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Who Killed The Senate Resolution Urging Gov. Murphy To Impose a Moratorium On Fossil Infrastructure?

December 4th, 2019 No comments

Resolution posted on Environment Committee Agenda and Withdrawn 24 Hours Later

It sure didn’t take long for political power to be exercised.

On Monday morning, I received an email from the OLS staff aide to the Senate Environment Committee announcing the Committee’s agenda for Monday December 9, 2019.

As I scrolled down the list of bills to be heard, I was surprised to read the final item listed, Senate Resolution #151, sponsored by Senator Weinberg, which “Urges Governor to impose moratorium on fossil fuel projects.” (emphases mine):

[…]

WHEREAS, Governor Murphy’s draft Energy Master Plan sets a goal to provide 100 percent clean energy in the State of New Jersey by 2050, however, the plan does not address the existing and proposed numerous fossil fuel infrastructure projects, such as pipelines and power plants in the State; and

WHEREAS, In order to meet the State’s clean energy goal by 2050 an immediate moratorium on all fossil fuel infrastructure projects should be imposed until the State adopts a plan to meet this goal; now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the Senate of the State of New Jersey:

1. This House urges the Governor to impose an immediate moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure projects until the State adopts rules regulating CO2 and other climate pollutants adequate to achieve the 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2050 as required under the Global Warming Response Act.

I read the Resolution, immediately Tweeted it and emailed it to activists, and urged people to attend the hearing to support it.

I was planning on suggesting to the sponsor and Chairman Smith an important amendment to note the existence of a “climate emergency” and to urge the Gov. to invoke his “emergency powers” under the NJ Constitution. The failure to note an emergency and to include emergency powers is a significant flaw in the Resolution. I planned to write a post about that before the hearing as well.

But before I could do so, just 24 hours later, on Tuesday, I got an email from OLS noting a “revised” agenda for December 9, 2019.

The “revision” was the withdrawal of SR 151.

Who killed that Resolution? Where did the pushback come from? Let’s explore those questions.

The Committee Chair, Senator Smith in this case, controls the Committee’s agenda, within limits set by the Senate President, in this case Senator Sweeney. Sometimes the Senate President directs the Chair to post and move a specific bill, sometimes the Senate President directs the Chair to block a bill.

But for the most part, the decisions on which bills to post for Committee hearing is under the control and discretion of the Committee Chair. The Chair makes these decisions frequently in consultation with his Senate colleagues and leadership, the sponsor(s) of the bill, external “stakeholders”, and sometimes with the “front office” (i.e. the Governor’s Office).

It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for a Committee agenda to be revised after it is announced.

Most of these unusual revisions to the agenda are to add bills – rarely is a bill or Resolution withdrawn.

Highly controversial bills, around which there is no consensus, or that are not “ripe”, are typically posted for “consideration only” (not vote), so the “stakeholders” can present testimony and legislators can debate the merits more fully and make necessary amendments to the proposed bill.

In this case, SR 151 was not “downgraded” to “for consideration only” status, it was completely withdrawn. 

There are several possible logical explanations, most of them deeply disturbing. Here are some that I can think of:

1. Perhaps Gov. Murphy’s Office requested that the Resolution be withdrawn, to avoid pre-empting his own upcoming announcement of a moratorium or inclusion of a moratorium in the final BPU Energy Master Plan.

In that case, obviously the Gov. would want the Resolution withdrawn to avoid stealing his thunder and creating the impression that he was responding to the political pressure of the legislature, not his own initiative.

This is the best possible interpretation. It is possible, but not very likely, as Gov. Murphy has had many opportunities to impose a moratorium or even talk about the issue and he has signed major legislation that ignores climate and his DEP has issued numerous approvals of permits to major GHG polluters with no GHG emission restrictions whatsoever.

2. Perhaps Senate President Sweeney directed Chairman Smith to withdraw the Resolution or otherwise twisted Smith’s arm (e.g. threatening him with blocking bills that Smith supports, like the electric vehicle bill).

This is very likely, as Sweeney has championed gas power plants and pipelines.

3. Perhaps gas industry and PSE&G lobbyists intervened directly with Chairman Smith and flexed their huge political muscles, or did so indirectly through Sweeney or Gov. Murphy’s Office or BPU.

This also is very likely, because Smith is known to listen very closely to PSE&G (e.g. Smith met with PSE&G CEO Izzo to cut the deal on the nuke bailout legislation – and remarkably, Smith even acknowledged this publicly. NJ Spotlight:

Yesterday, Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), who helped draft the law, told the Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran he decided to set the incentive at $300 million because PSEG CEO Ralph Izzo told him it was the right number.

