People’s Climate March – Some Scenes

September 22nd, 2014 No comments
this is one of my favorite shots - the juxtaposition of science and religion is superb depiction of one of the roots of the problem - too many people are listening to their preacher, not their science teachers. There are too few science teachers and far too many wildly irresponsible fundamentalist anti-science preachers

the juxtaposition of science and religion depicts one of the roots of the problem – too many people are listening to their preacher, not their science teachers. There are too few science teachers and far too many wildly irresponsible fundamentalist anti-science preachers

Went to The People’s Climate March yesterday, so thought I’d post some photos, provided below this brief note.

I should be at the Flood Wall Street direct action going on right now as I write this, but, frankly, I’m too exhausted (and broke) to make it. Maybe tomorrow at the Occupy the UN.

On the train ride, I met a wonderful, obviously wealthy, corporate (re-insurance Exec) and cosmopolitan dual citizen German couple currently living in Princeton. Despite our cultural & class differences, we had a lively conversation the whole way. I learned things and found we shared similar views, from the political power and influence of the Green Party in Germany and  German solar and recycling programs, to the fact that US is so insular and so far behind in various cultural, political, land use, transportation, environmental and technological curves on many issues – an outright backward nation in many respects.

(* eg, the woman was not at all reluctant to talk engagingly with a strange man about politics, ideology, race, class, the role of government etc – a conversation you could virtually never have with a US citizen, and probably not a US academic and certainly not a US policy maker or journalist. And almost impossible with an attractive woman with her husband sitting next to her).

Before going to the march, I was disappointed by how it was organized – on top of the flaws Chris Hedges has written about, e.g. no demands, avoidance of the UN, etc,  after attending the march, I must ask:

Did organizers fail to get a permit for an event in Central Park, from a so called progressive Mayor?

Why was a Park location not made a litmus test for the Mayor’s progressive bona fides? If permits were sought for the Park and denied, why was there no very public legal fight over this?

Admittedly, I did not follow these issues – but did I miss all that?

A Park event seems much better than a march, especially one with no terminus (11th ave & 38th street??). A march should end in a specific place and there should be some organizing activity, e.g “March On (insert place) FOR (insert goal/message)….”

I certainly am no organizer or event planner, but it seems that people attending an event in an unstructured  large space have freedom to enter the space from multiple points, greatly easing congestion in access and egress. People don’t fragment into their organizational silos – they intermingle and are visually and spatially unified, promoting a common message and shared objective.

In contrast, the march tended to fragment each group and undermine the central organizing objective of the march: which was to build a coalition amongst many very different groups working on the various aspects of the climate crisis.

The march was highly structured and controlled by police security barricades – those barricades caused huge congestion on sidewalks and forced folks in the march to stand in place with no movement for significant periods of time.

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I began from the starting point and walked north against the direction of the march to get a sense of the size and photos of the groups assembled.  At points it was impossible to move at all – thousands of people were jammed and many were forced to walk west a block over from the parade route.  Entrance points from the west were all jammed, almost all the way to 83rd street.

bus for progressI finally made it to the end of the line at 83rd Street 2:20 pm – 3 hours to go 25 blocks! Where I met the Bus For Progress:

Along the way, I had many conversations with protesters and event organizers, but one with a NYC cop sticks in my mind.

I observed that the cops seemed laid back in dealing with such a huge crowd, a very different posture than how they responded to Occupy Wall Street. I told him that if Occupy turned out that many people, then cops could not have abused them the way they did, especially the white shirts (supervisors).

His reply to the white shirt abuse (“they don’t get out that often”) was funny, but his response to the relaxed level of security was disturbing:

“We have good intel on the groups participating in this march – they are non-violent.”

Obviously, cops must do some analysis in planning security for such a huge event, but to hear that described as “intel” suggests that “intelligence” is somehow formalized, e.g. infiltration, monitoring, or spying on political groups.

My guess is that their response to the Flood Wall Street event will be very different.

pcm30Yes, the march was completely peaceful and marchers were extremely compliant with police controls – even stopping at intersections immediately at police commands to let traffic flow.

Sorry kids, you can’t stop climate change if you won’t stop traffic and disobey police orders.

This is what its gonna take (quote in its entirety):

We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the regents in his telephone conversation, why didn’t he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received, from a well-meaning liberal, was the following: He said, ‘Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his board of directors?’ That’s the answer!

