Home > Uncategorized > Christie DEP Nominee Fails First Test: “No Comment” on Controversial Transition Report

Christie DEP Nominee Fails First Test: “No Comment” on Controversial Transition Report

[2/7/10 – See Update below]

In his first test of leadership, independence, courage, and integrity, Bob Martin failed.

Who the hell is Bob Martin, what did he fail, and why is that important? Good questions. Let’s take them one at a time.

Bob Martin is Governor Christie’s nominee to be Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He is now serving as Acting DEP Commissioner, but must be confirmed by the full Senate. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee has not been scheduled yet.

We know very little about Mr. Martin, other than that he is a retired corporate executive with no environmental experience or expertise or public service in NJ (see this post). If confirmed, he would be the first DEP Commissioner ever with no environmental credentials or experience for the job, which has been called the toughest in state government.

Even the DEP website provides no information about Martin (not even a bio). Typically, upon assuming office (prior to confirmation), the Acting DEP Commissioner issues a statement to press and DEP employees thanking the Governor for the nomination, setting forth a vision for the Agency, and expressing high expectations for future progress. Other than press statements that Martin supports the controversial practice of “cost-benefit analysis” there is very little information for the public or Senate to judge his qualifications. Why is Martin silent? What are his plans for leading DEP?

All these troubling signals are sufficient justification for close scrutiny during Senate confirmation hearings. But heightening that scrutiny, Martin’s nomination must be placed in a highly controversial context:

1) an unprecedented set of Executive Orders that would freeze and roll back environmental protections;

2) the harsh DEP assessment and radical recommendations of Governor Christie’s Transition Report; and

3) Martin’s role as a member of the novel joint legislative and executive Christie “Red Tape Review” Taskforce.

Each of these Christie moves have been denounced by environmental groups and each one is virtually unprecedented in NJ politics.

So how is Martin dealing with this controversy?

Martin failed his first test, as reported in Sunday’s Bergen Record:

N.J. Gov. Christie’s Transition Team has harsh words about state’s environmental department”.

Sunday, January 31, 2010
The Record
Builders will no longer be forced to submit “extensive data” for some permits and may only have to go down a checklist for approval on others.
The required buffer zone between new development and a stream or river will be cut in half to 150 feet, increasing the chance of runoff polluting the waterways.

And cleanup standards for contaminated sites will be lowered.

Governor Christie’s environmental transition team made these and other recommendations in a strongly worded report that seeks to curb much of the Department of Environmental Protection’s power.

Simply put, the DEP must do less with less, and do it better,” the report states. …

Christie’s spokesman said last week that the report will be a cornerstone of the governor’s environmental policy. …

This is not some blue-ribbon panel report that’s published, gathers dust on a shelf and then is thrown out when a new administration comes in,” said Michael Drewniak. “This is something that we will look over and take the best ideas from.

Wow. Does Bob Martin share that harsh assessment of DEP’s allegedly poor performance and does he concur with that radical rollback policy agenda? Is this the agenda he wants to project going into Senate confirmation?

Here’s what Martin told the Record:

The man who will carry out Christie’s vision, acting DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, is declining all interview requests until after his appointment is confirmed by the legislature.

Bob Martin ducked. Not only that, but he put forth a bogus excuse for “no comment” – Martin has already selectively issued press statements (see this and this) since taking over, so the “decline interview requests” is clearly a tactic to duck hard questions from the press.

These are very bad signs of things to come.

So, it looks like the Governor’s Office will be calling the shots and pulling Martin’s strings on policy.

That is a continuation of the Corzine practice of micro-managing the DEP which has injected politics into science, law, and regulation. Given the inability of former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson to stand up to Corzine, this led DEP astray and weakened and compromised DEP’s independence and integrity.

If Martin is to avoid an even worse debacle than that presided over by Jackson, he needs to stiffen his spine. But this will be very tough to do, given his total lack of knowledge and experience, coupled with the radical anti-environmental rollback agenda already announced by his boss, Mr. Christie.

Let’s hope the Senate Judiciary Committee has the wisdom to closely scrutinize Mr. Martin and his vision and policy agenda for DEP.

[Update: Bob Martin has spoken – see today’s Star Ledger: “NJ Department of Environmental Protection nominee outlines plans for embattled agency” we will be posting an assessment soon, but will note hre that it wasn’t Katie Couric/Sarah Palin stuff]

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