Climate Questions For Gov. Murphy At Rutgers

January 22nd, 2021 No comments

A bait and switch at Rutgers to dodge tough critical questions for the Gov.

I received an email last week on Friday from Rutgers that provided notice and requested that I submit questions for Gov. Murphy at Rutgers on a Jan 22 (today) webinar impressively titled:

  • What’s on the Horizon for Implementing New Jersey’s Climate Agenda?

I immediately sent Rutgers 18 questions for the Gov. I copied NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle in the hope that he would ask those kind of tough questions.

But, buried in my email this morning, I found this confusing and evasive email from Rutgers (sent late Wednesday afternoon) advising that my questions were not accepted and had to be resubmitted during the webinar!

Hi Bill,

Thank you for your interest in our upcoming webinar. I apologize for the confusion, the automatic confirmation that came from Zoom is intended for technical questions for help with accessing the webinar. The wording has since been clarified, but anyone who registered before a certain date received the less clear wording in their confirmation. Questions for panelists will need to be submitted during the webinar via the chat box.

Thanks, -Matt

I found the explanation, at best, sketchy and evasive. I received an email directly from Rutgers asking for questions, to which I replied. The email exchange had nothing to do with any Zoom invitation. So, the explanation is also factually false.

Perhaps the folks at Rutgers didn’t want to be affiliated with these kind of critical questions. Or perhaps the Gov. Office changed the format for submitting questions to better control them.

So, here are the questions I posed which I hope someone asked – some of the questions explore important regulatory issues that the media and environmental groups have ignored: (those unasked questions are in boldface below)

Hi Matt – here are a few questions for Gov. Murphy and Acting DEP Commissioner Latourette off the top of my head. I’ll get a more through set to you on Monday:

1) Why did the “environmental justice” legislation you signed fail to include climate?

2) Why did your representative on the DRBC vote in favor of the LNG terminal on the Delaware River?

3) Why is DEP pushing out scores of major air pollution control permits for major sources of greenhouse gas emissions without any consideration of climate impacts?

4) Same question (#3) for fossil infrastructure projects and land use permits.

5) Given the fact that DEP regulations do not address climate, and that hundreds of DEP permits are being issued for major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil infrastructure, why didn’t you impose a moratorium on such DEP approvals pending adoption of climate regulations? (e.g. like pending DEP Climate PACT)?

6) Have you read DEP’s “80/50″ Report pursuant to the Global Warming Response Act? If so, how, specifically, will you meet the science based GHG emissions reductions and timetables in that Report?

7) Have you read the Global Warming Response Act? Are you aware that the goals of the Act are aspirational and the Act does not provide regulatory authority to DEP to meet the goals of the Act or mandate that DEP does so?

8) Are you aware of the recent IPCC Report that suggested we have about a decade to make deep GFHG emissions reductions to avoid potentially catastrophic warming in excess of Paris Accords 1.5 degree C?

If so, why is your Energy Master Plan based on and the DEP PACT regulatory initiative driven by the GWRA 2050 timeframe?

9) Why does BPU EMP postpone initiation of electrification of the building sector until 2030?

10) How will you ramp up the current paltry EV and others transportation sector programs to meet science based emissions reductions?

11) Do you support extension of the $300 million/year subsidy to PSEG nukes?

12) Do you support a new modular nuke plant at the Oyster Creek site in Lacey Township?

13) How will you deal with major fossil infrastructure projects in the DEP regulatory pipeline (pun intended?)

14) Do you support a “strategic retreat” from flood hazard and coast hazard zones? If not why not?

15) Do you support the current DEP regulatory policy that provides a “right to rebuild” storm damaged property?

That policy is one of the main reason why NJ is among the top 4 States for repeat flooding claims under the federal flood insurance program.

16) when will the DEP environmental justice regulations be proposed? Will they be adopted before the election?

17) Same question for climate PACT regulations.

18) What does an individual’s sexual preferences have to do with qualifications for a DEP Commissioner?

Why did you mention sexual preference in Acting Commissioner LaTourette’s press release?

All for now. Let me know if you need backup documentation for these questions.

Wolfe

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Gov. Murphy Appoints Former Corporate Lawyer As DEP Commissioner, Hides His Record Behind LGBTQ Identity Politics

January 17th, 2021 No comments

A Classic Case of “Progressive Neoliberalism” In Action

Revolving Door Appointment Is Praised By “Progressives”

Gov. Murphy once again has demonstrated that he fits the profile of what professor Nancy Fraser calls a “Progressive Neoliberal”.

