A bipartisan coalition of former New Jersey governors and state and federal lawmakers has begun a campaign urging the state’s members of Congress to protect public lands, water, air and wildlife.

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation is organizing the effort, which is headlined by former Govs. Christie Whitman, Jim Florio, Tom Kean and Brendan Byrne and also joined by former U.S. Rep. Rush Holt and former state Assemblywoman Maureen Ogden.

President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed a 31 percent cut in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which would cuts its staffing by 20 percent. Florio said that would have a dramatic effect in New Jersey.

“This budget reduction that’s taking place is effectively repealing our environmental laws because when you get rid of the personnel and money to enforce the law, you’ve effectively repealed the law,” Florio said.

Whitman said the White House proposal would be “basically doing away with the agency,” which she headed from 2001 to 2003 at the start of President George W. Bush’s term.

“It’s doing away with enforcement. It’s doing away with scientific research that tells us what is acceptable for human health, what can we tolerate without sacrificing the future. This is extremely important,” Whitman said.

“While I know it’s easy for people to say they hate regulation because it forces them to do something or spend money on a problem they may not think is real, I don’t think they’ve fully thought through the consequences of what’s going to happen when we stop protecting our environment,” Whitman said.

“Over the last 40 years, New Jersey has led the way on environmental protection and worked very hard at the national level to establish a strong set of federal policies, laws and regulations,” said Michele Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “And today those are at risk. There’s no question we’re facing a very difficult situation in Washington.”

The White House proposed deep budget cuts to various programs, but it’s not clear to what extent Congress will go along.

For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and others have criticized planned cuts to foreign aid funding. U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey and others opposed planned cuts to arts funding.

Seventeen House Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, have signed on as sponsors of a resolution, H.Res. 195, expressing the House of Representatives’ commitment to conservative environmental stewardship. Whitman said she’d look to them to lead the funding fight.

Whitman also alluded to U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghyusen as proof of New Jersey’s clout in avoiding environmental cuts.

“We have a member of the delegation who chairs appropriations. He can have an impact, there’s no question about it,” Whitman said.

Florio said the Conservation Foundation initiative is important in helping increase awareness among the general public about an issue that might otherwise get lost in the controversies in Washington.

“It seems to me that what you have to do is get average people involved and engaged in this whole discussion,” Florio said.

“It’s going to take the public to say, ‘We care about this issue,’” Whitman said. “And people do. And you can relate it right back to them because it’s their air, their water, their quality of life.”

Results of a national poll released Tuesday by Quinnipiac University found Trump got lower marks from registered voters on his handling of the environment -- 29 percent approve and 61 percent disapprove -- than any issue other than health care.

Whitman recalled the creation of the EPA in the 1970s, when the public pressured a Republican president, Richard Nixon, to work with a Democrat-controlled Congress to improve plainly visible air and water pollution.

“People are going to react the same way once they see what happens as a result of these kinds of cuts, and that’s why it’s so important that our delegation, while they may understand it at home, also take that environmental perspective to Congress,” Whitman said.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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