A Trenton Insider’s View
A Tale of Two Off Shore Seismic Reseach Projects
Much Easier to Look Tough By Suing NSF than Big Oil & Gas
a cloud of smoke created to conceal military operations.
a ruse designed to disguise someone’s real intentions or activities
“he tried to create a smokescreen by quibbling about the statistics”
Do you think there is a vast difference between a small scale, limited duration, National Science Foundation (NSF) study designed to provide climate change data to a prestigious University, versus a long term energy industry study of the entire Atlantic coast designed to promote off shore oil and gas development?
I tried to explain this in a prior post (see: Where is Gov. Christie on Obama Off Shore Drilling Plan?), but the feedback I’ve gotten on it suggests I failed completely (i.e. I unsuccessfully submitted it as an Op-Ed to NJ’s 3 largest papers that covered the story, and even coastal advocates are confused by what I’m driving at).
So let me now take another stab at it by comparing two off shore seismic research projects.
I am seriously baffled by this story, including such questions as:
1) How the Gov. can possibly be given a pass on it?; 2) How could the environmental groups have set the priorities and behaved the way they have?; 3) How have shore district Republicans – at a time when even NJ Congressional Democratic leaders like Senator Menendez and Congressman Pallone were blasting President Obama - managed to have kept silent and elevated their Christie loyalty above their Obama hatred; 4) do people really not know the difference between climate change research and oil and gas development? and 5) given all this, how could the press have ignored the story or provided false praise of the Governor?
A perfect example of exactly of how this is done may be found in this Bergen Record story, which included this observation:
Governor Christie has said he opposes drilling off the New Jersey coast, and has also expressed displeasure with the thought of oil rigs off Virginia or Delaware’s coast, just miles from Cape May.
I’m sure Cindy Zipf of COA, who is quoted in the story, conveniently spun and told Bergen Record reporter Jim O’Neill this deeply misleading historical “fact”. She did exactly the same thing on the off shore LNG issue.
Yes, that is technically true, Christie “has opposed” off shore drilling and “has expressed displeasure” (as in past tense), but Christie issued that statement back in March 2010 – before he was running for President.
So what is Christie’s position now? Do reporters lack phones to call Drewniak and ask?
Christie got away with the same dodge on off shore LNG and for the same reasons.
I don’t think any of this is an accident.
And, because the two different seismic issues emerged at the virtually same time, even I was confused by the media coverage, unable to distinguish the “Tale of Two Seismic Studies” – blinded by the Seismic Smokescreen.
What is each study about and who supports and opposes them?
I think the Gov. Christie has co-opted coastal groups – either effectively or actually via DEP $1 million grants or DEP supported federal grants (i.e. see this and this) – and made them loyal to the Gov. or of service by being actually on the Administration’s payroll – and that in return they are intentionally mounting a “Seismic Smokescreen”.
[Note: further evidence of this "Smokescreen" is the fact that, to cover their tracks, COA just updated their website to include the BOEM seismic testing, after ignoring that threat and focusing exclusively on NSF/NOAA research. Those are just historical facts COA can not deny or refute by posting a new website and taking the old incriminating posts down. Orwell's memory hole.]
I think the smokescreen is what explains the timing of their collective aggressive public campaign and litigation against one study and virtual silence on the other far more damaging one.
So if readers have a rational fact based explanation – other than the one I offer – by all means provide it openly in the comment section here or privately send me an email.
Although you may not know it and may have been confused about this by reading the press coverage or following the advocacy of coastal groups (i.e. what I call a “Seismic Smokescreen”), there are two seismic research studies planned for off the NJ coast.
They are very different. But they share some common elements.
Seismic studies used sound canons to blast tremendously loud sound waves under ocean waters – the echo back provides data regarding the subsurface geological conditions.
Those sonic blasts harm sea life, especially marine mammals. So, these kinds of studies are to be avoided.
