Christie Nominates New President of BPU, Two Other Commissioners

Tom Johnson | September 19, 2014 | Energy & Environment, Politics
Governor looks to slot in two Democrats at state agency, announces surprise nomination to head up DOT

Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
Richard Mroz, president of the state's Board of Public Utilities
Gov. Chris Christie yesterday announced three nominations to the agency, which helps determine how much customers pay on their utility bills. He also announced
a surprise but well-received nomination of Jamie Fox, a Democrat, who — if approved — would serve as commissioner of the state Department of Transportation. This is familiar territory to Fox, who held the same post under
former Gov. Jim McGreevey.

All of the nominations need to be approved by the Democratic-controlled state Senate, where few observers expect any problems, in part, because beside Fox, two of the nominees also are Democrats. The other nominee, Richard Mroz, a Republican well known around the Statehouse and widely regarded, would become president of the BPU.

In addition to Mroz, a friend of Christie’s for 35 years who has known the governor since they went to college together, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset), the chairman of a committee dealing with utility issues, has been tapped to serve as a BPU commissioner. Joseph Fiordaliso who currently sits on the BPU was nominated for a new term.

The choices won praise from lobbyists in the energy sector. “These are solid choices that will bring tremendous energy expertise and technical knowledge to the BPU,’’ said Fred DeSanti, representing the New Jersey Solar Energy Coalition.

Mroz, a former chief counsel to Gov. Christie Whitman, will head an agency, if approved, facing steep challenges in the face of a rapidly changing utility industry, particularly in the energy sector. With the increase in renewable energy providing power to homes and the move to build smaller, localized power plants, utilities are seeing revenues decline, placing a strain on their ability to properly maintain the systems that deliver electricity to homes and businesses.

The agency also has come under fire from clean-energy advocates for not more aggressively pursuing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state or reducing energy consumption by consumers and businesses.

Chivukula, the first Indian-American in the Legislature, is an engineer and chairman of the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee, who was an often fierce critic of the BPU — so much so that the agency rarely showed up for its hearings, even when the issue involved the BPU.

But he also has been in the forefront of passing many important measures dealing with clean energy.

“The work he has done as a legislator has improved the clean-energy future of New Jersey, and he will continue the legacy at the BPU,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Fiordaliso, an Essex County Democrat who once served as deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Richard Codey, has been on the BPU since 2005. He is regarded as one of the agency’s most knowledgeable commissioners on solar issues.

Fox’s nomination drew praise too. A consummate political insider he has a reputation for getting things done, working with both sides of the aisle. As DOT commissioner, if confirmed, his biggest task will be to figure out how to replenish the state’s transportation fund, which is virtually running on empty.

Christie, asked about the issue at the Trenton press conference, said all options are on the table, while refusing to say whether he would support an increase in the gas tax as many labor and other groups believe is necessary.