Gov. Phil Murphy will nominate acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette to permanently head the Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
LaTourette, a longtime environmental law attorney whom Murphy appointed to lead the department following former Environmental Commissioner Catherine McCabe retirement, has served in an acting capacity since January.
He joined the Murphy administration as the DEP’s chief counsel in 2018 before becoming McCabe’s chief of staff in 2019 and a deputy commissioner in 2020. LaTourette was her number two when she announced her intent to step down late last November.
The Rutgers Law School graduate was a key player in the state’s plan to fund the replacement of corroding lead water pipes in Newark and also chaired the LGBT Rights Section of the New Jersey Bar Association for four years.
The nomination could be met with trepidation from some of New Jersey’s environmental activists, who have worried about LaTourette’s time at Gibbons P.C. and over his work as a land use attorney.
But it’s not clear whether those concerns will impact his chances at becoming New Jersey’s first confirmed openly gay environmental commissioner.
Five members of the upper chamber — Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) and State Sens. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge), Pat Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) — could unilaterally block LaTourette’s confirmation by invoking senatorial courtesy.
The unwritten but ever-fixed rule allows senators to indefinitely stall gubernatorial nominations from their home counties. LaTourette is a resident of Highland Park, which puts him in Diegnan’s district.
It’s not clear whether the nomination will move in the immediate future. Senate Judiciary Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) is focused on filling the state’s 64 judicial vacancies, and LaTourette’s status as acting commissioner does nothing to limit his authority.
Other members of Murphy’s cabinet have served in an acting capacity for months or even years, in the case of acting New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick J. Callahan.
Deputy Environmental Commissioner Olivia Glenn and Curtis Fisher, the National Wildlife Federation’s northeast regional executive director, were also seriously considered for the post, according to sources familiar with the selection process who spoke to the New Jersey Globe on the condition of anonymity.
Fisher served on Murphy’s transition team and was New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate chief of staff. Glenn was director of the Division of Parks and Forestry before she was appointed to her current post in July 2020.
New Jersey League of Conservation Voters Executive Director Ed Potosnak and Rutgers University Environmental Analysis and Communications Group Executive Director Jeanne Herb, a former assistant environmental commissioner, were also considered for the post.