Well, I ask you to consider: If this is a firm, and if the board of regents are the board of directors; and if President Kerr in fact is the manager; then I’ll tell you something. The faculty are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw materials that don’t mean to be—have any process upon us. Don’t mean to be made into any product. Don’t mean… Don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! (watch it on YouTube)

But we didn’t get any of that:

 According to inside sources a push early on for a Seattle-style event—organizing thousands of people to nonviolently shut down the area around the United Nations—was thwarted by paid staff with the organizing groups.

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Christie Contradictions Could Doom Open Space Ballot Vote

September 18th, 2014 No comments

If voters figure out this scam, they might not be so supportive of open space funding until more cost effective land use planning and regulatory tools were beefed up. 

[update below]

NJ Spotlight has a story today on the PR campaign kickoff by open space advocates in support of the November ballot question, see:

I thought I might put a little context and critique on the table, while exploring some stunning contradictions in the arguments of open space advocates.

A commenter on the Spotlight story was quick to note a glaring contradiction and the hypocrisy of diverting clean water money to open space, and then justifying the open space money on the protection of clean water:

“If approved, the fund would provide approximately $30 million annually to programs to improve water quality, remove underground storage tanks before they leak, and clean up polluted sites.

They really should say, if passed this bill would be taking $48 million away from these programs. And how hypocritical that the people who imposed the nitrate dilution model of 24 acres to build a house in the highlands – in the name of clean water – are now taking money away from water quality programs.

So, in support of that comment, I responded with this series of comments, which I post here:

What is amazing is that we are spending taxpayer dollars to preserve land when:

1) local governments zone virtually all land for development, which vastly increases the market value of that land; 

2) The Christie administration has abandoned the State Land Use Plan in favor of a corporate economic development plan that promotes development everywhere;

3) the Christie administration is seeking to promote development and weaken regional land use restrictions imposed by the Highlands Council & Pinelands Commission;

4) The Christie Administration is promoting development in hazardous shore and flood prone locations and weakening existing DEP coastal protections -

This includes spending hundreds of millions of federal Sandy relief money on “Rebuild Madness” to re-create the same land use development pattern that got wiped out and will be even more vulnerable given climate change and sea level rise;

5) The Christie administration is weakening the enforcement and implementation of State land use regulations at DEP, including wetlands, flood hazard, and stream buffer protection programs;

6) The Christie Administration is using every state policy tool available to promote development everywhere, including massive multi-billion dollar corporate subsidies.

7) The Legislature has looked the other way and ignored all this or affirmatively supported it.

Given all these systematic efforts to develop land, subsidize development of land, and weaken planning and regulatory protections of land, why on earth are we spending taxpayer money to preserve land????

oops, I left out items #8 & #9 (and there are more, I’m sure):

8) The Christie Administration revoked prior restrictions on extending new sewers into environmentally sensitive lands in order to promote development there;

9) The Christie DEP is suppressing science and evading Clean Water Act TMDL pollution cleanup requirements in Barnegat Bay watershed to allow more development to occur there.

*10) The Christie DEP has failed to honor the Gov.’s 2009 campaign pledge to upgrade water quality and buffer protections protections on “Category 1″ (C1) exceptional waters, despite recommendations by DEP scientists. C1 designations reduce development potential.

And the Keep It Green Coalition has done nothing to criticize the Governor for any of this.

All they want is the money.

Thank you g iannitelli for noting the contradiction and hypocrisy of diversion of clean water money to open space, and then justifying the open space money on the protection of clean water.

Besides, do those Highlands advocates ever mention that huge quantities of sewage discharge are pumped to Highlands reservoirs? See:

Do you think NY DEC would allow sewage to be pumped IN TO pristine Catskill reservoirs?

How much pollution load is that, compared with the reductions associated with development restrictions under the Highlands Act?

And if pumped polluted river water is such a significant pollution load, and if Highlands Advocates care about clean water, why aren’t they criticizing the Christie DEP’s plans to weaken protections for the water quality in the rivers that are pumped to Highlands reservoirs?

Answer: Because they are not only hypocrites, they are craved cowards and incompetent to boot.

If voters figure out this scam, they might not be so supportive of open space funding until more cost effective land use planning and regulatory tools were beefed up.

Be glad to provide links and documentation to support all of the above claims.

Just submit a comment on this post or drop me an email.

