NJ Bill Spells Out Biodiesel Fuel Tax Exemptions

The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed bipartisan legislation that clarified biodiesel fuel exemptions under the Motor Fuels Tax Act, paving the way for an economic growth spurt in what legislators say is an expanding industry.

The law redefines the biodiesel fuel exemption to “more specifically apply to biobased liquid fuel and bidodiesel fuel,” according to its language, and lists dozens of exemptions for consumers and suppliers, who can claim tax refunds as a result. Currently, the biodiesel fuel exemption is “generally limited to any motor fuel that is derived from agricultural products or animal fats,” the law said. (Credit AP).

Assemblywomen Holly Schepisi, R- Bergen and Passaic, and L. Grace Spencer, D-Essex, sponsored the Assembly version, A4121, which was replaced by the Senate version, S-2599, and passed 76-0. The Senate had given the legislation 38-0 approval in March.

“New Jersey’s geographics makes it a perfect fit for the development of local biofuel production. The growing industry has its sights set on New Jersey, but we are one of only two states in the U.S. that does not have statutes in place for converting natural fats, greases and plants into renewable, clean biofuel in an environmentally friendly way,” Schepisi said in statement after the vote. (Credit AP).

The legislation sends a message to fuel producers that New Jersey is open for business, Schepisi said, and noted that one biodiesel plant can create 200 construction jobs, 35 to 40 “long-term, good-paying” jobs for plant employees and more than 800 jobs in related industries such as trucking and agriculture.

“The industry is experiencing rapid growth, and it is time for New Jersey to get in on the action,” she said. “The expansion of this new industry into our state will put thousands of people to work and ignite needed economic growth waterfront and trackside industrial areas.” (Credit AP).

The Assembly version of the bill was introduced in February and reviewed by the Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste and Budget committees. The Senate version was sponsored by Sens. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, and Christopher Bateman, R-Somerset.

Consumers can claim refunds for for fuel used in more than 18 ways, including aircraft, certain autobuses, ambulances, farm machinery, fire engines and motor boats, under the law. Refunds will be given provided there is proof that tax was paid and no refund was previously issued.

Suppliers and distributors can claim refunds for certain exported fuels; certain undyed kerosene; fuel sold to the a federal or state agency or its political subdivisions, departments and agencies; aviation fuel sold to a licensed aviation fuel dealer; liquefied petroleum gas except when delivered to the tank of a highway vehicle; contaminated motor fuel unsuitable for use; fuel returned to a refinery for further processing; certain fuel-grade alcohol or biobased liquid fuel; and fuel that could generate a second tax as result of being exported, sold or distributed, according to the legislation.

Making the state more business friendly to the fuel industries was one of the goals of sweeping changes that New Jersey made to the Motor Fuels Tax Act in 2010. According to a public notice about the changes, modifications would be made to the licensing, reporting and imposition and collection in order to create a more business-friendly environment, simplify tax collection and increase enforcement.

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NJ Assembly Publicly Rejects $225M ExxonMobil Deal

The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday passed a resolution rejecting the state’s $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobile Corp., over refinery pollution.

The Assembly voted 45-16-9 to give approval to a resolution by Assemblyman John McKeon, D- Essex/Morris, denouncing Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s April proposal to resolve claims over hazardous discharges from Exxon refinery sites in Linden and Bayonne that impacted 1,500 acres of wetlands.

“About $50 million is going to go to attorney fees, but $175 million won’t even go to try to restore the ecological treasures that were destroyed,” McKeon said while testifying at a quorum meeting.

The proposed agreement, first publicly announced in March, would resolve the oil giant’s liability for alleged natural resource damages at refinery sites, with the exception of surface water claims. It also covers 16 other Exxon sites, including terminals and small airports, as well as Exxon retail gas stations in the state that had been cited in other natural resource damages claims.

The agreement is currently undergoing a 60-day public comment period.

McKeon’s resolution, AR-242, opposes the settlement and demands that the governor “obtain the maximum compensation possible for the devastating environmental damage incurred by Exxon.”

