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NJEF scores environmental heroes and zeroes

NJEF – Flanked by legislators just named “environmental heroes,” the New Jersey Environmental Federation, NJ Chapter of Clean Water Action, released a comprehensive scorecard that gives failing grades to a majority of the State Senate and Assembly.

The NJ Environmental Legislative Scorecard found that individual legislators took pro-environment positions less than half (48%) of the time leading to serious setbacks to environmental and public health safeguards over the past 3 years. To view the entire scorecard and report narrative go to www.CleanWaterAction.org/NJScorecard. View the regional chart and what legislative leaders have to say.

“This scorecard shows that despite New Jersey’s proud legacy of environmental leadership, our critical environmental and public health protections have been put at risk by state officials these past few years. The governor’s contribution to this crisis is well documented, but the State Legislature’s is not. This scorecard corrects that,” stated Amy Goldsmith, NJ Environmental Federation State Director.

The scorecard provides a comprehensive evaluation of the legislature as a whole, key sub-groups and all 120 individual legislators. It rates their votes, sponsorships, and leadership on the 18 most important, representative environmental bills acted on since January 2010, when Governor Christie began his term and the new legislative leadership took the reins. Legislators also received extra credit and/or demerits for extraordinary pro- and/or anti-environmental leadership.

“Unfortunately, too often, legislators are not making the grade. But there’s still hope! New Jersey residents want and deserve strong environmental protections,” said Janet Tauro, NJ Environmental Federation Board Chair. “We hope this scorecard will serve as a wake-up call to legislators and voters. We did it to make the public aware of what’s going on in Trenton, and to renew grassroots efforts to demand and support sound environmental action from the people they put in office.”

The report illustrates the rollback of long established environmental protections for water, land and air, as well as a failure to push forward new ones, including:

Democrats voted pro-environment 59% of the time, Republicans 32%, Democratic leadership 47%, and Republican leadership 45%.

The pro-environment position succeeded on only 4 of the 18 bills scored – 11 times blocked primarily by Democrats failing to act and 3 times blocked by Republicans’ refusal to override the governor’s vetoes of bills they’d previously supported.

The most important votes succeeded in rolling back protections (e.g., the permit extension and dirty water votes). In contrast, good bills struggled to advance – some even with majority support couldn’t even get on the agenda (e.g., safe playing fields and waiver). When they did advance, they were comparatively smaller in scope (e.g., fertilizer restrictions, solar, and offshore wind.

The NJ Legislature failed to even seriously consider the most significant solutions on critical issues from Super Storm Sandy recovery to funding for clean energy, open space and transportation such that they can’t even be scored.

“The votes speak for themselves and legislators are not voting for public health and the environment, something the NJ legislature has done on bi-partisan base for the past 40 years” added David Pringle, NJ Environmental Federation Campaign Director. “In fact, the legislature too often seems to be on a race to the bottom, reversing the safeguards of the past -putting our health, environment and future at risk.”

On an individual legislator basis, the report found:

8 of the 15 Democrats in the top leadership positions impacting environmental policy scored in the “bottom 5″ of their caucuses, most notably: Senate Budget Chair Sarlo (0%), Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald (29%), Assembly Appropriations Chair Burzicelli (30%) and Senate President Sweeney (33%)

Republican and Democratic legislators from NJ’s most environmentally sensitive regions (Pinelands, Highlands, Delaware Bayshore and Cape May — Legislative Districts 1, 8, 23-6) had the lowest average scores of all 40 LD’s

9 “Environmental Zeroes” legislators, scoring 15% and below (see chart)

“There is a direct correlation between bad environmental policy and public health. According to UMDNJ estimates, asthma is estimated to account for 12% of health care costs,” explained Ms. Goldsmith. “This takes a huge financial toll on families, keeps children out of school and parents out of work.”

While the scorecard documents the past 3 years as troubling, it contains some silver linings:

13 “Environmental Heroes”, legislators scoring over 80% (see chart)

5 legislative districts’ average scores also met the mark to be “Environmental Heroes”, the 27th (86%); 37th (86%); 18th (85%); 15th (83%); and 38th (82%)

4 mid-level scorers have played critical roles on several issues:

Assembly Environment Committee Chair Spencer – environmental justice and fracking

Senator Turner – safe playing fields

Senate Republican Leader Kean – safe playing fields and climate change

Senator Beck – fracking, safe playing fields, and fertilizer restrictions

Even lower scorers have some high notes on some key issues:

Senate President Sweeney – offshore wind, solar, and climate change

Assembly Majority Leader Greenwald – responsible funding for open space

Senator Oroho – safe playing fields

The advocates noted New Jersey flunks federal air pollution standards, and has some of the worst air in the nation driving up hospital admissions for asthma and respiratory problems, with the average charge of $15,000 for each individual stay. Climate change will lead to more severe and frequent storm, tapping out home owners. And of the state’s 952 watersheds, only 22 meet all water quality standards.

“New Jersey long held the gold medal in bi-partisan environmental stewardship, and frankly what has happened in Trenton is nothing short of a tragedy,” said Amy Goldsmith, NJ Environmental Federation State Director.

New Jersey’s unique geography ranging from the Shore to the Highlands and being downwind from most of the country, its high population density, and 100 years of industrialization and corresponding contamination necessitated bi-partisan leadership. That leadership historically has placed the state at the forefront in adopting model solutions for other states and nations to follow. Over the decades NJ passed laws to protect the Pinelands and wetlands, clean up hazardous waste, and advance clean energy.

The organization will go door to door educating voters throughout the state and in targeted districts, as well as mobilizing members on the phone and with direct mail.

NJ Environmental Federation’s community organizers will inform the public about their state legislators’ records, and what they can do to demand better environmental accountability.

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