WESTFIELD – When Environment New Jersey elected not to endorse a candidatefor governor this year, most political observers interpreted the move as a snub of Gov. Jon Corzine, but not having a horsein the race allows the advocacy group to focus, they argue, on creating neutral ground for public discussion of the most importantgreen issues facing the state.
Tonight they sponsored one such forum at the Westfield Public Library, where independent candidate Chris Daggett; Assembly Majority WhipJohn McKeon (D-West Orange) as a surrogate for Corzine; andACUA (Atlantic County Utilities Authority) President Rick Doveyasa surrogate for GOPgubernatorial candidateChris Christie; fielded across-section of specificquestions fromseasoned environmental experts on the subject of energy.
Following the speakers' congratulations of one another for environmental work well done, including McKeon's identification of the "great" job Daggett did while serving as commissioner for the state Department of Environmental Protection under then Gov. Tom Kean and Daggett's admission that under Corzine "New Jersey has stepped up on issues of energy," this audience hit hard.
Julia Somers of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition asked the candidates if they were for or against the Susquehanna-Roseland power line, which PSE&G argues wouldupgrade the transmission line that runsbetween the Susquehanna switching station in Pennsylvania and Roseland.
Somers' group does not favor the project because of what she cites as its negative environmental impact.
"Chris Christie's campaign has not taken a position," said Dovey. "This is an issue that has to be studied. I don't understand the specifics.
Daggett said all that awaits a go for the project is a sign off by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilitiies.
"This is an issue that will be decided before the next governor takes office," said the former regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "It's a controversial issue and involves a lot of details. In these campaigns it's difficult to take positions ina global fashion. You get hit on many sides on these issues. I don't mean to punt, but I guess I am."
Next up was McKeon, who gave a nod to Somers' group while reminding the crowd that his name was on the New Jersey Highlands Act -before defending the power line expansion.
"There's this thing about keeping the lights on," said the assemblyman.
Dan Aronson, who teaches environmental science at Raritan Valley Community College, wanted to hear the candidates address the issue of how implementing clean energy alternatives and green initiatives ultimately costs less than continuing current practices – even though it may cost more up front, a point Daggett made earlier in the evening.
"The governor, in putting a $400 million bond question before voters to preserve open space, farmland, and historic areas, has demonstrated a profile in courage,"said McKeon. "That is money we can't not afford to spend."
Daggett said, "It's more costly per kilowatt hour to installsolar wind instead of carbon fuels, but you get that money back in the long-term, in terms of better health and better societal improvement. But there are intiial up-front costs. I'm not saying I wouldn't make the investment."
"In any new technology," agreed Dovey, "there are renewable costs. The government subsidized canals, then railroads over canals, then highways over railroads. Public policy does that, and the payback is there."
Lifelong fisherman Rick Ege of New Jersey State Council Trout Unlimited was up next. He wanted to hear the candidates reject New York and Pennsylvania shale drilling.
"The potential of shale drilling in New York and Pennsylvania will kill the Delaware River," Ege said.
Daggett said he would like to examine the issue and assented that it's difficult becausethe twoneighboring states abide bydifferent sets of rules.
Dovey said, "Chris Christie's campaign has taken no position on this. It's a contentious issue in New York State and Pennsylvania."
McKeon added, "I can't speak specifically to the governor's specific position."
Ege grumbled that the governor could stop the drilling with an authoritative veto.
Handsshot upin the crowd of 125 people who were eager to get their questionsconsidered before the end of the two-hour event, attended by state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield) and Assembly Minority Whip Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), who were both identified by Environment New Jersey reps as strongenvironmental stewards.
Assessing Daggett, McKeon (Corzine) and Dovey (Christie), Matt Elliot, global warming and clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey, told the crowd,"With strong leadership from the next governor, New Jersey would look like a very different place. …Gov. Jon Corzine has developed an Energy Master Plan for New Jersey that sets the right goals to get us to a clean energy future. It's a useful roadmap for the next ten years, but we need to quickly move beyond goal-setting and implement the policies that will bring clean energy and green jobs to New Jersey. That's the challenge for the next governor, no matter who wins in November."