Governor Jim Florio remembers his role as environmental champion

When Jim Florio joined the House of Representatives in 1975, New Jersey was still an industrial dumping ground with out-of-control housing and commercial development gobbling up empty space.

Over the next few years, he worked almost exclusively to reverse this trend.

Florio, who died Sunday evening at 85, is remembered as an environmental champion whose policies helped clean up toxic pollution, improve public health and preserve the state’s natural beauty. As a congressman, he helped create the Superfund cleanup program and preserve the Pinelands. As governor, he shut down incinerators and supported greater scrutiny of polluters.

“A quote about Jim Florio’s environmental legacy doesn’t do him justice — a book is needed,” David Pringle, a longtime New Jersey conservationist, said Monday. “He not only lived, but led our nation’s modern environmental movement for decades.”

Environmentalists praised his single term as governor, from 1990 to 1994, for helping to reduce the number of waste incinerators statewide while supporting two key laws: the Clean Water Enforcement Act in 1990, which required a further review of drinking water suppliers, and the Pollution Prevention Act in 1991, which aimed to reduce discharges from industrial and other sites.

Despite his work as governor, two of Florio’s major accomplishments came years earlier, shortly after he took office in Congress.

Preserving the Pinelands

Together with his political rival, Governor Brendan Byrne, Florio helped draft legislation that protected the Pinelands, the 1.1 million acre area that contains forests, wetlands, berry farms and villages. history in seven counties.

The Pinelands became the first national reserve in the United States under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. She cut development in an effort to protect the 17 trillion-gallon Cohansey Aquifer, which provides drinking water to most of southern New Jersey. The Pinelands cover 22% of New Jersey and are home to approximately 700,000 year-round residents.

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Decades later, between 2002 and 2005, Florio also served as chairman of the state agency tasked with protecting this area – the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.

“This area has been protected for more than four decades and will continue to be so for future generations, thanks in large part to Governor Florio,” Pinelands Commission Acting Executive Director Susan R. Grogan said in a statement. .

Commission chair Laura E. Matos, who served as an intern in her office, said Florio’s legacy is still felt today in the Pinelands. “This work is meaningful and necessary and is as important today as it was the day he established Pinelands National Preserve as a congressman,” she said.

Setting up the Superfonds

Former NJ Governor Jim Florio attends a meeting on the Obama-Biden health care transition bill December 30, 2008. A group of 75 NJ health care leaders gathered in Trenton to discuss the most important elements of health care reform that the Obama/Biden administration should address.

Florio’s liberal roots made him believe that government could change lives for the better. He spent years writing, rewriting, and defending a bill that would make polluters — not taxpayers — pay to clean up massive toxic sites, from PCBs in the Hudson River to dioxins in the Passaic River.

This bill – the Global Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act – would become known as the Superfund Act.

Having dealt with New Jersey’s long history of pollution as an assemblyman, Florio said he modeled the legislation on New Jersey’s own spill law, passed four years before Superfund, which required polluters to clean up their own mess.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said Florio faced significant setback during the bill’s drafting process because his South Jersey district was home to some of the biggest polluters in the world. ‘State. But he remained firm that the polluter must pay.

“Cleaning up every polluted Superfund site in the state owes a debt of gratitude to the tenacity of Jim Florio more than 40 years ago,” O’Malley said.

The Superfund program is said to have a mixed track record over four decades.

It accelerated initial cleanups by preventing pollution from spreading offsite, with more than $3 billion spent at New Jersey sites in the first 30 years alone. But full remediation has been slow due to budget cuts, court battles with polluters, questionable rulings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the complexity of removing toxic chemicals from the soil and groundwater.

This left dozens of sites in New Jersey still contaminated and inactive for decades – which angered Florio in his later years. New Jersey leads the nation in the number of active Superfund sites with 115 — many of which have been on the list since the early 1980s. Only 36 have been fully cleaned up and delisted.

Florio blamed the program’s problems on the end of the “Superfund tax” on chemical and oil companies, which helped pay for cleanups at “orphan sites” that didn’t have a deep-pocketed polluter to fund the cleanup. sanitation. The excise tax expired in 1995 and the Bush administration later fought attempts to reinstate it, arguing it unfairly burdened companies that had no direct role in pollution.

“It’s pretty clear that if you had this funding in place, you would be able to do the work that needs to be done,” Florio said in a 2012 interview. “We have more Superfund sites than anywhere in the world. the union, so it affects New Jersey in a much more substantial way.”

The tax was reinstated this year as part of President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and is expected to generate $14.5 billion over the next 10 years.

On Monday, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette called Florio a “visionary champion” for the environment.

“His career of selfless service will long go on to improve life and the environment in New Jersey and across the country,” LaTourette said.

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