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Monday, June 24, 2024

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Review & Opinion

No Transparency in Murphy’s Race to the Finish Line

In November 2025 New Jersey voters will go to the polls to elect a new governor. Gov. Phil Murphy is barred from running due to term limits. Murphy is effectively a lame duck governor already, but with each passing month his political power ebbs.

Throughout his tenure Murphy has regularly used executive authority to accomplish his ends. Executive fiats avoid struggles with the Legislature and much of the give and take of daily politics. Murphy’s control over state agencies and appointed boards remains strong. What we are seeing now is his attempt to use that power to cement in place his signature agenda on climate change.

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America – A nation of, for and by the people. This foundation is rapidly crumbling at the national, state and local levels. It’s time to wake up.

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The public was introduced to two new initiatives out of the governor’s office. Once again, the nod to public involvement is in part sincere but in larger part a charade.

In one initiative the all-appointed state Board of Public Utilities, headed by a former Murphy staffer in Christine Guhl-Sadovy, is driving an accelerated fourth solicitation for offshore wind while also taking on responsibility as the lead organization on a new 2024 New Jersey Energy Master Plan.

In the first introduction of this process to the public last week, the board conducted a public hearing focused on three of seven strategies for reaching Murphy’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2050. It was what has become a typical BPU public hearing with numerous over busy slides and technical language. It teemed with acronyms only some of which were defined. It was not designed to reach the non-specialist public.

This was virtual public hearing number 1 with three more to come in rapid succession.

The state spends millions on consultants for the creation of plans and studies on climate threats. One would think they have the funds to hire someone who understands how to take technical issues like an energy plan involving a total transition in the state’s energy profile and make a presentation that is accessible to the public. Certainly, that would be the path one would take IF the goal were public understanding.

Put a pin in the topic of public understanding and we will return to it after we look at the second initiative of last week.

The state Department of Environmental Protection held a virtual public meeting on the very same day as the one held by the BPU. For the DEP the topic was new rulemaking as part of the state’s Resilient Environments and Landscapes (REAL). The basis of this new rulemaking is a Murphy executive order issued in 2020. This initiative will amend existing land use resource protection rules in order to create what the Murphy administration terms a more resilient state. We do this because we must adapt to “the unavoidable impacts of climate change.”

The hour and a half DEP virtual presentation last week was also one of four such virtual sessions meant to cover the 1,059-page rule that has already been submitted to the Office of Administrative Law and which will be published in the New Jersey Register in July.

Perhaps we are meant to assume it is a coincidence that the two initiatives, each major and complex, were presented to the public via virtual sessions on the same day. But to accept that one would have to extend that belief in coincidence to cover the fact that three of the four sessions to be held by the BPU and three out of four of the sessions to be held by the DEP are on the same days.

Is this really the best way to encourage public involvement? Is this the kind of action the Murphy administration will later term transparency?

Let’s not get bogged down in the minutia of these climate-change-related initiatives. The Herald will cover them as the news stories that they are. What we are here doing is pointing in the strongest possible way to the fact that once again a transformative agenda is being zipped past the public with little attempt to make it comprehensible. There is nothing here that explains the sacrifices that will be needed for this agenda to move forward.

We are told that speed is essential in this agenda because the climate crisis is getting worse and the rulemaking being proposed is based on the “best science.” No one mentioned in these first sessions that speed is necessary because the rulemaking process is long and any further delay would jeopardize the likelihood that these regulations could be adopted while Murphy is still governor.

Depending on your view of the threats posed by a changing climate, you may not see these initiatives as evidence of a less than robust commitment to transparency.

Yet a quick look at the changes to the state’s Open Public Records Act tell the tale. There was no emergency that required these changes to be fast-tracked through the Legislature. It was done to prevent public involvement in a process that was curtailing public access.

It is time to react to this top down, increasingly opaque form of governance. We need to make transparency in government an issue upon which our votes will depend.

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From the Bible: Keep deception and lies far from me. From Proverbs 30:8

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