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Democrats Blow Another Golden Opportunity to Hold Gov. Christie Accountable

Summer Joint Environment Committee Meeting Will Not Focus on Christie Environmental Record

Coastal Commission Bill Ignored As Well

No Chance to Contrast Senator Buono’s Strong Record with Christie Rollbacks

For the last few years, at the end of August, the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees have held a special joint hearing at the shore.

The focus of those hearings has been shore issues – the last focused on Barnegat Bay – see:

The agenda and testimony for the hearings has been general in nature and not designed as Legislative oversight hearings on the Administration’s performance.

But at last year’s hearing, Rutgers scientist Mike Kennish presented the science on the declining health of Barnegat Bay and blasted  Gov. Christie’s so called “10 Point Management Plan”, saying it “was  “clearly not working” and that DEP must “seriously ramp things up”.

For that testimony, Dr. Kennish was attacked severely by DEP political hacks in management positions, who launched unprecedented criticism of his science, attacked his personal credibility, and threatened to cut DEP funds to Rutgers’ research.

The DEP managers who conducted this assault paid no price for their attacks. Those ignorant incompetent cowards still hide behind their desks.

Well, it looks like last year’s controversy has cowed legislators, because, based on the agenda for this year’s hearing on August 15 in Atlantic City, they seem to have backed off. Here’s the agenda:

The committees will meet to hear testimony on the progress of Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

That agenda sounds like more “rebuild madness” to me.

Did the joint Environment Committees ever do anything with their March 4, 2013 Sandy hearing? Why do we need another?

Did the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee ever do anything with the Sandy oversight hearings they conducted? Why do we need another hearing – and on Gov. Christie favorable turf?

For this year’s hearing agenda, in a Gubernatorial election year – with a strongly pro-envrionment candidate in Senator Buono and with both Committees controlled by Democrats – an obvious topic would be legislative oversight of the Governor’s environmental record.

The Legislature has conducted virtually no legislative oversight for 4 years, as the Christie administration has conducted an unprecedented assault on NJ’s environmental laws, regulations, policies, budgets, plans, and institutions.

The record is unequivocal and damning – from climate change to open space (details beyond the focus of this post).

So, why would legislative Democrats not use their oversight powers to hold the Governor accountable?

Given this Governor’s record, their failure to do that – especially in an election year – can only mean that Democrats do not oppose the Governor’s rollbacks, or that they lack the spine to take the Governor on.

Another obvious agenda item for this year’s hearing would be Assemblyman Barnes’ bill to create a Coastal Commission. Barnes is a member of the Assembly Environment Committee.

Even former Republican Governor Tom Kean supports a Coastal Commission and very recently has criticized Gov. Christie for opposing the bill (watch Kean in this home run Star Ledger video).

After Sandy devastation, are Democrats more pro-development on the coast that former Republican Governor Kean? Are you kidding me?

Why would the Environment  Committees not want to use the summer shore hearings as a platform to discuss that Coastal Commission bill, sponsored by one of their own?

Failure to do so is an insult to Assemblyman Barnes, and another sad indication that Democrats support the Governor and are in the tank with the builders’ lobby.

With evidence of climate change mounting, and the Governor in denial and dismantling NJ’s climate programs and diverting almost $1 billion in clean energy money, another obvious topic would be to focus on climate change, implementation of the Global Warming Response Act, adaptation planning, and Governor Christie’s reckless rollbacks and failures.

Why would the environment Committees – controlled by Democrats – not want to conduct oversight of all that?

In the wake of the Open Space funding debacle and the Governor’s intervention to kill the sales tax Resolution – during which the Gov. called Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith “a joke” – why would legislative democrcts not want to focus on that?

And finally, after 4 years of no action, no talk and actual hostility by the Gov. to urban and environmental justice issues, why would the Chairwoman of the Assembly Environment Committee – a black woman from Newark – not insist that urban and environmental justice issues be the focus?

When Democrats repeatedly make these kind of fundamental strategic mistakes – political malpractice – and blow opportunities like this, it is no accident.

It can only mean that they support, don’t oppose, or simply are afraid of Governor Christie.

That is not leadership – it’s an abdication of their Legislative responsibility to oversee and check the Executive, and a political disgrace.

(Full disclosure: I have spoken with both Chairs and urged that they conduct oversight per the above issue set).

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