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Lame Duck Kabuki On Fossil Moratorium

Chairman Smith Abdicates Legislative Responsibility

Chairman Says He Will Put The Moratorium Issue To The Voters Next Year

Climate and Environmental Activists Put In a Lame Effort

Kabuki – Showy posturing performed as an act of theater. Typically used by pundits to describe an empty political performance which serves to satisfy or distract an audience.

Senator Bob Smith, Chariman Sen. Env. Cmte.

Senator Bob Smith, Chairman Sen. Env. Cmte.

Well, at least this time around, today the Senate Environment Committee actually heard and released the Senate non-binding Resolution urging Gov. Murphy to impose a moratorium on new fossil projects.

Last time around, back in 2019, they ran away from it, see:

But, that’s about all the good news I can report.

Leave us
Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless
Babe, can you hear me now?
The chains are locked and tied across the door
Baby, sing with me somehow. ~~~ Helpless, Neil Young

Here’s the highlights (lowlights?) of today’s hearing:

1.  No political support or viability.

The sponsor, Senator Majority Leader Weinberg, who is retiring, did not appear to present or support her Resolution. Senate Environmental Committee Chairman Smith offered no explanation or defense of the Resolution, nor did any member of the Committee. Senator Greenstein “abstained”.

Smith went out of his way to emphasize that the Resolution had no legal effect. Instead, Smith said he would push – next year, it’s always next year – for his Senate Concurrent Resolution 18 to  Amend the Constitution to prohibit construction of new fossil fuel power plants.”

Sound good, right? WRONG!

Smith introduced that Resolution back in September of 2019 and never followed through on it. My sense is that he offered that up as an alternative to and to derail the broader fossil moratorium Resolution and to avoid any discussion of the issue of the need for DEP regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Smith’s Concurrent Resolution grandfathers existing fossil power plants in perpetuity. It applies only to new fossil plants and would exempt pipelines, compressor stations, export facilities, and all other major fossil greenhouse gas emissions sources.

Worse, punting a critical legislative issue to the voters is an abdication of legislative responsibility and it provides cover for the Governor to delay and avoid taking Executive action on the moratorium. Smith surely knows that economically powerful interests would surely spend millions of dollars to defeat such a voter referendum and it would go down to defeat. Another “fake solution” by Smith.

This is Kabuki at its worst.

2. The environmental and climate activist communities were not well represented.

First of all, many groups were simply AWOL (including those who were in Trenton and testifying to an Assembly Committee on trivial bullshit). Those groups include Rethink Energy NJ (NJ Conservation Foundation), all the conservation and watershed groups (NJ LCV, NJ Audubon, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, The Highlands Coalition, Watershed, etc), all the “sustainability” and planning groups (Sustainable NJ, NJ Future), all the coastal groups (COA, ALS, Surfrider), many of the climate activist groups, ANJEC, and all the grassroots anti-pipeline, environmental and social justice groups.

Those groups are too busy cheerleading Gov. Murphy’s symbolic gestures and taking corporate oriented Foundation money to expend any political capital actually putting pressure on the Gov. to do something real on climate that would impose real costs on powerful corporations.

That’s why Ray Cantor of NJ BIA was there to oppose the Resolution and the concept of a moratorium on behalf of NJ’s corporate community. Cantor even offered up a defense of and had strong praise for fossil fuels! He sounded exactly like the API and oil industry’s recent testimony to Congress on their corporate climate disinformation campaign.

The main supporters were Food and Water Watch, Sierra Club, Environment NJ and NJ Industrial Union Council. (Oh and how could I forget Clean Water Action, the group that just appeared to cheerlead at Gov. Murphy’s press conference that sabotaged the moratorium?)

The supporters were not critical of the non-binding nature of the Resolution and need for real legislation with teeth.

They were not critical of Gov. Murphy’s (Gaslighting) Executive Order.

The were not critical of DEP’s multiple failures, including DEP’s failure to act on their petition for rulemaking.

And they said nothing about the toothless NJ Global Warming Response Act and New York State’s climate law (which has teeth) and the need for DEP regulation (which their own petition and the Senate resolution call for).

They said nothing about the fact that NJ DEP regulations do not regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

They said nothing about pending and long delayed DEP climate PACT and environmental justice regulations.

This is remarkable cowardice and/or incompetence by climate activists.

[Update: I failed to mention one positive, when Matt Smith of F&WW criticized DEP Commissioner LaTourette’s misleading public statements about the moratorium.]

3. No Street Heat

I am not certain of this because I was not there and could only listen to the testimony online, but I don’t think the climate activists and environmental groups – who claim hundreds of thousands of members – mounted any kind of rally or public demonstration in support of the moratorium.

This is a stunning failure, given the platform that the Resolution offered them and the timing, in terms of the failure of COP26 and the pending collapse of the Biden “Build Back Better” climate program.

4. The Murphy DEP didn’t even show up

The Murphy Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection was nowhere to be found. I’ll say no more, other than to condemn him for a total lack of leadership and abject cowardice.

This no show from a man who repeatedly accuses the people of NJ as not understanding the climate emergency and gaslights them on environmental justice.

That’s just how a former fossil industry lawyer rolls.

5. Lame Duck Is Not The Time To Ram Through Major Policy Like a Fossil Moratorium

Finally, no one mentioned that a lame duck session is not the forum to ram through serious major public policy. Such an anti-democratic move only undermines public confidence and support.

The fact that the Democrats in Trenton are doing this in lame duck – and the non-binding nature of the Resolution – sends a message that they are not serious and politically committed to the issue and willing to publicly fight for real climate action.

When will the members and funders of NJ climate and environmental groups demand more?

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