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NJ Warehouse Sprawl News Coverage Finally Correctly Frames The “Home Rule” Issue

Greenhouse gas emissions and DEP role continue to be ignored

A Climate And Land Use Legacy For Gov. Murphy?

Time for a NJ Farms and Forest Protection Act To Preserve What Left Of The Landscape

After repeatedly getting several critical issues wrong, NJ Spotlight finally got one aspect of the warehouse sprawl story correct today: home rule, see:

The question in the headline is apt: the State Plan Implementation Committee is an advisory group to the State Planning Commission. And the Commission has jurisdiction over a voluntary State Development and Redevelopment Plan that has no teeth. That’a very far cry from “regulating warehouse sprawl”. Thus, the Executive Director’s emphasis that this was merely a “listening session”!

Donna Rendeiro, executive director of the commission, called the meeting a “listening session” that did not include policy proposals by commission members, but said it’s likely to kick off further discussions.

But NJ Spotlight continues to ignore several other critical issues, including the massive new greenhouse gas emissions from these warehouse developments (and new truck traffic), and how those emissions conflict with Gov. Murphy’s climate goals.

Additionally, there has been no reporting on the role of DEP regulatory oversight and gaps in DEP regulations (there are warehouse projects pending DEP approval and DEP has approved an unknown quantity of new development with no accountability).

More importantly, warehouses are not the only threat to NJ’s few last remaining farms and forests. Those farms and forests continue to be threatened by all forms of development, including a huge proliferation of industrial scale solar development and forests are threatened by various logging schemes.

So, as I’ve suggested, the time is right to connect the climate and land use issues in a major new initiative, which could form Gov. Murphy’s legacy, much like the Pinelands Protection Act is a legacy of Gov. Byrne and the Highlands Act is a legacy of Gov. McGreevey, see:

Instead of compromising away what little is left of NJ’s forests and farmlands, it’s time for the conservation, environmental, justice, and climate communities to work together and fight the final battle to preserve what’s left.

The current incremental strategy – which amounts to case by case litigation, local site specific land use battles, and reliance on the land trusts and Foundation funded “environmental groups” to cut deals with the solar industry – surely has failed and will kill what’s left.

The climate science; land use, forestry, and agricultural policy; and the politics could actually work together to support a very aggressive demand for a NJ Forest And Farmland Preservation Act.

The idea is simple: preserve what’s left before NJ’s is either fully built out or inundated by sea level rise.

(and where are all those people now living along shorelines and rivers going to relocate when the inevitable next major floods hit and the sea level rises? Not all of them can move to Florida. They’re going to demand to develop what’s left of NJ’s higher elevation lands.)

It may take awhile, but perhaps the NJ activist community could mount a campaign and give Gov. Murphy his second term agenda and legacy platform. Now is the time to move on that, as the Murphy administration prepares its second term strategy.

I guess it takes a while to get the NJ environmental community focused and for NJ Spotlight to correct their coverage.

On the home rule issue, over a year ago, on 11/6/20, I wrote to correct NJ Spotlight’s misleading framing and false coverage:

The solutions are regional planning and regulatory powers enforced by State and regional institutions (not county and local governments).

NJ has a well developed, time tested, and legally valid effective suite of State and regional planning and regulatory laws and institutions, i.e. 1) the NJ State Development and Redevelopment Plan and The State Planning Commission; 2) The Highlands Act, Regional Master Plan, and Highlands Council; and 3) the Department of Environmental Protection land use and water resource planning and permitting programs (as well as the State Department of Transportation).

So, why does the Spotlight story not only omit all that and focus exclusively on local and county voluntary coordination and demonstrably weak and ineffective tools under the “home rule” oriented NJ Municipal Land Use Law?

I repeated that criticism and sought correction in a more recent March 2021 post:

1. The myth of “Home rule” is strengthened, not exposed. NJ Spotlight wrote:

“Municipalities, which have authority over land use, are attracted to the local taxes and jobs that come with new warehouses and many approve the plans over the objections of local critics.”

This is legally a false statement. Municipalities are delegated limited land use power by the State legislature, under the State’s constitutional police power.

2.  The powers of State government and the politics of land use are distorted. NJ Spotlight wrote:

“It’s a home-rule state, and local governments have the final say,” he said. “It’s hard to reel that power back once you’ve handed it to the local governments; you are going to meet a lot of political resistance if you say you need to take some of it back.”

Again, these statements are factually false. Local governments do not have “the final say”. Under NJ law, regional entities like the Highlands Council and the Pinelands Commission have final say within their regions. Under NJ law, State regulatory agencies like the DEP have final say on infrastructure, water resources, and many environmental issues. Under NJ law, the Legislature has “taken back” local land use powers many times (from the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act, to the Flood Hazard Control Act, to coastal land use under CAFRA.)

To plant those seeds on how to create a legacy for Gov. Murphy, I wrote the following note to reporter Jon Hurdle.

Maybe Eliott Ruga and Amy Goldsmith can parrot these words too:

Jon – you finally got the home rule issue framed correctly, but it pains me to hear my words come from the mouths of idiots like Amy Goldmsith (who never did anything on land use in NJ) and Eliot Ruga (a former TV sports producer with no land use or environmental training or experience, who reversed his prior remarks that emphasized home rule).

Perhaps future stories will focus on:

1) the massive greenhouse gas emissions from these developments and conflicts with Murphy’s climate goals;

2) the DEP regulatory role and the pending permits and all the prior DEP permit approvals; and

3) the need for a new legislative initiative to protect what’s left of NJ’s remaining farms and forests – which could a legacy initiative for Murphy, like McGreevey’s Highlands or Byrne’s Pinelands or Kean’s Freshwater Wetlands Act.


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