N.J. environmental, health and labor groups urge Murphy to stop raiding Clean Energy Fund

Governor, who campaigned on issue, has not lived up to his promise, according to recent report by N.J. Policy Perspective

Governor Murphy delivers the 2023 State of the State Address at the Assembly Chambers in Trenton on Tuesday, January 10th, 2023(Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office).

In what would seem like an unlikely request to a governor who has spent so much of his time in office advocating for clean energy, a number of labor, environmental and health advocacy groups last week urged Gov. Phil Murphy to stop raiding the Clean Energy Fund to find money for other projects.

The groups spoke at a news conference last Thursday — in anticipation of Murphy’s budget address in March and in conjunction with a release of a policy report from New Jersey Policy Perspective that NJPP said found that lawmakers have raided the fund by nearly $2 billion in total since 2010.

Murphy campaigned on a promise to stop doing this. His administration said it will have no formal comment on the issue until its proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget is released.

Utility customers support the CEF through the Societal Benefits Charge, a surcharge on their monthly bills. Residential cost averages $63-65 annually, the environmental groups said.

Murphy vowed during his gubernatorial campaign to immediately stop using New Jersey’s CEF — intended to reduce fossil fuel reliance and grow the state’s clean energy economy — to fund unrelated budget gaps.

It should be noted that the Murphy administration has supported the Clean Energy Fund more than the administration of former Gov. Chris Christie.

Energy advocates, however, appear to want more than just the “we’re better than the last guy” explanation. Last October, a group of 50 organizations also sent the Murphy administration a letter, urging an end to CEF raids.

Alex Ambrose, an NJPP policy analyst and the author of the report, said the report also highlights the state’s current reliance on nonrenewable energy sources, which it said account for nearly 95% of the energy consumed in the state and 90% of the energy produced.

The report recommends that state lawmakers use the CEF for its stated goals of financing clean energy investments and incentivizing the use of renewable energy.

“New Jersey will never meet its clean energy goals if state lawmakers continue raiding the Clean Energy Fund to plug budget holes,” Ambrose said. “The state’s reliance on fossil fuels threatens the health and safety of everyone in the state, especially people of color who disproportionately live closest to sources of pollution.

“The Clean Energy Fund is one of the best tools we have to improve air quality, invest in clean energy technology and help families afford new, energy-efficient appliances — but only if it’s used for its intended purpose.”

According to the environmental groups, the Murphy administration has diverted over $500 million to date. In the 2023 state budget, Murphy shifted $82 million from the fund to plug budget holes elsewhere, mainly to New Jersey Transit’s operating budget.

Ed Potosnak, executive director, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said this does not square with Murphy’s rhetoric.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “New Jersey is not putting our money where our mouth is. The governor and the Legislature continue the longstanding practice of raiding the state’s Clean Energy Fund and failing to identify a permanent funding source for NJ Transit, which severely hampers New Jersey’s efforts to reduce traffic, cut carbon pollution and address the climate crisis.

“The tens of millions of dollars raided each year from the fund should be used to support our clean energy programs. Anything else is not only bad government, but it is a disservice to the New Jerseyans who trust their elected officials to do the right thing when it comes to mitigating climate change.”

A number of leaders of other environmental groups weighed in, including:

  • Doug O’Malley, director, Environment New Jersey: It is time to end the raids on the Clean Energy Fund. New Jersey weathered the pandemic’s financial storm, and now is the time for Gov. Murphy to fully fund the Clean Energy Fund by ending these ongoing raids. It’s time to fight climate change without holding one hand behind our backs. This is the year to end these raids. Clean Energy Fund raids slow down the transition to a clean renewable energy future. We urge Gov. Murphy to use his FY24 budget to finally fulfill his pledge to end these raids.
  • Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director, New Jersey Citizen Action: The effects of the global climate crisis are negatively impacting New Jerseyans more every year, from the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events to greater stress on vital infrastructure. The pain of climate change will be shouldered primarily by low- and moderate-income families. New Jersey cannot abandon these residents by diverting essential funds away from fighting the growing climate catastrophe simply to plug budget holes.
  • Kevin Brown, Service Employees International Union vice president and New Jersey state director for Local 32BJ: This clean energy funding will create more jobs and more opportunities to build a truly equitable and sustainable New Jersey recovery. We need our state’s leaders to combine these dollars with monumental federal investments coming to New Jersey to support our renewable energy future. A failure to do so means our children and grandchildren will inherit a less safe, clean, and healthy Garden State.
  • Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey state director for the Sierra Club: The Clean Energy Fund continues to be significantly raided despite campaign promises by Gov. Murphy. New Jerseyans pay a surcharge for clean energy initiatives and solutions, not for an endless bucket of money for administrations to tap into whenever there is a budget problem. We demand the fund gets used for its intended purpose, clean energy, and for our government to use the ratepayers’ money responsibly.