Lawmakers Move to Extend Permits for Projects Derailed by COVID-19

NJ Spotlight- Proponents of bills in Senate and Assembly committees say they’ll help get economy back on track, but enviros argue they will revive projects that should be abandoned

The Legislature is moving once again to extend permit approvals for projects caught up in the morass of the COVID-19 pandemic, repeating a strategy adopted during previous economic downturns for much of the past two decades.

In separate votes, the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee voted out similar, but not identical bills, to revive and extend government approvals of permits so that the projects would not be abandoned once the public emergency kicked off by spread of the coronavirus is declared over.

“It could be very helpful to our economy and putting residents back to work,’’ said Michael Canuso, president of the New Jersey Builders Association told the Assembly committee.

As in the past, the bills pitted builders, developers and business community against environmentalists, who have argued over permit extensions since the 2008 recession, which brought new developments to a virtual halt. Proponents say the projects could spur an economic recovery.

The Senate version (S-2346), sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), is the most likely to emerge since it included amendments proposed by the governor’s office, according to lawmakers. Even environmentalists conceded this version was less expansive than previous permit extensions granted in the past.

Still, it drew opposition from the environmental groups. “It will allow projects that should be dead to come back to life,’’ said David Pringle, a member of Empower NJ. He and others argued the latest measure will extend permits with approvals dating back to two decades. “Life has changed dramatically since then.’’

But proponents said the permit approvals — by local, county and state agencies — all were done in accordance with existing environmental rules. “This bill in no way does not degrade any environmental standards,’’ said Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

Under the Senate bill, extension of permits would only last six months after the end of the public health emergency in some cases, and 12 months under other circumstances. “These are not indefinite,’’ Sarlo said.

Once the bills are aligned, they are expected to win quick approval from the Legislature since they have enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the past.

[See Original Article Here]