Coastal Access and Greenhouse Gas in New Jersey

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Bob Martin, New Jersey Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, discussed the DEP's proposal regarding public access to the waterfront; Governor Christie's announcement that NJ will opt out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and fracking in New Jersey.

For beaches, one size fits all?

Under a new DEP proposal, New Jersey's beach towns would see incentives for coming up with public access plans for their shores. Bob Martin said that allowing each town to have its own individual plan was preferable to a fixed set of rules for everyone.

We're trying to get away from one-size-fits-all regulation. Towns come forward to the DEP and say, look, because of physical constraints or whatever, we can provide this much parking; we can't provide these three access points onto the beach, but we can do more parking over here and more bath facilities over here. It's about trying to find best combination for towns going forward.

Under the proposal, local aid for beach replenishment and public spaces would flow more freely to townships that confronted their beach access problems. "We can prioritize the towns that give us plans versus the towns that don't," he told Brian Lehrer.

Endless bummer

Not everyone sees it that way. Environmental advocacy groups like the New Jersey Surfriders Foundation and the American Littoral Society hold that if municipalities were given free reign to design their own plans, many would opt to shirk their "public access obligation." Residents and homeowners of beach communities might benefit at the expense of every other Jerseyian's right to beach access, as parking and other amenities for out-of-towners dwindle.

A caller from the Surfriders Foundation pointed out that while Martin's talk of prioritizing towns with plans was nice, it wasn't anywhere in the written proposal. He also found fault with letting municipal planning boards make decisions without substantial input from the public—an inevitability, he said. Altogether, the DEP's denigration of "one-size-fits-all regulation" didn't make sense to the caller.

If beach access is universal right given to every resident of New Jersey, you can't have this rhetoric that talks about flexibility and one size doesn't fit all...Of course one size fits all, because it's a universal right. We don't have different free speech regulations in Arizona than New York, because it's universal.

Martin responded:

Over time towns have built up around different things, parking or no parking, that sort of thing. The access issue is a little more complicated than that. Making it sound that simple isn't the case, and that's why we're trying to give the towns more flexibility.

The commissioner's terminology, however, came close to contradicting one of his earlier arguments for the DEP proposal:

What's in place now gives each town complete control...Right now, we're taking a significant part of that back and setting new priorities for them. The fact of the matter is, we're now putting a new paradigm in place.

Reggie and the greenhouse effect

A bit of good news for New Jersey: recent studies show that since 2008, the state has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by eight percent, which is triple the national average.

Right on its heels, a bit of controversial news for New Jersey: Governor Chris Christie has pulled the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, dubbed "Reggie"), a ten-state cap and trade plan that's reportedly responsible for a 10 percent decline in regional greenhouse gases over the past few years.

So why is the state backing out after receiving high marks for its emissions control? Martin said that RGGI has had little to do with the state's environmental success. The cost-effective writing is on the wall, he said, and power generators are already moving to other fuels for economic reasons, he told Brian Lehrer.

The RGGI program has been ineffective...Data show we've already achieved our 2020 goal for greenhouse gases by lowering them to that level; we are already at 1990 levels. We've also had policies of shifting over to natural gas, which is getting less expensive; we're getting off coal, pushing for more offshore wind, pushing for solar...We will continue to lower greenhouse gases, but the governor wants real solutions, not just something that's an ineffective program.