McKeon, citing decades of contamination, accuses Exxon of improperly disposing of “millions of gallons of crude oil and refined products, seven to 17 feet thick in some cases, and containing hazardous substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chromium and arsenic” at Linden and Bayonne facilities since the 19th century.

The resolution was borne of hearings, consultations with environmental scientists and other experts and perusal of 56 days of trial transcripts, McKeon said.

“We used to think of what was destroyed there, the wetlands, as things that just supported biology. But we now know how important they are as a barrier against storm surges after Superstorm Sandy,” he said, calling the state’s de facto forfeit of the surface water claims “unacceptable.”

The Christie administration, according to McKeon’s resolution, hasn’t justified settling the case for approximately 3 percent of the $8.9 billion calculated by the Department of Environmental Protection as the value of the natural resource damages, and offered “no verifiable rationale” for including the 16 Exxon sites and the approximately 1,700 retail service stations unrelated to the litigation in the settlement.

The $225 million figure doesn’t cover the cleanup, and though the area can be “cleaned on some level, it can never be restored,” McKeon told the Assembly.

The resolution also blasts Christie in its historical account of the state DEP’s efforts to address more than 4,000 potential natural resource damages claims since 2001. Since Christie took office in 2010, only one such claim has been made, the resolution said.

A Christie spokesman reached on Thursday said to refer to the governor’s previous statements on the issue. The governor said in a March town hall meeting that the settlement has been misrepresented to the public and that Exxon would have to pay whatever price was necessary to “fix everything that they polluted up to state standards.”

The resolution drew opposition from Assemblywoman Holly T. Schepisi, R-Bergen, who questioned the appropriateness of lawmakers’ interventions and warned that legislators weren’t “part and parcel” to all the nuances of the settlement.

“We have never once won a case similar to this. The fact is, this could go on for another 10 years. We could potentially see zero dollars at the end of it,” Schepisi said.

“The administration was trying to defend the indefensible, which is this dirty deal,” club President Jeff Tittel said in a statement released after the vote.

The Senate passed a similar resoluion in March.

GOP lawmaker target Obama’s climate plan.

House Republicans on Monday released a bill to delay the Obama administration’s plan to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky unveiled a draft bill that would allow governors to veto compliance with the federal rule if the governor determines it would cause significant rate hikes for electricity or harm reliability in the state.

The bill also would delay the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate rule until all court challenges are completed.

Whitfield, chairman of the energy and power subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce panel, said the EPA’s proposed rule to limit carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants is riddled with problems and faces an uphill battle in the courts.

Whitfield and other Republicans cited testimony from an unlikely ally, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, an Obama mentor who has said the proposed EPA rule is unconstitutional.

Tribe, a one time champion of the environmental movement, said the EPA is attempting what he called “an unconstitutional trifecta: usurping the prerogatives of the states, Congress and the federal courts — all at once.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also cited Tribe’s comments in a letter urging the nation’s 50 governors to defy Obama’s power plant rules by refusing to submit compliance plans to Washington.

Democrats and environmentalists have criticized Tribe, noting that his testimony follows comments he submitted in December on behalf of Peabody Energy Corp., the world’s largest private-sector coal company.

The measure unveiled Monday does not block the EPA rule outright, as previous GOP bills have intended, but Whitfield said he is confident the measure would protect states and consumers.

A spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has worked with Whitfield on previous EPA legislation, said the senator is reviewing Whitfield’s proposal.

Whitfield said he has scheduled an April 14 hearing on his bill.

Democrats and Republicans may find a common cause with electric cars.

The New Jersey Senate on Monday passed proposed legislation that would allow Tesla Motors Inc. to sell its electric vehicles directly to consumers in the Garden State and undo a controversial regulation that requires manufacturers to sell cars through dealerships.

The bill passed the Senate on a 30-2 vote and will now be sent to the desk of Gov. Chris Christie for his signature. The proposal received overwhelming support in the New Jersey Assembly, passing on a 77-0 vote, with only one abstention.

