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Jeff Tittel: New Jersey’s economy relies on environmental protections

titteljeff021110_optBY JEFF TITTEL
COMMENTARY

A good economy cannot exist without a good environment. In New Jersey, we've known that for years. In fact, we're one of the country's leaders in jobs related to the environment.

With the downturn in the economy, special interests are once again attacking the environment in the name of streamlining regulations. They are making their case with half truths and anecdotal information. What they're seeking is not really a streamlining of permitting processes, but the degradation of environmental protections that safeguard public health and safety. We're concerned that the Christie administration is going along with this attack on the environment.

New Jersey cannot afford a rollback in environmental protections. We have some of the worst water quality, air quality and loss of open space of any state in the nation, as well as more Superfund and toxic sites. Over the years, protections have been implemented that remedy these problems and protect the environment, while at the same time growing our economy. We're concerned that the recent push to weaken protections will set back progress.

The Christie administration is cutting funds for preservation and planning in the Highlands and is attempting to weaken the Water Quality Planning Act, putting our waterways at risk. Clean water is the engine that drives our economy. Our largest industries - food processing, pharmaceutical/petrochemical and tourism - need clean water to produce everything from Budweiser to M&Ms, Tylenol to Goya beans. A 2004 study by New Jersey's largest water commission showed if we don't protect our water, it will cost us more than $50 billion in treatment facilities over the next 30 years.

A 2007 economic report done for the Department of Environmental Protection valued our natural resources at $20 billion a year, which includes $3.4 billion for outdoor recreation like hiking, fishing and birding. The report said the overall capital of our natural resources, including open space, is worth $600 billion. The Christie transition team report recommends removing many of the protections on natural resources.

Environmental cleanup, which transforms toxic sites into productive uses, creates thousands of jobs. And New Jersey is a national leader in the growth of green technology. We lead the nation in patents for green energy and venture capital investments. This has lead to two new solar manufacturing facilities and a fuel cell plant. New Jersey is second nationally in the number of solar installations and we may be the first with the nation's largest offshore wind project. We're a leader in energy efficiency programs, which are retraining workers, creating jobs and saving us energy. Clean energy is an area of great economic growth in New Jersey.

Gov. Chris Christie campaigned on clean energy, but instead is cutting $158 million from the Clean Energy Fund, which is paid for by rate payers. This will undermine the creation of green jobs, efforts to lower greenhouse gases, and savings by consumers.

The special interests attack beach access rules, even though shore tourism generates $29 billion a yeary. Lobbyists claim that the DEP doesn't approve permits quickly, yet the Permit Review Task Force showed 65 percent of the delays in permitting came from incomplete or false applications.

Transition team reports and executive orders by the Christie administration are not about eliminating red tape; they're about eliminating environmental standards. Weakening our drinking water and toxic clean-up standards from the current one in a million cancer risk to one in 10,000 would put New Jersey residents at a hundred times greater risk for cancer, resulting in a human cost and an increase in health care expenses. Weakening standards on water and land use will result in more sprawl, pollution and flooding.

While special interests and the Christie administration are trying to weaken environmental protections, the public disagrees. According to a recent Monmouth University poll, 79 percent of t New Jerseyans do not want Christie to weaken environmental protections.

To the Sierra Club, green equals green. A good environment equals a good economy. You can't have one without the other.

Jeff Tittel is director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

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