Now let’s just very briefly summarize and compare and contrast these two seismic studies, based on rational evaluation criteria, in terms of their comparative : 1) research objectives 2) geographic scope 3) temporal duration, 4) adverse impacts 5) likely future application, and 6) the sponsors of the research, in terms of who is conducting and will likely benefit from the research and their scientific integrity.
Lets also look at the opposition these studies have generated in terms of 1) political opposition from coastal groups (i.e COA) and government officials, 2) litigation, and 3) media coverage
Let’s call these two studies A and B.
Our null hypothesis is that the expected outcome is that the most harmful study will generate the most coastal group opposition, litigation challenges, and negative media coverage.
We will compare this null hypothetical expected outcome with the actual outcome, and try to explain the deviation between expected and observed outcomes. That’s the scientific method we learned. Test the null hypothesis. Compare expected versus observed outcomes.
So lets look at Study A first.
According to the Federal Register, Study A is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and conducted by NOAA, Columbia, and Rutgers University. It is designed to provide data regarding climate change.:
The purpose of the survey is to collect and analyze data on the arrangement of sediments deposited during times of changing global sea level from roughly 60 million years ago to present.
The findings of Study A would lead to a greater understanding of the issue of climate change. It is limited in scope to a small segment off the NJ shore and would be conducted for at most a few weeks.
Pursuant to this selection, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will consider permit applications for oil & gas geological and geophysical activities throughout the Mid Atlantic and South Atlantic planning areas.
In addition to being intended to promote oil and gas exploitation, Study B by BOEM would be designed by, conducted by, and benefit the oil, gas, and mineral corporate interests.
While the scope of Study A is limited to a small segment off the NJ shore and of very short duration, but stuffy B is huge, not limited in time, and would encompass virtually the entree Atlantic Coast:
These Planning Areas extend from the Delaware Bay to just south of Cape Canaveral and from the inner edge of Federal waters along that coastline to 403 miles offshore.
The results of Study B would be concocted by the oil & gas industry, benefit them, and likely lead to off shore oil and gas drilling.
So, given the vast differences in Study A versus Studty B and their vastly different impacts and likely future outcomes, we now ask the obvious question:
Do you think there is a vast difference between a small scale, limited duration, study designed to provide climate change data to a prestigious University, versus a long term oil industry study of the entire Atlantic coast to promote off shore oil and gas development?
Which study received more coastal group opposition, litigation, criticism by public officials, and media coverage.
And the Answer is:
NOAA Study A was opposed strongly by a huge public campaign waged by COA . Governor Christie’s DEP filed litigation to block A, and immediately filed an appeal when the Court rejected that challenge. The media has extensively covered Study
As a result, the media and the public think Gov. Christie is opposed to off shore seismic testing.
But what about BOEM off shore Study B to promote energy development? Not so much.
What explains the difference between expected and observed outcomes?
Hw could coastal groups out so much emphasis into A while ignoring B?
Why is Gov. Christie suing to block A but silent on B?
See my prior post for links to the reactions.
So can can anyone else explain this as anything other than a smokescreen, intentionally designed too confuse the media and the public about Governor Christie’s position on off shore seismic testing?
How does tis NOT meet the classic definition of “smokescreen?
[Update - Gov. Christie is not the only one to play these political games. Yes, he used his Attack on the NOAA seismic study to divert the media from the tougher issue of off shore oil drilling, manipulate support from his coastal friends at COA, and look good while doing it.
Obama played a similar cynical game by announcing off shore wind leasing, hoping that would divert media and win environmental group praise, just before his friday afternoon press dump announcing the off shore oil drilling seismic initiative by BOEM.
I condemn both politicians and criticize the, at best, unwitting dupes in the environmental community who enable this cynical crap and the media stenographers who know better. - end update]
Open Letter to AG Offers Lengthy List of Targets for Investigation & Prosecution
The screaming headline of the Star Ledger’s above the fold page one story today – head shot/mug shots and all – jolted me from my rainy Saturday morning coffee complacency and sent me scrambling to my keyboard just now to pound out this open letter of praise and congratulations to Gov. Christie’s Acting Attorney General John Hoffman see:
All I can say, after almost 30 years of work as a “professional watchdog” and whistleblower is - Wow!
