New Jersey and Illinois Propose Outdoor Lighting Regulations, Leave Out Digital Billboards
March 14, 2024
Light pollution over Chicago as seen from Lake Michigan | Photo from Shutterstock

Two states hit the ground running at the start of 2024 with new legislation aimed at limiting light pollution and mitigating the effects of excessive outdoor lighting. On January 16 the Illinois Senate introduced SB2763, which would establish the Responsible Outdoor Lighting Act. A week later on January 25, New Jersey followed suit and introduced SB2328, which also proposes new outdoor lighting regulations.

Unfortunately, both bills fail to directly address one of the main culprits of light pollution–digital billboards. In fact, the New Jersey bill goes as far as excluding outdoor advertising from its definition of outdoor light fixtures that are included in the bill, while the Illinois legislation protects outdoor advertising from any federal legislation that may impact these new regulations.

Unshielded lights, like the ones found on buildings, billboards, and other architectural features, release carbon dioxide and excess light into the environment, causing both environmental and light pollution. The primary goal of the Illinois and New Jersey bills is to mitigate the pollution caused by these lights by implementing stricter outdoor lighting regulations. Both legislatures agree that limiting light pollution is not only beneficial to the environment, but also limits energy consumption and costs.

The New Jersey bill in particular includes a state-sponsored replacement of outdoor lighting. The bill lists qualifications that these new outdoor lights must abide by to qualify for state funding. One of these qualifications restricts the output of outdoor light fixtures to 1800 lumens. If the output is in excess of 1800 lumens, the lights must be equipped with timers that shut them off late at night.

The legislation from Illinois also encourages a state-sponsored replacement of outdoor light fixtures, as well as a directional limitation which states that fixtures cannot emit any light upwards. Similar to the New Jersey bill, outdoor lighting in excess of a particular output cannot operate between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM. This time requirement also applies to areas that are considered environmentally sensitive.

The negative effects of outdoor advertising and digital billboards cannot be understated. Among other impacts, digital billboards disrupt our natural circadian rhythms, contribute to light and visual pollution, and can disturb nocturnal animal behavior. It is for these reasons and more that Scenic America supports the attempt to limit light pollution, but also stresses the gaping holes in both bills that these exemptions for outdoor advertising create.