What if the take-no-prisoners former U.S. attorney Chris Christie told his staff prosecutions will be based not just on the law, but also on cost-benefit analyses and whether the prosecutions hinder the economy? Clearly, the scenario is fictional. Prosecutor Christie’s time-honored path to Morven was in getting convictions, not giving concessions.
But Governor Christie is a different man. His commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, Bob Martin, has stated that “robust” cost-benefit analyses and economic growth are at the top of his wish list. Martin will enforce the environmental laws with “transparency,” he says, but “At the same time, I will help the DEP fulfill its role in growing the economy of this state." He added, “…where we can afford to grow, we should,"
Is he kidding? The department is a regulatory agency, not the commerce department. It’s charged with regulating certain development to keep our environment clean. But with three-quarters of our state’s waters polluted, and our air quality below minimum standards, we need an aggressive regulator who puts the health and safety of its citizens first, not some utility consultant using bogus cost-benefit analyses and economic growth to water down our environmental protections.
Why bogus? If all economic, social, and health costs of a project were included in a true cost-benefits analysis, environmental regulations would win, hands down. Fat chance that happens. Instead, such pseudo-studies narrowly select “facts” and hypotheses to produce the desired conclusions.
Since economic development is not DEP’s job, what gives? Simply, Christie isn’t letting a good crisis go to waste. When the recession hit, our state legislators groveled before developers by weakening many environmental regulations -- to stimulate the economy, they said. Christie’s anti-environmental decisions are a logical extension of that assault.
Martin and Christie, more “transparent” than they ever intended, are garnering developers’ gratitude by misusing the soured economy to weaken environmental regulations.
Martin sounds, I fear, like someone who will “streamline” a pathetically understaffed DEP until it becomes the Department of Expanding Pollution.