“New Jersey faces an imminent threat from climate change, from rising seas that threaten our coastline to high asthma rates in some of our most vulnerable communities due to fossil fuel pollution,” said Governor Phil Murphy in January 2020, when he unveiled the state’s Energy Master Plan, which his administration has now abandoned.
Murphy unexpectedly shelved public hearings on the plan, almost exactly three years to the day since he announced his ambitious clean-energy agenda that never moved forward.
The former Goldman Sachs executive, had a relatively smooth path when it came to replacing a deeply unpopular Republican Gov. Chris Christie after New Jersey’s Democratic political establishment rallied around the $20 million of his own money Murphy spent to win the 2017 nomination.
He narrowly escaped defeat when he sought re-election because his record never matched his rhetoric, but now Murphy appears to be setting himself up for a run at the White House by throwing longtime supporters under the bus as he cultivates his appeal to billionaires and corporate sponsors who might help finance a national campaign.
Murphy campaigned on a promise to stop raiding the Clean Energy Fund but a policy report from New Jersey Policy Perspective said that the Murphy administration has diverted over $500 million to other projects, or about a quarter of the nearly $2 billion in total robbed from the fund since 2010.
“New Jersey will never meet its clean energy goals if state lawmakers continue raiding the Clean Energy Fund to plug budget holes,” said Alex Ambrose, an NJPP policy analyst. “The state’s reliance on fossil fuels threatens the health and safety of everyone in the state, especially people of color who disproportionately live closest to sources of pollution.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “New Jersey is not putting our money where our mouth is. The governor and the Legislature continue the longstanding practice of raiding the state’s Clean Energy Fund and failing to identify a permanent funding source for NJ Transit, which severely hampers New Jersey’s efforts to reduce traffic, cut carbon pollution and address the climate crisis.
Seven dead whales washed ashore in New Jersey and New York in two months but Murphy rejected the idea of pausing development by offshore wind companies, to find out if the process is killing of marine animals.
Clean Ocean Action, one of New Jersey’s leading coastal environmental groups, in conjunction with Protect Our Coast NJ, Save Long Beach Island, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and Defend Brigantine Beach, accused the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of granting permission to develop construction that disrupts marine life without fully understanding the consequences.
NJ Empower, a coalition of 120 New Jersey environmental groups, filed a lawsuit against Murphy’s administration for what they see as the state’s inaction on climate change.
Members of the Empower NJ coalition – which includes the New Jersey Sierra Club, BlueWaveNJ, Food & Water Watch, and the state branch of the Green Party – said the governor is not in compliance with one of his own executive orders on climate change.
On December 3, 2021, Murphy nominated three corporate lobbyists to membership on the Pinelands Commission to replace three seasoned environmental leaders with years of service protecting the environmentally sensitive region.
In the end, Murphy dropped the Deputy Director of the NJ Chemistry Council, a group representing polluters, but two other lobbyists became members of the panel: one an employee at Orsted, a multinational energy conglomerate, and the other the general manager of Kivvit, a national lobbying firm whose clients include many of America’s biggest corporations.
Explaining Murphy’s reticence about slowing development, “the wind industry is big multinational corporations, in fact, many of them are tied to oil companies,” according to Jeff Tittel who retired after leading the New Jersey Sierra Club chapter for many years, who also said: “Murphy’s environmental record is pretty bad.”
Long before Hurricane Ida killed 30 people in New Jersey, officials said New Jersey must modernize its flood standards but a year after the deadly storm, the state’s inaction provoked environmentalists to launch a campaign urging Murphy to fast-track rules to update flood maps and rainfall data that had been unchanged since 1999.
Among the reasons he has made environmentalists and animal rights activists angry, Murphy betrayed a promise to end bear hunting and failed to address the cleanup of toxic sites in New Jersey, ignored recurring flooding problems, and left many state parks in disrepair.
“This is the time for bold ideas that will make lasting changes for generations. That is what a second term should be,” said Henal Patel, law and policy director at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “We’re not seeing it, which is why there is a little bit of a concern. Is he moving more centrist? Or is it just a matter of not thinking boldly?”
Among other environmental group leaders who accused Murphy of betraying his promise to fight the global climate crisis were Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey; Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action; Kevin Brown, Service Employees International Union vice president; and Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey state director for the Sierra Club.
If progressives, environmental activists, and animal lovers are disappointed, they have only themselves to blame for failing to predict this outcome. Lisa McCormick has been a consistent and vocal Murphy critic, who pointed out that he left 20-year prison sentences for marijuana possession in a law that “legalized” cannabis and allowed employers to legally pay the poorest workers $5.26 per hour when he increased the state minimum hourly wage to $15 per hour.
“The suggestion that Phil Murphy is a genuine progressive is laughable,” said McCormick. “He’s a millionaire whose spin doctors surveyed voters and told him what we want to hear, then he did everything the political establishment wanted him to do.”
McCormick said in addition to a poor environmental record, Murphy failed to allow municipalities to create Civilian Complaint Review Boards with subpoena powers or address one of the nation’s worst school segregation records.
She said Murphy also hired a rapist, ignored systemic sexual abuse in a women’s prison, and created a toxic work environment for his female staff.
“Those 20-year prison sentences for legal marijuana and getting paid about a third of the state minimum hourly wage are indications that Phil Murphy is full of shit,” said Democratic strategist James J. Devine, McCormick’s husband. “The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy has vigorously defended school segregation in court.”
“Phil Murphy owns stock in tobacco companies and Halliburton, he enacted $17 billion in corporate welfare, and he supports the political establishment’s culture of corruption,” said Devine. “There is nothing progressive about lying and Phil Murphy might actually be Congressman George Santos.”
Devine said, “Murphy became ambassador to Germany the same way he found himself in the Governor’s Office: He bought it and he did an equally poor job in that post as he did in the Governor’s office.”
In one cable, dated early 2009, while he was the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Murphy, reportedly described German Chancellor Angela Merkel as “insecure” in her dealings with the new U.S. government. Other documents from the U.S. embassy in Berlin reveal that diplomats gave her the undiplomatic nickname of “Angela ‘Teflon’ Merkel” for her habit of steering clear of conflict.