New Jersey is a “Home Rule” state. Very much like the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gives states the constitutional authority to decide what’s best for their constituents, Home Rule is written into some state constitutions to allow towns and municipalities to govern themselves, so long as they don’t disobey existing constitutional provisions.
In fast-tracking industrial windfarms off the Jersey Coast, the Murphy and Biden administrations have run into a constitutional snag at both the state and federal level. While wind proponents tout the great benefit of hundreds of miles of nearshore windfarms, local leaders are questioning the impact these industrial complexes will have on fishermen and local economies. The big issue is how to run enormous power cables from federal wind sites through towns like Ocean City to connect to the power grid.
The City Council of Ocean City doesn’t like the idea, and they’ve pushed back on the plan by Danish offshore energy company Orsted to run power cables through their town. Under Home Rule, Ocean City leaders have that right. That’s prompted Senator Stephen Sweeney and Assemblyman John Burzichelli to draft new legislation in Trenton which would effectively take away Home Rule authority in New Jersey, a constitutional protection in place for over 100 years.
In an open letter appearing in ocnjdaily.com co-signed by Ocean City town council members Bob Barr (president) and Mike DeVlieger (vice president) – alongside Cape May County commissioners Jerry Thornton, Leonard Desiderio, E. Marie Hayes, Will Morey and Jeffrey Pierson, and well as the first legislative district team of Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen – the attempt by Sweeney and Burzichelli has been blasted for trying to “erode the ability of local government to make choices that represent what is best for their community.”
“Attempting to micromanage Ocean City from Trenton in favor of foreign entities will not be tolerated,” the letter stated, adding “The majority of City Council strongly opposes these bills and will utilize all methods at its disposal to soundly defeat the pending legislation as we feel that our fundamental principal of self-determination is at stake.”
“The Home Rule Act still stands today as the bedrock for local autonomy in New Jersey,” the local legislators noted, while describing how the Sweeney/Burzichelli bills “threaten the very essence of the Home Rule and places the future of our local coastal communities into the hands of a foreign entity, namely the Danish firm called Orsted.”
Personally, you may believe that wind power offers the best way to fight the impacts of climate change; I’d argue that subsidizing (read: giving taxpayer money to) a foreign company to build an industrial complex off our beaches is far less green than subsidizing homeowners (read: giving taxpayers back their money) to build solar arrays on their own properties.
And, some folks believe these monstrous wind turbines will be fish-aggregating structure like the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico; I contend that those oil platforms don’t have an undersea power grid which may disrupt the migration patterns of criticality important fish populations, most notably flounder species which have proven through scientific research to display avoidance characteristics around highly charged wind cables in Denmark.
But these debates on merits and impacts must be made at the local level; however, during the pandemic, in-person discussion and discourse was rendered impossible. Still, the state and federal government are barreling ahead with these projects despite the concerns of local residents and town officials. The Sweeney/Burzichelli legislation isn’t just a slippery slope, it’s an avalanche of government over-reach.
As the letter writers noted, “these bills take away the ability of local government to render decisions that they feel reflect the best interest of the community and replaces it with a process that favors foreign investment.”
Yes, New Jersey is clearly for sale. Read the full letter at ocnjdaily.com/ocean-city-real-danger-losing-home-rule-rights-state.