Does Back Room Open Space “Deal” Provide Cover for Democrats To Abandon Veto of DEP Flood Hazard Rules?

June 28th, 2016 No comments

The damage continues from Keep It Green Open Space strategy

Sweeney’s choice

The press is reporting that Gov. Christie and the Legislature cut a last minute deal on open space to avoid an embarrassing over-ride of the Governor’s conditional veto, see:

The text of the open space funding bill (S2456/A4017) is not yet posted on the Legislature’s website.

Therefore, it is impossible to know what the deal really means at this point – and whether additional compromises were made in the DEP budget – regardless of what the press is reporting and legislators and environmental groups are claiming, so I’ll not comment on the merits.

My concerns are:

1) how does the deal fund State Parks and core environmental programs slashed by the Open Space ballot question?

Will $20 million be diverted from the Clean Energy Fund to restore these cuts?

Will other DEP programs be cut or privatized to restore these cuts?

2) Is “stewardship” still an authorized use of open space money? (I assume that urban funding and fundamental allocation fairness issues remain unaddressed)

3) The Blue Acres money is a red herring – a fig leaf. The real issue in the Governor’s Conditional Veto was cuts to State Parks and DEP programs (Christie CV):

Ironically, while proponents of the amendment argued that it was pro-environment because it promised a steady funding stream for open space, the amendment always had the potential to siphon off money from important environmental programs, including site remediation and water quality initiatives.

The Governor was right – the environmentalists have been lying to the media.

4) what effect does the deal have on the pending legislative veto of Christie DEP flood hazard, storm water management, and coastal rules (SCR 66)?

If the political deal was designed to avoid the  first ever and embarrassing legislative over-ride of Governor Christie’s conditional veto, did the Christie negotiators extract a commitment from Democrats also not to embarrass the Governor by vetoing his DEP’s rules?

The media quoted an anonymous Democratic Senator on the political sensitivity of the deal: (NJ.Com)

“Even though we have the votes, if we override him, he could just wait us out for the next 18 months and not fund any open space [initiatives]” explained one Democratic senator, who declined requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations that were still unfolding late Monday afternoon.

We assume that there is a similar “sensitivity” to a legislative veto of Governor Christie’s DEP rules.

The final legislative session is Thursday, June 30. The Democrats have negotiations and deals in the works on budget issues as well.

The legislative veto of the DEP’s flood hazard rules passed the full Assembly weeks ago, but the Senate version SCR 66 has not been posted for a vote in the Senate by Senate President Sweeney.

DEP adopted the flood hazard rules back in May and last week formally proposed the smokescreen, officially known as the “concurrent proposal”. As we predicted, the waters are muddied (pun intended).

The deal on open space is not only designed to avoid embarrassment of Governor Christie. There are political benefits for the Democrats too.

Because the Keep It Green coalition made the veto over-ride appear as the number one environmental issue and the press gave it so much coverage, it makes the Democrats look like environmental champions.

And that provides sufficient green cover that allows them to quietly walk away from the legislative veto of DEP rules (SCR 66) – which the press has ignored.

As we warned way back on March 7 and again on May 21: 

As we warned, the simultaneous adoption and concurrent proposal makes it very difficult to understand what is going on and very easy for DEP to spin the press and Legislators and environmental groups:

This sets up a very dangerous game of bait and switch and spin – DEP could adopt the bad parts and promise to re-propose the fixes but never adopt them.

The public and the Committee will be drowned in the weeds of a lengthy adoption – response to public comments document on the original proposal along with an entirely new and complex re-proposal document. This is a formula for political manipulation. It will take weeks to decipher the documents. Meanwhile, by the time the dust settles, the original proposal will be adopted into law and the Veto Resolution will have withered on the vine (faded into the budget debate) and the Legislature adjourned for the summer.”

So, let us put the latest train wreck collateral damage of the Keep It Green Open Space funding initiative in full context, so that we may understand the full scope of the damage it has caused to both open space and other important environmental programs:

1. At the outset, the Keep It Green coalition (KIG) set very low expectations.

The initial fatal flaw was the failure by open space advocates to seek NEW funding, as had been approved by the voters for 4 decades. Even Christie’s CV makes this point.

Clearly, the KIG folks were intimidated by Gov. Christie’s categorical opposition to any new debt or new revenues and unwilling to fight for new money.

2. Because they would not fight for or seek new money, they diverted about $100 million/year in existing Corporate Business Tax (CBT) revenues.

Those existing CBT revenues were originally dedicated by the voters in 1996 to key environmental programs – including water resources, toxic site cleanup, and State Parks.

The impetus for creating the 1996 CBT was because over $500 million in environmental funding had been slashed and diverted by Florio and Whitman. (Full disclose: I did the analytical work on this and worked on drafting the legislative Resolution that got CBT on the ballot).

The KIG eliminated this funding source and slashed funding for key environmental programs.

3. After failing to work for new money and diverting existing environmental funds, the KIG then pegged their revenue expectations to just $80 million per year, about one third of the average annual open space funding over the previous decade. They stole money and underfunded their own program!

