Lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation banning hydraulic fracturing byproducts from other states from entering New Jersey, citing concerns about waste from neighboring Pennsylvania endangering public health and the environment in the Garden State.
The Assembly's Environment Committee voted 5-1 for the measure, which now heads to the full Assembly. The Senate's Environment Committee approved a similar measure last week and voted earlier this year to ban the practice, which involves blasting chemical-laced water deep into the ground.
The measure specifically bans in New Jersey the treatment, discharge, disposal or storage of any wastewater, wastewater solids, sludge, drill cuttings or other byproducts of the practice, also called fracking, in any state.
Environmental groups rallied in front of the Statehouse earlier in the day against fracking, saying the process and its byproducts are dangerous. Speakers said they want lawmakers to focus on clean energy and stop Republican Gov. Chris Christie from diverting $279 million from the state's clean energy fund to balance the state budget.
Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey environmental organization, said the state already has enough pollution to deal with and doesn't need waste from fracking in Pennsylvania.
"The main question is does New Jersey need to bring in another state's waste," he said.
But Jim Benton, executive director of the petroleum council in New Jersey, said there's no need for a ban and he believes New Jersey is capable of addressing the issue through existing regulations. He said fracking has brought down the cost of energy and provided economic benefits.
The standing-room-only hearing was marked by environmentalists and representatives of business and petroleum groups disagreeing on whether waste from fracking has ever entered the state. Benton claimed there are no data that show fracking waste is coming into the Garden State, and he suggested claims from opponents are unsubstantiated.
"We tend to rely on a set of verifiable facts instead of accusations," Benton said.
But data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection show byproducts from fracking are coming into state, and the New Jersey DEP also acknowledged some waste has entered.
Data on the Pennsylvania DEP website show 2,571 barrels of drilling waste going to a petroleum services company in Elizabeth for brine or industrial waste treatment. They also show 737 barrels of drilling waste going to a company in South Kearny and tons of drill cuttings going to a company in Carteret.
Assemblyman Scott Rudder, a Republican, said it's critical for lawmakers to find what is and isn't coming into the state and voted against the measure.
"I'm very frustrated by these dueling facts and really want to get to the bottom of that," Rudder said.
But Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat who's one of the measure's sponsors, said in a statement that allowing fracking waste to come into New Jersey is too risky for public health.
"Given the relative newness of this practice, the total damage inflicted during and after drilling is still unknown," Huttle said. "But the evidence is already mounting that fracking comes with serious environmental consequences."