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Smith Measures To Protect Air Quality Advance In Budget Committee

TRENTON – Two bills sponsored by Senator Bob Smith were approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The bills, and their identical counterparts in the Assembly, which were also approved by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee today, are designed to improve New Jersey’s air quality and reduce diesel emissions in the State.

“New Jersey can breathe a little easier knowing that measures to protect and enhance the quality of air in the Garden State are moving forward in the Legislature,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset, the Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee. “New Jersey has the unenviable position of being one of the worst states in the nation in terms of air quality, and that translates to real world health hazards for our residents who suffer from chronic bronchitis and asthma, as well as increasing the likelihood for instances of cancer and heart conditions in New Jersey residents. We cannot ignore the problem while hundreds of New Jerseyans die each year because of our polluted air.”

The first bill, S-1759, would establish a program to reduce emissions from certain vehicles and equipment powered by diesel engines. The program would establish new, stricter standards for diesel particulate emissions for certain regulated fleets of vehicles — including commercial buses, sanitation vehicles and school buses — with diesel engines, to limit the public’s exposure to these emissions. It would also prohibit the operation in the State of any regulated on-road diesel vehicle that is not in compliance with the heightened emissions standards, as well as imposing stricter idling standards for diesel vehicles and phasing in ultra-low sulfur fuel.

“The changing regulations for diesel-powered vehicles will save lives,” said Senator Smith. “Many of the industry leaders that you would expect to be against greater regulation are showing support, because they recognize this fact and want to do the right thing for the people of New Jersey.”

Senator Smith said that recent figures highlight the need for enhanced particulate restrictions. According to a report last year by the Clean Air Council, New Jersey faces 350-1200 deaths annually from air particulate pollution. The State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported that in 2004, there were approximately 68,000 asthma attacks in New Jersey, and 6,000 emergency room visits in New Jersey, that can be attributed to diesel particulate pollution.

“The lost work days, lost hours in emergency rooms, and lost lives, all due to air pollution in New Jersey, are simply staggering,” said Senator Smith. “Unchecked diesel particulate emissions, and the health conditions those emissions cause, constitute a health crisis that cannot be swept under the carpet. We need to enforce suitable safety standards to protect future generations of New Jerseyans from suffering from poison-filled skies.”

S-1759 was approved by the Budget Committee by a vote of 13-0, with two abstentions. The identical bill, A-3182, passed the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee by a vote of 6-0, with one abstention.

The second bill, SCR-113, would propose a constitutional amendment, for consideration by New Jerseyans on the November ballot, to dedicate a portion of the revenue generated by the State’s Corporate Business Tax (CBT) to air pollution control and grants for diesel engine retrofits. The proposed amendment would not raise taxes, but would dedicate 20 percent of the CBT’s current revenue over the next 10 years to provide grants for the cost of air pollution control equipment that will reduce the levels of particulate matter emissions from diesel-powered engines.

“By identifying a Constitutionally-mandated funding source through the CBT, we can ensure that toxic emissions cleanup efforts will have consistent state support, despite New Jersey’s current or future budget woes,” said Senator Smith. “The CBT was intended to require large corporations to be responsible neighbors and to give back to the community. By diverting a portion of the CBT to pay for clean air programs, New Jersey’s corporations are giving all New Jersey residents the best possible gift of all — a healthy tomorrow.”

SCR-113 was approved by the Budget Committee by a vote of 15-0. The identical bill, ACR-228, passed the Assembly Environment Committee by a vote of 5-1, with one abstention.

Both bills now head to the Senate floor for consideration. The identical bills will be considered by the Assembly Budget Committee before going to the full Assembly.

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