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Christie’s Environmental Agenda Would Be A Disaster for New Jersey

I just read the NJEF press release endorsing Republican Chris Christie for Governor.

Needless to say, I was surprised.

Given Christie’s prior controversial proposals to slash DEP budgets even further and remove natural resource programs from DEP, I had assumed that Christie was not realistically seeking environmental group endorsements.

So to get a little understanding, I just went to the Christie website, watched the 1 1/2 minute Christie video, and read his “entire plan

At a fundamental level, Christie feels that DEP has become  ”too intertwined” with business life in NJ (his words) and needs to shrink and disengage on the regulatory front. This language should set off all sorts of alarm bells for those who follow environmental affairs.“ It represents a sort of kinder and gentler (yet actually more conservative) “Open for Business” mantra.

The Christie environmental platform is a disaster.

Here is my point by point rebuttal, based on 25 years of experience working on environmental policy in NJ; 13 years as a policy analyst at DEP and 12 for ENGO’s. (language from Christie platform is in Boldface)

1. Restore DEP to its core mission

This is traditional conservative republican code for an anti-government and anti-regulatory pro-business agenda.

Years of experience in NJ has shown that in order to protect air, water, land, and natural resources, we need strong science based regulations and a robust DEP staff to monitor and enforce those regulations. Voluntary compliance is a proven failure – it does not work.

In addition to regulatory rollbacks, Christie seeks to break natural resource programs out of DEP. This move would jeopardize federal matching grant funds and make funding those NR programs with state appropriations even harder in the current tough fiscal climate. Removing NR programs from DEP also would decouple existing effective linkages between NR and land use and water resource regulatory programs - the C1 stream classification program is a great example: The Natural Resources side of the DEP, staff at Fish and Wildlife, does the stream sampling. DEP regulatory staff in Surface Water Quality Standards program then revise the stream classification regulations, which then are implemented in the land use and water resource permit programs. Christie seems to have no idea how these programs are designed.

2. expedite hazardous site cleanup

This approach would more heavily rely on and make the failed Corzine Licensed Site Professional privatization scheme even WORSE. Christie shows no knowledge whatsoever about the site remediation program and why it has failed. EPA IG Reports found that DEP does not use and enforce existing law, instead relies on the word of private contractors and industry voluntary compliance. The cleanup program is economically driven. Costly cleanup sites languish when little redevelopment potential exists. There is also serious mismanagement and a lack of science based priorities. Christie is clueless.

3. Establish Rule-Making Scientific Advisory Committees

This would go even further than the current Corzine flawed Science Advisory Board, in terms of providing for more private sector control of science AND regulations. At least the Corzine SAB is limited in scope (to science) and does not allow the SAB to deliberate on policy. The business community wants the SAB to get control over policy too. Christie explicitly would expand the SAB role and allow even more private sector capture of science and DEP regulatory programs.  A very bad idea.

4. Strengthen Rule Impact Statements 

This has been a business community goal and tactic since the Reagan Administration.

Right out of the gate, Reagan issued an Executive Order 12,291 on regulatory impact analysis that crippled EPA and other agencies ability to promulgate rules. It allowed OMB to blocked new regulations based on cost considerations. Christie Whitman issued EO 27 and tried a similar move, but thankfully it failed. These impact statements allow economic cost benefit analysis to trump science based public health and environmental protections. Christie wants to bring these failed conservative national regulatory deform policies to NJ  -I SAY NO WAY!

5. REVIEW ALL DEP RULES AND REGULATIONS

Again, this is the business community’s game plan to dismantle regulatory protections. The lack of any policy objectives and programmatic details gives it away.

There are several positive regulatory reforms that DEP needs to pursue to strengthen protections and improve performance and productivity, such as: 1) ecosystem based management; 2) site wide permit reviews that integrate multiple “silo” permits; 3) consideration of secondary and cumulative impacts in permit decisions; 4) conducting environmental justice reviews; 5) proposing and implementing long delayed rules to protect the habitat of threatened and endangered species; 6) shift from site specific case by case decisions to regional management; 7) developing a new regional approach and plan for the coastal zone; 8 ) developing a regional plan for Delaware Bayshore (modeled on Highlands); 9) reforming the watershed management program by putting teeth in planning; 10) developing a program for the new Coastal and Ocean Protection Council, 11) implementing federal Clean Air Act MACT requirements, particularly for hazardous air pollutants (HAP’s) and additional controls on volatile organics and fine particulates; 12) developing and proposing a regulatory scheme to implement and meet the emission reduction goals of the Global Warming Response Act; 13) streaming the siting and permitting for renewable energy sources; et al to name only a few priorities.

The fact that none are offered in the Christie plan reveals that this is just a DEP dismantling exercise.

6. Eliminate Agency Funding from Fees and Fines 

More than 50% of DEP’s budget revenue comes from fees and fines – (75% when federal funds are included) – eliminating this revenue without identifying an alternative funding source is a formula to defund the agency.  I am reminded of the infamous Grover Norquist quote:”œmake DEP so small so he can drown the beast in the bathtub”.

7. PROTECTING NEW JERSEY’S OPEN SPACE

Establish Long-Term Funding Source of Open Space – this is good but hardly offsets the above 1-6 disasters. Plus, no stable funding source is identified. Does Christie support Senator Smith’s water tax bill?  (read the bill, S1454, here)

8. STRONGLY ENFORCE CLEAN WATER AND OCEAN POLLUTION LAWS

Christie offers no details, and he appears clueless about state law. His federal enforcement experience is of little value. NJ already has a mandatory Clean Water Enforcement Act which is stronger than the federal Clean Water Act. Worse, he undermines his own rhetoric about strong enforcement by talk of  a “public private partnership” on pharmaceuticals. This is code for voluntary compliance and privatization.

The new USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program data are just demonstrating the need for additional regulation of a wide variety of currently unregulated contaminants, including endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals widely found in rivers and drinking water – so it looks like Christie seeks to derail that effort via stealth.

9. Restore Shore Protection Cuts 

This is code for more beach replenishment money. DEP Coastal Zone Management Reports have concluded that the beach replenishment program gives a false sense of security for flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise risks. This promotes more overdevelopment of coastal high hazard areas.

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