“Vegetation Management Response Act”; concerns vegetation management related to electric public utility infrastructure.
Sponsored by: Assemblyman WAYNE P. DEANGELO District 14 (Mercer and Middlesex), Assemblyman HAROLD "HAL" J. WIRTHS District 24 (Morris, Sussex and Warren), Assemblyman PARKER SPACE District 24 (Morris, Sussex and Warren)
Co-Sponsored by: Assemblyman DePhillips, Assemblywomen Murphy and Dunn
This bill authorizes an electric public utility (electric utility) to utilize all reasonably available methods according to ANSI A300 tree care standards and pursuant to Board of Public Utilities (BPU) rules and regulations, which may include, but not be limited to, clearing, moving, cutting, or destroying to remove, replace, or maintain dangerous vegetation and to establish a program to develop effective strategies to implement the bill’s provisions. Under the bill, “dangerous vegetation” is defined as a tree, shrub, plant, or any other vegetation growing in, near, or adjacent to the electric utility’s right-of-way, and its distribution and transmission system, but not including a service line to an individual customer, which may fall into, touch, affect, or otherwise interfere with a distribution line, as determined by the electric utility or local government entity having control of the right-of-way.
The bill requires an electric utility to notify all customers, property owners, and local and other government entities that may be affected by planned vegetation management activity near the electric utility's distribution or transmission system. The bill also requires an electric utility to conduct an annual public education program to inform its customers and local and other government entities in the electric utility's service territory of the importance of vegetation management and of the electric utility's role and responsibility in performing vegetation management.
The bill prohibits the Community Forestry Council (council) and a county or municipal shade tree commission (commission) from interfering with or restricting an electric utility’s removal, replacement, or maintenance of dangerous vegetation. The bill provides that, upon there being a vacancy on the council after the effective date of the bill, the State Forester is to appoint an electric utility employee who is an approved forester to represent the electric utility on the council until such time as there are at least two members serving on the council meeting that description.
The bill also provides that, in order to allow any public utility or cable television company to clear, move, cut, or destroy dangerous vegetation upon any lands in which it has acquired an easement or right-of-way or upon any public right-of-way, a public utility or cable television company is not required to receive the permission of any commission to undertake that work and is not subject to any penalty imposed by any commission as provided by law. Under the bill, a public utility or cable television company is not exempt from any penalty or replacement assessment imposed as a result of damage to a tree, shrub, or plant caused by non-compliance with any rule or regulation of a commission, provided that the rule or regulation does not interfere with or restrict any vegetation management work conducted by the public utility or cable television company from complying with any federal rule, regulation, or law, any vegetation management rule, regulation, or order of the BPU, or any national or federal standard applicable to a public utility or cable television company. The bill provides that a public utility or cable television company, that is acting in good faith, with due diligence and reasonable judgment, in its performance of vegetation management pursuant to the bill’s provisions and any board rules or regulations, is not to be held liable, penalized, or otherwise subject to undue hardship by a governing body of a county or municipality or a commission.