In one fell swoop, our Acting AG has done the following: (and follow each discrete element of the prosecution, because we will apply them later on in this post):
1) broken up a “conspiracy“; 2) to mislead the public; 3) about the “safety of our drinking water” and 4) advocated for “professional environmental watchdogs” in government agencies to expose the “cover up” of ”significant contamination issues”; 5) intended to “avoid building an expensive water purification plant” to “remove the chemical from the water”.
The Star Ledger’s cracker jack reporting tells us:
“Mowell should have used his expertise to act as an environmental watchdog, protecting the water supply and alerting the DEP and the public of problems,” Elie Honig, director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, said in a statement. “However, he chose to use his knowledge and skills to cover up a significant contamination issue.” [...]
Investigators alleged Mowell and Mansmann took the actions to avoid building an expensive water purification plant that would remove the chemical from the water.
Although the Attorney General’s Office found the coverup of “a significant contamination issue” regarding a known human carcinogen, the DEP downplayed the health risks:
Exposure to the chemical, used for dry cleaning and other purposes, over a prolonged period of time is a potential cancer risk, according to the federal health department. But state Department of Environmental Protection officials said their own testing showed residents were not at risk and the water was safe.
What? Residents not at risk? Really?
That is very strange, because a prior June 14, 2014 Star Ledger story reported:
The DEP’s latest water investigation showed that several of the 18 artesian wells in eastern Morris and western Essex counties still show high levels of volatile organic compounds, inorganics, radon and disinfection by-products
How can DEP sampling documentation of “high levels of volatile organic compounds, inorganics, radon and disinfection by-products” in June be called ‘safe” in July?
Perhaps the Star Ledger could resolve the apparent contradiction in a followup story and maybe AG needs to look into DEP for the same abuses he prosecuted this case on.
Coincidentally, further suggesting a look at DEP, yesterday the Bergen Record reported very similar drinking water contamination in Montclair, which also was called “safe” by DEP:
Despite serious-sounding warnings on state and federal websites about the potential harm of PCE exposure, Montclair residents shouldn’t be concerned, according to Karen Fell, assistant director of water supply operations at the DEP. [...]
“It’s not any kind of violation,” Fell assured The Times.
I am so tremendously pleased that the criminal law enforcement resources of the Christie Administration are looking out for our drinking water, because the policy, regulatory, and administrative enforcement sides of the administration responsible for protecting our drinking water are in complete abdication mode.
So, to congratulate and make our new “watchdog” Acting Attorney General aware of multiple investigatory targets to followup on, I fired off the below open letter:
Dear Acting Attorney General Hoffman:
As an environmental professional and watchdog , most recently of the Christie Administration, with a longtime focus on DEP, I am writing to thank you for prosecuting the East Orange drinking water conspiracy and to suggest other targets for investigation.
I write in light of the standards you upheld in that prosecution, as reported in today’s Star Ledger story, particularly a conspiracy to mislead the public about the safety of our drinking water and your advocacy for professional environmental watchdogs in government agencies to expose the cover up of significant contamination issues intended to avoid building an expensive water purification plant to remove the chemical from the water.
With those standards in mind, may I suggest that you focus your investigatory resources on the following similar potentially wrongful conduct:
- I) Public deception about risks
I call your attention to the serious environmental, public health, and public safety risks of:
- the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant, revealed by the case of Dennis Zannoni, NJ DEP’s former Chief Nuclear Engineer, and the conspiracy of harassment and retaliation for disclosure of those risks (see this).
- toxic heavy metal chromium, revealed by the case of Zoe Kelman, former NJ DEP Chemical Engineer, and the conspiracy of harassment and retaliation for disclosure of those risks (see this and this).
- hundreds of chemicals known by DEP to be present in NJ’s drinking water, and the failure of government officials to disclose to the public and act on those risks (see this).