Professor Fraser describes “progressive neoliberalism”:

This may sound to some like an oxymoron, but it is a real, if perverse, political alignment that holds the key to understanding the U.S. election results and perhaps some developments elsewhere too. In its U.S. form, progressive neoliberalism is an alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end “symbolic” and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other. In this alliance, progressive forces are effectively joined with the forces of cognitive capitalism, especially financialization. However unwittingly, the former lend their charisma to the latter. Ideals like diversity and empowerment, which could in principle serve different ends, now gloss policies that have devastated manufacturing and what were once middle-class lives.

See also Fraser’s superb essay “From Progressive Neoliberalism To Trump – And Beyond”:

Progressive neoliberals did not dream up this political economy. That honor belongs to the Right: to its intellectual luminaries Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James Buchanan; to its visionary politicians, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan; and to their deep-pocketed enablers, Charles and David Koch, among others. But the right-wing “fundamentalist” version of neoliberalism could not become hegemonic in a country whose common sense was still shaped by New Deal thinking, the “rights revolution,” and a slew of social movements descended from the New Left. For the neoliberal project to triumph, it had to be repackaged, given a broader appeal, linked to other, noneconomic aspirations for emancipation. Only when decked out as progressive could a deeply regressive political economy become the dynamic center of a new hegemonic bloc.

It fell, accordingly, to the “New Democrats” to contribute the essential ingredient: a progressive politics of recognition. Drawing on progressive forces from civil society, they diffused a recognition ethos that was superficially egalitarian and emancipatory. At the core of this ethos were ideals of “diversity,” women’s “empowerment,” and LGBTQ rights; post-racialism, multiculturalism, and environmentalism. These ideals were interpreted in a specific, limited way that was fully compatible with the Goldman Sachsification of the U.S. economy. Protecting the environment meant carbon trading. Promoting home ownership meant subprime loans bundled together and resold as mortgage-backed securities. Equality meant meritocracy.

Perfectly illustrating Fraser’s “progressive neoliberalism” paradigm, Gov. Murphy – a former Wall Street Goldman Sachs executive – just announced that Shawn LaTourette – a former corporate lawyer – will assume leadership of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the wake of the retirement of DEP Commissioner McCabe.

Gov. Murphy’s press release that announced the appointment of LaTourette as Acting Commissioner downplayed his corporate legal background, instead creating the misleading impression that LaTourette was a public interest lawyer:

With twenty years of environmental experience, LaTourette began his career partnering with the Erin Brockovich law firm to organize and defend New Jersey communities whose drinking water was contaminated by petrochemicals. Born and raised in New Jersey, LaTourette graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University and earned his law degree summa cum laude from Rutgers Law School, where he was the class salutatorian and the recipient of multiple environmental and governance awards, and published scholarship on environmental law, natural resource damage, and climate issues. Before entering public service, LaTourette specialized in protecting the rights of victims of toxic injuries while also advising infrastructure, transportation, energy, and other industries on compliance with state and federal environmental laws and policies. Prior to joining the Murphy Administration, he was most recently a Director of the Environmental Law Department at Gibbons PC, where he focused on brownfields redevelopment projects and litigated environmental cases in state and federal court.

Note that the Gov. fails to name LaTourette’s corporate clients or the projects he provided compliance assistance to.

 (which raises an important question for the intrepid journalists out there: Did LaTourette name these corporate clients in his ethics disclosure form and has he filed recusals? OPRA is your friend. So is Google of literature on “revolving door” and “corporate capture”. The story writes itself.)

Gov. Murphy went on to tout the fact thathe will be the first openly gay Commissioner of Environmental Protection in the nation”:

A devoted advocate for equality of all people, LaTourette was elected to serve as Chair of the LGBTQ Rights Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, completing his term in 2020, and will be the first openly gay Commissioner of Environmental Protection in the nation.

We’ve called out LaTourette several times – on his record, not his sexual preference – particularly for his involvement and how he lied about the DEP’s role in a Trump EPA toxic experiment at the Union County incinerator in Rahway, a DEP designated EJ community.

In response to public outrage over this, DEP Commissioner McCabe and Mr. Latourette blamed the public. (NJ Spotlight)

LaTourette said protesters, particularly in New Jersey’s environmental justice communities, had “misperceptions” about what the incineration would consist of, and misplaced fears that the experiment posed a risk to public health.

“Bad information can sow mistrust, and it can sow a misunderstanding of the facts that can lead folks to think that they are in danger of being harmed, and that’s the last thing we want,” he told reporters.

