12. a. There is created in the Department of Environmental Protection a special non-lapsing fund to be known as the "Shade Tree and Community Forest Preservation License Plate Fund." There shall be deposited in the fund the amount collected from all license plate fees collected pursuant to section 11 of P.L.1996, c.135 (C.39:3-27.80), less the amounts necessary to reimburse the Division of Motor Vehicles for all costs authorized pursuant to section 13 of P.L.1996, c.135 (C.39:3-27.82). Monies deposited in the fund shall be dedicated for support and funding of projects and programs concerned with shade tree and community forest preservation, including but not limited to the awarding of grants for such purposes to municipal shade tree commissions created pursuant to R.S.40:64-1 et seq., county shade tree commissions created pursuant to R.S.40:37-1 et seq., municipalities, and counties. Monies in the fund may also be awarded as grants to local governments and shade tree commissions pursuant to subsection c. of section 4 of P.L.1996, c.135 (C.13:1L-17.4). Monies deposited in the fund shall be held in interest-bearing accounts in public depositories as defined pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1970, c.236 (C.17:9-41), and may be invested or reinvested in such securities as are approved by the State Treasurer. Interest or other income earned on monies deposited in the fund, and any monies which may be appropriated or otherwise become available for the purposes of the fund, shall be credited to and deposited in the fund for use as set forth in P.L.1996, c.135 (C.13:1L-17.1 et al.).
b. The Division of Parks and Forestry in the Department of Environmental Protection shall administer the fund and the distribution of grants pursuant to this section. The Division of Parks and Forestry shall, by rule or regulation adopted pursuant to the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), establish qualifications for determining grant eligibility, criteria for ranking grant applications, and standards and authorized purposes for the use of such grants.