Home > Uncategorized > A Stroll Down Memory Lane – Echoes of Whitman Ring In Christie DEP

A Stroll Down Memory Lane – Echoes of Whitman Ring In Christie DEP

Republican Legislators & the press challenged Whitman – But roll over for Christie

A friend just asked me a question about the history of the Burlington County Rutgers Eco-Complex, which, of course – like a red flag in front of a bull – got me all fired up reflecting on the Whitman days.

Here was my reply about that:

The Eco-Complex was created by former Burlington County Mayor, Assemblyman and Whitman DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn (the man who forced me out of DEP as a whistleblower).

Shinn financed the project ($5million?) with money restored by the Legislature to DEP’s budget in response to Gov. Whitman’s cuts (I think it was $17 million restored). I worked hard to get the cuts restored when I was with NJEF and Sierra Club and we formed a coalition of the entire NJ environmental community to do this.

But Gov. Whitman rejected the restoration of her cuts, refused to spend it at DEP, and impounded it under her Executive powers. Shinn used $5 million of the impounded money to fund the Eco-Complex.

This intransigence led to the Constitutional amendment (bypassing Whitman) to dedicate the 4% of the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) to specific DEP programs.

The ugly history of that place has not been overcome –  very few real accomplishments to show for it.

A key significant difference between the Whitman era then and the Christie neglect now is the roll of the press.

At least during Whitman’s savage policy, we had an honest and courageous press corps – e.g. the Bergen Record won a journalistic prize for their investigative series on Whitman’s environmental policy – The Record was praised for opening “a new genre in environmental reporting“.

Using Whitman’s own slogan, The Record’s investigative series was titled: Open For Business:

And check out this prescient story from The Nation – had we been listened to on Whitman, perhaps there would be a lot more firemen and 9/11 emergency responders still alive.

As The Nation so powerfully wrote about Whitman:

“Thanks to Whitman’s evisceration of state enviro regs as well as a raft of subsidies and tax cuts to developers, suburban sprawl gobbled up more open space and verdant land during her tenure than at any other period in New Jersey’s history. Moreover, she decapitated the state Department of Environmental Protection staff by 738 employees in her first three years in office, cut the remaining staff’s workweek by five hours, eliminated fines of polluters as a source of DEP revenue and made large cuts in the DEP’s budget. That’s why the New Jersey Sierra Club’s Bill Wolfe has warned that Whitman might “dismantle [federal] EPA and take it out of the enforcement business. I believe that this is precisely the policy Whitman has presided over and legitimized in New Jersey.” ~~~~ Whitman: A Toxic Choice

But it wasn’t just the press that was very different – there were Republican Senators who were willing to defy Gov. Whitman and defend DEP budgets and environmental regulations.

Check out this remarkable letter from NJ Senate Republicans – could you even imagine that now?

Source: US Senate Confirmation hearing transcript for Christie Whitman as EPA Administrator:


Exhibit 1

New Jersey Senate

Trenton, NJ

May 16, 1996

The Honorable Christine Todd Whitman, Governor,

State of New Jersey State House

CN-001 Trenton, NJ 08625-0001.

Dear Governor Whitman:

Among all the responsibilities of government, there are few of greater importance, or of more concern to the public than the protection of New Jersey’s environment and the quality of public health. We know that protecting these important concerns, and carrying out these responsibilities through appropriate State actions and support is a priority you share with the Legislature and the general public. It is in recognition of that shared commitment to protecting New Jersey’s environment and public health that we write to you today.

We are greatly concerned that your proposed budget for fiscal year 1997 does not adequately provide the necessary resources to State government to meet the environmental challenges facing the State. This is especially true in the proposed funding for the Department of Environmental Protection.

The proposed budget would require dramatic reductions in scientific, technical and human resources critical to the mission of the Department. In a State facing the environmental issues New Jersey does, we need to respond aggressively to the challenges of insuring that our air is safe to breath, the water safe to drink or the empty lot next door safe to play in. It is highly questionable as to whether the Department will maintain the requisite expertise and resources under the fiscal year 1997 budget proposal to answer these questions and respond in a way protective of public health and the environment.

We are also concerned that the proposed reduction in resources will not fulfill the new approaches to environmental protection. The successful implementation of the initiatives under discussion will require additional resources above and beyond those currently available to the DEP. Many of the “reengineering” initiatives being undertaken by the Department will be fundamentally handicapped by the proposed reductions in resources contained in the current budget proposal.

Due to these concerns we feel that it is important that you be aware we may not be able to support this budget proposal, should it come before the Senate in its current form The historical erosion of staffing at the Department experienced over past budget cycles cannot be continued because the environmental goals we have outlined above will not be attainable.

We feel strongly that the proposed layoffs of DEP personnel will negatively impact the Department’s ability to effectively safeguard the environment and protect public health. Therefore, we cannot support a final DEP budget which contains employee layoffs.

We are, of course, committed to working with you to restore the resources we feel are necessary to carry out the critical functions of the Department of Environmental Protection We feel that it is very possible to identity appropriate resources, sources of funding and approaches to achieve this, and we ask for the opportunity to explore these with you and your staff.

Respectfully yours,

John O. Bennett, Senate Majority Leader.

Andrew R. Ciesia, Senator.

Joseph M. Kyrillos, Senator.

Henry P. McNamara, Senator.

Joseph A. Palaia, President Pro Tempore.

Jack G. Sinagra, Senator.

Robert W. Singer, Senator.


Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.