Compared to New York, New Jersey is still in the dark ages of concealing public records.
In response to a New Jersey Watchdog request, New York State authorities released more than 2,000 emails between the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and its Department of Environment Conservation. In contrast, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection refuses to release its set of RGGI emails.
New Jersey Watchdog filed identical requests last summer with the two environmental agencies under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act and New York’s Freedom of Information Law. The web site asked for all emails and correspondence, 2008 to present, between departmental officials and RGGI. More than six months later, here’s the result:
- New York delivered 2,621 emails and attachments on a CD. DEC officials say none of the records were redacted or edited for any reason.
- New Jersey has not released any of the requested documents. NJDEP claims the emails and correspondence contain unspecified “trade secrets and/or propriety commercial/financial” information that could supposedly cause “potential harm to the performance of (RGGI) auctions” – plus confidential communications involving “deliberative” process and “attorney-client privilege.”
- New York provided electronic copies of its documents at no charge, except shipping.
- New Jersey is demanding $11,250 from New Jersey Watchdog – including a $5,625 advance deposit – to pay state lawyers to try to determine what information it can keep from the public.
RGGI is a non-profit corporation created and funded by 10 states to manage the nation’s only mandatory carbon dioxide cap-and-trade system. At its auctions, New Jersey, New York and the other states have sold a total of $777 million in CO-2 pollution permits.
The question of whether NJDEP is violating the Open Public Records Act – or whether the Christie Administration is exploiting weaknesses in the OPRA statute – is likely to be decided in Mercer County Superior Court.
Investigative reporter Mark Lagerkvist is suing NJDEP for denying access to the RGGI emails and correspondence, as well as the identities of the winning bidders in the auctions. NJDEP and the Attorney General are expending state resources – and taxpayer dollars – to defend against disclosure.
In court on Feb. 18, Judge Linda R. Feinberg did not grant the state’s motion to dismiss the case. The judge acknowledged that NJDEP’s proposed charge of $11,250 “seems excessive.” She instructed the two sides to try to negotiate a solution.
Meanwhile, DEC officials in New York say they are searching their files for additional records to release in response to New Jersey Watchdog’s request