Last week’s Global Climate Strike gave me hope for the future.
At a time when the Trump administration is rolling back measures to fight climate change, it was inspiring to see children across New Jersey – and the nation – stand up and demand businesses and government take concrete steps to address the crisis.
Many of the protesters rightly attacked politicians in Washington for being captive to corporate interests. The Trump Environmental Protection Agency is in thrall to the fossil fuel industry, easing restrictions on big polluters and actively fighting action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
As we heard from our young people across the state, the fight to curb the power of large corporations is essential to effectively addressing the unfolding environmental catastrophe facing our planet.
While events in Washington were the focus of last week’s Climate Strike, powerful interests in Trenton are simultaneously getting a free pass from the Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature.
Over the past two years, the environmental movement’s strong advocacy in Trenton has led to important victories that will expand clean energy and wean our state off fossil fuels. Yet our future advocacy work is now threatened by a recently passed measure that gives cover to the shadowy corporate interests at the root of our climate crisis.
The law, passed by the legislature in June, was pitched as a way to address the problem of money in politics.
For years, corporate interests, like the Koch Brothers, have spent millions of dollars across the country to elect politicians sympathetic to their views. They’ve been able to do much of this spending in secret by taking advantage of loopholes in our campaign finance laws that allow them to funnel money through secretive front groups with misleading names.
Yet while trying to address this problem, the legislature vastly overreached beyond elections to include an unprecedented focus on public policy, which targets hundreds of grassroots groups and local non-profits that are advocating for women’s health, clean water and aggressive action to fight climate change.
The law requires an onerous level of financial disclosure from these local organizations, forcing them to provide information that would provide powerful special interests a roadmap to their operations. Even non-partisan groups that don’t take part in elections are caught up in the new requirements.
The requirements would have a chilling effect, scaring off ordinary citizens who want to contribute to causes they believe in.
At the same time, the law gives a pass to business interests by allowing groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the Petroleum Institute and the Business and Industry Association to continue to operate from the shadows.
This double standard will strengthen the power of polluters in Trenton at the expense of New Jersey residents.
While the League of Conservation Voters is for disclosure, we’re for full disclosure — not measures that protect special interests while putting citizen-driven advocacy groups at a disadvantage.
This law is so intrusive it likely violates the Constitution, has sparked a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and may be overturned by the courts.
While the new law doesn’t explicitly reference greenhouse gases or climate change, fixing it must be one of the top goals for the environmental community as we enter election season if we are going to have any chance in combating profit-driven fossil fuel giants with virtually unlimited bank accounts.
If allowed to go into effect, this law will kneecap efforts to fight for a better New Jersey while expanding the influence of the very businesses putting our climate at risk.
Time is running out. The new disclosure requirements are scheduled to go into effect in mid-October.
Support for a fix is not a political issue. It’s a moral one that lives up to the spirit embodied in the young voices that have called for a change to our political system to protect our environment over special interests.
Ed Potosnak is executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.