State lawmakers scored failing grades on protecting public health and the environment. The report card from Clean Water Action claims state senators and Assembly members took pro-environment positions less than half the time on 16 key issues. From allowing funds dedicated to environmental programs to be shifted to other departments, to green-lighting private development at Liberty State Park, to the dimes-on-the-dollar Exxon deal. The New Jersey Campaign Manager for Clean Water Action is David Pringle. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams about what the legislature can do to help New Jersey move towards a green economy.
Just how bad is the legislature’s record on environmental issues? Pringle says that even measuring on a curve, a grade of 47 gives them an ‘F.’ “The legislature is failing and it’s especially traumatic because there’s problems here in New Jersey. We’ve traditionally been a leader and we’re backsliding,” he said.
The blame is along party lines, with both Democrats and Republicans at the top and bottom of the list. “It’s across the board,” he said. “The two highest scores were a Democrat and a Republican: Senator Weinberg, a Democrat from Teaneck and Senator Bateman, a Republican from Somerset County. Similarly on the bottom, Senator Van Drew, one of the democratic leaders and Senator Burzichelli, another Democratic leader tied with some of the Republicans for the worst scores.”
There were two things scored out of the 16 that double weight was given to: the Pinelands vote and the Permanent Extension Act. “There’s a Pinelands vote that passed with the minimum number, 21-19, and that was only after tremendous twisting of arms and a nomination to make that happen, so that was very problematic,” he said. “That was only the Senate because that was a confirmation, but both houses also voted on a permit extension act for the fourth time. It’s now become the Permanent Extension Act where once you get a permit it goes on forever, even if that development is very bad and working off standards from 20 years ago.”
The report also says the best environmental solutions are the best economic ones. Pringle says the country is living on nineteenth century technology on how we create electricity. “We’re in the 21st Century now: solar, wind, hydro. The scientist at Cornell and Stanford have documented that we can be 100 percent carbon free over the next 35 years transition if we put the political will to it. It will not only be better for the environment, but it actually creates more jobs and costs less than the alternatives,” he said.
Five years ago, Governor Christie signed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act, however there are still no off-shore wind farms. When asked what it’s going to take the get the process moving Pringle said, “another governor.” “The governor has decided to cater to the rightest of the right wing of the Republican party nationally which is anti-wind and New Jersey is suffering because of it. He got tremendous credit, including from my organization, for championing that bill into law in 2010 and he’s been worse and MIA since,” he said.
Today in Trenton there was a rally against the South Jersey Gas pipeline, which would cut through the Pinelands. While the bill was already passed for approval, Pringle says they’re not dead yet.
“We think the Executive Director did a coup d’etat to do that approval. We think that was illegal, and we’ll be taking her to court. The Pinelands Commission can play a role here, we think the Obama administration can play a role here, so there’s a lot of different avenues to stop that project,” Pringle said. “It’s not just about a pipeline. It’s about climate change. It’s about the Pinelands, which is a million acres, internationally renowned, 17-trillion gallons of pristine water. It really is our future that they’re putting in jeopardy.”
According to Pringle, the biggest thing we need right now is legislators with political will. “They need to lead. They need to do the right thing,” he said. “There’s a bunch of things they can do. The biggest of which is help transition faster to a green economy. It doesn’t cost more, it actually costs less and it’s better for the environment. When you factor in climate change, when you factor in the health costs of people getting diseases, those are the kinds of things we need to do. There is legislation that exists. Its already been heard in committee that’s bipartisan. We need the rest of the legislature to follow the lead of the heroes: the 14 people on our scorecard who are tremendous leaders, and we would all be better off if the rest of the legislature followed their lead.”