Phil Murphy is now the governor of New Jersey. He was elected on a platform that included a bold vision for the state’s environmental and energy future – for example, 100% percent clean energy in New Jersey by 2050.
Furthermore, in his first weeks in office, Murphy has made some moves that indicate he wants to push forward on that vision. He supports a ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. He pulled New Jersey back into a regional cap-and-trade agreement that Chris Christie had removed the state from. And just recently, his attorney general, on behalf of the New Jersey DEP, asked FERC to cancel its approval of the controversial PennEast pipeline and force the pipeline to reapply (they criticized the use eminent domain to build the pipeline without fully knowing the environmental consequences of doing so).
While moves like these stand in contrast to the previous Christie administration – the tarnished former Governor was cozy with the Koch brothers and other oil and gas interests – it’s still too soon to tell how far Murphy will go in challenging the fossil fuel industry.
One reason for this – as we point out in two reports this month (here and here) – is the extent to which fossil fuel interests have carved out space within the Murphy administration’s transition team. In sum, dozens of fossil fuel lobbyists, attorneys, executives, consultants, and investors are in the Murphy transition. For example:
- Seven Pipeline Lobbyists in Transition. A total of seven pipeline lobbyists – five for the PennEast Pipeline and two for the Pilgrim Pipeline – are in the Murphy transition. These lobbyists have extensive ties to top state politicians, including US Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney, and former state governors. The seven lobbyists come from three New Jersey firms: Princeton Public Affairs Groups, Mercury, and DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole. They’ve been paid a total of hundreds of thousands of dollars by the pipeline companies. Another lobbyist, Edward Salmon – who chairs the New Jersey Energy Coalition, an energy industry lobbying group that has PennEast on its advisory board – is also in the Murphy transition.
- PennEast Attorney on Committee. Pete Fontaine, the attorney for the PennEast Pipeline, is on Murphy’s Environment and Energy committee. Fontaine has tussled with New Jersey townships over pipeline access for surveying, and moreover, he also appears to represent the controversial South Jersey Gas Pinelands Pipeline. Furthermore, another fossil fuel attorney, Steve Genzer, is on Murphy’s Environment and Energy committee. Genzer has represented PennEast partner Southern Company.
- Fossil Fuel Utilities Executives Have Spots. A range of top executives tied to the fossil fuel industry and the PennEast pipeline are in Murphy’s transition. These include: Larry Downes, CEO of NJ Resources, a 20% owner of PennEast; Kathy Ellis, Executive Vice President of Policy and Strategic Development of NJ Resources; Jennifer Godoski, Director of Policy & Government Affairs of NJ Resources; and Dan Sperrazza, General Manager of Public Affairs, South Jersey Industries (also , a 20% owner of PennEast). Ralph Izzo, the CEO of PSEG, a former 10% owner of PennEast that remains a committed shipper, also has a spot on Murphy’s Environment and Energy committee.
- Oil & Gas Ties on Key Committee. In total, Murphy has at least 16 appointees tied to the fossil fuel industry on his Environment and Energy transition committee – the committee whose advice, influence, and networks will shape his orientation and personnel in this areas of environment and energy policy. These include current and former lobbyists, investors, lawyers, and executives.
- Regulatory Conflict at NJBPU. Murphy’s new BPU Chief of Staff, Grace Strom Power, is a former lobbyist for a natural gas company – so she’ll now be regulating an industry that she was lobbying for just a few months ago. Power is also on Murphy’s Environment and Energy committee transition.
These and other findings – including conflicts of interests on regulatory boards that must approve the pipeline and under-the-radar profit motives behind PennEast – are elaborated on in our two reports. You can also learn more by viewing this slideshow map:
Given that Democrats are divided over the expanded use of fracking and natural gas pipelines, and given that the Murphy administration has yet to firmly declare what it ultimately plans to do regarding pipeline projects in the state, the transportation of fracked gas to the state, and the use of fracked gas in New Jersey, it remains to be seen the extent to which the fossil fuel interests jockeying for influence in the Murphy administration will sway the new governor.