Are Conservationists About To Sell Out On Protecting What’s Left Of NJ’s Forests And Farms While Addressing Climate Change?

December 2nd, 2021 No comments

NJCF “Warehouse Sprawl” Essay Proposes No Solutions, While Ignoring Real Solutions That Have Worked

Sounds like a pitch to Big Corporate Foundations to fund a weak and ineffective campaign


Several longtime grassroots conservation activists in northwestern NJ have been discussing how to mount a public campaign that could pressure State legislators and the Governor to protect the few last remaining forests and farms in NJ from the devastating destruction of climate change and the most current development threats, warehouse sprawl, industrial scale solar arrays, and DEP/NJ Audubon logging.

The warehouse sprawl issue has gotten a lot of media attention, some compromised solutions by conservationists, and weak and ineffective legislative efforts that won’t work (for a discussion of them, see this and this and this). Solar arrays on farmland have gotten some attention, and conservationists have supported horrible compromises. I’ve written extensively about the DEP/Audubon logging projects, but that issue has gained little media attention or opposition by the big conservation groups.

But none of this has been linked to climate change or the need to preserve what little is left of NJ’s undeveloped landscape

In response, I’ve recommended that activists and conservation groups push for a strong regulatory model, based on strong legal and regulatory protections that former Governor’s and Legislators have supported to preserve portions of the Pinelands, Highlands, freshwater wetlands, and steam buffers, which I outlined in this post:

Instead of compromising away what little is left of NJ’s forests and farmlands, it’s time for the conservation, environmental, justice, and climate communities to work together and fight the final battle to preserve what’s left.

That “Final Frontier” proposal has gotten some support among local activists, but the large conservation groups – like NJ Conservation Foundation and the Highlands Coalition who explicitly have been asked to support it – have declined to do so.

Those groups are now getting pressure from their own members to support something strong along the lines I’ve recommended. Specifically, NJCF and HiCO have been asked to support an approach with teeth that would broaden the focus from merely improving the siting of warehouses – a business friendly approach that actually promotes more warehouses and solar array developments – to actually protecting forests and farms and addressing the climate emergency (forests and soils “sequester” a lot of carbon, while warehouses and trucks emit a LOT of carbon).

Into that behind the scenes debate, Michelle Byers of NJ Conservation Foundation (NJCF) recently wrote about the warehouse sprawl issue in her column “The State We’re in” (“Seeking Solutions For Warehouse Sprawl”).

Curiously, Byers’ essay quotes Julia Somers, who heads the NJ Highlands Coalition, a coalition whose mission was enabled by passage of the Highlands Act and works on implementing it. [Note: corrected. Original wrote “created”, which was poor writing on my part]

But Byers and Somers say nothing about solutions that they know have worked to preserve forests and farms in the Highlands!

Byers’ essay was the typical puff piece by NJCF.

It proposed no solutions.

She praised Gov. Murphy, State legislators, and the State Planning Commission.

She ignored solar arrays and the entire issue of climate change.

She didn’t talk about preserving forest and farmlands or mention the planning and regulatory solutions she knows have worked in the Pinelands and the Highlands.

She undermined the efforts of local activists who are seeking to build public support for real solutions.

And she did so at a critical time, when the Murphy DEP is about to propose “Climate PACT” regulations and the Governor could be contemplating his legacy and be persuaded to back climate, forest, and farmland preservation as his legacy.

I’ve seen this sellout multiple times over the years.

Byers’ essay reminded me of the debates with had in the 1990’s.

At that time, some of us – the leaders were Jeff Tittel (not yet with NJ Sierra), Bill Neil Director of Conservation at NJ Audubon, and Curtis Fisher, head of NJPIRG and then McGreevey’s environmental policy aide, myself included as Sierra Club and then at McGreevey DEP and many local activists throughout the Highlands who had spent years in local land use battles – proposed an aggressive Pinelands in the Highlands campaign. Politically, this was pitched as a legacy for Gov. McGreevey. It was based on a scientific report by US Forest Service.

