COURT HOUSE - Cape May County Chamber of Commerce members and guests Jan. 21 heard remarks from Sen. Michael Testa (R-1st) in the year's first membership meeting.
Testa, who is a member of the state Senate's Budget and Appropriations Committee, transferred most of his remarks from the State of South Jersey address Jan. 12 (http://bit.ly/2Y2nDwr) to the meeting, particularly those about the Murphy administration's handling of the pandemic's economic impact on the area's small business community, frequently citing the governor as "out of touch" with South Jersey's tourism industry.
Besides commenting on the local economy, Testa fielded questions concerning other government measures’ potential effects on businesses, some of which included new rules from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Ørsted’sOcean Wind project.
Testa cited concerns about New Jersey Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJPACT), “a targeted regulatory reform effort that will modernize environmental laws,” according to the DEP’s website.
"NJ PACT will usher in systemic change, modernizing air quality and environmental land use regulations, that will enable governments, businesses and residents to effectively respond to current climate threats and reduce future climate damages," it reads."
Said to be initiated through Executive Order 100, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy, NJ Pact would work to fight the state's greenhouse gas emissions and help the state's environments withstand climate change, according to a digital flyer on the website. The goal would be to enact the regulations by 2022.
Testa said that while he supports legislation benefiting environmental health, he believes that NJ PACT's regulations would create troublesome situations for development in Cape May County, describing it as "more anti-business legislation." He said that municipalities would be forced to impose the rules that he described as "a land grab" when it comes to municipal land use.
"I would say that (New Jersey’s) energy master plan is borderline delusional, considering the goals that it is setting for the State of New Jersey, that I just don't think can, in any realistic world, be met," Testa said, adding that, as of Jan. 21, legislation hasn't been introduced regarding NJPACT.
Also among Testa's top concerns is the state's legal cannabis laws, which are awaiting Murphy's decree.
Describing himself as a politician with businesses in mind, Testa is concerned about how legal marijuana could impact businesses having safe working environments, which is why he said he didn’t support the original bill in the Legislature.
He added that the bill would likely be signed into law without consideration for business concerns, criticizing the Legislature on its development.
"The last thing that we want to have are individuals who are out there working very hard, day in and day out, have a workplace travesty," Testa said, regarding possible severe workplace accidents.
The senator added that if the bill is signed, he'd look forward to collaborating with chamber members to draft additional legislation to protect businesses.
Offshore Wind’s Inland Impacts
Despite opposition, Testa said offshore wind energy would likely arrive at the Jersey Shore, in the form of Ocean Wind, an offshore wind farm to be constructedbyØrsted.
The projectisexpected to power roughlyhalf a million New Jersey homes once it’s operational. Ørsted is considering three potential sites to bring the wind-generated power into the grid, one of which is the B.L. England generating station, in Beesley’s Point, according to a previous Herald report.
Many people from the commercial fishing and tourism industries expressed concern about the project because they feel it could be pesky for them, and Testa said he agrees.
The senator also said he heard concerns about summer population increases that could result in brownouts,which are caused when electricity flows to a building at a decreased voltage level, causing lights to dim, according to a webpage from Direct Energy, a North American energy provider.
Recently, the project was scrutinized at the municipal level, particularly from Ocean City's governing body (http://bit.ly/396m4nh). The city would be a focal point of bringing power inland if B.L. England were to become the hookup site.
"They think this is the future, and this is where they are going," Testa said, regarding pushes for the project's fulfillment from the Murphy administration, DEP and environmental groups.
Ocean Wind providing power to New Jerseyans has been said not to increase costs to the consumer, Testa said, adding, "We have to wait and see, unfortunately, to make sure their promises made are promises kept."
More Help from the Top Needed
Throughout the discussion, Testa criticized the governor's statewide shutdown.
The senator stressed the importance of having a typical Jersey Shore summer later this year to help struggling businesses relying on tourist dollars. He said the governor intends on the shore's summer being better than last year but hopes the plans don't change.
When asked about state tax incentives through the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020 signed into law Jan. 7, Testa said he feels those incentives would benefit larger businesses and corporations rather than local businesses needing help for survival.
The tax incentives passed through the New Jersey Legislature, in December, two days after being introduced, and are said to be "one of the largest packages of corporate tax incentives in the country and comes a month after New Jersey borrowed $4.28 billion to plug a pandemic-related budget gap," according to a story by the New York Times.
Testa said a statewide shutdown to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic last year wasn't necessary and caused harm to business owners, given the area’s lower case counts and transmission rate.
"I've been a bigger advocate of 'let us be open,'" Testa said. "Let's make sure that our businesses can ramp up their opening, with common sense, not just all full steam ahead here."
"If, in fact, we start to see numbers rise, ramp it back," he added, regarding loosening restrictions to restaurants, which are only allowed to seat 25% of their normal capacity indoors.
Vaccine Rollout is Hitting Snags, Senator Says
Cape May County Chamber ChairmanDoug Burke, owner of Burke Motor Group, in Court House, asked the senator about Cape May County's standings in New Jersey's vaccination against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid.
Two vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, are working simultaneously to fulfill the state's plan, which expanded to include residents 65 and over several weeks ago. The goal is to have 70% of the population vaccinated by June.
Testa, citing statistics from the previous week, said the roughly 300,000 doses of either vaccine were administered in New Jersey, with about 19,000 of those being distributed in Atlantic, Cumberland and Cape May counties.
The New Jersey Department Health, as of Jan. 21, reported Cape May County administered 6,803 doses, according to a news release from the county's Health Department. The county is also doing the best job per capita in distributing the doses, the Health Department added.
Despite snags in distribution, Testa said he’soptimistic the situation will change, based on discussions he's had with Cape May County officials.
To contact Eric Conklin, email email@example.com.