NJ Environmental Federation Releases Scorecard on State Legislators

The New Jersey Environmental Federation has released its legislative scorecard for 2010-2013, which gives some Democrats and Republicans low scores when it comes to their actions on the environment. NJEF State Director Amy Goldsmith told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that eight Republicans and one Democrat scored zero and several members of Democratic leadership have not been as environmentally friendly as her organization had hoped.

The NJEF endorsed Gov. Chris Christie in 2009, but since then the organization has not been happy with his actions. “Last year we gave him a D because he got out of the gate pretty well but then he started rolling back on his commitments and he started taking stands that really were going to undo environmental policies,” Goldsmith said.

Despite public commitments on his website and to the NJEF in front of the press, Goldsmith said Christie has not been a friend to the environment during his tenure. “He made commitments around the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant. He also said that the environment was gonna be one of his number one issues. He said he would deal with urban cities around environmental justice issues. And in fact what he’s done is made more waivers to existing environmental laws. He’s put development in front of environmental and public health protections,” she said.

One of the commitments Christie made, according to Goldsmith, is the move toward green energy. “We were gonna be the East Coast capital of offshore wind turbines. And none of that has happened because he took $750 million out of the coffers of the Clean Energy Fund,” she said.

While New Jersey is still considered to be number two in terms of the solar industry’s commercial development, Goldsmith said it has slowed because incentives that used to be in place are no longer available.

The NJEF has Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono on its heroes list. The group is endorsing Buono for governor. It also has some zeros, including eight Republicans and Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo.

“The problem with the leadership is the leadership is actually out of step with their own party and out of step with the public. The leadership got like a 47 percent on the Democratic side. And yet, the Democratic Party, the other legislators, are at 59 percent so they’ve been voting for development and rolling back environmental policies,” Goldsmith said.

She added that the Democrats are in some ways worse than Republicans because they’re in positions of leadership. “New Jersey has a 40+ year legacy of positive, pro-environmental policies on a bipartisan basis. We’ve seen wonderful legislators on the Republican side and the Democratic side working together. But the Democrats are in power and it only takes two or three leadership people to undo environmental policies or hold policies off,” Goldsmith said.

There has been talk in the legislature about allocating money over the next three decades for the environment, but Goldsmith said that money is for open space and the state can’t afford to use sales tax money for that purpose. “While someone like a Sen. Greenwald has a terrible environmental record, he actually has been one of the champions on being responsible about how we spend our money. Even for environmental policy and open space, we’re concerned that they’re gonna say ‘Oh, well we’ve protected the environment,’ so they’re gonna take more money out of the Department of Environmental Protection or other core programs. And we want to see those programs to remain intact,” she explained.

Goldsmith said she’s still optimistic about the future in the New Jersey legislature because even officials who scored low in the NJEF report have issues that they feel strongly about and will support.

“Someone like Senate President [Steve] Sweeney has been a champion on environmental issues in terms of solar, renewable, climate change. Sen. [Tom] Kean has been a champion on climate change. So even some of those low voting members have issues that they really care about and we want to be able to advance some of those issues,” Goldsmith said. “And we’re concerned that the governor is gonna go even further to the anti-environmental position as he’s thinking about national office. So we need the Democrats and the Republicans in the legislature to be the backstop for dismantling policies that the executive branch might want to do.”