Those lies were so serious that we documented them and called for his resignation, see:

LaTourette not only lied to cover his ass, he has attacked his critics and community activists, who correctly had criticized LaTourette’s misguided and ideological statements about DEP climate adaptation regulations, see:

LaTourette also revealed his corporate finance and real estate background and Neoliberal economic ideology in recent media coverage of upcoming DEP climate adaptation and environmental justice regulations, see:

LaTourette also proved his willingness to shamelessly spin to defend the Governor and mislead the public, see:

We hope that LaTourette’s Acting Commissioner tenure will be short and that Gov. Murphy is in the process of conducting a national search for a true environmental leader to take the helm at DEP.

[End Note #1: LaTourette’s appointment was praised by Garden State Equality – again validating Fraser’s “Progressive Neoliberalism” paradigm.

Which reminds me that Paul Street has a good essay running over at CounterPunch laying out his 9 reasons why the left fails. In addition to his point on “ excessive identitarianism “, I thought this point of critique about silos was also very relevant to the LaTourette situation:

No Real Left

Eighth, the continuing and longtime absence of any sophisticated, powerful, and relevant, many-sided Left of significance in late Neoliberal America is a significant part of the tragic equation. No such movement would have met the rise of Trump and Trumpism-fascism with four years of avoidance, denial, passivity, and diversion. There are many factors in play behind this pathetic portside weakness but two that have struck this writer and activist as particularly relevant alongside excessive localism and excessive identitarianism in the last four years are (i) the crippling holds of sectarianism (an almost pathological refusal to reach across tribal-ideological and organizational lines to form a united anti-fascist front) and (ii) single-issue silo politics whereby group A cares about the climate, group B cares about reproductive rights, group C cares about a higher minimum wages, group D cares about teachers’ working conditions and so on.

Someone’s gotta call out this bullshit.

[End Note #2 – Here’s the OPRA request to DEP I just filed – please file one yourself!

I request copies of the: 1) ethics disclosure forms, 2) ethics officer review guidance to LaTourette, and 3) recusals filed by Shawn LaTourette.

I request the initial disclosure, guidance, and recusals filed in 2018 and the updated disclosures, guidance, and recusals filed upon his appointment b y Gov. Murphy as Acting Commissioner on 1/16/21

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NJ Audubon Must Sever Ties With Trump And Refund Trump’s Financial Contributions

January 14th, 2021 No comments

The Conservation Community Should Have Zero Tolerance For A Racist, Fascist, Impeached Insurrectionist 

Screen-Shot-2017-03-23-at-1.21.58-PM

[Update #1 – 1/16/21 – Henry Giroux agrees and makes very similar arguments. ~~~ end update]

[Update #2 – 1/18/21 – We call on NJ Attorney General to investigate Trump’s tax avoidance and conservation fraud at Bedminster NJ golf course. The Hill reports:

People familiar with the investigation told CNN that the Trump Organization had also been subpoenaed for information on the property, including tax deductions the company took after donating a portion of the land to a public trust for conservation. …

By making a land donation for conservation, a property is able to take a tax deduction based on the value of the property. Vance’s investigation is looking into whether the value was inflated on the property to get a more beneficial tax deduction. ~~~ end update]

In the wake of Trump’s insurrection and impeachment, at this point, even corporate America is aggressively and swiftly moving to sever all ties with Donald Trump, see:

That sentiment is shared by NY City – the NY Times reported:

Yesterday, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to take it a step further. He said that the city would terminate its contracts with Mr. Trump and his company because the president had incited violence at the Capitol.

“The contracts make it very clear if a company or the leadership of that company is engaged in criminal activity, we have the right to sever the contract,” Mr. de Blasio said on MSNBC. “Inciting an insurrection against the United States government clearly constitutes criminal activity.”

Even the Professional Golf Association gets it and has terminated the 2022 PGA tournament event at Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster NJ :

Yet, few people are aware of the fact that Donald Trump had a “partnership” with NJ Audubon Society at that same Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, see:

Check out how NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles praised Trump – it’s disgusting

“Trump National is demonstrating an outstanding commitment to sustaining native wildlife populations.” said Eric Stiles, President for New Jersey Audubon. “They are solidifying a symbiotic relationship with the surrounding community to foster environmental awareness and a conservation ethic while enhancing wildlife and natural systems in New Jersey.”We assume that the NJ Audubon Trump Partnership is a contract that also can be severed.

But that’s not all.

Trump has been a long time major financial contributor to NJ Audubon.

Based on NJ Audubon’s Annual Reports, Trump has donated “more than $1,000″ since 2015, as follows:

We do not know how much “over $1,000″ Trump donated or for how many years that these donations were made. The total contributions could the huge.