But NJ Conservation Foundation and the then multi-State Highlands Coalition that focused on the broader Appalachian Highlands Region, strongly opposed a NJ Pinelands regulatory model.

They claimed that it was not remotely politically feasible due to high property values, incredible development pressure, and the the political power of the development lobby.

They had no stomach for that kind of fight.

Instead, NJCF supported and had received Foundation funding for a small bore and ineffective campaign to designate the Highlands as a “region of significance” under the toothless voluntary State Plan.

Tim Dillingham had recently left NJ Sierra Club to head that NJCF Highlands State Plan campaign. When Tim left, I became Acting Director until Tittel was hired about 9 months later. (BTW, NJCF recently did the same thing to sell out the Sourlands Region, where a voluntary and ineffective local scheme was adopted).

Obviously we rejected that failed approach and pitched the Highlands Act to Gov. McGreevey. The rest is history.

I sense the same Foundation funded ineffective voluntary, toothless, local NJCF sellout is in the works for what’s left.

I sense that Byers’ piece was really a set up for pitching a proposal to the  Big Corporate Foundations (Wm. Penn, Dodge, etc) for another totally lame, voluntary, small bore, local “warehouse sprawl” campaign.

I urged my local activists friends to not let that happen and instead get out in front of the debate to frame a real proposal.

Here’s my note, which I no share with all NJ readers – don’t let NJCF sell out the last best chance to protect what’s left!

Friends – NJCF and the Highlands Coalition need to pretend they’re doing something.

This is very likely the pitch to the foundations for funding a campaign.

Time is right to get out in front of them so they don’t propose a very weak and ineffective solution

When we debated whether to seek a Highlands Act, NJCF and others OPPOSED that because they had already begun a lame Foundation funded campaign to get the Highlands designated a “region of significance” under the toothless State plan.

If you’re ever going to move, the time is now to ask Michele and Julia to support something strong, along the lines I’ve outlined.

Be bold! Do it widely within the conservation community so they will feel some pressure before wiggling out and selling you out.


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Documents Show That Consultant For LNG Export Project Actually Wrote Portions Of DEP Responses To Public Comments

December 1st, 2021 No comments

DEP Provided Opportunity For LNG Consultants to Respond To Public Comments

DEP Verbatim Plagiarized Some LNG Consultant Responses, Without Attribution 

This is what “Agency Capture” looks like

DEP documents I obtained via OPRA show the following egregious abuses:

1) consultants for the “Fortress Energy” LNG project were provided public comments on draft permits and given the opportunity to respond to them, outside the normal public permit process (i.e. the public had no awareness of these industry reply documents or any opportunity to rebut them);

2) portions of the DEP’s response to public comments documents on permits for the proposed LNG export were written by the consultant for the LNG project and fobbed off as DEP’s own responses;

3) In some cases, DEP actually plagiarized – verbatim – replies submitted to DEP by the LNG consultants.

I have written many times about how virtually every aspect of the DEP permit process is rigged in favor of polluting industries and developers.

But I have not written about this egregiously abusive DEP practice that allows permit applicants to review public comments and submit responses to public comment to the DEP on their draft permits – after the public comment period is closed. DEP then uses the permit applicant’s replies in drafting their own response to public comments document.

This is an egregious example of “agency capture” – no wonder DEP is denying my OPRA requests. (This is the LNG project that current DEP Commissioner LaTourette was a lawyer for in securing DEP permits just weeks before he was installed as DEP Chief Legal Counsel).

I’ve often written about the systemic and pervasive structural flaws in environmental regulation and DEP practices that betray the public interest and put the polluters in charge of DEP permits. These include:

1) industry lobbyists and lawyers write provisions of environmental laws.

