Why DeGesero, Murphy’s toughest critic, now feels there is path forward on electrification

Eric DeGesero. (File photo)

No one has been harder on Gov. Phil Murphy and his plans to bring electrification to the state than Eric DeGesero, the executive vice president (and chief spokesperson) of the Fuel Merchants Association of New Jersey.

From challenging the cost of the governor’s Energy Master Plan (specifically when it comes to electrification of homes and buildings) to questioning whether the governor had the ability to make such a mandate (bypassing a need for a bill from the Legislature), DeGesero has been the point person on numerous coalitions against the governor’s desired actions.

It’s why we reached out to him after Murphy’s big-on-theory, small-on-details energy speech last week.

And it’s why we were surprised DeGesero viewed the speech so favorably.

That’s right, favorably.

Don’t be confused, DeGesero is not suddenly all-in on electric vehicles. He’s well aware that the governor’s proposal that would mandate that all cars sold after 2035 be EVs would devastate his members (trust us, he’s examining whether it’s lawful for such a mandate to be made without the passing of a bill by the Legislature).

That was the tough part of the speech.

But there was another part — one in which the governor appeared to pivot on his electrification goals, one in which the governor acknowledged for the first time that there could be other paths to success — that literally gave DeGesero hope. 

And pause.

“The governor said: ‘No one is coming for anyone’s gas stove. No one is walking into anyone’s kitchen. No one is going to be forced to do anything in any way.’ That is the bottom line,” DeGesero said.

“I paused the speech and rewound it when that sentence came out of his mouth. And then, I went to see if those words were in his prepared text. They were. This wasn’t an ad lib.” 

It was a starting point. 

“We have been trying for four years to be heard in the debate,” DeGesero said. “The governor has shut us out — and he has shut us out because he said, ‘I don’t need to listen to you, because I’ve got the authority to do whatever I want.’ 

“We’ve said: ‘No, you don’t. And, oh, by the way, we might not necessarily even disagree to the extent you think.’”

This is the point DeGesero said he has been wanting to make for years. That the Fuel Merchants are good with decarbonization — that they just want to be part of the discussion regarding the best way to get there.

DeGesero said he heard a willingness on the governor’s part to talk about other paths for the first time.

“I’m going to use the word, ‘pivoting,’” DeGesero said. “A pivot isn’t a change in direction, a pivot is a different way of going to where you’re already headed. 

“When a basketball player pivots, he’s not dribbling the ball down to the other end of the court. He’s going around, he’s finding a different way to do what it is he wanted to do to begin with. And that’s what Murphy said.”

The Fuel Merchants, DeGesero said, are ready to help the state get to Murphy’s clean energy goals.

“The Fuel Merchants have never said, ‘We’re against electrification,’” DeGesero said. “It’s one of the things in a suite of things that can be used to reach decarbonization. But there has to be more than one.

“We have a zero-emission pathway. And we need to get going on it. But there’s no reason for us to try and get going on it if you’re not going to give us a chance to exist. So, yes, we were very harsh for those reasons, and are going to continue to monitor everything that’s happening.”

Trust but verify, DeGesero said, to quote an old statesman.

Of course, there’s also this famous quote: If you like your plan, you can keep it.

DeGesero said his actions moving forward will aim at keeping Murphy at his word.

It will be difficult. There still are serious cost issues, regardless of the millions of dollars that are coming from the federal government. And there are still legal issues, items that could tie up any executive order in court long enough to make them miss their timeline.

But, for all his rhetoric against the governor, DeGesero said he’s hopeful — and confident — they will be able to work together for one simple reason: DeGesero feels Murphy is a stand-up guy.

“I’m taking him at his word,” he said. “Listen, I might disagree with Phil Murphy on a whole lot of policies, but, from what I gather — and I’ve only met him personally twice, and it was only a handshake — is that he’s an honorable man. 

“He’s a man that is doing some things I disagree with, but he’s a duly elected governor. And, to the extent that my organization has been critical, I have to be fair about it and say, ‘OK, governor, I’m willing to work with you and give you the benefit of the doubt.’”