According to a scorecard released Sept. 9 by the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, the assembly members and state senators whose districts contain Verona and Cedar Grove are mostly below average when it comes to environmental issues.
District 40 Assemblyman David Russo, whose district contains Cedar Grove, was ranked the second lowest assembly member in the state, scoring a 23 percent approval rating. His ally in the district, Scott Rumana, scored a 38 percent rating.
In District 26, which contains Verona, assembly members BettyLou DeCroce and Jay Webber notched a 46 and 54 percent rating, respectively. In the Senate, Joe Pennacchio scored a 55 percent approval rating.
The officials are below the group's state average, which the organization calculates as 68 percent in the senate and 67 percent in the assembly.
In one exception, Cedar Grove-based state Sen. Kevin O'Toole ranked as the highest of the local legislators, scoring a 73 percent. The non-partisan group calculates its approval scores based on lawmaker's positions or votes on as many as 16 core environmental positions.
Ed Potosnak, executive director of NJLCV, said the ratings were in place to give voters a glance at how representatives stand on environmental issues and react accordingly.
"I think what we find typically is a mismatch when we see elected officials in Trenton not representing the views of their constituencies as they relate to their environment," Potosnak said.
He said that in Essex County, some of the biggest local issues are that development in the area is reaching "full build-out" and added that keeping open space, improving parks and preserving farmland is a high priority. But he said that in Trenton, local environmental policies had slipped in recent years, which he said would be troublesome for residents and companies that depend on clean water.
"We're all tied into this both for the physical health as well as the economic health of the state," he said.
Among the biggest divergence from the group's platform are positions on a bill that would ban the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. The six people who represent Verona and Cedar Grove in the statehouse opposed or abstained the vote, which passed the legislature but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.
The conservation group also opposed the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, a package of economic subsidies which Christie signed into law last week. DeCroce, Rumana, Russo and Pennacchio supported the bill, while O'Toole and Webber voted against the bills. O'Toole later voted in favor of the bill after it was vetoed by Christie and subsequently amended by the legislature.
The NJLCV is non-partisan, but it generally favors Democrats over Republicans in its scoring. Subsequent to the scorecard, NJLCV released a slate of 22 endorsements, among them 19 Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent, though none of the endorsements were in districts 26 and 40.
Referring to the NJLCV as an "interest group," Tom Weisert, Webber's chief of staff, responded, citing a flooding prevention bill sponsored by Webber, Rumana and Russo, O'Toole and Pennacchio, which was signed by Christie.
"Assemblyman Webber's record on the environment is a strong one that has balanced the environmental concerns of his constituents with a host of other policy considerations," Weiser said. "One issue Assemblyman Webber has made a top priority is flooding prevention and mitigation, as that environmental concern directly affects the quality of life of so many of his Essex County constituents."
At least one other environmental group weighed into the local representation. The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club - which endorsed state Sen. Barbara Buono for in the gubernatorial election and Newark Mayor Cory Booker in the special election for U.S. Senate - endorsed Pennacchio's challenger, Avery Hart, in the 26th district.
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