Aquarious Mountains

March 8th, 2021 No comments

Time For Tom Waits

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The road goes on forever and it wanders, sometimes into absurd and painful territory.

Ironically, just southeast of Kingman, Arizona, we found ourselves in the Aquarious Mountains.

Nothing could be further from reality. I remember the Age Of Aquarius:

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius
Aquarius ~~~ The Fifth Dimension (1969)

That irony drove me into my friend Tom Waits (listen to his Greatest hits!) and some beers.

Tom is a painful truth teller and hero since my very young man days.

His “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” and rendition of “Since I fell In Love With You” made me cry.

Of course, there’s Waltzing Matilda:

No, I don’t want your sympathy, the fugitives say
That the streets aren’t for dreaming now […]

And it’s a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace
And a wound that will never heal
No Prima Donna, the perfume is on
An old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey
And goodnight to the street sweepers
The night watchman flame keepers and goodnight to Mathilda too

I’ve actually worn a shirt that is “stained with blood and whiskey“. And I’ve lost two good friends who were there and would never sell them short – Steve Cookingham and Pete Santagate. Pete actually bloodied and broke my nose!

I love the man, especially his love for and compassion for real people.

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Views From The Border Line

March 4th, 2021 No comments

It’s Biden’s Wall Now

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If you’re traveling down to the north country fair
The winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine. ~~~ Girl From The North Country, Bob Dylan

Photo above is of Sonoyta, Sonora, Mexico.

Which suggests that, just like arbitrary borders, notions of North and South are relative and depend on location, no?

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Where exactly is that “girl from the north country”? (or the “sad eyed lady of the lowlands”?)

Here’s what I saw recently at the US – Mexico “Across the borderline” (Ry Cooder):

There’s a place where I’ve been told
Every street is paved with gold
And it’s just across the borderline
And when it’s time to take your turn
Here’s a lesson that you must learn

The only positive news I can report is that the US Customs and Border Patrol inspection stations on Arizona State Rt. 85 between Ajo and the border and Ajo and Gila Bend were closed.

The station between Ajo and the border was almost completely disabled and abandoned, far more so than the station to the north (at Mile 18), which curiously had the US flag at half staff on Tuesday March 2. I wonder why that was? Was it a symbol of insubordination?

We’ll present our view from north to south, along Arizona State highway 85, from Ajo to Lukeville:

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Sonoyta Mexico, shot through the border wall

Sonoyta Mexico, shot through the border wall

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Now, aren’t you glad to be back in the good ole USA? Gas, beer, restrooms….

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[End Note: I’ve been along the border region for the last 4 years, from Big Bend Texas to San Diego. Some prior posts and lovely photos:

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

March 4th, 2021 No comments

People try to put us d-down (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ’bout my generation). ~~~ The Who, My Generation (1965)

Today’s Washington Post editorial hits close to home –

I was born in 1957 and greatly benefitted from the “major overhaul” of education WaPo editors applaud – but the renewed emphasis on science and math did NOT come at the cost of neglect of music, art, literature, civics, history, or especially critical thinking – precisely the neglect we suffer from today (all that came at least a generation later, precipitated by know-nothing Republicans and reaching its nadir in President Reagan).

The WaPo editors wrote:

WHEN THE Soviet Union in 1957 launched the Sputnik satellite, beating the United States into space, it galvanized reforms in U.S. education. Knowing that the best and brightest scientists, engineers and mathematicians were needed to win the race for space and compete economically with the world, the country undertook a major overhaul of education with massive investments in teaching science and math. Today, the United States faces a new challenge, but this time the threat is from within: growing cynicism in government, civic dysfunction and challenges to democratic institutions. Recent troubling events — notably the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol — should be a Sputnik-like spur to strengthen American democracy with improvements in civics and history education.

I agree that:

There has been a steady erosion in the teaching of civics and history over the past 50 years. While the country spends about $50 federal dollars per student per year on science and math education, only five cents per year per student is allocated for civic education. Ten states have no requirement to teach civics. Such inattention shows in the numbers of Americans who can’t name the three branches of government and don’t understand the importance of checks and balances. Misunderstanding of government leads to distrust and disengagement and provides fertile soil for paralyzing polarization.