A previous report by The NY Times regarding Trump’s tax evasion did mention that Trump claimed huge tax benefits from “conservation easements” and his so called “conservation” work at the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, during the same timeframe he was working in partnership with NJ Audubon:

Tax records do not have the specificity to evaluate the legitimacy of every business expense Mr. Trump claims to reduce his taxable income — for instance, without any explanation in his returns, the general and administrative expenses at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey increased fivefold from 2016 to 2017.

Trump has also evading local property taxes at the golf course:

President Donald Trump is able to pay tens of thousands of dollars less in property taxes on his New Jersey golf courses because of a goat herd, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Is that an example of the “symbiotic” relationship Mr. Stiles of NJA referred to? It sounds like parasitism to me.

We call on NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles to immediately issue a public statement that severs all ties with Trump, including the following:

1) terminates the Trump Partnership;

2) discloses all Trump financial contributions to NJ Audubon, including any conservation easements and tax related benefits Trump generated via NJ Audubon work;

3) refunds all Trump financial contributions; and

4) apologizes to the public for supporting Trump

NJ media must hold NJ Audubon accountable and report on this issue.

We also call on all NJ conservation and environmental groups to shame NJ Audubon & refuse to work with them until they fully disclose, terminate, refund, and apologize for Trump partnerships.

We call on all Foundations that contribute to Trump to stop all financial support until this happens.

We call on the members on NJ Audubon to call CEO Eric Stiles TODAY and make that demand and if he refuses to resign.

Do it NOW!

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Burn, Baby, Burn!

January 9th, 2021 No comments

Another Example Of Failure To Adopt Real Climate Regulations

The NJ Forest Fire Service, the foresters (loggers) at the DEP Division of Parks and Forestry, and the Pinelands Commission repeatedly warn the public about the high risks of wildfires, especially in Pinelands forests.

As I’ve written, instead of using those risks as a basis to limit destruction of forests and development in forest fire hazard zones, perversely, those risks often are exaggerated and used as a pretext for logging NJ’s vanishing forests, particularly in north jersey’s hardwood forests, see:

So, what’s up with this?

More insanity: (Source: Pinelands Commission Management Report – December 2020)

  • Lighthouse at Barnegat (App. No. 1985-1432.010): On December 10, 2020, the staff issued a letter scheduling a public hearing for a preliminary and final major site plan approval granted by the Barnegat Township Planning Board on for the proposed development of two three-story buildings, containing 148 dwelling units. The proposed development is located within a Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) designated high forest fire hazard area. The Township land use ordinance and the CMP require that all residential development of 100 dwelling units or more in high fire hazard areas provide a 200 foot perimeter fuel break between all buildings and the forest. The concerned development proposes a forest fire fuel break consisting of a lawn area, ranging from approximately 42 to 67 feet. The Township approval granted a waiver for the reduction of the required perimeter forest fire fuel break from 200 feet to 42 feet.

I don’t know what’s crazier: building 148 new homes in a “high forest fire hazard area” or the Pinelands regulations that mandate a 200 foot  perimeter forest fire fuel break.

Both result in needless destruction of the forest. Both worsen the climate crisis.

We are in a climate emergency – there should be a moratorium on any new development or activity that destroys forests. Period.

Had the Pinelands Commission adopted real climate regulations instead of engaged in denial and delay, these kinds of insane projects would not be allowed.

Please go to the public hearing and give the Pinelands Commission hell for me, will you?

[End note: ironically, the climate land use bill now on Gov. Murphy’s desk fails to include wildfire risk!]

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Lame Climate Adaptation Land Use Bill Now On Gov. Murphy’s Desk

January 9th, 2021 No comments

Bill Purported to Address Climate Vulnerability Has No Teeth

We are in a climate emergency – these cynical toothless stunts must stop

In recent years, our politics has tended toward incremental proposals made up of small policies designed to avoid offending special interests, alternating with occasional baby steps in the right direction. Our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when these crises require boldness. ~~~ Al Gore (7/20/08), quoted here.

On December 17, 2020, the Assembly quietly passed a bill (A2745/S2607[1R]) to amend the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) to respond to risks of climate change. The Senate version was passed back in October, so the bill is now on Gov. Murphy’s desk for his consideration.

We urge the Gov. to veto the bill outright – or at least conditionally veto the bill and send it back to the legislature and direct them to put teeth in the bill or abandon the effort in favor of upcoming statewide DEP Climate PACT regulations (despite the fact that those rules will need to be considerably strengthened).

As we explain briefly below, the bill has no teeth, ignores important issues, and could undermine or create conflicts with DEP’s upcoming statewide climate PACT land use regulations and Coastal Management Plan.