If approved, the legislation would override a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission decision from last year that requires new vehicle sales go through brick-and-mortar franchise agreements.

The legislation allows manufacturers to sell the vehicles at four locations in the state so long as it owns or operates at least one retail facility in New Jersey for servicing vehicles.

On June 5, the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee advanced the litigation in a 5-0 vote, with Eustace telling the panel he doesn’t expect the changes to disrupt the existing auto market in the near future.

The legislation is part of a multipronged effort to overturn the MVC’s decision, which made New Jersey the third state to ban direct-to-consumer auto sales after Arizona and Texas. The New Jersey ban got a combative response from Tesla, which accused the MVC of buckling under pressure from auto dealership advocates in an official blog post.

Tesla is also attacking the MVC’s decision with a formal challenge in the state Appellate Division and the filing of a Superior Court complaint against the MVC in April alleging it is violating New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act by withholding documents related to its decision. That litigation is pending.

Direct-sales bans in various states have been backed by auto dealer associations that see the new model as a threat to their business model. Tesla only accounts for a fraction of U.S. auto sales: a little more than 22,000 out of 15 million cars sold in the U.S., according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Auto dealers could be left out of the loop if General Motors Co. or another large U.S. automaker decides in the future to make a shift in its business model and also choose to go with direct sales.

Tesla is one of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans could find a common cause. Congressional Republicans, including 2016 presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, have criticized the Tesla sales ban on free-market grounds. Democrats, meanwhile, have backed Tesla’s innovation and the environmental benefits of electric cars. Tesla has sought to leverage the public backlash against the sales bans to pressure lawmakers for a legislative fix.

Senate Bi-partisanship keeps Hope Alive on Energy-Efficiency Bill

Ohio Republican Rob Portman and New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen today reintroducing major energy legislation to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants, and homes, a measure the senators have floated in one form or another since 2011

The bill, despite buy-in from  business and environmental groups, has spent years ensnared in fights over more volatile topics like the Keystone XL pipeline and Obamacare. It has reached the Senate floor twice in the last two years, only to stall out.

Portman and Shaheen, who will float the bill with a bipartisan group of cosponsors, are hopeful they can convince colleagues to avoid letting it become a magnet for controversial amendments.

The Senate has gotten weeks of debates and votes on Keystone out of the way for the moment, culminating this month in a failed attempt to override President Obama’s veto of legislation to authorize the project.

Avoiding controversial amendments, however, would still not ensure the bill is opposition-free. Heritage Action, for example, has opposed previous versions that came to the floor, taking aim at funding authorizations for the bill’s programs and also arguing that the bill duplicates existing federal and state efforts.

The wide-ranging bill’s various provisions include: new and enhanced Energy Department work with manufacturers to develop and commercialize efficient technologies and industrial processes; stronger “model” building codes and assistance to help states and local governments adopt them; an initiative to train people for careers in efficient building design and operation; provisions to boost energy efficiency in federal buildings; language directing energy savings to be incorporated into federally backed mortgages to encourage greater efficiency, and more.

The two senators say the case for the bill is obvious. According to a summary from their offices, the measure would, by 2030, create more than 190,000 jobs, save consumers $16 billion a year, and cut carbon-dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 22 million cars off the road.

Supporters include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance to Save Energy, the Business Roundtable, the Environmental Defense Fund, and a broad suite of other groups and individual companies, including publically traded Westinghouse and General Electric.

NJ Senate Passes Bill To Force Offshore Wind Approval

The New Jersey Senate passed a bill Thursday that would force the state Board of Public Utilities to approve a wind power plant that could be one of the first in the nation, a plan the board has blocked twice.

The bill, which now goes to the Assembly, would require the BPU to greenlight Fishermen’s Energy LLC’s $188 million, 25-megawatt demonstration plant off the coast of Atlantic City. The Senate also passed a resolution urging the board to adopt regulations from a 2010 law that was meant to push the Garden State to the forefront of wind-generated power.

