N.J. Gov.-elect Murphy names former EPA official to run state's environmental department

New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy announced Thursday that he has chosen Catherine McCabe, a veteran Environmental Protection Agency official, to run the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Murphy said it was “high time” balance was restored in making “policy based on scientific fact and not on politics.”

The choice of McCabe, who has a background in environmental science and law, is in marked contrast to current DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, appointed by Gov. Christie. Martin was a business consultant with degrees in economics and sociology.

Her nomination needs approval from the state Senate.

“The state that was once a sterling example for strong and common-sense environmental protection has become just another practitioner of the failed premise that you can have either clean air or clean water, or a strong economy, but not both,” Murphy said.

Murphy cited the state’s pulling out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gases through market-based programs, as an example. Christie pulled the state from the initiative, saying it was ineffective, but Murphy has pledged to rejoin. The initiative counts Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont as members.

Martin also joined a legal action to stop implementation of Obama’s signature Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce carbon dioxide by targeting power plant emissions. The Trump administration, under EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, is seeking to replace that rule.

McCabe served as acting EPA administrator briefly earlier this year until Pruitt took over. She served as deputy regional administrator with the EPA’s Region II office until October. She served previously as an appeals judge for the EPA and as a deputy assistant administrator for the agency from 2005 through 2011. Before that, she was an assistant New York attorney general. She received a law degree from Columbia and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Barnard College.

“It would be the honor and privilege of my life to lead the dedicated women and men of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for the work they do every day,” McCabe said at a televised news conference.

McCabe, whose yard in Ocean City was flooded with sand during Hurricane Sandy, said the state was once “an early and progressive leader in environmental protection.” She said climate change is real and is evidenced in the state by an increase in storms and flooding.

“It’s time for New Jersey to lead again,” McCabe said.

The state’s environmental community was often at odds with Christie’s administration over a host of issues, including gas pipelines in the Pinelands and drinking water standards.

“We think that Catherine McCabe is an excellent choice for commissioner of the DEP under Gov. Phil Murphy,” the Sierra Club, a nonprofit environmental organization, said in a statement. “She is a professional and a straight shooter that doesn’t play politics. This is exactly what New Jersey needs after eight years of the Christie administration debacle.”