TRENTON — With one legislative session nearly over and another about to begin, interest groups and activists are sketching out their priorities for 2020 and 2021. Environmentalists are eyeing a big one: a ban on new energy production derived from fossil fuels.

State Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, the Senate environment committee chairman, said the big issues of next session depend in part on what gets done before the lame-duck session ends Jan. 14. If the plastic and paper bags ban and electric-vehicle legislation aren’t resolved, those will be his first agenda items.

But Smith’s big priorities next session are global climate change and promoting renewable energy sources. As part of that, he wants to amend the state constitution to prevent new fossil fuel generation in New Jersey – requiring any plants that expire to be replaced with wind, solar or nuclear.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun in the next four weeks. And just hold onto your chairs in the new session, because we’re going for a ride,” Smith said.

There remains differences of opinion between the Senate, Assembly and Gov. Phil Murphy’s office regarding the plastic and paper bag bill, which would also phase out the use of Styrofoam food and drink containers.

Some of the differences appear to be about paper bags, not plastic. Smith said some want to ban paper bags in a year, on the same schedule as plastic bags. Others want to give them two years. Others want to create a panel that would study the issue.

Regarding electric vehicle legislation, Smith said there isn’t yet agreement about whether the development of the charging infrastructure should be handled through the Board of Public Utilities or independent contractors in the private sector.

Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said there is more agreement about proposed incentives that are intended to make the price of electric cars competitive with traditional cars. He said incentives wouldn’t apply to high-end cars priced over $50,000.

“So you’re not talking about the fanciest thing where the doors open sideways. These are regular cars, so regular people can make those choices today that will help protect our environment tomorrow,” Potosnak said.

Mary Frank, chief executive officer of ChargEVC, said incentives can be written in ways that encourage rideshare companies and e-scooters. She said the BPU is already working on an electric vehicle plan through $20 million in the current budget and that legislation could solidify the effort for the long-term.

“We’re so close to the finish line we just want to get it there,” Frank said.

Frank says the Dec. 12 report by Rutgers University researchers released by the Department of Environmental Protection predicting a dramatic increase in sea-level rise on the Jersey Shore should instill urgency in the new legislature.

“And I think the action that’s being called for is going to have to be a lot more aggressive than anyone was contemplating,” Frank said.

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In addition to electric vehicles, the League of Conservation Voters agenda for next session includes promoting 100% renewable energy, keeping chemicals out of water, reducing urban pollution and preserving land and parks.

To those, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, D-Middlesex, the Assembly Environment Committee chairwoman, adds lead and a fee on paint. A second environmental group, the Sierra Club, lists nearly 20 priorities on its agenda.

“I thought we had done a lot of work. Now I find out that we have a lot more to do,” Pinkin said. “I thought we were going to have a couple days off, but I don’t think so.”


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com