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Gov-Elect Chris Christie’s Environmental Platform

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Is he for the environment or against it? Or will he try to split the baby – doing something here to please industry, something there to please conservationists?  Or will he just muddle along doing neither much harm nor much good for the environment? It’s impossible to say right now, but there are early grounds to be optimistic – and also grounds to be cautious.

Mr. Christie’ s environmental platform posted on his campaign web site is our principal grounds for optimism.  You can read the platform in Acrobat format by clicking here. Here are some highlights from the Christie election platform on the environment:

  • “Establish long-term funding source of open space.” In his platform, Mr. Christie says he will seek a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of the sale tax to open space preservation – though he does not say how much.
  • “Increase the number of acres annually preserved … especially in the Highlands and Pinelands.” The specific reference to the Pinelands may mean he sees the Pinelands as a region in which environmental protection should be the paramount public policy goal.
  • “Restor[e]… Barnegat Bay” by finding “a better way to control the nitrogen and phosphorous poisoning of the Barnegat Bay.” This statement suggests he understands that Barnegat Bay is in trouble, and new approaches are needed to stem the flow of nutrients into the Bay. We need to be cautious, though, because the platform does not suggest the new governor will support the kinds of dramatic new approaches that are really needed. So long as the Bay’s watershed continues to be covered with haphazard, sprawling residential subdivisions, then good measures like fertilizer order phentermine control rules will be overwhelmed by the added contaminants that come with more lawns, roofs and roads.
  • “Implement strategies for better cooling systems at Oyster Creek and Salem” nuclear power plants. The current system kills billions of aquatic organisms and heats the water, and it seems pretty clear that the only way to improve the system is to move to cooling towers. But the platform doesn’t say he will try to require towers, so we don’t know what it really means.
  • “Empower the rank and file” staff at DEP, “remove political considerations” from DEP permitting and regulatory actions, and “improve the scientific basis of regulatory decisions.” We can certainly point to cases where political pressures led state agencies to make bad decisions for the environment, so providing this kind of leadership for DEP and other agencies could be very positive. The problem is that it’s hard to see how the stated view squares with other things he has said attacking DEP for harming business with excessive rules.

And our grounds for worry?  Mr. Christie says he will remove regulatory burdens from business, reform DEP, drastically cut the state budget, and place a temporary moratorium on new environmental regulations. In the past, this kind of language from politicians usually meant removing environmental rules on construction and disabling state environmental agencies from doing their jobs – favoring one industry at the expense of other social goals and economic sectors that depend on a healthy environment.

But Chris Christie says he is going to be a different kind of politician. We’re here to help him do well by the Pinelands – and let you know if he doesn’t.

Voters Support Open Space Funding – Sending a Pro-Environment Message to the Next Governor and Legislature

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

New Jersey voters once again sent the message in yesterday’s election that they want more open space – and are willing to put their money where their mouth is even in such dire economic conditions as we have now.  The Keep It Green campaign, in which PPA was a very active member, led the fight for open space funding.

Prevailing by a vote of 52% to 48% in favor of Question #1, supporters of the open space measure overcame some incredibly unpromising facts:

  • The only candidate for governor who supported Question #1 was Jon Corzine, the deeply unpopular incumbent Democrat who lost his post to Chris Christie, the Republican challenger.   Christie opposed Ballot Question #1.
  • The economy is still bad, unemployment is still high, and most people are worried about the economy, their jobs and taxes.
  • The state budget is still in terrible shape, with tax revenues continuing to fall behind the costs of state and local government programs, public pensions and benefits, and the public debt.
  • The Keep It Green campaign was hampered first by the opposition, then by the tepid-at-best support of two of the state’s largest environmental advocacy groups – the Sierra Club and the New Jersey Environmental Federation.  These groups aggressively fought against putting Question #1 on the ballot at all, then did little or nothing to get out their nexium 40mg members and supporters to vote for open space.

To me, the fact that Question #1 prevailed in these very difficult circumstances means the voters of New Jersey do care a great deal about the environment and do not want to see open space funding – or other key environmental programs – taken apart in the name of “economic necessity.”  And they did not elect Chris Christie to gut environmental laws and initiatives.

One of those key environmental initiatives is the Pinelands Protection Act and Comprehensive Management Plan.  In the coming years, the Pinelands Plan will probably become a target once again of development interests frustrated by its severe restrictions on development of Pinelands forests and critical habitats.  Some development interests will use the economy as a reason to press the new governor and the legislature to weaken the Pinelands Commission – and to make economic growth a driving goal of the Plan.  Some have already started that effort, as we see in the builders’ petition to remove the Northern Pine Snake from the list of threatened species whose habitats are supposed to be protected by the Pinelands Plan.

So all those who care about the environment and the Pinelands need to remind governor-elect Christie and their legislators that Tuesday’s vote was a mandate for the environment.

– Carleton Montgomery


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