The New Jersey project has hit administrative roadblocks since Fishermen’s first filed its application in 2011. The matter is back before the New Jersey Appellate Division after the BPU again denied the plans Nov. 21. The regulator previously shot down the application in March, which Fishermen’s appealed, but the court returned the case to the agency in August to consider the $47 million grant commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Bill S2711, sponsored by Democratic state Sens. Bob Smith and Jim Whelan, passed the Senate 22-14 and will now go to the Assembly. Democratic Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, head of the Telecommunications Committee and one of the Assembly bill’s sponsors, says he intends to bring the bill up at his committee’s meeting next month.

In addition to mandating approval of the wind farm, the bill also removes language from the New Jersey Offshore Wind Economic Development Act (OWEDA) that requires an applicant to submit an economic cost-benefit analysis to the BPU for approval. That was the grounds for the board’s rejection of the Fishermen’s project.

The BPU has refused to budge from its view that the project wouldn’t provide a net economic and environmental benefit to New Jersey ratepayers, as the OWEDA requires. The regulator also has found that Fishermen’s hasn’t demonstrated financial integrity.

According to the BPU, Fishermen’s hasn’t shown that the project is viable at its proposed price for those subsidies — $199.17 per megawatt-hour — without $100 million in federal funding, and it doesn’t have that money in hand. Uncertainties remain over Fishermen’s receipt of the DOE grant, and there’s still the issue of absent funding from an investment tax credit that would help the developer reach that $100 million figure, the BPU said in its November decision.

The second measure, SR112, sponsored by Smith and Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney, would push the BPU to implement OWEDA and another law, the Electric Discount and Energy Competition Act.

The law directed the agency to develop an offshore wind renewable energy certificate program that would mandate a percentage of electricity sold in the state to be from wind energy. The offshore wind renewable energy certificates will help finance the project and ultimately be passed on to ratepayers.

SENATE PASSES ONLY I OF 12 KEYSTONE XL AMENDMENTS

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday took up a dozen amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation, passing only one concerning energy retrofitting for schools, two days after Democrats refused to end debate on the bill until all pending amendments had been voted on.

GOP leaders had initially planned to vote on 18 amendments, but put off at least six more until Thursday. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said on the Senate floor she hoped for final passage of the bill on Thursday after votes on the remaining amendments.

Eleven of the amendments failed to garner the required 60 votes needed for passage, according to Senate roll call records. One amendment passed by a voice vote would appoint the U.S. Department of Energy to streamline information about existing federal programs to finance school energy projects.

The Keystone bill would allow Congress to approve an $8 billion project that would link Canada’s tar sands crude oil to refineries 1,700 miles away on the Gulf Coast.

None of the other amendments, from both Republicans and Democrats, got more than 54 votes. Murkowski had proposed removing land from consideration as wilderness areas unless Congress acts on them within a year, coming on the heels of President Barack Obama’s plan to make part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness area and permanently ban drilling there.

Other failed amendments included campaign finance disclosure requirements for companies that stand to make more than $1 million from the tar sands, by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; removing the lesser prairie chicken from the threatened species list, by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; speeding up the approval process for liquefied natural gas exportation to World Trade Organization members, by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and a nonbinding statement opposing presidential authority to unilaterally designate new national monuments, by Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

The failed cloture vote on Monday was part of the Democrats’ protest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid to end debate before all pending amendments had been decided.

Keystone XL is intended to carry tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast, with a southern 485-mile portion of the proposed span running from the crude market hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries near Port Arthur, Texas, having already been approved.

The House version of the bill approving the pipeline, bypassing the traditional executive branch approval process needed for projects that cross an international border, passed Jan. 9 with mainly Republican support.

The White House has continued to hold off on approval of the pipeline, despite fierce pressure from GOP lawmakers and business groups and a Nebraska Supreme Court decision earlier this month that upheld the state’s approval of the Keystone route through the state, a case that had been cited by Obama as a major stumbling block for the pipeline.

The administration has threatened to veto any legislation seeking to force its hand, and although lawmakers can override a veto with a two-thirds majority in each chamber, the party makeup of each chamber and related votes so far suggest any such effort would fall short.