2) when DEP develops regulations to implement those laws, industry lobbyists, lawyers, and scientists are provided undue access and influence on DEP “Stakeholder” groups.

Industry representatives also are provided advance notice and drafts of DEP regulations before they are formally proposed in the NJ Register for public comment. This provides a “heads up” that enables them to gain information and access to the Governor’s Office and DEP Commissioner prior to DEP’s formal public comment process on proposed rules.

This access can either kill a rule outright before it is even proposed for public comment (thus the public is completely unaware), or delay proposal, or narrow the scope of the rule, or weaken its technical standards and provisions.

3) Polluters are even provided preferential access and influence on DEP’s development of “Technical Manuals” and “Best Management Practices” that provide the technical contents of and guide DEP’s reviews of permits. There is virtually no public awareness or participation in these obscure and murky processes. But industry sits at the DEP table, literally writing their own ticket.

4) industry also has undue access and influence on the science and technical aspects or regulations via participation on advisory bodies, including DEP’s Science Advisory Board, Air Pollution Industrial Stakeholders, Clean Air Council, Clean Water Council, and Site Remediation Board.

5) during theDEP review of individual permits, permit applicants (polluters and developers) are provided an opportunity to have a private off the record “Pre-Application meeting” with DEP permit review staff and upper managers who make permit policy and decisions. The existence of these meetings is not disclosed to the public and records of these meetings are not discoverable under OPRA.

These meetings provide DEP’s guidance to regulated industry on how to secure permit approval – they also create personal and professional relationships between DEP staffers and permit applicants. This leads to what is called ‘agency capture”.

The public is not made aware of these meetings, which typically occur months ore even years before permit application are submitted for public review.

6) Virtually all data that is reviewed by DEP is collected by industry consultants.

7) On major environmental permits, there are many opportunities for “ex parte” communications and lobbying by permit applicants, including meetings with legislators, the Governor’s Office and DEP Commissioner’s Office.

8) DEP has expanded abuses of NJ Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to frustrate public access to and discovery of these various regulatory and permit review practices. DEP began using the pretext of “deliberative privilege” exemption in the OPRA law. DEP now have blocked access to virtually all DEP staff correspondence and emails via “overly vague” OPRA denials that require the public to know the exact name, subject matter, and dates of any correspondence or emails requested under OPRA. Of course, it is impossible for the public to know this information.

The system is rigged. Badly rigged. So rigged that it is corrupt.

But, allowing permit applicants an opportunity to actually draft the text of DEP’s responses to public comments takes things to a whole new level of “agency capture” and corruption.

There is literally no line between DEP and a permit applicant when this is allowed to occur.

(In our next post, we provide specific examples of text from the LNG permit applicant’s consultant and the verbatim text of DEP’s response to comments document on the LNG permits. We also provide examples of how DEP used permit applicant responses to shape their own responses, but without outright plagiarism.)

I will provide these documents upon request to any media, activist, or environmental group that requests them.

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Surrender Of Geronimo

November 29th, 2021 No comments


Somewhere in southeastern Arizona, north of Douglass.

I don’t think the fools who built this monument realized that it looks like a giant symbolic middle finger to history.

Goyathlay, a powerful Apache leader, also known as Geronimo, hands his rifle to a U.S. general in surrender. When his tribe had been relocated to a reservation in Arizona 14 years earlier, the military resistance of Goyathlay and his tiny band of Chiricahuas made him feared by white settlers. At a time when accommodating to reservation life seemed inevitable to many Native peoples, Goyathlay and his followers fought on. Their resistance caused tension among the Apaches, who were divided in their views about what course of action to take.

The surrender of Goyathlay (b. ca. 1825–d. 1909) in Skeleton Canyon, just north of the Mexico border, marked a turning point in U.S.–Indian relations in the region. Goyathlay and about 30 followers, including children, were herded onto railroad cars, destined for years of imprisonment in Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. His followers grew to 469 people at three internment camps in Florida. Some were released to reservations in Oklahoma in 18 years; the rest were released in 23 years.


