Kudos and caution greet Christie's business boost

Backers cheer changes that let firms weigh in early on new rules. Some environmentalists worry.

True to promise, in his first few weeks on the job, Gov. Christie has tilted the playing field in favor of business in New Jersey.

Through executive orders, he has upended the way regulations are created, giving his administration broad power to block rules it doesn't like and allowing businesses to weigh in early in the process.

The business community is thrilled, while environmental advocates worry the economy will be used as a cover to dismantle longtime protections.

Christie is "saying that the state has to reform and redo its regulatory process so that it's no longer a disincentive for new investment," said Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey. "That's frankly the first time in my long tenure that I've heard those things."

Susan Kraham, a senior staff attorney at the Environmental Law Clinic at Columbia University's Law School, said early signs from the Christie administration - the executive orders and the environmental and energy transition report - didn't bode well.

The governor's Department of Environmental Protection transition team, mostly industry representatives, took an unusually harsh tone, she said, stating that the department "has failed to fulfill its own mission statement of protecting our state's vital natural resources" while "driving economic investment out of the state with policies that, ironically, provide little or no environmental benefit."

Christie has not indicated which, if any, of the team's recommendations he will follow, even as he has publicly rejected some recommendations in other transition reports.

"The rhetoric in some of the transition reports are a direct attack on public health and safety," New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said. "What we see overall is the biggest threats to the environment in a very long time."

Dave Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Foundation, which endorsed Christie, was the sole representative of environmental advocacy groups on the DEP transition team. While he disagreed with the tone of the report, Pringle said it contained many ideas his group supported, including prioritizing science over political considerations.

Several environmental advocates objected to steps Christie announced last week to fill the state's budget gap, including taking $158 million from a clean-energy fund and cutting NJ Transit subsidies by $32.7 million.

His nomination of Bob Martin, a former executive with the global management firm Accenture, to lead the DEP also has raised some concerns.

But perhaps the clearest window into how the new governor will shake up Trenton can be found in several executive orders Christie signed on his first full day in office.

Two of the orders suspend for 90 days 154 proposed rules and regulations that "can be frozen without compromising the public health, safety, or welfare." A Red Tape Review Group led by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is to evaluate those rules with an eye to how they might hurt businesses.

The orders give Christie broad authority to halt regulations he doesn't like.

Bill Wolfe, director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the orders stripped the DEP of independence to base decisions primarily on science and public safety. Under Christie's orders, economic considerations also would be a factor.

Kraham said the new rule-making procedures also raised issues of transparency and accountability.

"We have these rules that went through a public process," she said. "Some people like them, some don't like them. . . .

"Now we have a governor coming back and saying even though we already went through this process, we're now going to let this red-tape review committee look at this again and make recommendations to change them."

Another Christie order requires state agencies to seek advice from the private sector and academia "to prevent unworkable, overly proscriptive, or ill-advised rules from being adopted."

Arthur Maurice, first vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said Christie had opened the process for more input before rules are proposed, at which point "it's almost impossible to get them changed."

"The best law is law that is written with a real understanding of the problem and the impacts the law would have," Maurice said. "Regulations in so many cases have even more impact on commerce than legislation."

Some advocates fear that would give industry a chance to weigh in on proposed rules before they are made public and citizens have a chance to comment.

Another provision requires agencies to use cost-benefit analyses in examining proposed rules, which is controversial because costs and benefits can be difficult to determine and quantify.

Other critics focus on the new requirement for agencies to justify every reason when a proposed state rule exceeds federal requirements. They suspect a sly way to scale back protections, although Christie's executive orders do contain language indicating that environmental and public health safeguards should remain.

Dena Mottola, executive director of Environment New Jersey, said she was waiting to see which rules and regulations the Red Tape Review Group chose to block.

"Whatever that committee allows to go forward or block will give us a big indication whether the administration will be anti-environment or not," Mottola said.

But Bozarth, of the Chemistry Council, said he had no doubt that Christie would be a breath of fresh air for the business community.

"I've never heard a governor say the kinds of things about management, reengineering, making the agencies responsive to both the people of the state and the job supplies," Bozarth said. "This is by far and away a huge paradigm shift."


Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 609-989-8990 or alu@phillynews.com.