* Updated addition to original list

[update 9/22/14 - and here’s another huge problem – Christie is allowing gas pipelines to be build through “protected” open space, NJ Spotlight reports:

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“Coast In a Vice” & “Ghost Trees”: Retreat Is the Only Option

September 17th, 2014 No comments
"Ghost Trees - evidence of sea level rise and storm surge impacts Jake’s Landing, Dennis Township, Cape May" - Source Rutgers CRSSA, Lathrop.

“Ghost Trees – evidence of sea level rise and storm surge impacts Jake’s Landing, Dennis Township, Cape May” – Source Rutgers CRSSA, Lathrop.

The Christie DEP says Barnegat Bay entering the Age of Aquarium?

“Barnegat Bay stressors are not just pollution,” said Thomas Belton, a state Department of Environmental Protection scientist, in a July interview. “They include bulkheads (that attract sea nettles), the Oyster Creek power plant, which has a big impact on the system.”

“When you shut that off, you have to think of Barnegat Bay as a giant aquarium, where the filter’s been turned off and the water has changed,” Belton said.  ~~~ Asbury Park Press, 9/17/14

Ah yes:

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’ ~~~ Through the Looking Glass

Now let’s get back to reality.

The Christie DEP is being criticized severely in many quarters – rightly so – for a grossly irresponsible proposal that would invite even more development to NJ’s already over-developed and highly vulnerable coast, e.g. see this Star Ledger editorial:

Pressure is building on the Legislature to veto that DEP rule as “inconsistent with legislative intent”, e.g. see NJ Surfrider petition

But what is being lost in this – and many other single issue environmental debates – is how the Christie administration is not only going in the wrong direction.

The Gov. and his DEP team have – in an across the board fashion – derailed scientific and policy development efforts to move in the right direction.

A prime example of that is how the Gov.’s Barnegat Bay “10 Point Management Plan” has politicized the DEP’s research agenda and how those mis-focused studies have displaced and diverted scientific research on issues like this:

At over 1/3 of the bay watershed in human altered land use, the BB-LEH system is heavily impacted by watershed inputs and adjacent land use 

Next steps: Defining critical thresholds of BBW land use change in relation to the downstream impact to the Bay.

How much impervious and lawn surface can be added before the bay reaches a critical tipping point? Are we already there?

Source: Lathrop, Rutgers CRSSA

Source: Lathrop, Rutgers CRSSA

Those were the critical scientific questions being framed by Rutgers researchers in 2010, as the Christie Administration took control of DEP.

Could you imagine the Christie DEP talking about “ghost trees” and the fact that the shore is “in a vice”? That back bay flooding is an “achilles heel”?

The last things the Christie DEP wants to talk about are climate change, limiting shore development, and the need to “retreat” and adapt to sea level rise.

So they suppress science and hijack the research agenda and shift focus to secondary issues that examine politically safe topics.

As an illustration of how they do this, it is simply amazing to contrast the focus of that 2010 Rutgers/DEP research agenda with the current Christie DEP research agenda.

All the key issues framed in 2010 are completely gone:

  • land use as driver of water quality, habitat, and ecological declines
  • loss of riparian buffers
  • climate change – sea level rise – coastal vulnerability
  • adaptation and restoration strategies – “retreat”
  • tipping points

All of that work was building the scientific basis to support land use planning and regulatory strategies that could mitigate the ecological collapse and human disaster underway at the coast.

All of that is now gone. Completely gone.

And the coast is not the only place where the irresponsible and incompetent Christie DEP regime has hijacked and reversed the scientific, environmental, and public health policy agendas.

Some of this damage is irreversible, while other will set back progress by a decade.

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DEP Quietly Recognizes Extreme Weather In Water Permit Program

September 16th, 2014 1 comment

DEP Expands Emergency Plan Requirements for Sewer Plants

Could the silence mean that everyone is afraid to challenge Gov. Christie’s Climate Denial?

[Update: 9/17/14 - NJ Spotlight covers the story:

“It’s extremely significant,’’ said Bill Wolfe, director of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, who first reported the changes on his blog, wolfenotes.com. “It will make a difference.’’

[Updates below - where did these new requirements come from? Why done under the radar?]

I have been highly critical of the Christie DEP’s failure to consider extreme weather events that will increase in severity and frequency as a result of climate change and for DEP’s refusal to develop a climate change adaptation plan.

I also have criticized DEP’s failure to monitor and enforce existing NJPDES permit requirements for sewage treatment plants regarding emergency planning and response, including the need to have back up power systems to keep plants operational under emergency conditions.

Those failures are interrelated and they exacerbated the extended outages and discharge of billions of gallons of raw sewage by scores of sewage treatment plants knocked off line by Sandy due to loss of power or storm surge.

