Home > Uncategorized > A Visionary Embrace Of Environmental Quality, State Planning, DEP Regulation, And An Attack On Home Rule And Local Property Taxes

A Visionary Embrace Of Environmental Quality, State Planning, DEP Regulation, And An Attack On Home Rule And Local Property Taxes

Gov. Florio’s Leadership And Legacy Are Sorely Missed

Whitman Assault Ground That Legacy To Ashes

Short-term expediency as a way of avoiding the long-term public interest is, in the ultimate reckoning, a sure-thing losing cause. ~~~ Gov. Jim Florio (Jan. 11, 1994)

florio-292x300 (1)Following his close electoral loss to Christie Whitman, in 1994, former Gov. Jim Florio issued a powerful and visionary outgoing State of the State address (read the whole thing).

Before he was Governor, Florio had a national environmental leadership reputation as prime sponsor of the Superfund law (1980) and the Resource Conservation And Recovery Act (1976). He also led passage of the federal law that created the Pinelands National Reserve (few people know that the federal Pinelands law was enacted before Gov. Byrne’s NJ State law, and that it was motivated not only by conservation values of John McPhee’s book, but to block off shore oil and gas development by erecting a barrier to pipelines across the Pinelands to Delaware River refineries. For details, see “Untold Pinelands History”).

During his brief tenure as NJ Gov., Florio enacted nationally leading environmental policy initiatives, including passage of the: 1) Clean Water Enforcement Act,; 2) Pollution Prevention Act; 3) Toxic Packaging Reduction Act; 4) Dry Cell Battery Management Act; 5) mandatory hazardous and solid waste use reduction policies; and 7) mandatory source separation and recycling laws.

Driven by Florio’s Executive Orders, on the regulatory front, Florio’s DEPE adopted a radically new and progressive Statewide Solid Waste Management Plan, one of the world’s strictest air emission standards for mercury emissions from garbage incinerators, and stricter DEP coastal development regulations.

Florio’s Executive Order #2 created an Environmental Prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office.

Florio’s Executive Order #8 established a Solid Waste Task Force which developed policy recommendations that ultimately terminated 15 proposed garbage incinerators, deemed incineration a “technology of last resort”, created new source reduction policies, mandated via regulation the nation’s most aggressive recycling goals, and shifted hundreds of millions of dollars of State subsidies previously allocated to incineration (“resource recovery”) to local recycling and waste reduction programs.

Florio’s Executive Order #82 began and structured the public campaign that ultimately led to later passage of the Highlands Act in 2004:

WHEREAS, both the Skylands Greenway Task Force and the U.S. Forest Service Highlands Study recognized the continued threats of uncontrolled suburbanization and urbanization on the natural resources of the region and recommended protection and conservation of the region’s important water and contiguous forest resources;

By issuing a reorganization Plan and Executive Order #38, Florio anticipated the climate emergency when he merged State BPU energy programs into the DEP, forming the Department of Environmental Protection And Energy (DEPE).

WHEREAS, Reorganization Plan (No. 002-1991) is due to become effective on August 19, 1991 in order to enhance the coordination and integration of the State’s utility, environmental and energy policies;

Florio anticipated the need to adapt to climate chaos (policies now called “adaptation” and/or “resilience”). He issued Executive Order #115:

WHEREAS, various natural hazards have caused physical and financial impact in New Jersey and will continue to do so and these impacts have resulted in unexpected costs to county and local governments as well as degradation of the State’s health, safety, environment, infrastructure and economy; and

WHEREAS, the opportunities to significantly mitigate the impacts of coastal storms, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, and other natural hazards are identifiable and should be executed as funding is available;

Executive Order #115 established a State Hazard Mitigation Team, and directed a new policy and planning process:

4. The SHMT shall develop a systematic program to identify hazards, monitor changes in hazard vulnerability and implement measures for reducing potential damage by providing a mechanism for follow-up activities crucial to the successful implementation of team recommendations.

5. The SHMT shall develop and maintain a comprehensive plan for the reduction of natural hazards. The team shall review and update this document as deemed necessary.

6. The SHMT shall work to increase the public’s awareness of the risk associated with known hazards and promote preparedness among residents of the State.

The team included Department of Environmental Protection and Energy: Supervisor of Land-Use Regulations. State Floodplain Management Coordinator. State Forest Fire Warden.

In a strategically smart move, Florio responded effectively to the right wing manufactured public outrage over the Department of Health’s “runny egg rule”. (a faux grassroots group, Hands Across NJ, formed to exploit that controversy and the “toilet paper tax” backlash. That group was the precursor to later Tea Party (e.g. scroll down to see photos of Congressman Holt’s 2009 “Town Hell”) and MAGA campaigns).

Florio got out in front of the business community’s opportunistic political attacks on regulations and prevented their rollbacks and corruption via business community recommendations of cost-benefit analysis, “red tape” reviews, and rollbacks for federal consistency. Instead, Florio adopted a progressive oriented “regulatory reform” process that emphasized public participation under Executive Order #97.