But, it’s not just money and curriculum. I come from a family of educational leaders and I served as a local school board member. So, I know first hand that it’s the US culture, Neoliberal ideology, and corporate power.

Tragically, I think it’s way, way, way too late for the way, way, way too little remedy the WaPo advocates:

Well-timed, then, is an initiative announced this week offering a strategy to build excellence in civics and history instruction for K-12 students. Educating for American Democracy, a two-year effort funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Education Department, provides national guidance that states, local school districts and educators can use to strengthen and help transform the teaching of civics and history, designed with a diverse 21st-century student body in mind.

The climate emergency is upon us. We must act now – and as Chris Hedges argues, rebel. We don’t have time for generational educational reforms.

Of course, we don’t hear any of that from a paper owned by Trillionaire Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, who profits from this ignorance and cultural decay.

Any educational reforms targeting civics will need to be preceded and accompanied by total rejection of the “Neoliberal Washington consensus”; a restoration of notions of the public interest, from the commons to collective action; rebellion and direct action to destroy the corporate power structure and military – industrial complex; and the “revolution in values” that the Hippies and Dr. King called for in the 1960’s.

My generation.

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Conservation & Climate Contradictions

March 4th, 2021 No comments

Land Trusts Undermine Science Based Regional Planning and Regulation

Rutgers Study Used To Support Forest Preservation

Same Rutgers Study Advocated Massive Commercial Logging

NJ Spotlight’s story today is a study in contradictions (beginning with the headline!), see:

I want to focus on climate, but I must first mention the deeply troubling pattern of how elite land preservation trusts constantly promote development with the slogan “smart growth” and undermine the role of State and regional planning and regulation.

I)  Conservation Contradictions

The Land Trust model depends on the kindness of rich strangers: wealthy landowners and willing sellers. As a result, their opportunistic and money driven preservation projects result in a scattershot patchwork that is the antithesis of science based planning. Often, Land Trust deals are just that – a parcel of land is preserved in exchange for development – deals that undermine the efforts of local activists, local governments, and state and regional planners and regulators to restrict development.

(Importantly, the Land Trust model is private and secret and thus anti-democratic by definition. In contrast, the landscape, water, and plant and wildlife are public trust resources and must be protected via open, transparent, and democratic governmental – not private – means.)

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is an egregious practitioner of that:

“You also need economic development, so, to me, smart growth planning is the sweet spot,” said Eric Olsen, director of lands and rivers for The Nature Conservancy. “What we’re trying to do is protect 40, 100, 200 acres at a time to build a pattern of protected lands.”

The Highlands Act is not based on “smart growth”, so thankfully TNC was AWOL during passage of the Highlands Act. Olsen can take his “sweet spot” and shove it.

Where has TNC been for the last 16 years of implementation of Highlands regional planning and DEP regulation? The Act mapped a core “preservation area” of some 400,000 acres (over 400,00 acres more in the Planning Area are eligible for more aggressive protections). That protected NJ land is 8 TIMES larger than the TNC goal for the entire Appalachian region:

The initiative, called the Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund, aims to raise up to $18 million to conserve 50,000 acres of forest throughout the Appalachian range.

The Highlands Act regulates development in the Preservation area at perhaps the lowest density in the country – 1 unit per 88 acres – prohibits disturbance of 300 foot wide buffers along streams and lakes, and a whopping 1,000 feet buffer for vernal pools: (Highlands Plan)

Vernal pools are certified by the NJDEP, and to protect and promote the biodiversity of vernal pools, the Highlands Council has determined that a terrestrial habitat protection buffer of 1,000 feet around vernal pools will generally address the habitat requirements of vernal pool-breeding wildlife.

The Highlands Act prohibited the extension of infrastructure to support new development. That’s an incredibly important tool and timely in light of calls to impose a moratorium on new fossil infrastructure.

Contradicting these incredibly powerful national models of planning and regulatory tools – which the Spotlight story ignores –  TNC or Ruga spun this misleading crap to the Spotlight reporter and once again the Highlands Act’s aggressive planning and regulation get short shrift:

The Highlands Act, passed in 2004, has helped to rein in unchecked development and community planning, though New Jersey’s complex system of home rule often cuts against strategic land conservation efforts.

