State diverted $2B from clean energy fund to NJ Transit, other needs, report finds

By: - January 13, 2023 7:00 am

Gov. Phil Murphy has diverted $533 million from the state's Clean Energy Fund to other unrelated things, a new report has found. (Photo by Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey has routinely raided the state’s Clean Energy Fund to cover unrelated state budget gaps, diverting almost $2 billion since 2010 away from a fund intended to reduce fossil fuel reliance, according to a new report released Thursday.

New Jersey Policy Perspective found that former Gov. Jon Corzine shifted $242 million from the fund to unrelated needs, and his successor, Chris Christie, continued the practice, redirecting more than $1.2 billion during his two terms in office.

Gov. Phil Murphy has plucked more than $533 million from the fund for other purposes since he took office in 2018, even though he vowed during his 2017 campaign to stop such raids, according to the report. Murphy’s transition team also published a 2018 report recommending the fund be used in the way it was intended.

Officials instead spent nearly $2 billion from the fund on things like NJ Transit operations, state park maintenance, and utility bills for state buildings.

“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,” said the report’s author, Alex Ambrose, policy analyst at progressive think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective.

The money in the fund comes from utility customers, who pay a monthly fee called the societal benefits charge, which averages $64 a year, according to the report. That should add up to about $344 million a year going into the fund, according to a letter about 50 activist groups sent Murphy in October decrying the raids.

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment.

Ambrose also found that New Jersey continues to rely on nonrenewable energy sources, which account for nearly 95% of the energy consumed in the state and 90% of the energy produced.

Ambrose warned that New Jersey won’t meet its clean energy goals if the state keeps raiding the fund to plug budget holes. The state aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030.

With state officials now planning the 2024 state budget, Ambrose and other activists gathered at the Statehouse Thursday to urge Murphy to leave the Clean Energy Fund alone and use it to support and incentivize the use of renewable energy.

“The tens of millions of dollars raided each year from the fund should be used to support our clean energy programs,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “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.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.