Florio sought to preserve small family farms and strengthen the Farmland Assessment program via Executive Order #109

Florio promoted and created the first Environmental Education week via Executive Order #111.

Florio’s State Planning Commission finally adopted the State Development and Redevelopment Plan begun almost a decade previously by Gov. Kean, a visionary but toothless blueprint for growth and preservation.

But in his final State of the State address, Florio announced another bold initiative to put regulatory teeth in the State Plan, via an Executive Order #114

That message was not only a recognition of the need for regulatory teeth in the voluntary State Plan, it also was an assault on home rule and local property taxes (theretofore sacrosanct and taboo “political third rail” topics!)

Florio presciently warned:

When President Eisenhower left office he spoke of the growing danger of the military-industrial complex.

My message is closer to home, but please take it in the same spirit. … […]

During the past few years, one very important tool for fighting property taxes and promoting responsible development has been working its way to completion. The State Plan was begun in 1985 by Governor Kean, and finally approved in 1992.

It’s the backbone of the effort I’m talking about today. My last contribution to that effort took place this morning, when I signed an Executive Order that will end the piecemeal implementation of our new State Plan. It requires all agencies of state government to immediately begin to coordinate their actions with each other and with the objectives of the Plan.

The plan requires investment in housing, transportation and other fields to be concentrated in areas of designated higher growth. In protected natural and agricultural areas, investment will be more limited. The logic is simple, and I think understood by most. If you put a wastewater treatment plant in the middle of nowhere, guess what happens: development, which you then have to pay to service.

A sustainable future for New Jersey requires that we strike a balance between preservation and development. Wise development, not the growth without vision that was an unfortunate hallmark of the 1980s, is our goal.

The State Plan is a vision for growth. More than a colorized land-use map for New Jersey, it is a vital, living document, a road map if you will, that will allow us to plan wisely, tax fairly, and measure the real cost of growth. “Emergency room” government was an approach that failed in the 1980s. The State Plan is a good example of the kind of “preventive care” approach that the 1990s demand. Anticipating and acting to avoid problems before they occur is what we seek – an approach that looks to the next generation, not just the next election.

President Lyndon Johnson once said, “We have talked long enough…We have talked for a hundred years or more. It is now time to write the next chapter and to write it into the books of law.” He was talking about civil rights, but the same could be said of the State Plan here in New Jersey.

More than a framework for responsible growth, the Plan is a tool for avoiding the mistakes that we now pay for with exorbitant property taxes. Indeed, by following the state plan and putting development in the right places, it’s estimated that New Jersey taxpayers will save as much as $1.3 billion in capital costs over the next 20 years, and up to $400 million each year in operational costs.

Under my Executive Order, the agencies of state government will act with a unified voice and pursue policies that reflect the goals of the Plan when it comes to investing state resources. Within the next two years, under the Order, state agencies will also assist municipalities in designating the centers where most growth should occur, and assist our hard-pressed cities in developing Strategic Revitalization Plans.

To fight property taxes, to make sure development in New Jersey makes sense for people, we cannot retreat from where the State Plan points us. …

Short-term expediency as a way of avoiding the long-term public interest is, in the ultimate reckoning, a sure-thing losing cause.

Tragically, incoming Gov. Whitman systematically dismantled this legacy.

[Update: 9/3/22 –  As I wrote in “This Is What Regulatory Capture Looks Like”

Initially during the “Open for Business” deregulatory Whitman administration (1994 – 2002), DEP mangers formed what is now called the “Industry Stakeholders Group” (ISG). During the Whitman DEP, Commissioner Bob Shinn euphemistically called this a “re-engineering” initiative, whereby private corporations and their consultants were given carte blanche to literally re-design the air permit and enforcement programs and write the technical content of DEP air programs (this was where later DEP initiatives like “Technical Manuals” and “Permit Efficiency” came from).

(Skeptics can read Whitman’s STARR Report (see p. 46 summary) “Strategy to Advance Regulatory Reform” (Department of State, Office of Business Ombudsman, July 1995) and read Whitman’s first State of The State address for examples of her no holds barred assault on DEP and regulation. Whitman abolished the Office of Environmental Prosecutor via Executive Order #9 and created the anti-regulatory Business Ombudsman’s Office via Executive Order #15) Whitman sought to roll back stricter NJ state standards to federal minimums via Executive Order #27. These are just a few of Whitman’s attacks that have been expanded upon by Gov. Christie and embraced by Gov. Murphy.)

And we’re now living with the consequences.

[Full disclosure: as a DEP staffer, I worked extensively “off the record” with Florio’s campaign, transition team, and Gov.’s Office on many of the above Florio leadership policies and initiatives. I faced retaliatory discipline by DEP managers – who were withholding information, erecting roadblocks, and resisting Florio reforms – for insubordination for some of that work (twice). This “prior record” subsequently was used against me by Whitman’s DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn as “third strike” grounds for dismissal for my leaking documents that proved Whitman and Shinn knowingly and intentionally were lying to the public and covering up public health risks from toxic mercury.]

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