However, I am stunned to report progress on all three issues, based on a recent review of several draft DEP NJPDES permits issued to several sewer authorities to control “Combined Sewer Overflows” (CSO) (more on the CSO aspects in a  future post).

New conditions of those draft CSO permits suggest that DEP has learned something from Sandy failures and imposed new requirements to correct those failures.

Specifically, DEP has quietly imposed two significant new emergency planning requirements in NJPDES permits.

First, DEP now requires that sewer plants plan for the 500 year storm event.

Historically, the DEP regulations and permits were based on the 100 year storm event.

A 500 year storm is considerably larger in terms of volume and rate of water (inches per hour and total rainfall, and storm water runoff rate and volume); in the elevation of floodwaters and storm surge; and in the land area inundated by flood waters and storm surge.

The term “500-year flood” is the flood that has a 0.2% chance of being equaled or exceeded each year. The 500-year flood could occur more than once in a relatively short period of time. Statistically, the 0.2% (500- year) flood has a 6% chance of occurring during a 30-year period of time, the length of many mortgages.

Second, DEP now requires that sewer plants plan for extended power outages, up to 14 days in duration.

Both significant new technical requirements were built into this new condition in the NJPDES permit (see page 9 of 18, item J.)

The permittee shall also include in the O&M Program and corresponding Manual, an Emergency Plan, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:14A-6.12(d). The Emergency Plan shall provide for, to the maximum extent possible, uninterrupted treatment works operation during emergency conditions using in-house and/or contract based services. The Emergency Plan shall include Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which ensure the effective operation of the treatment works under emergency conditions, such as extreme weather events (including 100 and 500 year storm events) and extended periods of no power, (e.g., 7 days and 14 days). 

I assume that this is a boilerplate condition that will be imposed in all sewage treatment plant NJPDES permits, and should also be included in DEP’s water infrastructure asset management program and across the board in virtually all DEP land use and related regulatory programs as a climate change extreme weather adaptation policy.

The new permit requirements generate a host of questions.

We note that these new requirements are in draft permits that are not yet final.

We don’t know if similar conditions have been inserted in other permits that are draft or final.

We don’t know what the position is of the sewer authorities and whether they will contest these new requirements.

We also don’t know what DEP’s actual technical guidelines are for how to manage and prepare for the 500 year storm and supply back up power for 14 days.

Or how to fund the necessary upgrades required to meet these new requirements.

Or how they will be monitored and enforced by DEP.

Perhaps  answers and those technical aspects of the program will emerge during DEP’s development of the much touted new “Resiliency Bank”.

We are a skeptic of that effort, which is why we were stunned to see the above NJPDES permit requirements.

Those new permit requirements were not mentioned by DEP Commissioner Martin when he was asked specific questions about DEP’s response to Sandy sewer outages during DEP budget hearings this spring, or more recently by Assistant Commissioner Kennedy, during legislative oversight hearings on DEP’s new “asset management” and CSO programs.

We’ll try to get some answers and keep you posted.

In our next post, we look at new DEP permit requirements for asset management and green infrastructure.

[Update #1 – A Trenton source explains the origin of the new DEP permit requirements as follows – in which case, EPA should be glad to take credit for them. But, given how weak EPA Region 2 has been in oversight of NJ DEP during the Christie Administration, I am finding this almost as difficult to believe as the fact that DEP actually issued the permit requirements:

The 500 year storm and frequency in the CSO permits are part of settlement with Region 2 on CSO’s .Epa is also requiring sea level rise and storm surge requirements for sewer funding and NJ is using the 500 year storm as away of meeting that standard without mentioning climate or sea level rise.

Update #2 – Trenton source now says that EPA Regional Administrator Enck has already publicly taken credit for these new permit requirements – guess I just missed it.

Update # 3 – Trying to run down exactly how EPA allegedly imposed these requirements.

Here is EPA Region 2 draft Climate Change Adaptation Plan required by President Obama’s Executive Order – it notes extreme weather impacts, and NPDES and CSO programs, but is vague and makes no specific commitments and action items about directing NJ DEP to impose new permit requirements listed above. One hell of a way to run a government!

