Gov. Phil Murphy yesterday rescinded a pair of executive orders issued by his predecessor, steps that critics had argued were undermining some of the state’s environmental and public-health safeguards.
Murphy quashed the orders, announced the day former Gov. Chris Christie took office in his first term, by issuing his own order overhauling principles in developing new rules to foster economic growth and to protect the health, welfare and environment of residents and communities.
Christie’s executive orders had frozen pending regulations for 90 days and made it more difficult to enact environmental rules more stringent than federal standards. The orders formed the rationale behind a number of actions taken by the Republican’s administration over its eight years to roll back regulations it claimed hindered economic growth.
They also led the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue new regulations that waived certain environmental rules in limited cases where the standards were deemed to be unduly burdensome.
Governor cites ‘progressive values’
Murphy’s own executive order was issued after months of gathering input from state agencies and stakeholders on what principles should guide officials in formulating new regulations going forward.
“Common-sense regulations have an essential role to play in building a stronger and fairer economy and promoting New Jersey’s progressive values, such as our commitment to environmental protection,’’ the first-term Democrat said in a statement released by his press office.
“These principles include an instruction to state agencies to evaluate action that can be taken when the federal government rolls back prior protections, a directive to agencies to move permitting processes online where practicable, and a requirement that agencies provide plain-language summaries of their rules that are readable and understandable by the public.’’
Some of the principles outlined in the order already are embraced in a bill (A-5033) sponsored by Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex), which aims to blunt the effects of the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections by enshrining those safeguards into state law.
Cheers from environmentalists
Environmentalists welcomed Murphy’s action, saying the prior administration’s orders were designed to block and roll back critical environmental rules in the state.
“These executive orders were a one-two punch by Christie to promote his national career at the expense of the New Jersey environment,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, referring to the former governor’s failed bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. “These rules were used to block drinking water standards for PFOAs and roll back protections for clean air, clean water and groundwater.’’
Just this week, the DEP proposed new drinking water standards for PFOAs and PFOS, pollutants linked to various health problems, years after recommendations from the state’s Drinking Water Quality Institute.
Amy Goldmith, state director for Clean Water Action, argued New Jersey needs stronger protections than federal law given its pollution legacy and population density. “Stronger stands like this make states bolder to act together as the Trump administration continues to go in reverse,’’ she said.
Business groups offer qualified support
For the most part, business groups also endorsed Murphy’s executive order, although they said they are still reviewing its impact on the regulatory process.
New Jersey already has some of the strictest environmental laws and regulatory programs combined with the most stringent environmental standards, noted Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey. He was encouraged by a commitment to look at why the regulatory process is so long and costs so much more than other states.
“If this new executive order leads to discussions and positive impacts on streamlining the regulatory and permit program and reducing the fees and costs of doing business in New Jersey, we fully support it and are ready to start working on those issues right now,’’ he said.
Upon first glance, Ray Cantor, vice president at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said the group was pleased by a promise of extensive stakeholder outreach and consideration of cumulative impacts as part of the new regulatory principles.
“But we still want to ensure the order is protective of business interests,’’ Cantor said. “The language could lead one to believe business protections are being watered down, given the de-emphasis of the impacts on New Jersey’s businesses.’’