Jim Florio was New Jersey’s conservation pioneer. We salute him

The pristine wilderness of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens can seem a world apart from the state’s polluted industrial sites in need of cleaning up and restoring. But one thing they had in common was James Florio in their corner.

Florio — a former governor, congressman, assemblyman and chairman of the Pinelands State Commission — was an environmental champion whose legacy included preserving one million acres of Pine Barrens as a national reserve and the spearhead of federal Superfund legislation to make polluters pay to clean up their messes.

Florio, who died on September 25 at the age of 85will be remembered as a tough and courageous leader who stood up for the environment throughout his political career – and long after he left office.

“Governor Florio’s life and work should be a beacon of hope at a time of daunting threats to our health, our climate and our democracy,” said Bradley Campbell, former commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. New Jersey and current president of the Conservation Law Foundation, which considers Florio a mentor.

“Governor Florio was a generous, thoughtful man who believed in practical solutions,” recalls Michele Byers, former executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “He was easily accessible and responsive to all kinds of requests for help on environmental issues and he understood very well the role of a clean environment in securing a strong economy. And finally, he was a good and nice friend.

Born in Brooklyn, Jim Florio came to New Jersey when he attended Trenton State Teachers College – now the College of New Jersey – and Rutgers-Camden Law School. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1969 and re-elected twice. In 1974, he made the jump to the United States House of Representatives and was re-elected seven times, until January 1990.

As a member of Congress at a time when industrial pollution was a growing concern, Florio authored the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, better known as the Superfund Act, to clean up severely contaminated sites. in all the countries.

Campbell pointed out that it took “enormous courage” for him to tackle the chemical industry, given its importance in his home state: “At the time, New Jersey was the second-largest producing state. of chemicals in the country”. The Superfund Act has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to New Jersey for natural resource restoration and land conservation.

Florio was also involved in the effort to stop the spill at sea off the coast of New Jersey, working with the Clinton administration, Campbell recalled.

Much of Florio’s environmental legacy is leading the push for a federal Pinelands Protection Act, which paved the way for state legislation.

Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge, Medford

“He and his team worked closely with Governor Brendan Byrne and the Department of the Interior to create America’s most creative and powerful regional conservation program, embodied first in Section 502 of the National Parks and Recreation Act, then the New Jersey Pinelands Protection Act. said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the nonprofit Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

“Governor Florio was proud of his pivotal role in creating the Pinelands wards that have been so successful for over 40 years now,” Montgomery added. “He stayed engaged, responded to every request I made of him for his support, or just his advice and wisdom. And his interest in the Pinelands was one of his many engagements with public policy and the public good.

Florio was elected governor in 1989 and served from January 1990 to January 1994, continuing to be an environmental leader.

He was one of the first to ensure the protection of the New Jersey Highlands, a key source of drinking water in the northern half of the state. In 1993 he signed an order establishing a Highlands Trust Advisory Board to identify the land best suited for preservation and conservation. This laid the foundation for the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act over a decade later.

After leaving the governor’s office, he regularly advocated and consulted on environmental issues.

“I think almost every governor who followed him sought his advice,” Campbell said. “He continued to advocate for progressive environmental and conservation policies at the state and national level for the rest of his life.”

David Moore, former executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, recalled that “if there was a particular problem that needed help, you could always call him and he would be ready to make a move.”

From 2002 to 2005, Florio served as chairman of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, an independent state agency responsible for protecting the natural, cultural, and historic resources of the Pinelands. It was a particularly fitting role for him given that protecting the pines was such an important part of his job in Congress.

Governor Florio served as an honorary trustee of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, alongside Governors Kean, Whitman, and Byrne. The four spoke collectively on a number of very important issues, including a proposal for a high-rise corporate building on the beautiful undeveloped Palisades Cliffs along the Hudson River. Thanks in part to the activism of the four governors, a compromise is reached on the height of the building and the historic view of the palisades is preserved.

His willingness to mentor young environmentalists was also noteworthy. “Governor Florio’s leadership and mentorship inspired a generation of public service leaders to emulate his example, an enduring legacy that continues to enrich and energize public interest advocacy to this day,” said Campbell. .

New Jersey owes Florio a huge debt of gratitude. Thanks to him and the like-minded leaders he influenced, the people of this state we find ourselves in have protected the lands and waters of the Pinelands and Highlands, clean beaches and continued cleanups of contaminated sites. .

For more information about preserving New Jersey’s lands and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Alison Mitchell is co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

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