Home > Uncategorized > After 4 Years Of Cheerleading And “Stakeholder” Diversions, NJ Climate Activists Finally Pull The Regulatory Trigger

After 4 Years Of Cheerleading And “Stakeholder” Diversions, NJ Climate Activists Finally Pull The Regulatory Trigger

Political Stunt Is Too Little And Far Too Late


A coalition of climate activists submitted a petition for rulemaking to the Murphy DEP yesterday. The petition seeks to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and block DEP approvals of new or expanded fossil infrastructure.

You can read the petition here. I want to limit my focus today on the political dimensions of this petition.

The petition is endorsed by 58 groups. Surprisingly included was Environment NJ, a group that has served as Gov. Murphy’s primary climate cheerleader. So, I was surprised that they got in Gov. Murphy’s face for a change. But, as we’ll see below, that move may end up being just the opposite of a political challenge to the Gov. and instead be the first step in an all too typical cynical Kabuki.

Notably missing in action is the Foundation, DEP, and corporate funded conservation community, including NJ Audubon Society, NJ Conservation Foundation, NJ League Of Conservation Voters, NJ Highlands Coalition, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Rethink Energy NJ (the PennEast pipeline opposition group formed by NJCF), American Littoral Society, The StonyBrook Watershed Institute (and all the watershed groups), NY/NJ Baykeeper, Sustainable NJ, NJ Future, and the various other Mike Catania & Chris Daggett, Duke, Dodge, and Wm. Penn Foundation created astro-turf operations. Incredibly, this MIA faction also includes the environmental justice alliance.

Think about that they next time you see those groups quoted in the news about the urgency of climate threats, or appeals to FERC or DEP to deny approvals for pipelines  – or the need for more money to fund “resilience”, “smart growth” “sustainability” or “climate adaptation” or “environmental justice”.

For over a decade, I’ve been urging the environmental community to file regulatory petitions to DEP. For example, here’s one I filed back in 2007 and repeatedly circulated as a model.

The climate coalition’s petition was announced in Trenton and comes in the 4th year of the Murphy administration (and in the dead of summer, with the legislature in recess, and media and people focused on other important things).

During these 4 years, environmentalists have praised Gov. Murphy as a climate leader, and the press has portrayed Gov. Murphy as climate leader and champion of green energy. As a result, Gov. Murphy has a very strong – but false and undeserved – climate reputation.

This environmental group praise and favorable press occurred despite the facts that: 1) he has done absolutely nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 2) his DEP has issued permits for massive new fossil infrastructure projects and logging NJ forests, 3) his BPU Energy Master Plan is woefully inadequate and promotes continued expansion and reliance on fossil fuels, 4) he signed legislation authorizing a multi-billion nuclear bailout, 5) he has made off-shore wind a Wall Street finance and corporate bonanza, 6) he installed a former corporate lawyer, including for a massive new LNG export plant, as DEP Commissioner (amazingly, Mr. LaTourette was installed at DEP just 2 weeks after he successfully lobbied and rammed through DEP final permits for the LNG plant below the public’s radar), and 7) he almost killed the solar industry by signing into law a “cost cap” (while leaving in place a “net metering” solar cap that undermines small scale solar), which he was forced to repeal by subsequent legislation, an embarrassing U-Turn that also promotes massive corporate scale solar on farms, while undermining distributed small scale and rooftop solar. (Since Murphy is a former Wall Street Goldman Sachs man, he knows that investors and corporations require regulatory stability and certainty, so his bungling of solar finance and regulation could not be an accident).

This coalition petition also comes 18 months after DEP began “Stakeholder meetings” to discuss development of a package of regulations DEP calls PACT, for “Protecting Against Climate Threats“.

About 2 years ago, shortly after DEP announced the PACT regulatory initiative, I again strongly urged climate activists to move aggressively in order to get out front of and set expectations for the DEP PACT regulations. I then wrote:

the Murphy DEP should be barraged with petitions for rulemaking from the NJ environmental community on numerous issues, especially to get out in front of and frame the upcoming climate regulations DEP has named “PACT”.

I specifically warned activists not to wait and get diverted by the DEP’s “Stakeholder” process. I wrote:

A rule petition is a far more effective way to influence DEP than to sit around the table and get played in the DEP’s informal “Stakeholder processes”. That’s just where DEP wants you to be – safely in the room, instead of forcing their hand legally and out in the streets targeting DEP regulations for public protest demands.