There are three lies there:

1. The Highlands Act “helped”? Are you kidding me? The Highlands Act has protected far more land, water, and habitat than TNC and the Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund.

2. “Complex system”? The Highlands Act over-rides local home rule in the Preservation Area. How could that fact be ignored?

3. “ strategic land conservation efforts”? Again, are you kidding me? TNC relies on voluntary willing sellers. That means that the location, extent, and timing of their acquisitions is opportunistic and transactional. THERE IS NO SCIENCE BASED PLAN. THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF STRATEGIC.

Now getting back to our climate contradictions.

II)  Climate Contradictions

I particularly latched on to this important paragraph in the Spotlight story:

A 2011 study by Rutgers University and the state Department of Environmental Protection, which looked at the carbon density of New Jersey’s forests, found that the Highlands are between 50 and 75 years away from peak growth (as of the study’s publication date), meaning they will continue to build carbon capacity for much of the remainder of this century. Soils and organic matter will sequester carbon at increasing rates for even longer.

That’s a critically important point for 2 reasons:

1) it directly contradicts the primary rationale that the Murphy DEP and NJ Audubon use to justify logging in Highlands forests. DEP and NJA argue that Highlands forests are old and need to be made more diverse by logging to create “young forests”.

2) It also exposes a major flaw in DEP and NJA logging because those logging initiatives completely ignore carbon sequestration.

Yet neither Elliott Ruga, TNC, or the Spotlight reporter seem to be aware of all that and fail to mention it. Just like they fail to mention the protections afforded by the Highlands Act.

I can’t figure out if this is a result of incompetence or corruption – probably both.

But the contradictions continue.

That same Rutgers study that estimated carbon sequestration in NJ forests and provided a strong rationale for preserving all remaining forests, also provided a justification for massive commercial logging of those same forests!

I recall warning about this biomass bullshit threat to NJ forests years ago, see:

So, the Rutgers study is not all sweetness and light. Check out these findings from Rutgers:

In order to determine the amount of wood-based biomass that could be sustainably produced in NJ and the resultant renewable energy production potential, an assessment of the major sources of wood was conducted. These included Class 1 type materials including; Forestry Residues, Primary and Secondary Forestry Products Industry Residues, Urban Forestry and Landscaping Residues, and Bioenergy Crops and Class 2 material which was from Construction and Demolition Waste sources. Once the maximum potential quantities of wood-based biomass was determined, the renewable energy production potential was determined based on the current efficiencies of the various appropriate conversion technologies. […]

New Jersey has many business development opportunities for wood-based bioenergy production. The information provided can be used as a resource for project developers looking to locate their business in New Jersey. In addition to the economic benefits of using NJ’s woody biomass for energy production, there are many environmental benefits that could be realized from utilizing woody biomass as well.

“Wood-based bioenergy production” means logging our forests, not using them for carbon sequestration.

The people of NJ do not want to promote “business development opportunities” or provide incentives to locate a commercial logging industry in New Jersey.

Again, all these outrageous contradictions are just ignored by Ruga,  Olson and NJ Spotlight.

(and will someone please tell Elliott Ruga to stop the economic metaphors and reinforcing economic interests that are killing us?)

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Cracks Begin To Show In The Facade Of NJ Gov. Murphy’s “Landmark Environmental Justice” Legislation

March 3rd, 2021 No comments

Law Requires Adoption of DEP Regulations, Allows Polluters To Continue Poisoning EJ Communities

Reality Intrudes To Disrupt The Cheerleading

Only the beginning – flaws in EJ law are even worse than that

Finally, someone in the main stream press has written a critical story – after months of cheerleading – about NJ Gov. Murphy’s hyped “environmental justice” legislation.

Politico reported: (emphases mine)

Even though Gov. Phil Murphy signed the law almost six months ago, the state does not have the authority to deny permits for polluting facilities until it finalizes the regulations that specify how to implement the law’s requirements.

Environmental advocates, particularly those in areas with a disproportionate level of air pollution, are worried about what could happen during that window. They point to permit applications for a number of projects slated for environmental justice communities that likely would be subject to the law and might be blocked, but could possibly get approvals in the meantime.

