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Over The Brink of Irrelevance

Gov. Jon Corzine was endorsed by NJEF. DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson was praised by NJEF and virtually never criticised, despite a spotty record that was critized by many local activists and policy analysts.

Gov. Jon Corzine appears at the April 2008 NJEF annual conference, where he was warmly received. Corzine was endorsed by NJEF in 2005. DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson was praised repeatedly by NJEF and virtually never criticized, despite a spotty record that was critized by many local activists and policy analysts.

In the midst of the Clinton era’s “third way” political accommodation, in 1995 award winning journalist Mark Dowie wrote a tragically prescient book “Losing Ground – American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century”.

It was a devastatingly honest and critical analysis of the ineffectiveness of national environmental groups. It was written as a warning and a clarion wake up call.

Jeff Tittel, head of NJ Chapter of Sierra Club. Trenton insider, and "Sultan of the Soundbite". Despite withering criticisms of former DEP Commissioners, I challenge you to find a negative quote or criticism of his pal Lisa Jackson.

Jeff Tittel, head of NJ Chapter of Sierra Club. Trenton insider, and “Sultan of the Soundbite”. Despite withering criticism of former DEP Commissioners, I challenge you to find a negative quote or criticism of his pal Lisa Jackson.

Dowie argued that environmental leaders had badly lost their way, amidst a sea of compromise and insider political lobbying that alienated them from the grassroots activists and the actual field conditions and issues in environmental decline. Courting access to political players, they simply failed to tell the truth in order to retain that access:

Michael Fisher, a past director of the Sierra Club, spells out the problem in an interview with Dowie when he proclaims, “Sierra Club national leaders know that they can’t just walk into Congress and say no more clearcutting. So we are stuck with the incremental approach, which we hope will lead to slow progress in the halls of power. The problem is the incremental approach lacks the ability to stir people’s souls, to get them angry and fulfilled.” A reliance on the incremental or capitulation approach and the inability to stir up the masses creates a dependence on legislators for action. This makes the legislators so crucial to “success” that they are above reproach. (link)

Dowie documented that the environmental movement had not only totally failed to live up to its potential, but that they had caused damage and actually literally lost ground. Dowie described a national movement that is out of touch, too willing to compromise, and much too close to the industries and politicians they are trying to influence. Case after case of compromise, capitulation, and failed leadership had pushed the environmental movement “to the brink of irrelevance“.

Sadly – almost 15 years later, and for exactly the same reasons Dowie exposed – I must report that NJ Trenton based environmental leaders have gone over that brink and are in a free fall state of irrelevance.

Dave Pringle, NJEF.

Dave Pringle, NJEF.

Nothing can illustrate that irrelevance better than today’s contrasting headlines, first the Daily Record:

Environmentalists say they are looking forward to working with Christie (link)

We are optimistic going forward that Christie will keep his promises to put an emphasis on science over politics and to ensure we are developing in the right places,” Pringle said. “He had the strongest environmental agenda and the most detailed plans.”

versus this news from the Star Ledger:

Frustrated N.J. business owners want Christie to bring regulatory relief (link)

While Christie did not provide many specifics on the campaign trail, he has vowed to take a hard look at the state’s regulations and taxes…. Keeping businesses in the state also means making it easier for them to navigate the “patchwork” of local, state and federal regulations, said John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey. “There needs to be some harmonization. Its too complicated,” Sarno said. “If we made these laws more consistent with federal standards … Other groups like the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce are expressing eagerness to schedule meetings with the incoming administration and its transition team to get their message in front of the next governor.. … Builders are hoping Christie extends construction permits by another two years. When the bottom fell out of the housing market, they were left with a fistful of permits, which are expensive and time-consuming to win, said Tim Touhey, executive vice president of the New Jersey Builders Association.

Does anyone know (or remember) what “regulatory relief” means?

Here’s a taste:

A new genre of environmental reporting.

It started out as a typical government story — a look at the way the state’s efforts to institute business-friendly policies were playing out. But when two reporters for the Hackensack, New Jersey, Record began looking into the impact of budget cuts and loosened government regulations and found a morass of questionable insider politics, an award-winning environmental series emerged.

If the Trenton lobbyists are willing to give Christie a pass on this issue, the same one they have gone to war over with Whitman – and despite Christie’s own statements– ¬†how can anyone believe them? And without credibility, how is it possible to be effective?

Don’t they realize that the Corzine history – and this past election’s endorsements – already have strained their credibility?

The Trenton environmental lobbyists have their heads in the sand and are far too willing to play the failed insider game. They are oblivious to the political landslide building around false claims about the current economic crisis – completely spurious but un-rebutted claims which are stoking efforts to rollback government and environmental protections.

Meanwhile the Daily Record reports (can that word be any more dismissive or a clearer example of irrelevance?) …

Meanwhile, Christie promised the mayors relief from affordable housing mandates and said he would overhaul the Department of Environmental Protection to make the agency more user-friendly.

While the Courier Post carried even harsher news:

So too will be a push to “reform the culture” at the DEP to speed up permit reviews and make the agency more responsive, Christie said. [My note: responsive to whom?)

“We’re going to continue to be aggressive in protecting the environment,” Christie said. [Note: “continue”? Continue what?]

For Barnegat Bay, Christie said he will seek a solution for the issue of cooling water discharge from the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, though he stopped short of an outright commitment to requiring that cooling towers be built at the 40-year-old reactor.” [My note: that sounds real aggressive now, doesn’t it Dave Pringle?]

Folks should know that installation of Oyster Creek cooling towers was considered a “promise” Christie made to secure NJEF endorsement. So, right out of the box, he’s already broken that key promise with absolutely no accountability by NJEF, who remain “optimistic” and look forward to working with him. Are you kidding me?

Matt xxxx, energy advocate, Environment NJ

Matt Elliot, energy advocate, Environment NJ

Denial is too generous a term for what’s going on – as are battered wife syndrome” or “Stockholm syndrome”.

The same failed insider tactics are what created the Corzine administration’s environmental train wreck.

Stating the obvious, rehashing some history, here’s is how that dynamic works:

1. As folks will recall, Corzine was endorsed in 2005 by environmental groups. In exchange for that endorsement, Corzine made specific promises to environmentalists. In exchange for those Corzine promises, environmental groups praised the Governor and Lisa Jackson, regardless of the facts and despite reality. The political deal required not only inflated (at times flat out false) Corzine/Jackson praise, but the withholding of criticism. As a result, Corzine & Jackson received very positive reputations as environmental leaders.

2. Reporters no longer read the find print to uncover the truth because they have no time or expertise to do so. Plus, it’s a lot easier to simply write a red meat quote from Jeff Tittel. This dynamic shut out local activists and marginalized critics.

3. This false positive reputation – built by the environmentalists themselves – created an accountability free zone. Environmental praise immunized (inoculated) Corzine from criticism. In turn, this enabled him to take anti-environmental positions without criticism or accountability.

4. In the last year or so of his Administration – and really only after Lisa Jackson, good friend of Jeff Tittel and thus immune from his criticism, had departed – the facts and the voices of the marginalized local activists and critics caught up with the Trenton crowd and forced their hand.


Will anyone learn from this history?

Environmentalist priae COrzine during signing ceremony for Global Warming Response Act. They later denounced Corzine - but not Jackson - for DEP's failure to implement the Act.

Environmentalist praise Corzine during signing ceremony for Global Warming Response Act. They later denounced Corzine – but not Jackson – for DEP’s failure to implement the Act.

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