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Legislative Veto of Christie DEP Flood Rule Is a Political Litmus Test

Senate Republicans Elevate Partisan Loyalty to Gov. Christie Above Clean Water

Senators Kean and Beck Sellouts Are Acute

[Update in text below]

There’s always a lot of talk about the environment being a non-partisan or bi-partisan issue.

At a Trenton press conference just yesterday, pro-environment Senate Republican “Kip” Bateman emphasized that “environmental issues are not red, or blue, they’re green”

That conventional wisdom is no longer true at the national level and has been demonstrated to be totally false in Washington DC, as corporations and Tea Party anti-government radicals have purchased and hijacked the Republican Party. (not that Dems are not similarly bought)

Here’s a very sad example of that, where Congressman and former NJ State Senator Leonard Lance who used to be strong on the environment as a State Senator now votes for Tea Party attacks: (see this)

Lance supported legislation to make it easier to build this pipeline. He voted for HR3301, which would exempt natural gas pipelines from the National Environmental Policy Act.

How can a Congressman claim to demand the highest standards of environmental review and then vote to exempt pipelines from NEPA?

How can conservation groups opposing the pipeline praise and promote this kind of “bipartisanship”?

Despite this hypocrisy Lance was praised in a NJCF press release for his call for strict environmental reviews of the PennEast pipeline.

Worse, again praised by NJCF, Lance wrote a letter that lauded the Christie DEP for “holding the PennEast pipeline to the highest standards” – Say what?

Yet in fact: 1) the DEP’s environmental review letter to FERC had huge gaps and loopholes; 2) DEP’s Office of Permit Coordination is working hard behind the scenes to issue permits, the same Office that rammed through Pinelands pipeline permits with no public awareness, and 3) DEP just proposed to eliminate the current 12,000 square foot standard for stream buffer disturbance by a pipeline and provide an unlimited by right 30 square feet per linear foot of pipeline, and 4) DEP proposed to repeal the Category One buffer regulation which is DEP’s only legal tool to deny PennEast permits.

[Update: 10/24/15 – In an even more incredible irony and hypocrisy, back in 2001, then State Assemblyman Lance was the prime sponsor of a bill [A3694]  that would direct DEP to designate Category One waters and do so legislatively if DEP failed to act. How far we’ve fallen. h/t to Jeff Tittel for reminding me of this history – I worked with him at Sierra at the time.]

Does NJCF not know all this? Do members of the PennEast coalition know this? HELLO!

“Bipartisanship” in The Age of Christie

And here in NJ, in the age of Christie, it certainly is no longer true too (if it ever was).

The Governor himself bragged about issuing over 400 vetoes from a crazy liberal democratic legislature” (and don’t forget those 189 Executive OrdersThis is an abuse of Executive power we’ve written about for years and called on the legislature to step up to).

The Governor himself bragged about rolling back NJ’s environmental regulations:

“I spent the last 5 years dismantling the overreach that she [NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson] did in New Jersey and our environmental protection area.  ~~~~ Gov. Chris Christie, Iowa, 3/7/15

Yesterday’s vote on a Senate Resolution to veto the Christie DEP flood rule is a perfect illustration of that dismantling.

There is widespread consensus that the rules in question roll back regulatory protections of water quality, flood risks, and coastal development. There is really no debate about that among experts.

The US EPA, FEMA, the NJ Association of Flood Plain Managers, 25 State and local environmental, conservation and watershed groups, and even the League of Municipalities have all raised strong written objections to the Christie DEP rules.

That degree of consensus is very unusual.

Even the NJ Builders Association was forced to acknowledge that “criteria” for limiting development near exceptional waterbodies were relaxed.

So, yesterday’s Senate vote – on the substantive merits – was really very easy.

But, politically, because it would embarrass the Christie Administration and reject the Gov.’s pro-business environmental and regulatory policy, the vote was politicized.

The vote was 24 – 13.

Only 3 of 15 Republicans voted the right way (Bateman, Singer, and Pinnachio). O’Toole did not vote.

That means that 11 Republicans put partisan political loyalty to Governor Christie above preventing major rollbacks to protections for water quality and flood risks.

beck1-284x300Senator Beck, who talks the talk on supporting the environment voted NO. It’s a lot harder being green when you have to buck Governor Christie and party leadership.

Senator Kean, who invokes his father’s pro-environmental accomplishments and portrays himself as a moderate, voted NO. That’s not leadership, its cowardice.

Not surprisingly, Senators Van Drew and Rice (Newark) were the only 2 of 25 Dems who voted the wrong way.

Van Drew is a Cape May Democrat, which is a Republican in drag. He’s the lead on pushing the Pinelands pipeline, has gotten tons of criticism for that, and has an animus towards environmentalists, for sure.

I sense that Rice just resents the hypocrisy of most elite white environmental groups, who talk the talk on urban and environmental justice issues, but do very little for his constituents (while taking his Dem vote for granted).

The test of a politician’s commitment is on the tough votes, when it really matters.

The test of the political party is the policy thrust of the overwhelming majority of its members.

On both individual and party criteria, the Republicans failed the litmus test. Period.

Yet, the environmental lobbyists and the media have an interest in maintaining the myths of bipartisanship on environmental issues.

Check the lead on the NJ Spotlight story – it’s in the headline and the lede paragraph:

Bipartisan vote confirms lawmakers agree proposal clashes with legislative intent of earlier environmental laws

In a bipartisan action yesterday, the Senate voted to override a contentious new rule proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection that is viewed by critics as impairing New Jersey’s water quality and increasing flooding.

When 21 of 24 YES votes (87.5 %) (with 21 needed to win, making the 3 R votes superfluous) are from Democrats, while 11 of the 13 NO votes (84.6%) were Republicans, how can that possibly be described as “bipartisan”?

No one described a very similar vote on the gun veto over-ride as “bipartisan” – so why is the environmental vote characterized that way?

The 3 Republican Senators who bucked the Governor on guns were lauded as brave heroes in editorials, not as “bipartisan” legislators just doing their job.

Why weren’t Bateman, Pinnachio, and Singer, who bucked the Governor on buffers, similarly described?

So, I call bullshit on the bipartisan myth and on those who continue to propagate it.

Prove me wrong.

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