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Abdication in Trenton on Martin Confirmation Hearing

Bob Martin, Christie nominee for DEP Commissioner testifies at confirmation hearing

Bob Martin, Christie nominee for DEP Commissioner testifies at confirmation hearing. Martin practically jumped out of his chair responding to the Chairman’s first critical question.

The high point of the hearing was the opening salvo – for old baseball fans out there it was a high and tight fastball, Bob Gibson style – a harsh question by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Scutari:

What do you say to those who note that you have no environmental training, environmental experience, or government experience and that you don’t know the issues or how State government works?

But there was absolutely no follow through and it was all downhill from there as most Committee members simply left the hearing room (there were 3 remaining when the vote came), listened silently, or asked softball questions.

On policy, the Committee deferred to Senator Bob Smith, who Chairs the Environment Committee.

Smith was flummoxed and seemed like he couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He asked something like 23 questions rapid fire – so fast and so shallow – almost as if there were a 24 second shot clock running down. Martin replied in equally rapid fire and superficial fashion.

Substantively, Martin dug in, defended his qualifications, claimed “DEP is broken”, but pretended that the solutions were all about leadership, management, and information technology (i.e. simplistic just “change the culture at DEP” slogan).

Martin defended the controversial elements of Christie’s policy agenda. Martin distanced himself from just 2 Transition Report recommendations: 1) the elimination of the Category One stream buffers and 2) the recommendation to delegate DEP permitting to the Pinelands Commission and Highlands Council. Gee, thanks a lot!

The only push back Martin got on Christie policy was with respect to the Christie Executive Order #2 federal consistency policy. Smith asked Martin that he closely reconsider EO #2 policy to rollback NJ’s strict State air regulations to the federal minimums under the Clean Air Act. Martin didn’t reply but instead emphasized his desire for “federal alignment” (aka “rollback”).

Senator Weinberg also asked Martin to consider NJ’s poor air quality and adverse health effects, and to moderate his approach to focus on the business community as “customers” in light of the public interest and the mission of DEP to protect the environment.

The questioning was totally ineffective and secured zero policy commitments. The above is about all there is. It was a sad empty joke.

The Committee approved the nomination unanimously without discussion. Martin’s nomination moves on to certain Senate approval.

The hearing contrasted with prior testimony and questioning of Banking and Insurance, and Health and Senior Service Commissioner nominees, where the candidates were forced to engage by Committee members in serious and thoughtful policy dialogue, and Committee members staked out clear policy positions.

I’ve been to several DEP Commissioner Senate confirmation hearings, and this was by far the worst in terms of issues engaged.

All in all, Martin’s hearing was a complete abdication – by both the Committee and the environmental groups who obviously either did nothing to raise concerns with Martin’s ¬†candidacy prior to the hearing, or are totally ineffective. Few even attended and no one testified.

Dave Pringle signed up to testify and was called, but he was conveniently not in the room. How convenient!

The abdication was particularly acute in this case, because it is not as if they didn’t have an unprecedented amount of controversial policy ammo to work with.

Governor Christie and Mr. Martin have offered up more than enough material to criticize: from the Executive Orders, regulatory moratorium; to the Transition Report, to Martin’s red meat press interviews statements, and to rapidly moving pending legislation – up on Thursday – to implement Christie’s Executive Order #2 and portions of the Transition Report that seek to rollback NJ state standards to federal minimums and gut hundreds of DEP technical guidance documents needed to implement and enforce current regulations. Additionally, I have been feeding Committee members and Senate staffers analyses for weeks.

So the Committee members either: 1) just don’t care about the environment; 2) or didn’t want to go there because they support the Christie rollback agenda; or 3) they were keeping their powder dry for higher priority issues, like the budget fight. But I really don’t care what the reasons were, the performance was pathetic.

I will write about the substance of the hearing tomorrow. Those that wish to listen can do so here (click on Judiciary).

One thing I will say right now – and I introduced myself and told Marin this to his face – Martin factually misspoke on Paterson air toxics study.

His mistakes were not minor or hyper technical scientific issues where one could excuse a layman’s mistake. Martin either intentionally mislead the Committee or he didn’t get a full briefing from DEP scientists. The issues in question are: 1) the history of the project; 2) why EPA awarded the grant; 3) the scope of work and justification for why the research was conducted; and 4) why Paterson was selected for the study.

More to follow on all this tomorrow.

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