The bill would require that:

the land use plan element of a municipal master plan include a climate change-related hazard vulnerability assessment. The assessment would: (1) analyze current and future threats to, and vulnerabilities of, the municipality associated with climate change-related natural hazards; (2) include a build-out analysis of future residential, commercial, industrial, and other development in the municipality, and an assessment of the threats and vulnerabilities identified in (1) above related to that development; (3) identify critical facilities, utilities, roadways, and other infrastructure that is necessary for evacuation purposes and for sustaining quality of life during a natural disaster, to be maintained at all times in an operational state; (4) analyze the potential impact of natural hazards on relevant components and elements of the master plan; (5) provide strategies and design standards that may be implemented to reduce or avoid risks associated with natural hazards; (6) include a specific policy statement on the consistency, coordination, and integration of the climate-change related hazard vulnerability assessment with certain other plans adopted by the municipality; and (7) rely on the most recent natural hazard projections and best available science provided by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The bill would apply to any land use plan element adopted after the date the bill is enacted into law.

We urge Gov. Murphy to conditionally veto the bill for the following reasons:

1) Climate adaptation is a State responsibility – the bill inappropriately shifts that burden to local government

The concept of local “home rule” in NJ land use is widely misunderstood.

The NJ Constitution vests police power, the foundation of land use law, with State government. The legislature may delegate some of this power to local government and has done so via the Municipal Land Use Law. But the primary responsibility lies with State government. And anything the legislature has delegated to local government can be taken back by subsequent legislation.

Similarly, federal and counterpart NJ State laws governing the environment, land use planning, and infrastructure that relate to climate mitigation and adaptation – such as the Coastal Zone Management Act, CAFRA, State Plan, Flood Hazard Act, Wetlands Act, stormwater management, watershed planning, infrastructure finance and permitting, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, transportation, and energy, etc – vest exclusive or primary authority with State government, not local government.

DEP then controls via regulations what local governments are capable of doing – not NJ Legislators.

Gov. Murphy himself has acknowledged this State responsibility via several Executive Orders that address the various scientific and policy dimensions of climate change – both adaptation and emissions mitigation.

In recognition of this State responsibility, the BPU adopted the Energy Master Plan and the DEP is developing a regional coastal management plan and statewide climate related land use regulations under the PACT initiative.

Local government also lacks the scientific and technical capacity and financial resources to properly address climate adaption issues. The bill allows for DEP technical assistance, but this is just a band aid.

The proposed legislation is – at best – inconsistent with all this.

2) The bill is toothless and the only requirement to mitigate risks was deleted by Senate Committee amendment

The bill would not require local governments to do anything more than amend their local land use Master Plan.

In NJ, zoning ordinances are not required to be consistent with master plans. There is no, what is called “mandatory conformity” requirement.

So, for example, what that means is that lands that were highly vulnerable to climate impacts (flooding, storm surge, sea level risk, etc) that were identified in the local land use Master Plan could continue to be zoned for development. 

This makes no sense.

Even worse, he introduced version of the bill included a provision that would have mandated that local governments mitigate risks. The original bill would have required that local plans:

contain measures to mitigate reasonably anticipated natural hazards, including, but not limited to, coastal storms, shoreline erosion, flooding, storm surge, and wind, following best management practices recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency;

That provision was stripped by Senate Committee amendments adopted on July 30, 2020 (see the 1R version of the bill)

So, a weak bill was gutted entirely.

We are in a climate emergency – these cynical toothless stunts must stop.

3) The bill has the potential to conflict with or undermine upcoming DEP climate PACT land use regulations

If for no other reason, the Gov. should veto the bill as inconsistent with State policies.

4) The bill ignores important climate adaptation and renewable energy issues

The bill ignores the risks of wildfire. (see this post). 

The bill ignores the deadly risks of urban heat island effects and prolonged extreme heat waves. This conflicts with Gov. Murphy’s climate and environmental justice policy commitments. (*** Yes, the bill includes “temperature“, but urban heat island effects deserve their own specific provision, because they relate to non-temperature factors, including not only the physical human built landscape and ground and tree cover, but social, economic and health factors related to environmental justice communities. Local governments will avoid these controversies unless they are directed to consider them.).

There are many things local governments could be doing to address climate change that are ignored by the bill.

For example, towns could be required to modify zoning based on climate vulnerability.

Towns could be required to adopt building codes and other ordinances to promote energy efficiency, renewable energy, urban forestry, bicycles, public transit, ride share program, educate and help residents transition to zero carbon, etc.

The bill ignores all those things that are suitable to local government, while imposing toothless planning requirements that are poorly suited to local authority and the local role.

Veto the bill.

Time to get serious.

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