After eight years of battles with Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, the state’s environmental community has high hopes its agenda will move forward under Gov.-elect Phil Murphy.
But it is not taking any chances.
After backing Murphy with endorsements and hundreds of thousands of dollars in environmental Political Action Committee donations, the group wants to remain on his radar, particularly since Murphy made many promises to environmentalists during his campaign.
The New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Education Fund put together a coalition of 30 environmental groups to write the “Environmental Agenda ’18, New Jersey’s Conservation Road Map.” It gives the new administration a list of priorities in nine categories it wants it to tackle in its first 100 days, first year and first term.
“It’s the first time I have seen the environmental community come together ... to list priorities we all agree on,” said Kelly Mooij, vice president of government relations for New Jersey Audubon, which participated in the coalition. “The process was comprehensive.”
She said Murphy has many opportunities to improve the health and economy of the state if he keeps his campaign promises to move New Jersey toward 100 percent clean energy by 2050, get New Jersey back into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, complete an energy master plan, reverse regulatory rollbacks and depoliticize the Pinelands Commission and other bodies while strengthening the Department of Environmental Protection.
“Funding for DEP is most critical,” she said. “It’s been critically underfunded and I’m hopeful the next administration will come in and revitalize the agency. There’s great, talented staff over there.”
But climate change is also critical in protecting habitat and wildlife species, one of Audubon’s key missions.
“Particularly climate change has a devastating impact on people and wildlife,” she said. “It exacerbates every other issue we deal with.”
New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said his group, which did not participate in the NJLCV coalition, is also focused on changes the new administration will make at DEP.
“We want to see them get good, competent people to lead DEP,” said Tittel. “People with experience with the complex regulatory system in New Jersey. They need to rebuild morale and focus on environmental protection.”
But the most important change the Murphy administration can make is come forward with a plan to deal with climate change, sea-level rise and green energy, said Tittel.
“We had eight years of delay,” he said. “We hope offshore wind will finally get built, and we can expand solar.”
He also wants to see the state start mapping and planning for climate change and its impact along the coast.
“We have areas underwater in Atlantic City at high tides,” Tittel said. “We have to raise roads and in some places move people away. We need a comprehensive plan for the coast.”
Both Mooij and Tittel said New Jersey needs to become a national leader again on environmental issues.