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Murphy DEP Denies Request For Public Records On DEP’s Review Of “Fortress Energy” LNG Export Project In Gibbstown, NJ

November 24th, 2021 No comments

Current DEP Commissioner LaTourette Represented Fortress In DEP Permit Process

OPRA Records Denial Appears To Be A Cover Up Of LaTourette’s Involvement

DEP Documents Reveal A Cozy Relationship With Fortress Energy

The Murphy DEP just denied my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for public documents regarding the DEP’s review of permit applications for a massive LNG export plant in Gibbstown NJ, known as “Fortress Energy”.

I’ve responded to OPRA requests as a DEP employee and I’ve filed hundreds of OPRA requests to DEP. This was a routine and very specific request for permit records. So, the DEP’s denial is a severe abuse of OPRA and because it is so egregious it suggests DEP has bad faith or corrupt motives.

The denial comes at a time when I recently filed OPRA requests and obtained sensitive, controversial, and embarrassing documents (including DEP enforcement records on Statewide violations of DEP’s drinking water standards for “forever chemicals”).

These OPRA documents I recently received also included controversial and embarrassing documents that show that current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette was personally and directly involved in the permitting of the LNG plant  as a lawyer representing Fortress (and as Director of the environmental law Department at Gibbons law firm where he supervised other lawyers working on the LNG project).

The OPRA documents also expose that DEP knows that current DEP permit regulation do not allow DEP to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or climate impacts. Yet LaTourette has done nothing to close the loopholes he exploited in representing and securing DEP permits for Fortress Energy.

(In a post I’m still working on, I also will reveal how these OPRA response documents show a cozy and inappropriate relationship between the permit applicant Fortress and the DEP staff. DEP knows I have these documents).

[Update: 12/2/21 – Here is part 1 of that post I was working on:

LaTourette recently denied knowledge of and downplayed his role in that DEP permit process and misled the community at a recent DEP “listening session”.

LaTourette has also repeatedly gaslighted the public and media by his statements about his commitment to addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, belying that commitment, he has done nothing to close huge gaps in DEP’s regulations – regulations he exploited on behalf of Fortress Energy to secure DEP permits for the LNG plant (in record time and under the public and media radar).

So – given how badly I’ve been bludgeoning DEP and Commissioner LaTourette with documents I’ve obtained via OPRA –  DEP clearly had a corrupt motive to deny my request to obtain additional permit documents that would further embarrass Commissioner LaTourette and further expose his misleading statements about his role in the LNG DEP permit process as a lawyer for Fortress Energy.

I requested, very specifically, the communications between the consultant representing Fortress Energy (“Rambol”, the project is technically known as Delaware River Partners, DRP and Gibbstown Logistic Center)  and the DEP staffer who served as the point of contact on DEP’s land use permits.

Here is my OPRA request:

I request the following public records:

1. Communications (correspondence, emails, meeting agendas and notes, phone calls,) between Laura George of Rambol and Suzane Dietrick of DEP Land Use regarding DEP permits and approvals of the proposed DRP GIBBSTOWN LOGISTICS CENTER

2. emails, meeting agendas and notes, memoranda, application review comments and other communications between Suzane Dietrick and DEP staffers, the DEP Office of Permit Coordination, and the DEP Commissioner’s Office regard the proposed DRP GIBBSTOWN LOGISTICS CENTER.

DEP denied this request on the sham basis that it was overly broad.

Yet it was narrow and very specific: it identified 2 specific individuals, a specific permit application, and a specific project which DEP reviewed and approved during a very specific timeframe.

DEP asserted the very thin reed that my request was overly broad because it failed to specify a timeframe. But that is bogus, because the permits were already issued and DEP knows when the permit applications were initially submitted and when they were approved. That timeframe is defined already and known to DEP.

