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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Murphy DEP Assistant Commissioner John Cecil

Cecil Violated State Ethics Law Mandatory Recusal Regarding Work Prior To Joining DEP

If Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette & Senator Smith Will Impose No Checks On Revolving Door Abuse, Perhaps The State Ethics Commission Will

[Intro: This is a followup to my prior “bogus argument” and  “Junk Science” and Junk Ethics posts.]

Today DEP responded to my OPRA public records request for the ethics review documents for Assistant Commissioner John Cecil. I requested the following:

1. The ethics disclosure documents submitted by Assistant Commissioner John Cecil upon his joining DEP.

2. The DEP ethics officer review and guidance documents provided to Assistant Commissioner Cecil.

3. The recusal documents for Assistant Commissioner Cecil.

DEP’s reply stated that Cecil’s ethics disclosure documents are confidential personnel records that are exempt from OPRA and that Cecil had not filed any recusal documents. (DEP reply provided upon request)

The NJ State ethics law mandates recusal: (Source: State Ethics Law, as conveyed in DEP Ethics Officer May 5, 2021 memo to Cecil – provided upon request. Emphasis mine)

a state official must recuse from an official matter if he or she had involvement in that matter, other than on behalf of the State, prior to commencement of State service.

Cecil was directly involved in many “official matters” (e.g. “regulated activity” subject to DEP regulatory jurisdiction or funding) at NJ Audubon that he is currently directly involved with at DEP, yet, according to the DEP OPRA response, Cecil has not filed any recusal documents.

Given what appears to be a direct violation of that ethics law recusal mandate – as well as violation of the “appearance” standard in NJ ethics laws – I filed the following ethics complaint with the State Ethics Commission. (I sent a copy to Commissioner LaTourette, Assistant Commissioner Cecil, DEP’s Ethics Officer, Senators Smith and Greenstein, the Smith Legislative Forestry Task Force Co-Chairs, as well as a NJ Spotlight reporter and editor).

The Commission does not publicly reveal complaint jurisdiction, acceptance, investigation information or status, but does post the resolution of the complaint on the website at the conclusion of their review:

Dear Ethics Commission:

I bring the following potential ethics violation to your attention, with concerns limited to the ethical parameters of institutional integrity, public policy, and science, with no allegations of any personal financial gain or corruption of the individual involved.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that although this complaint involves a policy dispute, it is based on State ethics laws and standards.

The complaint regards John Cecil, currently Assistant Commissioner For Parks and Forestry at NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

I understand Mr. Cecil joined DEP sometime around May 2021.

Prior to his work at DEP, Mr. Cecil was employed by NJ Audubon Society (NJA), where he managed various NJA programs related to forestry, “stewardship” (including a “Corporate Stewardship Council”), and land management activities. see:


Many of the activities Cecil managed at NJA were DEP “regulated activities” and/or involved management of NJ DEP State lands, DEP permit or regulatory “mitigation” requirements, or receipt of various DEP funds.

I’ll offer specifics to illustrate the conflicts of interest (there are many additional examples, including Cecil’s management of DEP regulated activities with the specific corporations that are members of the “Corporate Stewardship Council”):

1) While at NJA, Cecil prepared a DEP approved “Forest Stewardship Plan” for Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area (DEP public lands). The conservation objectives, DEP regulatory oversight, and scientific basis for that plan are an ongoing public controversy. see:


2) The primary focus of the controversy is over the science and public policy of “active forest management” and creation of “young forests”, which many believe are pretext’s to promote commercial logging on public lands. Cecil has been a leading proponent of this controversial “active management” and “young forests” and a critic of what he deems to be misguided public perceptions of beneficial forestry work.

3) Last spring (March 2021), just before he left NJA to join DEP, Cecil, made an important forestry presentation to the NJ Pinelands Commission’s Climate Committee.

Cecil’s NJ Audubon presentation was titled: Forest Conservation – NJ Pinelands, see:


That Cecil presentation advocated “active management” and “young forest” policies, while criticizing public perceptions.

4) NJ Audubon accepted grant funds ($330,000) from the private Hudson Farm Foundation to prepare the forestry plan for Sparta Mountain WMA (DEP public lands) that Cecil wrote, oversaw, and managed at NJA. see:


5) While at NJA, Cecil also prepared forestry plans for Hudson Farm private property – I am not sure if this consultation work was directly funded or funded via Hudson Farm grants to NJA. see


6) Hudson Farm recently was recognized by Gov. Murphy for “environmental excellence”. [***corrected] NJA bragged about their role in securing that award, see


7) Hudson Farm is owned by Peter Kellogg, a billionaire. Kellogg recently funded ($4,850 per head) several DEP employees and NJ conservation group staffers to attend a week long “conservation leadership” retreat. Attendees may have included Cecil (documentation provided upon request).

8) Hudson Farm is involved in a private sector “carbon sequestration credit and trading” program that involves forestry work Cecil was involved with, see:


9) NJ Law (RGGI) authorizes millions of dollars in funding to DEP for “carbon sequestration” projects from forestry management.

10) It reasonably can be assumed that both NJA and Hudson Farm currently are or soon will be involved and receive financial benefits for DEP RGGI, carbon sequestration, and forests programs.

11) The forestry management controversy, among other things, sparked the formation, by Senate Environment Committee Chairman Smith, of a Legislative Forestry Task Force. NJ Audubon representative, the former Director of DEP’s Division of Science and Research, is a Co-Chair of the Task Force. The Task Force is currently deliberating.

12) On April 28, 2022, in his capacity as DEP Assistant Commissioner, Cecil made a powerpoint presentation to the Smith Forestry Task Force, see:


13) Most of that April 28 2022 Cecil presentation was almost verbatim rehash of the controversial forestry policies he advocated at NJA, including the March 2021 presentation to the Pinelands Commission.

14) In a June 2022 presentation to Senator Smith’s Forestry Legislative Task Force, NJ DEP staff who report to Cecil publicly stated that they are developing forest “carbon sequestration” credit and trading programs, as authorized and funded by NJ RGGI law.

As the above facts strongly suggest, Mr. Cecil’s work at NJA overlaps his current work at NJ DEP. He was directly involved with the same forestry management activities at NJA and DEP.

That appears to violate the SEC regulations that require that a state official must recuse from an official matter if he or she had involvement in that matter, other than on behalf of the State, prior to commencement of State service.

I filed an OPRA request to DEP to obtain Cecil’s recusal letter and was told by DEP that no such records exist. (OPRA request and DEP reply provided upon request).

There are also many other potential conflicts that may arise from Cecil’s work with corporate members of the NJA “Corporate Stewardship Council”, for whom Cecil provided consulting services and/or received funding for. This work also involved complain with DEP regulatory and permit oversight.

I filed an OPRA request to DEP to obtain Cecil’s ethics disclosure documents and was told by DEP that those records are confidential personnel records exempt from OPRA.

As such:

a) the reality of Cecil’s overlapping work;

b) the lack of any recusal; and

c) the lack of transparency by DEP regarding Cecil’s ethics disclosure,

all serve to undermine the public’s trust and confidence in DEP’s independence, objectivity, and application of independent science in the public interest, as well as create a reasonable appearance of conflicts of interest, all in violation of State ethics laws and standards.

I urge your favorable consideration and timely reply.


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