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Generator requirement a thorny issue for gas stations

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Among the first legislative proposals to arrive in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were a number of plans to require gas stations to have generators on-site.

The potential requirement highlights a challenge business and government leaders are likely to face over and over again in the coming weeks — how to fix problems exposed by Sandy without unnecessarily handcuffing businesses.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Belford) was one of the first to propose the gas station generator requirement, issuing a press release on the idea back on Nov. 2.

"Should a similar event befall us in the future, never again can we have thousands of gallons of fuel sitting in the ground while people are freezing, unable to get help, unable to get to their jobs and so on," Handlin said.

Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store and Automotive Association, said he's been in contact with legislators about such proposals and applauds their good intentions, but he said a generator requirement would have had little practical impact on the post-Sandy gas lines.

"You would have still had every bit of gas lines and gas station outages that we had during Hurricane Sandy," he said. "There would have been no difference whatsoever because the gas stations that were out of power were prioritized and were brought back with power relatively quickly, and then they immediately ran out of the gas that they had in the ground."

Still, Risalvato said, it's good to have a conversation about emergency precautions. He said most small businesses would likely think about buying a generator even without government intervention.

"Let's say there was no government mandate or no government intervention in this issue at all," he said. "You're going to have very smart small-business owners that will calculate the risk of investment and make a determination on their own because they're thinking about it. However, they will all decide not to (buy a generator) because of the realization that backup generators would not have helped."

In a press conference earlier this week, Gov. Chris Christie called for a measured approach to post-Sandy regulations.

"The natural inclination will be to try to do everything that we think we were short on this time and make sure we're not short on it next time," he said. "It may be that you don't have to go the full 100 percent."

Christie noted that the federal government brought in 2,000 generators after Sandy, but he said many gas stations couldn't accept the generators because they weren't equipped to receive generator power. A compromise might be to require gas stations to be generator-accessible, he said.

Handlin, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Wayne), said she's keenly aware such a requirement would be costly for gas station owners, and she said she's open to discussions about how to minimize the impact.

"We are open to a variety of approaches," she said. "Right now, the important thing in our mind is to get the conversation going and identify this as a priority for the state."

Handlin said other compromises could be to limit the number of pumps required to be generator-powered, or offering low-interest loans to fund generators.

Christie, meanwhile, said he hopes to have weekly meetings with the four legislative leaders to ensure any new regulations are reasonable and not overly onerous on businesses.

"I want to make sure that we learn the right lessons from it, and that we don't overreact," he said.

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