Sunday, February 11, 2018

NJ Dems lusting to throw off Christie's enviro-shackles

By Frank Brill

EnviroPolitics Editor

In his eight years in office, former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, seemed determined to do--or not do--whatever would most offend New Jersey's environmental activists.

Now that the state is governed by Phil Murphy, a progressive Democrat, the green community has emerged from its  bunker and is applauding the quick moves by Murphy and the Legislature's Democratic majority, to undo Christie.

Even before his inauguration, Murphy announced that he was replacing Christie's DEP Commissioner--businessman Bob Martin--with Catherine McCabe who had served a short term as the Environmental Protection Agency's acting administrator in Washington, and then as the EPA’s regional administrator for Region 2, which includes New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico. 

Within days of his swearing-in, Murphy signed a half-dozen executive orders. One of them directs the DEP and Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to prepare New Jersey for reentry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) from which Christie had severed state ties. Another orders the BPU to drop its stall tactics that have kept the state from implementing regulations to expedite offshore wind energy.   

The new governor also has told the Attorney General to remove New Jersey from a lawsuit brought by several Republican states challenging former President Obama's Clean Power Plan.

That's a lot of undoing so far by the governor alone, but Democrats in the Legislature, who have endured eight years of Christie vetoes, want to be part of the action.

On Thursday, the Assembly will consider two bills that, if enacted, will enable pro-environment lawmakers to slip the shackles of the Christie the Conqueror (now Christie the Vanquished). They are:     

A1212 (McKeon / Gusciora) - Specifically requires New Jersey's participation in RGGI, and

S598 / A1929 (Smith / Greenstein) - Requires New Jersey to join U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the Paris Climate Accord. While this is more of a 'take that,Trump' bill than a 'take that,Christie' bill, Christie critics note that he did offer at least tepid support of President Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the international treaty and he certainly would have vetoed any legislation that called for New Jersey's cooperation with the rest of the nations of the world that signed on.

Other environment legislation up for votes in the 80-member Assembly on Thursday are:

A839 (Land / Andrzejczak / Mazzeo) - Prohibits offshore oil and gas exploration, development, and production in state waters, and issuance of DEP permits and approvals for activities associated with offshore oil and gas activities.
A1053 (Houghtaling / Taliaferro / Andrzejczak) - Revises and expands laws on trespass and vandalism on agricultural and horticultural lands.

A1344 (Gusciora / Muoio) - Allows electric energy produced from biofuel to be eligible as Class II renewable energy.

ACR144 (Pinkin / McKeon) - Condemns EPA decision to withdraw from "once-in-always-in" policy under the Clean Air Act.

You'll be seeing many more pro-environment bills in the months ahead, addressing climate, sustainable wind and solar energy, electric vehicles, and other issues. Republicans will argue that we can't afford them. The Democrats will counter that it would be far more costly, long-term, to ignore them.

The pendulum has swung. It should be lively.

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