New Jersey is too dependent on out-of-state power, study warns

New Jersey, which long ago acquired the reputation of a polluter, has made a vigorous effort in recent years to clear its air of contaminants and to reduce its reliance on expensive foreign oil.

But a recent report by an environmental research organization says that those efforts have made New Jersey dependent on out-of-state energy sources for nearly 40 percent of its electricity. And many of those plants, located mainly in Pennsylvania and Ohio, are some of the biggest producers of sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain.

Thus New Jersey, which advocates a ''polluter pays'' approach to improving air quality, may end up footing the bill, at least indirectly, for some out-of-state cleanups. And the state also leaves itself vulnerable to disruptions in service, since other states regulate its sources of power, says James S. Cannon, senior energy consultant to INFORM, the group the published his report.

Despite controversy over the effects of acid rain, many states are concerned enough to advocate stricter cleanup of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. National legislation to curb the amount of SO2 appears doomed for this year.

But Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) of New York signed a bill in August that requires a 12 percent reduction in the state's SO2 emissions by 1988 and a total of 30 percent by 1991. Environmentalists hope that New York's action will prod other states, and ultimately the federal government, to enact similar legislation.

But researchers at INFORM point out that New Jersey's situation could hold lessons for other states, as energy and environmental issues continue to be linked.

Richard Sullivan of New Jersey First, an environmental management consulting firm, says he believes the INFORM report is factual and was done objectively. He says that its findings should be taken into account by people making decisions on energy policy. Mr. Sullivan is involved with the Fund for New Jersey, which gave a grant for the study.

''We have cleaned up our chimney, but we are buying power from places with dirty chimneys,'' Sullivan says.

Both he and Mr. Cannon would like to see a national acid-rain policy implemented. There is some rationale, Cannon says, for states to have their own policies, but acid rain is ''basically a national problem.'' New Jersey shows what happens when short-term energy shortages are met without looking at long-range policy.

New Jersey energy producers have beaten the high cost of imported oil by reducing their own production time and bringing in lower-cost energy from out of state, says Cannon. As a result, even though the state does not directly produce large SO2 emissions, it is responsible for more than figures show, he says.

New Jersey is ranked as the 22nd largest SO2 polluter of the 31 Eastern states, he notes, but when out-of-state emissions from plants producing New Jersey power are figured in, the state ranks 13th.

New Jersey's dependency could make the state somewhat responsible when other states begin to clean up their energy-producing plants. Consumers ''will be sent a bill,'' Cannon says, since they are users of this energy.

Cannon says he would like to see state agencies such as the departments of energy and environmental protection and the Bureau of Public Utilities take a closer, cooperative look at other options to the high price of oil. He would suggest reopening some coal-burning plants, either with or without pollution-control devices. With the low rate of SO2 emissions that New Jersey currently produces, the state could reopen some plants, even without such ''scrubbers,'' and still be within proposed guidelines.

Cannon would also like to see the state speed development of its ''master energy plan,'' which the state Department of Energy is required to produce, and to reassess its sulfur-dioxide policy, which is over a decade old.

The report is being reviewed by state policymakers, and although it is not the only piece of information to be considered in the continuing work on environmental energy and planning, it can be a useful tool, says one legislative aide.

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