4. Making that low revenue objective even worse, despite the fact that open space, historic preservation and farmland preservation needs far exceeded available funding and the deep cuts in funding, the Keep It Green Coalition supported a huge expansion of eligible uses for funds – for an entirely new program of “stewardship”. They wanted 20% of open space money dedicated to “stewardship” to fund their own pet organization projects, including logging on state lands.

5. Ironically, Governor Christie relied on the new “stewardship” allowable use to restore $20 million in funding to State Parks.

6. To cover up this incredibly poor strategy and weak compromise, KIG then duped voters by failing to tell them about the diversions that amount to deep cuts in core environmental programs.

I’ve spoken to over 100 people and none were aware of this and all would have OPPOSED it had they known.

7. After all this abuse, the KIG Green crowd compounded errors by pushing the veto over-ride and again misleading the public about the implementing legislation and the status of the dedicated open space money.

This gave democrats a pass for supporting open space and making the Gov. look bad (but without doing the heavy lifting to fight for new funding).

Did it also give Democrats cover for running away from the veto of DEP rules?

Right now, it sure looks that way. We’ll know for sure by Thursday.

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Casino Gambling Partners With Farmland Preservation

June 27th, 2016 No comments

Another faction of the Green Mafia


“Vote YES In November For North Jersey Casino Expansion”

I know very little about the politics of the Farmland Preservation program – other than the greed and the attack on the Highlands and the lies of the Farm Bureau – or horse farms and horse racing, and even less about casino gambling.

But what I do know is that the former is associated with idyllic landscapes and enjoys a very favorable public image, while the latter is associated with the mob and various social pathologies and cultural taboos practiced in places like the streets of Atlantic City.

What two enterprises could be more different?

So I was shocked while riding my bike to see pro-casino gambling signs at the lovely Heritage Hill horse farm, just above Walnford Park in Allentown:

Heritage Hill Farm, spanning 500 acres in western Monmouth County, is one of the founding farms of the New Jersey Sire Stakes program. The Heritage Hill – HH – name was given to nearly 100 horses, including the world champion filly HH Shadow who was second in the 1986 Cane Pace and retired with 17 victories and nearly $280,000 in earnings.Heritage Hill stood 1972 Pacing Horse of the Year Isle of Wight, whose offspring dominated the New Jersey Sire Stakes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The farm no longer stands any stallions – the last was Jaguar Spur — but the Deys breed and foal nearly 100 mares a year.

Thinking this group of signs – like the handful of Trump signs out there –  just a quirky family promotion at one horse farm, I ignored it.

But a week later I saw another group of exactly the same signs at another horse farm in Chesterfield and I knew this was no isolated event, but rather an organized political campaign.

A quick Google reveals that gambling, horse racing, and farmland preservation are linked in politics – see this recent Report by Governor Christie’s Advisory Commission on NJ Gaming, Sports, and Entertainment:

Malinowski and Avenatti predicted in 2009 that the Garden State could lose its premier agribusiness which generated $780 million of economic impact annually, 7,000 jobs, $110 million in federal, state and local taxes and 57,000 acres of working agricultural landscape and open space if racing-related training and breeding farms left New Jersey. Only eight percent of acreage in the Farmland Preservation Program was used for horse-related activities and eleven percent of preserved farms were actually in the horse business (Malinowski and Avenatti, 2009). Acreage supported by equine-related interests made up 25 percent of the total farmland in New Jersey (Gottlieb, et al., 2009). This fact reinforced the argument that the state stood to lose this farmland to development if racing was no longer viable. It was also suggested that racing was not the only equine discipline in jeopardy if New Jersey racing was not sustained. Sport competition and recreational horse users also stood to suffer, as would traditional agricultural interests such as grain, hay, and straw farmers who continue to remain in business and maintain agriculturally productive open space due to the fact that their major customers are horse owners.

Have these folks no knowledge of land use planning and regulation? They assume that all horse farms would be converted to development? That market forces alone determine land use?

This worldview of sleaze and greed really should have come as no surprise, given the self-interested inside money deals, upward redistribution of public funds to wealthy elites, and avoidance of advocacy of “coercive” government land use planning and regulation I’ve seen in the open space preservation program that I’ve called “The Green Mafia”.

So, enterprising investigative journalists out there, I smell a story – how much money is going from the casino industry to NJ horse farms to promote the ballot question? Who is paying who and how much?

I’ll be voting “NO” on the casino question – and find it reprehensible that preservation of the landscape and open space are being used as pawns and a pretext to support the casino industry.


