On April 22, 1970, Americans celebrated the first official Earth Day. In New Jersey, Governor William Cahill (R) marked the occasion by signing legislation creating the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The act was more than ceremonial—it formalized and strengthened the important role of the state executive branch in promoting environmental protection. Indeed many—if not most—modern New Jersey governors have considered protecting the state’s environment among their highest priorities.
Environmental initiatives have become important parts of the legacies of most if not all subsequent New Jersey governors. Governor Brendan Byrne (D), for example, has said that of all the accomplishments of his administration, the one he would most like to be remembered for is his successful championing of the Pinelands Protection Act. Governor Tom Kean (R) also had a number of enduring environmental protection victories, including the protection of the state’s freshwater wetlands.
The Center on the American Governor recently hosted forums examining the environmental policies and programs of another bipartisan set of New Jersey governors who also prioritized environmental protection: Gov. Jim Florio (D) and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R).* On May 11, 2016, Governor Whitman, former DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn, and other former members of Gov. Whitman’s cabinet and the state legislature gathered at Eagleton to discuss her administration’s approach to the environment. Less than a month later, on June 3, 2016, Gov. Jim Florio and members of his administration—including former DEP Commissioners Scott Weiner and Jeanne Fox—followed suit.
The videos and transcripts from each of these forums provide valuable insight into such policy efforts as open space protection, prosecuting environmental crimes, improving water and air quality, and development of a State Plan for land use. Perhaps most useful, however, is the opportunity they provide to consider, side-by-side, how two administrations—one Democratic and one Republican—approached similar issues with different (but overlapping) priorities. As New Jersey continues to face the challenge of protecting its environment and natural resources, these reminders of past priorities, successes, and failures can help inform future policy.
We invite and encourage you to take the time to view the full videos from each of these events. Full transcripts are also available, as well as photographs from the events and some supporting documents and materials.
*The Center on the American Governor also previously hosted a forum on the environmental policies of the Kean administration. Held in May 2013, the full video and transcript of that event are also available on the Center’s website.