Home > Uncategorized > “Sustainability” Has Served As Cover for Regulatory Rollbacks for 20 Years in NJ

“Sustainability” Has Served As Cover for Regulatory Rollbacks for 20 Years in NJ

A Sham – From Christie Whitman to Chris Christie

“Sustainable NJ” Director Solomon Attacking Critics 

Donna Drewes, co-director of Sustainable Jersey, said the group does not restrict whom it accepts money from as long as the organization is allowed to spend the money that fits their overall mission.  ~~~ The Press of Atlantic City, 10/28/13

Monday’s protest of the greenscam by South Jersey Gas and Sustainable NJ has spawned a furious round of retaliation and attack by SNJ Director Randy Solomon.

In his attempt to justify the unjustifiable, Solomon has attacked the Sierra Club and Jeff Tittel, calling them hypocrites who lack transparency.

That  attack was promptly apologized for when Tittel took exception – Solomon put his tail between his legs and wrote;


I really wish that you had come and talked to us directly, and actually made us aware of what you wanted, prior to having a press conference about it outside of our event. I didn’t know that groups did that to each other honestly. Maybe I’m naive.

I have to check in with our board about this and get some direction. And after that I’ll get back to you and I hope we can have a deeper and meaningful engagement about your legitimate concerns.


Let’s hope his board reins him in – or better yet, fires him.

If not for hits attacks, than for asserting a big lie. The Big Lie is Solomon’s claim that SNJ does not “do advocacy”.

In reality, the entire SNJ program represents advocacy for a different – and ideological – model of environmental activism – a model based on voluntary local initiative, personal market based choices (sometimes referred to as tokenism) and cooperative and non-adversarial relationships with corporations and government. That is a very different an corporate friendly model, compared to traditional, genuine, grass roots environmental activism.

In his increasingly desperate response to critics, Solomon even stooped so low to post false and libelous comments on the Press of Atlantic City story – which were taken down – but here is the attack that came after me:

Randall Solomon · Highland Park, New Jersey

Steven, that is just not true. Because we go to great pains to ensure it’s not so, and it is all transparent. Unfortunately, Bill Wofle (sic) is not a credible source. We don’t engage with him because we don’t want to drive attention to something so factually challenged. But specifically, Sustainable Jersey was founded by the Dodge foundation, the State (then under Corizine) (sic) the NJ League of Municipalities, and a coalition of environmental groups and others. The purpose is to set objective standards for what municipalities could and should to, and provide public and private support. By not doing advocacy we can partner, where there is common ground, with whomever is in the statehouse. By balancing our funding nobody can call the shots, and we make that clear to all funders. Just a case in point – Some or our small grants, funded by W…See More

[Update: Mr. Solomon is an inept liar by omission. Although he states that Sustainable NJ was formed during the Corzine Administration, he failed to disclose his background and history in the Whitman Administration, which we explain below – see this, from back in the Whitman day:

Finally, the Working Group would like to acknowledge Randy Solomon, our key partner at New Jersey Future, for his continuing contributions as the leading citizen advocate for the Sustainable State Project. – end update]

Aside from Solomon confirming that he is willing to provide cover for “whomever is in the statehouse” (where they need that and are willing to pay for it – Solomon gets $1.4 million from Christie’s BPU), this is transparent bullshit – with the exception that yes, it is technically true that Sustainable NJ was formed during and with the support of the Corzine administration.

But, since Mr. Solomon apparently is not aware of the history or use of the “Sustainability” concept in NJ – a remarkable ignorance given that his own organization’s sole stated mission is sustainability – and how prior NJ Governors have cynically used that concept for cover for pro business environmental rollbacks, I thought I’d provide a brief history.

The Origins and Political Abuse of “Sustainability” in NJ

While the “Sustainable Development” concept was originated in the popular imagination by the 1992 UN Rio Earth Summit and is now perceived as a communist plot by the Tea Party, let’s start by setting the political and policy context at the national level.

At that time, over a decade of increasingly stringent environmental laws and regulations, prompted a business community backlash strategy laid out in “The Powell Memo”, environmental protections and EPA were under assault by the “Gingrich Revolution” and Congress’ “Contract With America”.

Al Gore spearheaded the Clinton Administration’s accommodation and appeasement to that attack, under the banner: Reinventing Government”. 

This all led to a whole pile of rollbacks under slogans like “third way environmentalism”, “market based environmentalism”, voluntary corporate compliance, environmental indicators, and performance partnerships based on environmental indicators. 

At the state level, NJ Gov. Whitman, in her first term (1994-1998) embarked on her own sweeping assault on environmental regulation and the DEP.