- the concerted effort by DEP Commissioner Bob Martin to block the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute from meeting for almost 4 years, from recommending drinking water maximum contaminant levels” (MCL’s) for dozens of chemicals, and the failure by DEP to adopt the recommendations of the DWQI scientists to adopt MCL’s (see this and this)
- misleading the public about and failure to adopt an MCL for perchlorate (see this and this and this)
- inadequate regulation and regulatory oversight of railroad safety, particular toxic train derailments (see this)
- inadequate regulation and regulatory oversight of facilities that manufacture or store “extraordinarily hazardous substances” (see this)
- inadequate regulation of emissions of greenhouse gases, which will lead to catastrophic climate change (see this)
- the suppression of science documenting the impending ecological collapse of Barnegat Bay (see this)
- the role of the Dupont corporation in the privatization of DEP science and burgeoning conflicts of interest at DEP (see this and this)
- the Fenimore landfill scheme (see this)
- the Pinelands pipeline (see this)
- the failure to prepare for major coastal storms (see this)
- the role of private consultants in weakening of vapor intrusion standards (see this)
- the failure to update flood maps to fully disclose and regulate known flood risks (see this)
- the role of private consultants in providing false and misleading information to residence regarding evacuation after the Paulsboro toxic train derailment (see this)
- the coverup of cumulative risks of hazardous air pollutants in Paterson (see this)
- the failure to seek listing of 35 toxic sites that qualify for Superfund based on risk (see this)
- the role of Dupont and DEP failure to regulate and remediate toxic mercury in Pompton Lakes (see this)
- corporate conflicts of interest on the DEP management team (see this)
- pay to play abuses in DEP industry regulatory stakeholder groups (see this)
- the DEP’s plan to “protect” water supply intakes on NJ rivers by weakening water quality standards (see this)
- Gov. Christie’s political appointments to the Highlands Council (see this)
- II) Elevating costs above public health protection
Your prosecution accused the drinking water officials of seeking ”to avoid building an expensive water purification plant that would remove the chemical from the water.”
As you know, consideration of costs in setting drinking water standards pursuant to NJ’s Safe Drinking Water Act is not legally authorized.
Yet the practice is widespread and even documented in official State policy.
Specifically, I urge your investigation of DEP and the Drinking Water Quality Institute to begin with Governor Christie’s Executive Order #2, which, among other things, directs DEP to provide “regulatory relief”, hold off the record meetings with regulated industry, and to conduct “cost benefit analysis”.
- III) Role of professional watchdogs in government agencies
We applaud your efforts to promote professionalism and whistle blowing.
See the above point #I regarding specific examples of DEP whistleblowers and retaliation by DEP managers.
As a former whistleblower myself, I can personally testify to institutional corruption at DEP with respect to suppression of science, failure to disclose risk, and retaliation against professional whistleblowers who do.
If you interview your own Deputy Attorney General George Schlosser, he can confirm that as a witness to this egregious abuse, using NJ State Police
I urge your investigation to examine DEP Commissioner Martin’s transformation and “burning platform” management initiatives for DEP professionals to abandon what you refer to as a professional “watchdog role” and provide “customer service” (see this).
- IV) Operating practices that deceptively increase risks
The water utility involved in your prosecution “blended” various source water supply wells.
The practice of “blending” is a common and statewide abuse to circumvent regulatory MCL’s that undermines public health.
DEP looks the other way or actually encourages this abusive practice.
In closing, I look forward to your timely investigation of the foregoing and am able to provide additional information upon request.
DEP Abused Regulatory Procedure To Shield The Governor From Criticism
Re-adoption of Coastal Rules Without Change Before Election – Massive Rewrite After Election
Cynical Bait & Switch Undermines Democratic Accountability
Some of the most controversial economic, public policy, and political issues NJ has ever faced were raised by Superstorm Sandy – particularly issues surrounding how the Christie Administration prepared for Sandy and sought to rebuild the shore, especially in light of the need to adapt to climate change.
So, obviously, the Governor’s coastal redevelopment policies should have been a focal point of press coverage and public debate during the 2013 Gubernatorial campaign.