We warned about exactly this – and many other flaws – way back on July 30, 2020, well before bills in both Houses had passed, providing plenty of time for EJ advocates to demand amendments to close this massive loophole. We wrote: on July 20, 2020 I  about serious flaws in the proposed legislation (Senate version) and explained why it would not protect overburdened EJ communities because it:

[1. – 4.]

5. extended the effective date of the law from 180 days after passage until after DEP adopts regulations. […]

By eliminating the 180 day effective date and failure to include a deadline for DEP to adopt regulations, the amended bill would allow polluters to receive DEP permits with NO EJ reviews until DEP adopts regulations, which regulations likely will be tied up for many, many years (at least 5 years) due to the lack of legislative standards in the bill, scientific complexity, business lobbying, and then polluter lawsuits. And 5 years is optimistic – more like 10 might be realistic.

[Wonks can find the final language on DEP regulations in Section 5 – note that a prior 180 deadline in section 4 was deleted by amendment. Activists got snookered, again!]

We not only warned about flaws and loopholes. Wo exposed the sell out. But we also suggested timely amendments with real teeth, see:

We also wrote many times to warn about how the Murphy DEP was ramming out hundreds of permits across the state and in environmental justice communities that allowed millions of pounds of toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases, BEFORE the EJ and climate PACT regulations took effect, see:

Sadly, this is another huge “I told you so”.

Ironically, while Poltico got the above DEP regulatory and permit story right (while still ignoring many other serious flaws in the legislation that I’ve written about several times), they got an important issue completely dead wrong. Poltico reported this, in the lede: (emphasis mine)

New Jersey’s landmark environmental justice law gives overburdened communities the power to reject new sources of pollution in their neighborhoods — just not yet.

NJ Spotlight reported this same lie.

As I’ve documented, the legislation was stripped of the provision that would have provided legal authority to a local community to veto a project.

As a result, the law does NOT give EJ communities ANY power, see:

Specifically, Spotlight’s story opens with this factually false statement:

“For the first time, New Jersey communities could be given a powerful new tool to block projects that would add to their pollution burden under a bill approved by the Senate Monday.”

That claim is not only false, it is the opposite of what the bill actually does. This is a lie and journalistic malpractice.

The bill does not give “New Jersey communities … a powerful new tool to block projects”.

As I wrote, the Senate substitute bill  stripped the provision that would have given EJ communities real power to block projects. (see Section 3.c. of the original version linked above – readers can also confirm this fact by reviewing last session’s version of the bill, S1700, section 3.c., which included the local veto. You can further confirm that by reading the bracketed (deleted) local veto provision in Section 3.c. the Senate revised bill, see S1700[1R]. The bill was gutted last session, as I wrote at the time.)

This is not a question of interpretation – it is a fact.

It is simply remarkable that professional journalists continue to get a major issue like that so wrong.

But, because reality has intruded on the myths of this legislation and forced the cheerleaders to tell the truth, perhaps the media might broaden and expand its critical scrutiny of this sham legislation and the sham Murphy DEP.

[End Note: This “Mr. Rogers” “good neighbor” comment by Acting DEP Commissioner LaTourette is embarrassingly misleading and shameful spin:

Shawn LaTourette, the DEP’s acting commissioner, said in an interview that the agency will be “guided by the spirit of the law” until it is formally in place, and will “ask applicants how they can be a good neighbor.”

“If a facility is coming in right now to be permitted and the law is not applicable at this time because of the need for the regulations, that same facility is well served by considering the constraints of how the environmental justice law works upon it because it will be faced with that constraint upon [its permit] renewal,” LaTourette said.

LaTourette is a former corporate lawyer with experience in DEP permitting. He knows he is misleading the public by these remarks.

He knows that once a facility is granted a DEP permit, financed, built, and operating, that a DEP permit renewal, issued 7-10 years later, it is virtually impossible to address the problems. 

Because he knew of the loophole and was in a position to fix it, LaTourette could have assured that the legislation was amended or that the Gov. conditionally vetoed it.

But he didn’t do any of that. He knowing let a badly flawed bill get enacted into law – sat by and duped EJ activists and let the bill be sold as a “landmark” solution – and all that just to protect his former corporate clients.

What a low life.

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