Profile: Dealing with the Hidden Damage of Air and Water Pollution

Tom Johnson | May 18, 2016 | Profiles
As Doug O’Malley points out, the threats to NJ’s environment are just as pressing as 30 years ago, when medical waste washed up on the beaches

Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey
Who he is: Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, a leading public-interest group in the state.

Age: 37

Home: Philadelphia

Family: Married with two children,

What he does: Leads a staff of 20 based in Trenton and New Brunswick on pressing environmental and energy issues in the state. Environment New Jersey is a citizen-based environmental advocacy project of Environment America.

How he got there: A graduate of Harvard University with a degree in history, O’Malley has worked on environmental issues at the organization for the past 15 years, the last four as director.

How New Jersey is doing protecting its air, water, and land: “It is far better than it was in the 1980s when the syringes were washing up on the beaches. It is not the summer of 1988 anymore. The threats today are much more hidden. The risks to our drinking water and open spaces are still very high.‘’

How optimistic are you about achieving those goals: “New Jersey has a strong bipartisan tradition of supporting the environment. That is not going away. There is no reason why the state can not be a leader again in this area.’’

Biggest challenge: “The toughest thing right now is we are deep into the seventh year of the Christie administration, which has been rolling back environmental regulations. The governor has been moving us backward on the energy and environment every year. It has been challenging just to hold the line. The battle over fossil fuels the last few years shows no part of the state is immune to those problems.’’

Biggest disappointment: The unsuccessful effort to block the Susquehanna-Roseland high-voltage power line through the Delaware River Water Gap. The transmission line brings power from generating plants in Pennsylvania and other areas into New Jersey, a move widely opposed by environmentalists.

Biggest success: Convincing New Jersey to adopt a clean-car program that will significantly reduce smog-causing pollution from so-called low-emission vehicles and electric cars. O’Malley noted, however, that the battle is still not over since clean-energy advocates must monitor to make sure New Jersey lives up to the mandates of the program.

Why the environmental community in New Jersey is so fractured: “The environmental community is a diverse collection of many organizations representing multiple interests. We are stronger when we speak with one voice, but it’s not shocking when we don’t speak with unanimity.’’

What he dislikes most about the state: The machine-dominated political structure.

What you did not know about him: At Harvard he was city editor of the Harvard Crimson, where he directed the paper’s coverage of the 2000 presidential election. Like many other publications, the Crimson had to rewrite the headline as to who won the contest (Gore versus Bush). His favorite book is Robert Caro’s “The Power Broker.’’