In fact, public opinion polls showed that Governor Christie benefitted from a huge increase in favorable opinion as a result of how he responded to Sandy’s devastation, see:
The last thing Gov. Christie wanted during the run-up to the election was critical media coverage like this:
So, he took steps to avoid that.
Follow this to understand how DEP grossly abused their power to do this. Telling this story requires that I delve into the regulatory weeds on the chronology - what DEP did before and after the election on the same rule – and lay out the basic theory of government to illustrate why that was such a gross abuse. So bear with us as we try to do so.
On June 2, 2014, Governor Christie’s DEP proposed a massive 1,000+ page re-write of 40 years of coastal land use and natural resource protection policy.
That controversial proposal has generated significant criticism of the Governor, primarily for DEP’s failure to consider climate change, sea level rise, and the lessons learned from Sandy. (see
Instead of reforms designed to adapt to the huge challenges of coastal sea level rise and reduce risks to life and property, the Christie proposal would invite even more development to NJ’s highly vulnerable coast.
While the current DEP proposal is generating huge controversy, virtually no one knows that less than a year before the DEP published the current massive re-write – just months before the November election – on July 1. 2013 DEP quietly posted a notice of re-adoption of the rule, without change.
The DEP readopted the coastal rules – without change – for another 7 year period.
Yet less than 1 year later, the DEP totally rewrote the same rule!
That stealth move by DEP in July 2013 – basically hiding the Governor’s coastal development policy – kept critical coastal development policy issues below the radar and shielded the Governor from the intense criticism he is getting right now.
The DEP’s quiet 2013 pre-election re-adoption of the coastal rule with no change was followed less that a year later with a post election re-write.
That is an incredible abuse that violates fundamental principles of administrative law and Constitutional separation of powers.
Under our Constitutional scheme, the Legislature sets policy through laws. The Executive implements that policy.
The public is supposed to have a voice in policy, and that voice is expressed in both elections and during the various government processes that set policy.
Legislators enact laws in open sessions and they are accountable to the voters for the laws they pass. That’s how representative democracy works.
That is, at least in theory, what the “separation of powers” is about.
But, in actual practice, legislative and executive powers are not separate, but are blended or shared powers.
The laws Legislators pass delegate power to Executive Branch officials to “fill in the details” required to implement and administer the laws consistent with the policy set by the legislature. These “details” are filled in in regulations.
Regulations have the force and effect of law.
But regulations are written by unelected Executive Branch officials who are not accountable to the voters.
Because regulations blend Executive and Legislative branch powers, they must be adopted by procedures that provide transparency, accountability, and due process.
These procedures include giving the public an opportunity to review and comment on proposed regulations, including at least one public hearing.
These procedures are the means for holding the Executive Brach agencies who write the rules accountable to the public, to the legislature who passed the law, and to the laws that authorize the regulations (which provides a factual record that enables the Judicial branch to hold the Executive Branch accountable to law).
Regulators are often criticized as “unelected bureaucrats” for effectively usurping the powers of the Legislature via undemocratic and unaccountable regulatory means.
That is why the regulators must follow laws that require that their regulations be subject to public review.
In July of 2013, the Christie DEP – if quietly – told the public that there would be no change in coastal policy for at least 7 years. That was the policy record theoretically available to voters going into the election.
But shortly after the election, Christie announced a massive and controversial re-write of coastal policy to promote even more development at the shore, while ignoring climate change.
The cynical Christie DEP played political games and grossly abused our entire Constitutional scheme of government.
And that is shameful.
[PS - if we had a functional legislature, media, or even a professional Bar Assc., this kind of abuse would be a big deal and sternly criticized. But sady, we don't.]
After DEP Lawsuit to Block NOAA Sonic Research, Christie Administration Silent on Obama Plan
Is Christie Protecting the NJ Shore?
Or Preserving His Access To Oil & Gas Industry Presidential Campaign Cash?
It’s been a week now since we’ve been bombarded by headlines like this:
So where is Governor Christie?
Where are the coastal protection groups and shore legislators demanding that Gov. Christie step up and fight the Obama plan?