I’ve been urging NJ environmental leaders to file these petitions for years, so now I’ll rehash that as a template for citizens.

Well, just as I warned, instead of mounting a public campaign and filing a regulatory petition before the DEP began developing the PACT rules, they engaged that DEP Stakeholder process and not only wasted 2 years and allowed the false perception of Gov. Murphy’s climate record to solidify, but allowed DEP to develop totally inadequate climate regulations.

So, the petition is a classic example of too little too late.

And it will be perceived as exactly the non-serious political stunt that it is, as even Jeff Tittel (retired) of Sierra Club made clear: (NJ Spotlight)

If the department rejects the petition, there is not much recourse for the coalition. “It sets down a marker for the election,’’ said Jeff Tittel, the former director of the Sierra Club, referring to the November gubernatorial election.

Did you get that? Tittel just admitted that the whole thing is essentially a political stunt. This crap is what destroys the credibility of climate activists (and I wonder how much they paid the lawyer who drafted or at least formatted the petition).

If all they wanted was a political “marker for the election”, the petition should have been deployed 4 years ago as a condition of endorsement of Gov. Murphy during the 2017 gubernatorial election.

By waiting this long – at a time when DEP’s long delayed PACT and EJ rules will be delayed until after the upcoming election – they give Murphy a total pass.

Worse, they have provided a cynical opportunity for the Gov. to make some lame public response, announcing his support of the accelerated emission reduction aspirational goals in the petition (while remaining silent on DEP permits for all the pending new fossil infrastructure projects).

Then the coalition groups can declare victory and endorse Murphy for Governor again. They then use this “victory” for fundraising with Foundations and their members.

Meanwhile, nothing real gets done, DEP PACT rules are a joke, new fossil infrastructure is permitted by DEP, greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, and climate catastrophe is accelerated.

This is a repeat of exactly how we got the toothless Global Warming Response Act.

Mark my words – expect the following events between now and October:

1). Gov. Murphy publicly announces support of the accelerated GHG emission reduction goals in petition. This could include another symbolic gesture in the form of a toothless and aspirational executive order. Of course, this generates huge applause from the green groups and tons of good press.

2) DEP issues a decision at the end of September that quietly supports the petition in principle, but technically does not grant the petition for rulemaking. DEP makes no specific commitments for regulatory changes. This formal regulatory determination (denial) on the petition gets no media coverage and the green groups ignore it. Or if it is covered, it gets spun a a “victory” in light of the Gov.’s announcement of support.

3) Green groups declare a major victory and endorse Murphy for Gov. at a Trenton press conference with the Gov.

In November, the Gov is re-elected and recognized as a national climate leader.

In January, DEP issue proposed Climate PACT rule that do not come close to mandating the emissions reductions or permit changes recommended by the petition.

Of course, the green groups and media ignore or misrepresent this reality.

I’ve seen this before. It’s the same Kabuki that gave us the toothless Global Warming Response Act.

(in a subsequent post, I will highlight some technical and policy flaws with the petition).

[Update: 7/27/21 – Breaking news! (snark).

I now have evidence that NJ climate activists are actually doing something! Yea!

After their Trenton Zoom call with reporters last week (which I mistakenly assumed was an actual State House event), I just learned that Dave Pringle put out an “action alert” yesterday (7/26/21). Cart before horse, and too little too late, again. If I were an activist, I wouldn’t want to learn about this after the fact via reading NJ Spotlight or this blog. At least Pringle correctly targets the Gov., but the only “activism” I can see is a request to sign a petition in support of their petition. I see no campaign, no resources, and no real organizing or field mobilization of activists. Here’s Dave!

From: David Pringle < dpringle1988@gmail.com>

Per our call just now, here’s the info./action alert re: the 7 group Empower NJ Steering Committee with support from 58 additional groups filing a legal petition last week under the NJ Administrative Procedures Act w/ NJDEP calling for rulemaking to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030:

     * a couple clips (NJ Spotlight / 101.5), 
     * the press release
     * the legal petition, and 
     *  the alert / sign on petition as a first step or one off in helping
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