Many of the state’s leading gubernatorial candidates offered substantive answers to a range of questions about clean energy, fossil fuels, and water policy in a new survey from Food & Water Watch Action Fund, the political lobbying counterpart of the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch.
But despite several requests, presumed Democratic frontrunner Phil Murphy did not complete the survey, leaving open questions about his positions on several key issues. The survey was not returned by any of the Republican candidates, including leading contenders Kim Guadagno and Jack Ciattarelli.
The survey is being released after two televised debates that included extensive discussions about clean energy, fossil fuel pipelines, and even the candidates' stances on fracking. In the May 11 debate, Assemblyman John Wisniewski argued that Murphy had extensive investments in pipeline companies, and that as ambassador to Germany Murphy gave a speech in 2013 praising the controversial drilling technique.
The survey asked candidates to answer questions about controversial oil and gas pipelines (Pilgrim in north Jersey and the Pinelands pipelines in the south), a moratorium on new fossil fuel pipelines and related infrastructure, a statewide ban on fracking and the Delaware River watershed, and supporting a statewide goal of 100% clean renewable energy by 2035.
All of the candidates who responded--Democrats Bill Brennan, Ray Lesniak, Jim Johnson, Mark Zinna, John Wisniewski, and Seth Kaper-Dale of the Green Party—expressed opposition to the pipeline projects. Wisniewski stated that he was “on record” as opposing Pilgrim, but his opposition appears to be based on the pipeline route running through open space in the Highlands; he would consider supporting a re-routed pipeline.
All candidates expressed support for banning fracking and fracking waste. When asked about blocking any new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, candidates Brennan, Kaper-Dale, Zinna, and Lesniak answered affirmatively. Johnson gave a less definitive answer, writing that the state “should begin to implement policies aimed at fully transitioning away from carbon emitting fossil fuels…. I oppose all such projects that will impede our progress towards 100% clean energy by 2050.” In his response, Wisniewski argued that because of the “severe lack of environmental investment over the course of Chris Christie's administration,” a total moratorium on fossil fuel projects was not yet feasible.
The candidates expressed broad agreement on water issues. All were opposed to the state takeover of Atlantic City, and all but one--Lesniak--stated they would oppose any privatization of the city’s publicly-owned drinking water; he said would leave that decision to city officials.
The candidates were highly critical of another critical water issue: The “Water Infrastructure Protection Act,” the 2014 law (commonly known as WIPA) that critics see as a tool to encourage privatization of public systems. All candidates supported overturning WIPA; Lesniak responded by saying he would support that goal "only because my authorities director would keep close tabs on any currently mismanaged public water companies."
Responding to several open-ended questions about water policy, the candidates offered deep answers about the infrastructure priorities awaiting a post-Christie administration. "I would advocate legislation that declared drinking water and sewage treatment as non-delegable utilities that may not be assigned to private corporations," said candidate Brennan.
Some offered specific priorities for the Department of Environmental Protection. Lesniak wrote that he would "have DEP conduct a study of delivery systems prioritizing school systems, and establish a program for replacement of pipelines that contaminate drinking water after leaving its source." Assemblyman Wisniewski declared on his very first day, he would "instruct DEP to make the replacement of lead pipes in the state its first priority, starting with the most high risk locations, such as schools." Green candidate Kaper-Dale emphasized environmental justice, writing that "the majority of those suffering from the worst water quality in our state (on the same level as Flint Michigan) are working poor and particularly communities of color. Municipal, state and federal government share responsibility for not having taken action a long time ago."
On transitioning to renewables, Food & Water Watch has publicly advocated for aggressive policies that would establish 100 percent renewable electricity by the year 2035. This represents a faster transition than any other national organization has identified as a goal, but a target in line with the scientific urgency of the climate crisis. Two candidates--Mark Zinna and Kaper-Dale--support this goal. Lesniak and Wisniewski prefer a 2050 target, as does Johnson, who expressed support for a variety of renewables initiatives. Brennan stressed the need to move away from fossil fuels, but did not directly address a target date.
The candidates also provided answers to broad questions about efficiency and clean energy goals. Johnson committed to “utilizing renewable energy like solar and wind power on the roofs of public buildings, in new infrastructure construction and we will subsidize the installation of photovoltaic solar panels in homes," while Zinna wrote that the would "establish an NJ Renewable Energy Fund and Green Bonding program" to encourage development, as well as a carbon tax. John Wisniewski pledged to “make Atlantic City the East Coast center for environmental science and renewable energy," and called for an expansion for the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program, "which provides financing for retrofitting buildings for more energy efficiency -- to include requiring all new industrial and commercial construction to include cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable solar energy components."
The survey shows broad agreement on many critical areas, with some important distinctions around specific goals and policy details.
While current polling shows him to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, the Murphy campaign’s failure to respond to several requests to complete the survey means we know substantially less about where the candidate stands on issues affecting many voters.