In a sign that environmental issues remain a serious concern for Democratic primary voters, some of the most contentious moments of the gubernatorial race have come over fracking and fossil fuel pipelines.
In the first debate on May 9, the candidates spoke out against controversial fossil fuel projects like the Pilgrim oil pipelines and a gas pipeline through the Pinelands. And several candidates discussed the need to prevent fracking from threatening the state’s air clean drinking water. The state legislature passed bans on fracking and fracking waste, both of which Governor Chris Christie vetoed.
The pressure increased later that week during the second debate, when Assemblyman John Wisniewski attacked front-runner Phil Murphy for his investments in pipeline companies, and for a speech he delivered in 2013 extolling the virtues of fracking while he was an ambassador to Germany. After the debate, the Wisniewski campaign unveiled a “Fracking Phil” website to document their charges against the candidate, and to ask state environmental groups to re-consider their endorsements of the former Goldman Sachs executive.
Murphy responded to the criticism during the debate by saying, "I mean what I say about fracking." But the candidate’s record on fracking is not as clear as he might like it to be. Weeks before the debates, Food & Water Action Fund sent a survey asking gubernatorial candidates to answer a series of questions about fracking, fossil fuel pipelines and an ambitious plan for clean, renewable energy.
Despite repeated requests, Murphy’s campaign failed to respond. That means that we know where most of the Democratic candidates stand on specific projects like the Pinelands pipeline, and more broadly on building new fossil fuel infrastructure. But we cannot say for sure where Murphy comes down on many of these questions.
It’s discouraging that a leading candidate does not seem to think answering specific questions about protecting clean water and stopping dirty energy is necessary. Nonetheless, it is encouraging is that other candidates know that voters in New Jersey expect candidates to take clear positions on these issues, and that after eight years of Chris Christie there remains serious work to be done.