The Associated Press reports:
A change located deep inside New Jersey's proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year appears to allow the state to divert money paid by corporate polluters to compensate communities for assets damaged by oil and chemical contamination.
With the principal defendant in the state's lawsuit over Passaic River pollution yet to settle, environmentalists fear the budget language change could pump hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue into the state's general fund at the expense of the environment in cities and towns waiting to be compensated for industrial chemical contamination.
The budget Gov. Chris Christie proposed in February says the state wants the first $50 million in natural resource recovery settlements to be used for cleanups, remediation and legal fees while claiming any additional settlement money for the general fund, which can be used for any purpose. Budget experts interviewed by The Associated Press said the administration needs to clarify its intent because the language in the budget proposal is imprecise.
"If the money is used for some other purpose, the communities will have to continue to live with this legacy of pollution and not be able to enjoy their natural resources," said Debbie Mans of NY/NJ Baykeeper.NY awards $1.4M in grants to nonprofit land trusts
Such a diversion of funds also could make polluters less willing to settle claims for more than $50 million, she said.
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