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

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

Resolution posted on Environment Committee Agenda and Withdrawn 24 Hours Later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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