives for private landowners to improve the health and sustainability of their woodlands, was signed into law by Corzine. New Jersey forests are not regenerating, and the new law provides the incentive of reduced property tax assessments to landowners who actively manage their woodlands to enhance natural resource and wildlife benefits. Previously, reduced property tax assessments were only available if the landowners cut down their trees.
Also signed into law by Corzine was the Off-Road Vehicle bill, which regulates the operation of all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and certain other types of off-road vehicles. Unfortunately, implementation will be delayed due to a last-minute amendment requiring the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to designate three state-owned sites where ORVs may be ridden before the regulations take effect. Still, given the damage to privately- and publicly-owned lands each year through illegal ORV use, the new law is a welcome step in protecting open space and wildlife habitat.
Sometimes, what DOESN’T get signed into law is as important as what does. That’s the case with a bill which would have delayed clean water protection rules. Thankfully, Governor Corzine did the right thing by vetoing this bill.
In addition to delaying water quality rules, the bill would have granted blanket approval for sewer extensions to any projects that had ever received permits at any level, even if they didn’t meet modern environmental or planning standards. Corzine rejected this nightmare with hearty agreement by the DEP, federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the conservation community. The water quality rules are a critical component of New Jersey’s “smart growth” planning and further delays would have meant more sprawl and traffic congestion.
Now the bad news:
A law that Governor Corzine SHOULD have vetoed but did not was the so-called Permit Extension Act. Under this law, many permits at the state, county and local levels will be extended through 2012 without regard to environmental impacts or subsequent changes in rules or zoning. It essentially grandfathers many bad projects, perpetuating sprawl and undermining smart growth and revitalization of our cities and suburbs.
As the books close on Governor Corzine and the 213th State Legislature, we can be grateful that several important steps for open space and land conservation will go forward.
Attention now shifts to newly-inaugurated Governor Christie.
New Jersey’s water, air and land continue to be in need of ever-stronger protections. Early indications suggest that Governor Christie’s immediate focus is on our state’s budget and finances, and on removing impediments to economic recovery. I hope the new governor will give equal attention and weight to the fundamental role our environment plays in supporting and enhancing the economic health of this state we’re in.
And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.
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