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Florio Administration’s Policy on Energy and Environment Still Relevant Today

Climate Emergency Justifies Fossil Moratorium

Gov. James Florio

Gov. James Florio

Former Governor Florio spoke at a Trenton press conference on Thursday about some of his perspectives on climate change and energy policy.

He began by noting that longevity has its benefits, in terms of providing perspective and experience in addressing policy challenges.

I was able to ask my second question of a Governor at a press conference – my first didn’t go so well – so I want to reflect on that question today to show how Florio’s leadership on integrating energy  and environmental policy remains a relevant model and some of his policy experience and tools can still be used to address very similar policy problems.

First of all, few seem to recall that way back in 1990, Gov. Florio expanded the Department of Environmental Protection’ (DEP) mission to include energy, forming the Department of Environmental Protection and Energy (DEPE). This integration began an incredibly innovative public policy, planning, and regulatory process.

The initial policy thrust and programmatic focus of that integration was on solid waste and air quality, but a future expansion to the issue of climate change was the logical progression and clearly on the horizon. NASA scientist Jim Hansen had just first put the climate issue on the public radar in his groundbreaking Congressional testimony in 1988, as the NY Times then reported:

Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate

WASHINGTON, June 23— The earth has been warmer in the first five months of this year than in any comparable period since measurements began 130 years ago, and the higher temperatures can now be attributed to a long-expected global warming trend linked to pollution, a space agency scientist reported today.

Until now, scientists have been cautious about attributing rising global temperatures of recent years to the predicted global warming caused by pollutants in the atmosphere, known as the ”greenhouse effect.” But today Dr. James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told a Congressional committee that it was 99 percent certain that the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere.

After ignoring and denying this warning, almost 30 years later, today Hansen and virtually all climate scientists warn that we must keep at least 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to avoid more than 2 degrees (c) of warming and climate chaos.

Governor Florio was on the cutting edge and way ahead of the policy curve by institutionalizing energy and the environment in DEPE and beginning the challenge of integrating planning and regulation.

Obviously, the energy industry saw the writing on the wall and perceived the strategic threat of regulation, because the first thing that the Whitman Administration did in 1994 was to dismantle the Florio effort and – like Ronald Reagan’ removing Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the White House roof – ripped the letters off the DEPE building, leaving the original DEP logo and a charcoal colored stain where the “E” had stood for 4 years.

But the energy industry went way beyond that –

They killed the inchoate integrated energy and environmental regulatory baby in its crib.

Governor Whitman pushed the industry’s energy deregulation initiative, which was enacted by the Legislature and has proven a huge failure.

But Governor Florio was able to implement incredibly important policy with respect to integrating energy and environment with respect tho solid waste policy that Whitman was unable to dismantle (although she tried hard to do just that).

Few know that the Florio policy is what produced NJ’s huge expansion of recycling and killed more than a dozen proposed garbage incinerators.

That’s the feature I want to focus on today to show the relevance for responding some of the fossil infrastructure controversies now underway in NJ.

The challenges of 1990 are very similar to today’s

Consider these parallels:

1. In 1990, Gov. Florio inherited Governor Tom Kean’s Solid Waste Plan. That plan proposed 21 garbage incinerators, one in each of NJ’s 21 counties.

In 2015, we are saddled with Governor Christie’s Energy Master Plan (EMP) that promotes a huge expansion of gas pipelines and power plants.

2. In 1990, the public and environmental groups were vigorously opposed to building garbage incinerators in their towns. Huge political battles broke out across the state in opposition to various proposed burners.

In 2015,  the same battles are occurring across the state on a score of fossil infrastructure projects, from pipelines (gas and oil), bomb trains, power plants, off shore LNG, fracking, etc.

3. In 1990, the Kean Plan did not consider statewide need in relation to the design capacity of all those 21 garbage incinerators.

As a result, there was HUGE excess capacity that was 2 -3 times the amount needed for NJ’s garbage. As a result of this excess capacity, garbage imports from NY City and Philadelphia would expand and be subsidized by NJ taxpayers, while – adding insult to injury – NJ bore the brunt of the pollution and environmental impacts.

In 2105, the Christie EMP does not consider NJ’s demand for energy or natural gas in promoting pipelines and power plants that will serve NY and the northeast and mid-Atlantic region, and again, NJ bears the environmental impacts and safety risks.