4. Perhaps Chairman Smith, upon pressure from the usual suspects (see #1 – #3 above), got cold feet.

Perhaps Smith didn’t want a repeat of the controversial “Troopergate”, where activists were given a platform to protest and were forcibly removed from a legislative hearing by NJ State Police.

This too is likely, as Smith had to know that many climate activists would attend the hearing to support the Resolution.

5. Perhaps, upon reflection, someone realized that the lame duck session was not the proper forum to ram through such a controversial Resolution.

I made that argument in opposition to the pending electric vehicle bill. But that argument would not apply in this case, due to the emergency nature of the climate catastrophe and the pending regulatory approvals of fossil infrastructure.

This is very unlikely, as principled consideration of things like “democracy” and legitimacy are far from the minds of transactional Trenton policymakers.

6. Perhaps the sponsor, Senator Weinberg requested that the Resolution be withdrawn. Obviously, she would be subject to the same political pressures as Chairman Smith is.

This is possible but unlikely.

I also must note that, once again, as in electric vehicles, there appears to be major political malpractice in posting the Resolution during lame duck – thereby giving fossil industry opponents process arguments. There also are legitimate process arguments about the legislature injecting itself so forcefully on a major policy issue during the ongoing BPU energy planning process.

So, given the significance of the climate and fossil moratorium issues, the unusual and embarrassing withdrawal of the Resolution, and the various possible explanations – most of them corrupt – will the NJ press corps make calls to the suspects and demand answers?

NJ Spotlight, where are you?

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From The Age Of Aquarius And A Bridge Over Troubled Water To Trumpism – Let Me Out Of This Madhouse

December 1st, 2019 No comments

I was a science nerd, but here’s the culture and politics I grew up in, that I took seriously, and formed my expectations for the future. We actually sang this song in our 6th grade chorus concert:

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius
Aquarius
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius. ~~~ The Fifth Dimension (1969)

It was a time of compassion and caring:

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you (ooo)
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down. ~~~ Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

The social studies curriculum included civics and an entire semester of critical thinking, where we were encouraged to question authority, participate in government, engage in protest, and challenge the conventional wisdom printed in the NY Times.

We can change the world
Re-arrange the world
It’s dying … if you believe in justice
It’s dying … and if you believe in freedom
It’s dying … let a man live his own life
It’s dying … rules and regulations, who needs them
Open up the door. Chicago, CSNY (1971)

We were confronted with questions:

What’s it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule? ~~~ Dionne Warwick, 1966

Dr. King led the way – in a letter from a Birmingham jail (1963)

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

So how the hell did we get to the current Neoliberal nightmare?

Funny how this all comes back upon my mind –

My “Pandora Channel” is Gregorian Chants.

I listen to them at night. They comfort me and remind of the Pre-Vatican II Catholic Church I grew up in.

Yesterday, I learned of a 30 day offer to get other channels with no commercials and no financial commitment.

So, tonight, I searched for “1960’s folk”.

And, in an amazing and ironic technological feat, here we are.

But how can I even begin to convey what that music meant to me as a young boy?

The time has come for closing books and long last looks must end
And as I leave I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return? ~~~ To Sir With Love (Lulu, 1967) 

And how disgusted I am with the current culture and politics and their Neoliberal intellectual foundations?:

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. ~~~ Ayn Rand

We must face the fact that the preservation of individual freedom is incompatible with a full satisfaction of our views of distributive justice. ~~~ Friedrich Hayek

The error was a legacy of New Deal thinking, which glorified elected officials and career bureaucrats as disinterested servants of the public good, despite the obvious coercive effects of the programs they put into place. Why not instead see politicians and government administrators as self-interested players in the marketplace, trying to “maximize their utility”—that is, win the next election or enlarge their department’s budget? ~~~ The Architect of the Radical Right – How the Nobel Prize–winning economist James M. Buchanan shaped today’s antigovernment politics

“They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. ~~~ Margaret Thatcher (1987)

“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” ~~~ Ronald Reagan, 1981

“The Era of Big government is over.” ~~~ Bill Clinton, 1996

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer … From this moment on, it’s going to be America First. ~~~ Donald Trump, 2017

Please stop the nightmare, I want off.

Horror grips us as we watch you die
All we can do is echo your anguished cries
Stare as all human feelings die
We are leaving, you don’t need us

Go take your sister then by the hand
Lead her away from this foreign land
Far away where we might laugh again
We are leaving, you don’t need us. ~~~ Wooden Ships, CSNY (1969)

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