Well Past Time To Circle The Wagons on Christie Environmental Assaults
Disarray and lack of credibility emanate from a corrupt core, which I described as the “transactional”, deeply unprincipled, and raw political nature of the Christie endorsement, which was driven by NJEF’s own organizational self interest.
[Update: 6/17/11 – Another editorial – this time a lecture on good behavior from the Daily Record, Governor Christie’s home paper, in the Republican bastion Morris County. Sorry, but I’m at a loss in recalling critical press coverage and editorials from the Daily Record, advising readers and calling out Christie over the last 18 months of environmental rollbacks they now urge ENGO’s to bury the hatchet about. And I plead no lo contendre to engaging in “I told you so”: Work together for greener state ~~~ end update.]
Gannett State House reporter Bob Jordan has an important story today: Gov. Christie Has Upper Hand; Environmental Groups Divided
Leaders of New Jersey’s once-powerful environmental lobby admit they’ve fallen into disarray, offering little coordinated opposition as Gov. Chris Christie chips away at pollution restrictions to help promote business development.
The environmental groups hope to unite against Christie’s just-issued energy master plan that calls for rolling back the state’s ambitious renewable energy goals.
But Bill Wolfe, founder of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said it’s not certain the feuding will end in time to effectively tilt the public debate.
“Traditionally the environmental community does strong work on occasions when you have to circle the wagons and play good defense,” Wolfe said. “I’m not sure this can be one of those occasions, but I am hopeful.”
Wolfe added, “The community is divided so much at the current moment that it’s undermining what we’re trying to accomplish. We don’t have the credibility in the public eye. Legislators see us going all over the place with different priorities, making us unreliable as allies.” …
Wolfe said gridlocked opposition helped make it politically safer ”even in a state that’s highly industrialized” for Christie to loosen environmental regulations, though the governor claims the steps he’s taken have been in consultation with scientists and advisers.
Christie insists his strategy still leaves sufficient protection for natural resources.
“New Jersey continues to be committed to being a responsible user of energy and a responsible steward of our environment,” he said. …
Christie added, “We engaged, I think, just about every significant stakeholder who wanted to be engaged in this process. Ultimately these are the decisions I have to make in coordination with the experts we have on staff and the leaders of individual (government) departments.”
But Wolfe said, “This is an across-the-board retreat on green energy and conservation. … Big corporate energy users win, and ordinary New Jersey households lose.”
That story became the basis for a strong editorial: Christie energy plan a step back
But with his energy plan, Christie may have crossed the line from fiscal pragmatism to self-defeatism.
Christie has, in the past year, pursued an anti-environmental agenda. In addition to his Energy Master Plan” which New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility called an “across-the-board retreat on green energy and conservation” there are other examples:
Because I’m quoted at the center of the controversy, I thought I’d take some time to expand on the disarrray Jordan correctly notes in the article and offer a way forward.
But I also want to differ somewhat and make it clear that Christie is not merely “chipping away” at environmental and public health safeguards, but engaging in wholesale legal and policy rollbacks and institutional and structural attacks on foundational elements.
For regular readers of this blog, it’s no secret what I see as the underlying causes of the set of problems outlined in Jordan’s story.
I’ve been trying to fill the leadership vacuum here and have urged the environmental community to circle the wagons for many months now.
And it’s not all just criticism – I’ve been providing detailed policy analyses, links and text of documents, and message and strategy advice.
For example, just last week, I praised the effective tactics of the coalition fighting the (No) Public Access rules, urging them to stay unified:
The opponents have conducted a hugely successful campaign, built political power, and are winning the public debate. This is the first effective take down of the Christie Administration on its horrible environmental policy. The effort could be a model and set a precedent for more broader engagment to block the rollbacks now underway across the board. They need to keep this larger picture in mind, stay unified, and not be bought off by Mr. Cantor’s piecemeal reforms. Cantor is using a strategy that seeks to divide and conquer the coalition that has been so successful.
But I’ve also been harshly critical – problems can’t be solved if they are not diagnosed and then acknowledged and responsibility taken.
