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NJ Utility Affordability Transparency Law

Policy Details

Policy Type: Policy
Jurisdiction: State — New Jersey
Status: Passed
Tags: JEDI, Public Health, Water Affordability, Water Equity, Water Justice

Policy Summary

As of 2022, New Jersey now has the nation’s strongest transparency requirements concerning water, sewer, and energy utility affordability.

In New Jersey and throughout the United States, communities are struggling with increasing water and sewer rates, which are becoming unaffordable for many low-income families. When individuals cannot pay, they risk losing essential water services, accumulating debt, facing economic difficulties, losing their homes, losing parental custody, and experiencing severe health issues. These impacts disproportionately affect lower-income and households of color.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately one-fifth of all New Jersey households likely struggled to afford their water and sewer bills. The pandemic’s economic impact has worsened this issue, and the necessary investment in aging water infrastructure will continue to drive rates higher. However, like many other states, New Jersey lacks permanent programs to ensure water remains affordable.

A new law signed today by Governor Murphy (A3329 / S994) aims to reveal and track the full extent of New Jersey’s water affordability issues, which is crucial for developing comprehensive solutions.

Under the state’s new law, we’ll be able to see where, and to what extent, people struggle to afford utility bills and suffer devastating impacts like shutoffs and tax lien sales. The limited availability of data is a critical missing link to solving the water affordability problem not only in New Jersey, but nationwide.

The law requires all water and sewer utilities (as well as electric and gas utilities) to submit, at the zip-code level, monthly data regarding rates, average and median customer bills and usage, arrears, shutoffs, tax liens sold on people’s homes for non-payment, late fees and penalties, payment plans for household water debt, locally-available assistance or affordability programs, and other metrics relating to affordability. The use of this information can help make targeted investments in Black communities.

For additional background, see this page on NRDC.org.

Summary courtesy of Larry Levine with NRDC.


Does the proposed policy solution re-distribute power from mainstream institutions to impacted Black community?

According to the law, the Board of Public Utilities is required to publish quarterly reports and make the raw data available in an easily accessible format. Each report must include the Board’s evaluation of whether current affordability or assistance programs adequately support customers who have difficulty paying their water and energy utility bills. This information can help to build permanent water shut off protections, legislation that has a lot of momentum. Black residents can use this publicly available information to advocate for their rights.

Does this policy address needs impacting diverse groups within Black communities (Black femmes, Black LGBTQ+ communities, Black immigrants, people in poverty, differently abled, people impacted by justice system)? If so, how?

The information provided thus far is not enough to assess how and to what degree diverse Black communities were impacted.

Does this policy provide more decision-making power at the hands of Black communities?  

New Jersey now mandates that all water and sewer utilities, as well as electric and gas utilities, provide monthly data at the zip-code level. This data includes information on rates, average and median customer bills and usage, arrears, shutoffs, tax liens on homes for non-payment, late fees and penalties, payment plans for household water debt, local assistance or affordability programs, and other affordability metrics. Unlike similar laws in Illinois and California, which only apply to investor-owned utilities, the New Jersey law encompasses all water and energy utilities, including publicly owned water and sewer systems that, as in other states, serve most of the population. Black residents can use this publicly available information to advocate for their rights.

Does the proposed policy undermine extractive economies like capitalism and restore community power around a local and regenerative economy/ primary production? 

Extractive economies are undermined by making the utility accountable for transparent and public information, which can then be used to ensure government dollars are going to where they are needed the most.

Does the proposed policy repair past harm and uphold civil and human rights, health and environmental protections?

Water affordability issues cannot be addressed without consistent and comprehensive data. Information is necessary for residents and elected officials to advocate for policies that make a difference. By using this information meaningfully, Black residents in NJ can benefit from improved assistance. However, investing in an equity analysis can make sure Black residents get the targeted assistance necessary.

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