New Jersey Gubernatorial Win by Chris Christie Could Change State's Environmental/Energy Programs

November 5, 2009
by BRUCE KATCHER and CHRISTOPHER BALL
MGKF Special Alert

On November 3, 2009, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie defeated incumbent Jon Corzine in the race to be New Jersey's next governor. Environmental and energy issues played an important role in the election as Christie made headlines as the first statewide Republican candidate to win the endorsement of the New Jersey Environmental Federation in the group's almost 30 year history.

While the details of a Christie Administration environmental and energy agenda will have to await his official arrival in Trenton, the Governor-elect's campaign platform and remarks during the election indicate the potential for significant change to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP"), the State's environmental rulemaking process, and the State government's approach to several key environmental and energy issues. A brief summary of key positions is set forth below:

    • Changes to DEP: Christie repeatedly stated that he wants to trim government spending and DEP is likely to be included in any cuts. His campaign platform includes a promise to change the leadership of the DEP, and he has been quoted as saying that he would lay off DEP workers (while empowering the remaining rank and file) and strip the Department of its fish and wildlife oversight function. He has also pledged to remove the incentive for regulatory agencies to charge "excessive or unnecessary" fees by eliminating the use of fees or fines for agency funding, a move that will have a significant impact on many DEP programs.
    • Rulemaking Changes: The Governor-elect pledged to immediately freeze proposed agency rules (DEP and otherwise) upon taking office, and has proposed several reforms to administrative rulemaking moving forward, including enhanced rule impact statements requiring more detailed cost/benefit analyses. He also committed to subjecting proposed rules to a new "risk analysis" and has called for strengthening scientific advisory committees to evaluate the science behind DEP proposals.
    • Land Use: Christie campaigned as a proponent of open-space preservation, saying that he would seek to increase preserved acreage annually and would reinstate the Highlands appraisal process for five years. While Christie is opposed to incurring any additional State-debt to fund these efforts, he has pledged to strengthen the Garden State Preservation Trust and has advocated a Constitutional Amendment to dedicate a portion of the sales tax for land preservation. He also advocates an "improved consistent" State Development and Redevelopment Plan, although the nature of the improvements remains unclear.
    • Site Remediation: Christie expressed general support for New Jersey's new Licensed Site Remediation Professional program that seeks to privatize much of the contaminated site cleanup process in the State, though he supports close monitoring of the process by DEP.
    • State Waters: Christie committed to reconsider providing the State's highest form of available environmental protection to approximately 300 miles of waters rejected by the current administration for classification as "Category 1" waters under the state's surface water quality standards.
    • Energy and Global Warming: Christie categorized as "job number one" the recruitment of renewable energy manufacturing companies to locate in New Jersey, offering a tax credit to such companies up to 100 percent of the applicable corporate business taxes or the insurance premium tax. He proposes to strip the State's Board of Public Utilities of its current oversight of renewable energy development efforts and place those efforts under a new entity – labeled "Renew NJ" – more oriented to promoting job growth in the sector. Christie's promotion of renewable energy extends to landfill management, where he has called for all landfills regulated by DEP to be required to install solar farms as part of their closure plans, and agriculture, where he intends to promote the installation of solar on permanently preserved farmland.
    • When it comes to global warming, Christie has committed to pursue the goals of the Global Warming Response Act more aggressively than the current administration, whose efforts he has deemed "quite disappointing." To this end, he opposes the controversial proposed coal-fired power plant in Linden and any drilling off the New Jersey coast. Christie has also stated that he will require upgrades to the cooling water systems used at the Oyster Creek and Salem nuclear generating stations that could cost those facilities millions of dollars.
  • Other Issues: Christie has also taken positions favoring shore protection funding, increased recycling rates, diesel engine retrofit requirements, enhanced environmental justice considerations in state decision-making and opposing the deepening of the Delaware River. He also plans to reinstate the Office of Environmental Crimes at the Attorney General's office to enhance criminal enforcement of environmental law.

Governor-elect Christie will take office on January 19, 2010. Clients with questions regarding the Christie administration's environmental and energy agenda are encouraged to contact Bruce Katcher (bkatcher@mgkflaw.com; 484-430-2320) or Christopher Ball (cball@mgkflaw.com; 484-430-2358).