I first chastised the environmental community’s warm embrace of Christie before he was even sworn into office, back on December 22, 2009:
Environment “ Christie has promised to impose a moratorium on regulations, streamline bureaucracy, and eliminate red tape. We all know that those are code words for dismantling environmental programs under the pretext of promoting economic growth. His Transition Team is headed by an anti-environmental rural right wing zealot, (despite NJ’s glaring racial and income urban environmental health injustices); it is stacked with corporate types, and includes just one token “environmentalist” (who has a deep conflict of interest due to his organization’s political endorsement of Christie). The DEP Water Quality Management regulations cited in the letter are about to be killed legislatively. A extension of the Permit Extension Act is pending as well.
To ignore those realities, while sending the Governor vague “policy vision” platitudes amounts to providing political cover and collaboration in ongoing attacks on the environment. …
In this economic and political context, progressive communities need to seek common ground in order to circle the wagons for the oncoming onslaught of the Christie Administration.
So why the disarray and lack of coordination now? Why the loss of credibility in the public eye?
Bob Jordan didn’t print all of what I told him, i.e. that the roots of the problem stemmed not just from the NJEF Christie endorsement per se (with which I publicly disagreed at the time), but from much bigger problems.
I first explained all the legitimate differences in NJ’s “ecosystem” of environmental groups. Those many groups enjoy a diverse issue set, varying geography/place, and different organizational strategies and tactics (e.g. Trenton based lobbying, statewide issues, and media focus vesus place based, watershed based, or issue based efforts).
This diversity is a community strength. But diversity easily can be manipulated and become a weaknesses if groups fail to support each other, compete with each other, or get caught in divide and conquer dynamics. This is a corrupt strategy frequently used by NJ Governors, who literally buy green cover support through funding, policy concessions, or providing selective inside access to favored groups.
I highlighted that the divide/conquer dynamic is in play right now.
I told Jordan that it originated in and emanates from a corrupt core, which I described as the “transactional”, deeply unprincipled, and raw political nature of the Christie endorsement, which was driven by NJEF’s own organizational self interest.
For those who don’t follow the inside game, it’s no secret that NJEF endorsement was a quid pro quo. NJEF agreed to endorse if Christie agreed to support certain pet projects for NJEF.
The way the game is played is that NJEF basically agreed to praise Christie on these organizational pet projects, and withold criticism and run interference on others (or else Christie would not deliver on his part of the bargain).
Not only were those NJEF pet projects chump change, they were used to support a highly questionable political candidate, provide green cover, and undermine other groups.
At the time of NJEF’s endorsement, Christie lacked an environmental track record, his generally conservative politics and pro-business philosophy were well understood, and his environmental platform was insignificant and dwarfed by far more important political and policy priorities that would compete directly with environmental concerns.
All this was obvious from the get go to anyone who was paying attention.
So it should be no surprise that the brazenly and transparently unprincipled nature of the NJEF endorsement – and what necessarily since has ensued from that endorsement – has undermined the credibility of the entire NJ environmental community in the public’s eye, in media, and in political circles.
Let me be specific: the endorsement debacle was followed by months of media shilling by Dave Pringle and various other backstabbing episodes.
We are supposed to be issues based advocates and voices of scientifically grounded public policy, not shills for political candidates.
As I predicted (see: Shoes Drop in 2011 as DEP Implements Christie “Regulatory Relief” Policy) and warned more recently on April 25:
For the last 18 months, instead of circling the wagons to mount a defense against the Christie onslaught, they have played various naive and/or selfish political games.
Instead of educating the public and media, cultivating legislative support, and recruiting activists, they have wasted time and resources in useless insider “Stakeholder process”.
DEP even held a Stakeholder process on the waiver rule – that’s like consulting lambs about the design of the slaughterhouse.
As a result, Christie and his hatchet man DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, have built momentum and a reservoir of credibility. Virtually none of their warped values, perverse priorities, or flawed premises have been challenged or exposed. In fact, they have been reinforced and are now considered accepted wisdom in many quarters of the legislature, media, and court of public opinion.
While it is a good sign that a dialectic dynamic of opposition finally may be emerging as a result of the gross over-reach of this waiver proposal, why has it taken so long to emerge?
It was far too long in coming, but the battle lines appear now to have been drawn.
We should never have arrived at this place. I fear great setbacks are on the horizon.
Shoes dropping and Great setbacks indeed.
So now the effects of that corrupt NJEF transaction are manifest.
Guess there’s wisdom in that old phrase about reaping what you sow.
1) here’s the political background on the Taylor/Cass fight cartoon
2) I use the phrase “circle the wagons” metaphorically, not historically. See this book for the myth of the wagon train indian conflicts of Hollywood fame.