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Highlands Documentary Exposes Folly Of Christie DEP Logging Scheme

June 26th, 2016 No comments

Current Rationale for Logging Contradicts Prior Basis For Forest Preservation

Source: scene from  "The Highlands Rediscovered" NJN TV documentary - at time 22:40

Fragmentation, tree cuts, and opening forest canopy brings in sunlight, which fuels explosive growth of invasive plants, which out compete native plants. Source: scene from “The Highlands Rediscovered” NJN TV documentary – at time 22:40

The more cuts that one gets, the more fragmentation in this forest mosaic, the more it gets degraded. ~~~ Eric Stiles, NJ Audubon “The Highlands Rediscovered” (NJN TV, 2004)

Sportscaster Warner Wolf was famous for his line “Let’s go to the video tape!” – so, let’s do just that for a moment to shed some light (pun intended) on the current debate about logging in Highlands forests.

I’ve written thousands of words and posted numerous photos about that – particularly on how the current rationale for logging Highlands forests contradicts the science relied upon to preserve the Highlands. I’ve even used the published work of NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles to make the point:

Forest wildlife diversity depends on large contiguous forest patches, connections to other habitats, structurally complex vegetation, intact seasonal wetlands, and the presence of native vegetation. Disruption of any of these components can dramatically reduce wildlife diversity. ~~~ Eric Stiles, NJ Audubon (“State of the Forest” Symposium (2002)

But NJN’s documentary video does that far better, and brings in other expert voices to confirm my point (including Mr. Stiles himself!).

The 2004 NJN TV documentary “The Highlands Rediscovered” – funded by the Dodge Foundation – provides spectacular visual imagery supported by science to make a powerful argument for preserving the Highlands region, particularly the remaining forests.

Let’s go to the video tape to make our point – watch starting at time 22:00 minutes, where the impacts of development and fragmentation of forests are discussed. Pay special attention to the effects of disturbance of the forest (transcript below, emphases mine):

Richard Lathrop, PhD (Rutgers) – We are at a critical juncture, in that the Highlands still are predominantly forested. But, we are starting to see the balance shift towards greater development and less forest cover.

Narrator – a forest’s only defense is its magnitude. Even modest cuts – known as forest fragmentation – threaten its future. 

Lathrop – Forest fragmentation has a whole cascading series of impacts. So, ecologists and land use planners have really started to appreciate the importance of conserving the integrity of large unbroken tracts of forest.

As we begin to open up the forest, as we put in roads, we change the microclimate.

Ted Stiles (PhD) (Rutgers) – Plant species that normally can’t live under shade in the forest are able to to be successful, so that you have different species of plants that penetrate the forest, which changes the habitat. (In Memoriam)

Lathrop  Some of those species can get in, take over, and out-compete the native species, and that’s what we’re seeing all across our forests. …

Heather Gracie – Consulting forester – We’re breaking down the infrastructure of the forest. We’re segmenting things off to a point where it lessens the value that these forest lands provide.

Eric Stiles, NJ AudubonThe more cuts that one gets, the more fragmentation in this forest mosaic, the more it gets degraded. If one is looking at a fragmented portion of the Highlands, you would see a simplified or dumbed down forest. You don’t have the rich structural stratification in the forest. You will see light gaps in the canopy that are not being replaced. There is no duff, there is no leaf litter. Just bare dirt.

Yes Mr. Stiles – One destroys the forest with those cuts

Kind of like one sees here, after NJ Audubon cuts at Sparta Mountain:

Sparta Mountain WMA

Sparta Mountain WMA

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Hey You!

June 25th, 2016 No comments

Box turtle

Saw two box turtles on our walk this morning!

Hey you don’t help them to bury the light
Don’t give in without a fight. ~~~ Pink Floyd (listen)

Now that I’ve got your attention, consider this argument:

Anderson complains that scientists self-censor because they cannot fund bad news and don’t want to be its messenger. But it seems to me that he is guilty of the same fault when he offers hopeful answers that affect our lives little.

Only someone who knows the danger and cares about the future of humankind could make the last ditch effort to try and keep global average temperature rise to 2°C. For that effort cannot be made without total upheaval in how we live. We are not going to do this with a simple painless adjustment of the knob. We cannot use hydrocarbon fuels for energy, period.

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We Call on NJ Audubon To Repudiate Trump Money and Sever Partnership

June 24th, 2016 No comments
Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for president, arriving at his Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland on Friday. Credit Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for president, arriving at his Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland on Friday. Credit Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The above photo may come to be known as part of a 21st Century Arch Duke Ferdinand like moment. 

(I used that metaphor in a limited sense as an event that catalyzes chaos, but a Weimar moment is the far more apt analogy to describe the descent into barbarism and climate collapse we seemed locked into.)

Given Trump’s incredibly opportunistic self promotion of the disastrous right wing driven exit from the European Union from his golf course in Scotland – and the dangerous reactionary and fascist politics that is feeding in the US – we renew our call for NJ Audubon to repudiate Trump money and (very publicly) sever their partnership with Trump at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ.

For those who find it hard to believe that a group like NJ Audubon would partner with the likes of Mr. Trump – at an environmentally destructive golf course no less –  please see the facts here:

In a nutshell, NJA partners with and is funded by Trump.

On top of all that, Trump already is building as wall – at his Irish golf course to adapt to climate change driven sea level rise, see:

Memo to Eric Stiles, CEO of NJ Audubon – have you no shame?

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