By Max Pizarro | July 6th, 2007 - 11:22pm
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That little old, disrespected Superfund-wasteland-mobland spillzone otherwise known as the State of New Jersey was due for some respect, and so was Jeff Tittel.

As director of the Sierra Club in the country’s most populous state, Tittel, a native New Jerseyan, has the mostly thankless job of trying to protect the dwindling natural resources here. So when Gov. Jon Corzine grabbed a pen at Giants Stadium today and signed into law the Global Warming Response Act, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and reduce by 80% of 2006 levels by the year 2050, Tittel figured he could chest-thump just a little.

“We’re better than those Californians,” he said of the west coast state that first implemented a global warming attack plan. “We’re tougher and we’re stronger. Even though our bill is second, it’s tougher and stronger.”

For his part, the governor, hoping to deflect criticism over his muddled presentation of a toll roads leasing strategy, and smother the sting of environmentalists worried about Corzine’s linkage of farmland preservation dollars to his toll roads plan, could once again remind people that he’s a big picture guy, who not only cares about the environment but cares enough to act.

Unlike President George W. Bush.

“We want to send a message to Washington: ‘Wake up,’” said the governor. “Start doing something about climate change.”

Between environmentalists fuming over six years of missed opportunities and Democrats delighting in election year opportunism, it was a Bush pile on, with even former Vice President Al Gore himself surrealistically putting in an appearance on the eve of the Live Earth Concert at Giants Stadium, jumping onto the stage with Corzine, agleam in the armor of good conscience.

The Tennessean was once not unlike the New Jersey of politicians, as he attempted to discuss global warming – the build-up of gasses in the earth’s atmosphere, largely caused by human activity and pollution and contributing to ecological imbalance, according to scientists. Like the state and like Tittel, the failed 2000 presidential candidate received little respect in return. But today it was Gore, “our global mentor,” in the words of one of the bill’s co-prime sponsors – Assemblyman Reed Gusciora - with an Oscar on his mantle piece for his wake-up call documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” bear-hugging and then backing up Corzine, telling the world that if Bush and the U.S. government wouldn’t take the lead, at least states and citizens would.

“As part of my slide show in the future I plan to feature New Jersey prominently,” said Gore, as the state with the country’s most dramatic emissions reduction plans. There were some murmurings of “run” in the crowd, but Gore referred to himself as a retired politician.

Already a hapless 21% in the polls here in New Jersey, Bush, meanwhile, was a sagging punching bag for the pro-environment forces in every speech, every comment from the floor: a walking blueprint for everything wrong with trying to obscure the negative environmental impacts of the human footprint.

“He’s the president of big oil and big coal more than he’s on the side of the American people,” said Tittel.

“Bush has denied the existence of global warming, denied the fact that they should do anything about it,” said Doug O’Malley, field director for Environment New Jersey.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender, who almost beat incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson in 2006 and who intends to challenge the Congressman again in 2008, wrote the bill with Sen. Barbara Buono, Gusciora, Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

“We have been failed miserably by the current leadership,” Stender said of the Bush Administration. “We need global leadership.”

Gore soaked up the atmosphere, and darted out of the parking lot tent after a pump-up-the-troops speech. Corzine held the stage and gave the thumbs-up sign once he’d signed the bill.

Dena Mottola, executive director of Environment New Jersey, celebrated the governor’s leadership, and said strictures on greenhouse emissions are but one facet of a developing plan needed to fight pollution. “Rail is a big part of the solution going forward,” Mottola said. “We need improved passenger transport and we need to get a portion of the big trucks off the roads, in part by partnering with the federal government.”

The feds will have to play a role eventually and on Friday the idea was that hopefully with the bill Jersey will apply some conscience-pressure, but as the riled up Tittel said in the end, “It doesn’t matter what Bush and Cheney do. It matters what we do.”

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