Environmental panel shakeup irritates N.J. activists

Environmental groups in New Jersey are expressing concerns about the shakeup in the leadership of one Assembly committee.

Two months after backing an unsuccessful challenge of Sheila Oliver as Assembly Speaker, John McKeon, D-Essex, has been replaced as chairman of the environment committee by Grace Spencer, another Democrat from Essex County. She has not previously served on that panel.

Tim Dillingham with the American Littoral Society said the move makes him wonder where environmental issues stand as a priority for the Democrats who control the legislature.

“McKeon was a champion, knew the issues well, knew how to navigate them, and this seems to be setting some kind of new direction,” Dillingham said. “What that is we’ll have to wait and see.”

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McKeon was responsible for many environmental protection programs over the past 10 years, said Dena Mattola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey.

“Without Assemblyman McKeon in that chairmanship role, our environment is very vulnerable,” she said. “We fear that we will lose so many of our important protections for our environment without him in that leadership position.”

Environmentalists say they’ll work with Spencer.

Having someone from Newark in charge of the committee will help bring an urban perspective to environmental issues, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

“In New Jersey the urban areas have really been hurt environmentally. We see some of the worst pollution in the country. Hopefully having someone from Newark who will grow into the position of chair will help move New Jersey forward,” Tittel said. “So we hope in a few years she’ll be the next John McKeon.”

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