4. In 1990, the Kean Plan failed to consider the total cost of building 21 garbage incinerators, which exceeded $3 billion. Those costs would be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers, not the private investors reaping the huge unregulated profits (BPU had been stripped of its public utility “rate base – rate of return” powers over the incineration industry by the 1985 “McEnroe” legislation, a prelude to Whitman’s 1999 complete deregulation).

In 2015, the Christie EMP fails to consider the total cost of the glut of pipelines and power plants, which also are paid for by ratepayers and taxpayers, while the energy industry reaps windfall profits.

5. Perhaps most importantly, in 1990 the Kean plan failed to consider the far superior economically and environmentally preferable alternatives of source reduction and recycling. The Kean plan failed to consider how garbage incineration technology and over-capacity fundamentally conflicted with those preferable alternatives.

In 2015, the Christie EMP fails to consider the far preferable alternatives of energy efficiency and renewable energy or how the glut and artificially low price of natural gas undermines those far preferable alternatives.

6. In 1990, the DEP and BPU roles were to rubber stamp the private sector’s projects.

Despite having clear statutory authority and planning and regulatory tools to protect the public interest and the environment, and despite enormous public opposition to the incineration industry, State government’s role was to rubber stamp their permits and promote industry profits.

In 2015, Governor Christie has aggressively adopted the same pro-industry, anti-regulatory policy and passive role for State government.

[Even the way capital intensive garbage incinerators were financed by debt backed by mandatory waste flow is analogous to public utility model of control over the grid versus competition from energy efficiency, demand management, distributed renewables and net metering.]

It doesn’t have to be that way – we can learn the lessons of 1990.

Florio Governmental Response in 1990 is Still Relevant Today

To respond to the systemic failures of State government planning and regulation and the demands of the public and environmental groups, in addition to institutionalizing and integrating energy and environment at the new DEPE, on April 6, 1990, Gov. Florio issued Executive Order #8 , which established a moratorium on garbage incinerators.

EO #8 also created an “Emergency Solid Waste Taskforce” with the following mission:

3. Within 120 days of the date of this Order, the Task Force shall submit recommendations to the Governor on the following:

a. A program to minimize the generation of solid waste and maximize reuse, recycling and composting. This program should specifically identify the percentages of waste which can be removed from the solid waste stream by reuse, recycling and composting and propose a schedule for these reductions in the waste stream;

b. Alternatives for the disposal of solid waste that cannot be removed from the waste stream through source reduction and

c. The benefits of and a process for regionalizing solid waste disposal facilities where appropriate;

d. The need for revision of environmental or other standards for resource recovery or other solid waste disposal facilities; and

e. Legislative and regulatory changes which are necessary to achieve the Task Force’s recommendations.

We are now in a climate emergency that is far more profound than the solid waste problems that triggered the Florio “Emergency” Task force.

As noted above, there are tremendous similarities between the nature of the challenges faced by Gov. Florio in 1990 in reversing many years of bad policy and trying to tame a politically and economically powerful $3 billion garbage incineration beast and what we face today.

There is no reason why a similar approach could not be followed today.

That approach would begin with a moratorium on new fossil infrastructure and a radical shift in policy to renewables.

That approach would include immediate DEP efforts to use the Clean Water Act Section 401 certification requirements to deny federally regulated energy projects, like the PennEast pipeline.

Similarly, the Gov. has veto power over off shore projects under federal law, like off shore LNG.

That approach would include a major overhaul of the BPU Energy Laster Plan, much like Florio re-wrote the Kean Solid Waste Plan

But obviously Gov. Christie is not going to do this, but that does not mean that the approach should be rejected by activists and supportive government officials.

Strategically, we can begin to build demand for a moratorium by recognizing that it is feasible, then my organizing around it and demanding it, perhaps at the local level and with the regional planning entities, like the Meadowlands, Highlands and Pinelands.

We have to start somewhere – the tools are out there. History provides a lesson.

Is anyone paying attention?

[*Full disclosure: Back in 1990, after a day’s work at DEP,  I regularly would hole up for a few hours with a guy named Frank Sweeney, Florio’s policy advisor on the environment, in a small office in the State house.

Those work sessions were how the Florio solid waste initiative was crafted.]

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