June is budget month in Trenton; the Governor and state Legislature are seeking to balance the budget in a challenging fiscal situation. Unfortunately, environmental funds top the list of places to find“extra” money to balance the budget.

Just a few months ago, with strong bipartisan support, the state Legislature acted to give voters the opportunity to protect natural resource damages from future diversions by placing a measure on the upcoming November ballot. 

New Jersey’s Natural Resource Damages program requires polluters to go beyond the mandated cleanup costs to pay damages for restoration and compensation for the public loss of use of habitat, species, water and land. If passed, the public question would ensure that funds paid by polluters go to restore impacted communities – not to plug holes in the state budget.

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But before the voters get the chance to protect the funds, the Governor is planning one more really big raid of $175 million in these funds. 

The Governor’s proposal takes the funds from the rotten Exxon Bayway settlement reached last year. This settlement accepted damages for just pennies on the dollar compared to the actual damages resulting from decades of pollution to wetlands in Linden.  To have this drastically reduced sum dumped into the gaping budget hole would add insult to decades of environmental injury.

The state Legislature has the chance to once again protect these funds by striking this proposed diversion from the budget.  

Now is the time to act.

Kelly Mooij is the Vice President of Government Affairs at the New Jersey Audubon