New Jersey voters will determine whether the money collected from environmental contamination lawsuits should be used exclusively for cleanup and restoration efforts.
A proposed New Jersey constitutional amendment to dedicate the money for environmental projects won approval from the Legislature and will be on the November ballot.
The move is a reaction to the Christie administration’s diversion of funds from environmental settlements, said Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex.
“When we had the Passaic River settlement and the proposed Exxon settlement, not only were the settlement dollars ridiculously small, but you then had the current administration taking the vast majority of the money, on the order of 80 percent, and using it to plug holes in the budget,” he said Tuesday. “That’s outrageous.”
The proposed amendment would constitutionally require that the money from environmental contamination settlements go to remediate the natural resources that were damaged, according to Ed Potosnak, the executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.
“If we don’t protect these funds and put them in a lock box, we’re going to run the risk of having communities that have been affected continue to not be able to be used,” he said. “So recreational fishermen, kayakers, aren’t going to able to enjoy the waters, which is what make New Jersey so great. We want to restore that.”
If voters approve the constitutional amendment, the dedication would protect future settlement dollars. Because the Exxon Mobil settlement is still under appeal, Smith said it might be covered depending on when it’s resolved.