As New Jersey’s election approaches, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized, Vote yes on ballot question #2: The lockbox for enviro funds:
The concept is simple: When polluters destroy your neighborhood, the fines they pay in settlements should go toward restoring your neighborhood.
But not in the twisted logic of Trenton. All too often - especially under this governor - this money has gone to plug holes in the state budget. The Legislature tried to minimize the diversions, but Chris Christie vetoed its attempt.
Now, a ballot question on Nov. 7th will allow voters to put a stop to this, once and for all. It would amend the state constitution to say that every dollar in polluter fines would have to go to "repair, restore, replace, or preserve the state's natural resources."
This money is not for cleanup, which polluters are already mandated to pay for; it's to restore the neighborhoods, waterways and marshes that were damaged, and compensate the public for the loss of their use.
It can rehabilitate unhealthy river banks, build parks on land that had been contaminated, or even construct baseball fields to make amends to communities that lost the use of them for years.
I left these comments:
If the fund is not for cleanup, then what is it for? It’s a giant piggy bank for ideological environmentalists to “"repair, restore, replace, or preserve the state's natural resources." What exactly are “natural resources?” What does “compensate the public” mean? What is the public, if not the clique that controls the fund? To an environmentalist, anything man builds is not “natural”—including your home or business or even church. Environmentalists are, by definition, concerned with unaltered nature as opposed to nature improved for human flourishing. Will the money be used to fund eminent domain to seize private property in order to “restore” it to “natural resource” status? Will the money be used to “preserve” even more property from human improvement, further exacerbating the “affordable housing crisis?”
Here’s a better option. If the purpose of the fines—which, for the sake of argument, I’ll assume to be just—is what this editorial says it’s for, how about using the money to directly compensate the actual individual victims of the pollution with monetary awards?—something on the order of the asbestos settlement, where in theory an objective process determines actual harm. True, this could create a “gold rush” of people trying to cash in. But at least real victims of “destroyed neighborhoods” have a chance at actual compensation—and a choice to do what they want with their share of the settlement. If they want to use it for their own personal benefit—say, to move to a cleaner neighborhood—fine. If they want to pool their payout with other victims to build a baseball field or rehabilitate a river bank they actually use, they’re free to do it. If there is real harm, the money rightfully belongs to the victims who were objectively harmed, not something labeled a “natural resource.” (Why should non-victim members of neighborhoods, communities, or “the public” get free parks or ball fields?) At least everyone, not just environmentalists, would have a crack at it. Award any excess money not awarded to individuals directly to “the public,” in the form of equal payments to all individual residents who together comprise NJ’s public—If we’re going to “compensate the public,” let’s actually do it.
In the meantime, based on this editorial, I’m voting “No” on ballot question #2. The collectivist premise behind it gives too much power to the environmentalists as opposed to actual victims. True, the money will probably continue to be diverted to the state budget. But at least the general fund is controlled by our elected representatives, accountable to voters. True, Trenton’s loot is a special interest feeding frenzy. But at least all special interests—through our elected representatives, not just the environmentalist lobby—will have a say in how the dough is dished out. Vote “NO” on Ballot Question #2.