DEP permit reviews are coordinated through DEP’s Office of Permit Coordination, so that is routine standard operating procedure and an OPRA public record.

But not all individual permits are reviewed by or have involvement of the Commissioner’s Office. This review would include the Commissioner, Chief of Staff, Deputy Commissioner, possibly the press office, possibly the Governor’s Office, and the Commissioner’s legal Counsel. So, this aspect of my OPRA request raises legitimate “deliberative privilege” issues.

But DEP did not deny my OPRA request on the basis of “deliberative privilege”. (If they did invoke “deliberative privilege”, they would confirm political involvement of the Commissioner’s Office and/or Governor’s Office in DEP permit review).

All DEP permit documents are OPRA public records, by definition. All communications between a permit applicant and the DEP are public records (with the exception of very limited corporate proprietary information or domestic security exemptions, which clearly do not apply in this case). These documents form what’s known as the “administrative record” for the project and are open for public review under OPRA.

It is an outrage that DEP denied this request – this is a blatant abuse of OPRA.

I already refiled the request and will be appealing this denial to the Government Records Council or perhaps the Courts and will request Legislative oversight of DEP’s OPRA practices.

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Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette Accused Of Misleading Residents at “Listening Session”

November 23rd, 2021 No comments

DEP Commissioner LaTourette Has Some Explaining To Do

His Credibility Is Shot

In response to the recent post exposing just how closely current DEP Commissioner LaTourette worked on the proposed Gibbstown NJ LNG export project known as “Fortress Energy”, local residents tweeted expressions of shock and feelings of betrayal:

The Twitter dialogue began with this tweet, in response to my post: (the tweeter was not aware that I broke that story, in this original 2/9/21 post, and basically forced NJ Spotlight to report the story several days later):

found this (provided a link to a WHYY/NJ Spotlight story) – this was all news to me

A reply said:

News to me, too. Notice how he [LaTourette] was quick to point out at last week’s meeting that he represented plaintiffs who were injured by the chemical train derailment in Paulsboro ten yrs ago, but no mention of the legal work he did for the LNG developer?

Which prompted this reply from another reader:

Omg this is horrific even by Jersey standards. Interestingly at last week’s DEP listening session he told me how he defended plaintiffs in Paulsboro after the Mantua Creek train derailment. But he didn’t mention this. And no answers or stance on this issue

The discussion wrapped up with this observation:

Why am I not surprised? He implied at the community meeting last week that he knew little about the status of the permitting process for the LNG facility, which simply did not make sense for such a notorious project. Let’s hope he gets lots more questions at the next meeting.

Yes, let’s hope he gets lots more questions at the next meeting.

Better yet, perhaps he should just resign, because his credibility is shot.

[End Note: There is tremendous irony in LaTourette’s claims on Paulsboro train derailment.

I was on the ground very shortly after that toxic train derailment and I ventured into the “Hot zone” when the evacuation was still in effect (scroll down and see these photos I took at the time). I’ve written probably 20 posts on that disaster since then.

I assume that’s how LaTourette made friends with Senator Sweeney. Legally, it was the equivalent of ambulance chasing.

[Update – an informed reader who apparently knows more than I just blasted me for suggesting that LaTourette’s was a Sweeney man:

He is Murphy’s boy not Sweeney’s – gibbons is north jersey polluter firm not tied to Norcross- you let Murphy off the hook from LaTourette by doing that – Murphy invested in fossil fuel exxon dupont etc.

Let Gov. Murphy off the hook? Say what? In a prior post, I said that Gov. Murphy “knew a good corporate man when he saw him”.

After NJ Spotlight’s last story on the pending Biden rail permit decision, I suspected that a Sweeney deal may be about to be nixed. Who knows if LNG wasn’t a deal with Sweeney/Norcross on something else. Easy to scuttle now after Sweeney is gone.~~~ end update]

(I’ve not revealed names, but all this can be seen on my Twitter feed)

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