While the Whitman slogan was “NJ is open for business”, from a policy perspective, the  foundations of that attack were set out in her Executive Order #27, her “Strategy to Advance Regulatory Reform” (STARR) Report, her deep budget cuts at DEP, and diversions of hundreds of millions of dollars from various statutorily dedicated environmental funds. The latter is what spawned the Constitutional amendment via voter referendum that dedicated 4% of the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) proceeds to various environmental programs.

Just like our current Governor, Whitman viewed DEP as a bureaucratic “red tape” institution and NJ’s strict environmental regulations as an overly burdensome drag on the economy.

But because environmental protections were very popular with the public, Whitman needed political cover for her pro-business anti-environment policy agneda.

To provide this political cover for Whitman’s  assault on DEP and environmental protections and too create a false public perception that she was pro-envrionment, Whitman deployed non-profit groups, business partnerships, and slogans, including thinks like The Dutch Model, “Green & Gold Taskforce” and “Sustainability”.

So, the “sustainable development” concept in NJ was incubated in this toxic mix of market ideology, pro-business sham, manipulation of environmental groups, scientific and policy fraud, and regulatory rollback.

I was there, I lived through it, and I fought it tooth and nail.

But you don’t need to rely on my word, just look how Whitman promoted “sustainability” and used it at DEP.

Officially, we start the formal NJ policy story here – at the same time Whitman was conducting a sweeping assault on DEP, science, regulations, and enforcement of environmental laws, she wrote:

in 1995, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, the nonprofit New Jersey Future engaged in a wide-ranging community dialogue aimed at identifying long-term goals intended to enhance the quality of life for all residents of New Jersey, now and in the future, and identifying important economic, environmental and social indicators which could be utilized to measure our progress toward achieving these goals“. (Whitman EO #96)

That was followed by a 1999 Report by non-profit NJ Future: Living with the Future in Mind

Note how, in the first “Sustainable State Report”,  Gov. Whitman used this Report as a core element of her environmental policy:

The answer will come in part from State government. This report, Living with the Future in Mind: First Annual Update to the Sustainable State Project Report 2000, maintains the use of these goals and indicators and reports on our State’s perfor-mance on these indicators over the past year. It is with great anticipation that I await the Whitman administration’s forthcoming implementation report, Governing With the Future In Mind. This report will highlight what State agencies and de- partments are doing and will do in the future to bring about the vision of New Jersey we all worked so hard to create. 

Which led to NJ Gov. Whitman’s Executive Order #96 (June 20, 1999)

WHEREAS, the State of New Jersey is at the forefront of becoming a “sustainable” state by encouraging economic, social and environmental goals that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; and

WHEREAS, in 1995, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, the nonprofit New Jersey Future engaged in a wide-ranging community dialogue aimed at identifying long-term goals intended to enhance the quality of life for all residents of New Jersey, now and in the future, and identifying important economic, environmental and social indicators which could be utilized to measure our progress toward achieving these goals; and

Note how DEP later applied the concept along with allegedly science based “environmental indicators” (see this).

The Whitman DEP game plan was to design regulatory and planning programs around those environmental indicators, as both a voluntary compliance paradigm and as performance benchmarks to spin the public on how well her Adminstration was protecting the environment.

Well, we now know how well all that turned out – the NY Times explains (via Sourcewatch):

Reporting on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (D.E.P.’s) weak record with regard to the cleanup of contaminated sites in the state, the New York Times mentioned Whitman’s not-so-green record as governor: [10]

During the administration of Gov. Christie Whitman, the staff of the environmental agency was cut 20 percent, and hours were reduced to 35 from 40 a week, said Bill Wolfe, a former department official who today is director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit watchdog group. The agency’s site remediation program, which is responsible for overseeing cleanups, dropped to 500 employees from 600 in 1996, even as the department’s responsibilities were expanded to include the regulation of solid and hazardous waste.

“The D.E.P. never recovered,” Mr. Wolfe said.

The Whitman rollbacks were exposed in a superb and award winning investigative journalism series by the Bergen Record titled “Whitman: Open For Business”. Again, from Sourcewatch:

Many of Whitman’s environmental policy changes and funding cuts came under the heading of her “Open for Business” initiative. Whitman said the initiative “created jobs and improved the local economy,” according to the American Journalism Review. But in a 13-part 1996 series in the The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) titled “Open for Business,” reporters Dunstan McNichol and Kelly Richmond showed that “that the real boost in jobs had occurred in lower-paying occupations and temporary positions. Their number-crunching also demonstrated the ways in which policies intended to keep businesses from leaving the state, such as lower pollution fines and more lenient emission rules, caused a chain reaction adversely affecting the environment, the economy and, ultimately, citizens and consumers.” [14]

“In her first three years in office, 738 employees at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lost their jobs, and the remaining staff found themselves on a four-day week,” wroteLaura Flanders in her book “Bushwomen” (Verso, 2004, full title, “Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species”). Under Whitman, DEP also eliminated the Office of Public Advocate.