Where’s the bi-partisan letter from former Gov.’s Kean, Whitman, Byrne, Florio, & McGreevey about how bad an idea the Obama fossil plan is for the NJ shore – and the carbon constrained future of our increasingly warming planet?
Given all the Gov.’s shore promotional events, why isn’t the press hounding him for his position?
Where is the high profile press conference at the shore, with a defiant Gov. Christie standing with coastal groups and drawing a line in the sand, now that he finally has his fight with the Obama Administration on an environmental issue, a fight he welcomed during the 2009 Gubernatorial campaign (watch You Tube video of that), where the Christie candidate famously laid down the gauntlet:
I’ve got a feeling that you will see a lot of battles between the Christie Administration DEP and the Obama EPA.
Back on March 31, 2010, before he was running for President, Gov. Christie issued a statement opposing the Obama plan:
“I oppose the idea of drilling off the coast of New Jersey,” Governor Christie said, noting that the President’s proposal thus far includes areas off Virginia and the northern tip of Delaware near Cape May in the Delaware Bay. “New Jersey’s coastline is one of our economic engines and I would have to be really convinced of both the economic viability and environmental safety of oil and gas exploration off our coast. At this point, I’m not convinced of either.’
Has he been convinced since then?
Energy industry money to fuel a run for President can be very convincing.
Gov. Christie’s current silence on the Obama plan is especially stunning, given how aggressively his DEP opposed a far less significant climate change research proposal by NOAA & Rutgers using similar seismic technology.
His DEP issued press releases and the Attorney General filed a lawsuit to block that:
The Christie Administration is taking legal action to halt a federally approved seismic ocean survey that is scheduled to start this month off the New Jersey coast, and which could adversely impact the state’s vital tourism and fishing industries, and marine life, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin announced today. [...]
“We must carefully safeguard those resources, which play such a key role in our state’s $40 billion tourism industry, for the benefit of our residents, businesses and the environment,’’ Commissioner Martin said. “The Christie Administration continues to focus on clean ocean water quality, protecting our coastline and working to enhance our coastal recreation and fishing industries.”
When DEP summarily lost that legal challenge, in an unusual move, as soon as the decision came down the DEP immediately announced that the State would appeal: (DEP press release)
TRENTON – The Christie Administration will appeal today’s U.S. District Court ruling that allows seismic testing by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to move forward despite concerns raised by the State that the survey could adversely impact New Jersey’s vital tourism and fishing industries, and harm fish and marine mammals, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bob Martin said today.
“This ruling is very disappointing to the Administration, and could have a negative impact on the ocean and its wildlife,” Commissioner Martin said. “The DEP believes this research, which would use loud, powerful sound blasts to map the ocean floor, will likely have a detrimental effect on New Jersey’s fisheries and marine mammals. We must take no chances when it comes to protecting our ocean resources, our commercial and recreational fishing, and our state’s $40 billion tourism economy. A healthy ocean is vital to our residents, our visitors, and our businesses.”
I was amazed at all the attention and opposition the NOAA/Rutgers research project got, while there was virtual silence on the far more damaging Obama BOEM sonic survey work to support off shore oil and gas development.
In addition to the DEP lawsuit, Christie Administration friendly NJ coastal advocacy groups mounted a huge campaign.
Yet, they both did NOTHING publicly to try to stop the Obama BOEM off shore oil & gas drilling work.
So, where is Gov. Christie now?
Does he oppose Obama off shore drilling?
Or is he running for President on oil & gas industry money?
We think we know the answer – and its the same for off shore LNG.
[End Note: Jim O’Neill’s Record story let Christie off the hook – see:
Governor Christie has said he opposes drilling off the New Jersey coast, and has also expressed displeasure with the thought of oil rigs off Virginia or Delaware’s coast, just miles from Cape May.
Yes, I’m sure Cindy Zipf told O’Neill that Christie “has said” that – but, as I note above, a long time ago and before he was running for President. Cindy played the same game of cover on off shore LNG, citing Christie’s prior veto.
What does he say NOW?