On May 12, the New Jersey Senate passed a ban on the disposal, treatment, and discharge of toxic fracking waste by a vote of 33 to 4. Now the State Assembly must vote in favor of it, as well, and there's only a limited amount of time, as the state legislature goes on recess in late June. If approved, it lands on Republican Gov. Chris Christie's desk.
Though the odds may seem long, environmentalists are hopeful. Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, stated, "Dumping fracking waste in New Jersey waterways is still legal, and that's why today's bipartisan Senate majority ban of the waste is so needed. We urge the State Assembly to move quickly to ban fracking waste [as well], and send this bill to Gov. Christie's desk."
Not only must the Assembly largely vote in favor of the bill, but if its supporters want it to be veto-proof, a three-quarters majority must approve of it. If not, the chances of the legislation not being vetoed by Christie are slim. The governor vetoed a similar bill during the last legislature, claiming that it violated the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. constitution.
But activists feel that Christie was simply continuing to support corporate fossil fuel interests, to the detriment of the state's wellbeing. The governor previously broke the law to do so in 2011, when he decided that New Jersey power plants no longer needed to comply with pollution limits previously established on the federal level. He thus ended the Garden State's participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state East Coast program that has reduced power plant emissions for the past five years.
On Mar. 25 this year, the state Superior Court officially declared this was illegal, and ruled in favor of Environment New Jersey and the National Resources Defense Council, who had brought a lawsuit against Christie's state Department of Environmental Protection, which turned a blind eye to the law's violation.
Christie's withdrawal from the initiative had allowed power plants to operate without proper regulation or accountability - and many feel he wants the same level of free reign for fracking companies.
"Fracking waste is a clear and present threat to our communities," said Jim Walsh, New Jersey director of Food & Water Watch. "Banning the dumping of this toxic mess will help make sure drinking water is clean and safe for future generations."
"Kudos to the Jersey Senate for taking the right action to protect our water, now it's the Assembly's turn," added Dave Pringle, campaign manager for Clean Water Action. "We can't move fast enough. From earthquakes caused by natural gas drilling to the climate crisis, to dirty water and air toxins, fracking and its waste are an increasing threat that has to be stopped, and this legislation is an important step in that direction."
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, concluded, "We need to protect our waterways, roadways, and the people of New Jersey from these toxic chemicals. We need to send a loud and clear message that you cannot dump on New Jersey."