Whitman did create a few environmental positions as governor — an Office of Dispute Resolution within DEP, that “usually resolved [conflicts] business’s way”; and an Office of Business Ombudsman, “created to help businesses navigate environmental laws,” wrote Laura Flanders. “A famous survey of state workers found that Whitman’s environmental staff thought the biggest problem facing New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection was the Governor herself,” Flanders added.

In 1997, a survey was conducted of NJDEP employees to guage their views on Whitman’s environmental policies.[11]

The 1997 PEER survey registered a sharp de-emphasis on enforcement, excessive corporate influence and manipulation of scientific findings under Governor Whitman.

“According to the professional staff who worked under Governor Whitman in New Jersey, pressure to block enforcement of anti-pollution laws, back-door efforts to gut regulations and a pervasive fear of retaliation have been the hallmarks of her tenure,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Cozy accommodation of corporate violators appears to be her regulatory style.”

The PEER survey, the only survey conducted of state environmental professionals, was sent to all DEP employees. and found:

  • Nearly two out of three employees report instances where “DEP inaction or lack of enforcement has caused environmental damage.”
  • More than three out of four employees say that the “level of DEP’s environmental enforcement has decreased in the past three years.”
  • Nearly three out of four employees believe that under Gov. Whitman, the “regulated community excessively influences DEP permitting, policy and enforcement decisions.”

Whitman championed “market based” environmental policies, and derisively dismissed many environmental programs as “soviet style command and control regulation” and EPA “mandates from Washington”.

One of Whitman’s priority market based progams, the “Open Market Emissions Trading” (OMET) program came under severe criticism by national environmental groups, including NRDC and Environmental Defense, a groups that generally support market based policies. In an ironic twist, shortly after Whitman assumed the helm at EPA, in a strongly worded May 31, 2001 letter, leading national environmental groups asked Whitman to impose a moratorium on her own OMET program. The groups argued that:

“…this approach [OMET] to air pollution trading fails to protect minority and poor communities against continued degradation of air quality in their neighborhoods. Second, rather than balancing incentives with enforcement, these programs simply concede enforcement to market participants and then fail to buttress that concession with credible monitoring, audit and backstop provisions. Finally, the programs fail either to provide adequate protection against localized community-specific impacts, or to provide those communities with sufficient and timely information that they need in order to participate in these decisions. These programs disempower the communities and retreat from the rigor and enforceability of established health and environmental protections.” [15]

The approval of “open market” air pollution trading authority for states, the first initiative from Christine Todd Whitman at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), violates the Clean Air Act to the detriment of public health, according to complaints filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. Last week, EPA formally proposed open market trading for Michigan and New Hampshire. Approval of similar programs is pending for New Jersey and Illinois.

Under open market trading plans, corporations can buy credits instead of cleaning up pollution. These credits can be generated from, and exchanged between, different pollution sources (e.g., smokestacks for auto emissions) and over different periods of time (allowing industries to create credits today for past pollution reductions). Over the past five years under Whitman, New Jersey has developed a de facto trading market. EPA approval will not only sanction New Jersey’s market but endorse the spread of similar pollution credit exchanges in other states.See: NEW POLLUTION TRADING FOR FOUR STATES GUTS CLEAN AIR ACT — Whitman Trading Plans Emerge as First EPA Policies Read the Request for an IG investigationand the NJ Overfile Request here.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a confirmation hearing on Whitman on January 17, 2001. NJ based environmental groups, including Sierra Club adn Audubon Society, strongly opposed Whitman’s confirmation, and submitted extensive documentation of her record. Those submissions and Whitman’s detailed rebuttal were incporproated in the hearing record. A transcript of that hearing and the full record may be found here.

When the McGreevey Administration took office in 2002, I was hired by DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell as a policy advisor.

Campbell not only killed Whitman’s OMET program.

One of Campbell’s first moves – and my first assignment – was to dismantle the Whitman environmental indicators project and the sustainability program.  Instead, we conducted a Department-wide “Vulnerability Assessment” to document the actual state of the environment and the actual performance of the DEP – both of which had been masked by the Whitman non-regulatory indicators and sustainability programs.

So, Mr. Solomon, your “sustainability” project was incubated in a very political environment and used for political cover and to mask regulatory rollbacks from the get go.

We are seeing the same thing now under the Christie Administration – instead of using NJ Future and Mike Catania Green and Gold, Christie has Sustainable NJ to provide cover and divert attention and bamboozle the press and sap activist organizing and deflect criticism and consume scarce time and resources.

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