New Jersey's Legislature gets a failing grade when it comes to protecting the state's natural resources, an environmental group said Wednesday in a report.
Clean Water Action's report tallies how lawmakers voted on more than a dozen bills considered to be significant environmentally in 2014 and 2015 and found that the Democrat-led Legislature scored an average of 47 percent. That's down slightly from an average score of 48 percent from the last report that looked at 2010-2013.
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The bills used to calculate the score included a measure allowing development permits to be extended and legislation that changed a requirement that municipalities get voter approval before privatizing public water systems.
A closer look at the issue:
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Overall, Democrats scored 54 percent and Republicans received a grade of 35 percent. The average was calculated in proportion to party control of the Legislature.
Clean Water Action campaign director David Pringle said the report's conclusions are disappointing but added that lawmakers can change course by encouraging investment in renewable resources and energy efficiency.
The report highlighted what it called "heroes" — lawmakers with high scores — and "zeroes" — legislators with low grades.
State Sen. Linda Greenstein, who received a high score, said she put environmental issues "foremost" on her agenda.
"You can't see environmental issues as being secondary," she said.
Republicans scored lower than their counterparts, but the report does not spare Democrats from criticism.
"The Democrats too often took symbolic rather than meaningful action when they disagree with the Governor," the report said.
Still, 13 of 14 lawmakers with the highest scores are Democrats, and the Democratic caucuses in each chamber scored higher than their Republican counterparts.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Environmental issues have been at the center of a number of disagreements between Republican Gov. Chris Christie and groups like Clean Water Action. The report comes as Christie's administration finalizes regulations removing New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a so-called cap-and-trade system involving neighboring states. Environmental groups criticized the decision, saying it shows the governor does not take stewardship seriously enough.
A court is considering a proposed $225 million natural resources settlement between the state and ExxonMobil, which Christie has said is among the largest of its kind. Environmental groups say the settlement is too small.
Dedicating funds from the ExxonMobil settlement — presuming a judge approves it — to cleaning up the environment and overriding Christie's veto on a ban of dumping some waste in the state could boost some lawmakers' rankings, the report suggests to the Legislature.
"New Jersey is at a crossroads," the report says. "The best environmental solutions are the best economic ones."
Clean Water Action state director Amy Goldsmith said the issues are broader than just wildlife and are linked to public health.
"The environment is not just about birds and bunnies," she said.