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Gov-Elect Chris Christie’s Environmental Platform

November 23, 2009


Is he for the environment or against it? Or will he try to split the baby – doing something here to please industry, something there to please conservationists?  Or will he just muddle along doing neither much harm nor much good for the environment? It’s impossible to say right now, but there are early grounds to be optimistic – and also grounds to be cautious.

Mr. Christie’ s environmental platform posted on his campaign web site is our principal grounds for optimism.  You can read the platform in Acrobat format by clicking here. Here are some highlights from the Christie election platform on the environment:

  • “Establish long-term funding source of open space.” In his platform, Mr. Christie says he will seek a constitutional amendment to dedicate a portion of the sale tax to open space preservation – though he does not say how much.
  • “Increase the number of acres annually preserved … especially in the Highlands and Pinelands.” The specific reference to the Pinelands may mean he sees the Pinelands as a region in which environmental protection should be the paramount public policy goal.
  • “Restor[e]… Barnegat Bay” by finding “a better way to control the nitrogen and phosphorous poisoning of the Barnegat Bay.” This statement suggests he understands that Barnegat Bay is in trouble, and new approaches are needed to stem the flow of nutrients into the Bay. We need to be cautious, though, because the platform does not suggest the new governor will support the kinds of dramatic new approaches that are really needed. So long as the Bay’s watershed continues to be covered with haphazard, sprawling residential subdivisions, then good measures like fertilizer control rules will be overwhelmed by the added contaminants that come with more lawns, roofs and roads.
  • “Implement strategies for better cooling systems at Oyster Creek and Salem” nuclear power plants. The current system kills billions of aquatic organisms and heats the water, and it seems pretty clear that the only way to improve the system is to move to cooling towers. But the platform doesn’t say he will try to require towers, so we don’t know what it really means.
  • “Empower the rank and file” staff at DEP, “remove political considerations” from DEP permitting and regulatory actions, and “improve the scientific basis of regulatory decisions.” We can certainly point to cases where political pressures led state agencies to make bad decisions for the environment, so providing this kind of leadership for DEP and other agencies could be very positive. The problem is that it’s hard to see how the stated view squares with other things he has said attacking DEP for harming business with excessive rules.

And our grounds for worry?  Mr. Christie says he will remove regulatory burdens from business, reform DEP, drastically cut the state budget, and place a temporary moratorium on new environmental regulations. In the past, this kind of language from politicians usually meant removing environmental rules on construction and disabling state environmental agencies from doing their jobs – favoring one industry at the expense of other social goals and economic sectors that depend on a healthy environment.

But Chris Christie says he is going to be a different kind of politician. We’re here to help him do well by the Pinelands – and let you know if he doesn’t.

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