Region 2 sees future opportunities to work with state regulators during the planning and permitting process, for the air programs and the NPDES program with particular focus on sewage treatment plants, in accounting for climate change related issues. Region 2 sees future opportunity to work with state regulators during the planning and permitting process, for the air and oil sector and sewage treatment plants, in accounting for climate change related issues. This could require considering the elevation of a facility, location of facility intakes, and location of emissions control equipment to account for project climate change impacts. In the Caribbean, we could explore the possibility of implementing green infrastructure and green energy in consent- decrees and orders (for both Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act).

I could find nothing specific about this on EPA Region 2 Climate Adaptation web page either – and that page includes a link to “regulatory initiatives”, which this surely is.

Maybe the recent NJ Future CSO Report or Rutgers Climate Adaptation Alliance work addresses it? I’ll go there next.

This shouldn’t be so hard – no wonder the public is clueless.

[Update #4 - The NJ Future CSO Report provides extensive analysis of NJPDES CSO permits, but I could not find specific discussion of 500 year and 14 day permit conditions – I did find this, which is somewhat on point, but the context is cost, not NJPDES permit condition and I could find nothing specific about 14 day  backup power:

Discussions with utility managers emphasize the coming competition between CSO costs and other water infrastructure expenditures, not to mention non-water infrastructure expenditures that have been identified as priorities, such as transportation systems and electric energy utilities. As one example, Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners (PVSC) own and operate the nation’s fifth-largest sewage treatment plant. PVSC faces $110 million in damages to the treatment plant from Hurricane Sandy, and a need for perhaps $250 million for improved resilience measures such as flood walls, protection of sensitive equipment, and backup power to achieve protection against both current flooding potential and future risks (using the 500-year or 0.2% probability flood as the risk benchmark). These costs are in addition to the anticipated costs of improving a 30- year old treatment facility that had a 25-year economic lifespan, and an aging interceptor line that was built in 1924.1

Update # 5 – this is exhausting – the Rutgers Climate Adaptation Alliance Report mentions NJPDES and water allocation permits, but not in terms of 500 year flood event or 14 day duration back up power.

Again, this is amazing because at the time both reports were issued, DEP had already included this as a permit condition. I can’t recall another example of where DEP regulators were out in front of virtually everyone. And there were no fingerprints on a significant new policy and permit condition.

[Update # 6 – in addition to the difficulty of trying to document the origin and basis for this permit condition, another very unusual fact is that DEP had multiple opportunities and obligations to mention this but did not. Specifically:

1) DEP didn’t issue a press release bragging about their new “resiliency” requirements or

2) DEP Commissioner Martin didn’t note it in his budget testimony (which emphasized all the sewage plants knocked off line) or

3) DEP Asst. Commissioner Kenedy did n’t mention it during his “asset management” and CSO program testimony to Assembly oversight

4) BPU and EDA didn’t say anything about that in the Resiliency Bank press releases and

5) Sandy HUD second round submission that had extensive section of resiliency bank concept to get the $25 million in federal funds. That funding was justified based on sewage plants failure.

Could the silence mean that virtually everyone is afraid to challenge Gov. Christie’s Climate Denial?

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Trenton Wurlitzer Was Fully Engaged Yesterday

September 16th, 2014 No comments

Christie DEP Spin Swallowed By Lapdog Press

A Do Nothing Legislature

Green Mafia Self Dealings

Three actions in Trenton yesterday provide perfect examples of how the completely broken system we call government, media, and environmental lobbying operates.

Let’s take a look at each and excerpt specific examples of systemic failings.

1) Passaic River Settlement- Its All spin, All the time – and it almost worked

[Update: 9/17/14 - This Bergen Record followup story proves my point - but of course Scott Fallon and his editors never - ever! -  read Wolfnenotes! Mr. Fallon told me so!

The Christie DEP issued the usual self congratulatory press release yesterday announcing a major $190 million settlement of Passaic River cleanup litigation.

As usual, the release was highly selective in presenting a set of facts to spin a very favorable story.

That  kind of over the top spin has become routine after almost 5 years now, so one would assume that their credibility would be almost zero and reporters would be skeptical and do their homework to get the story right, particularly a big story like this.

One would be wrong.

Both the Star Ledger and the Bergen Record posted seriously flawed stories shortly after the DEP press release was issued. Both stories were virtually transcribed, based on the DEP press release.

Both stories were highly favorable, had dramatic pro-DEP headlines, ended with a critical quip by Jeff Tittel, and missed the real story, which is Gov. Christie’s diversion of the settlement money to pay for corporate tax cuts.

Revealing – but not admitting – they got the story wrong and badly incomplete, both stories were later updated, apparently on the basis of a critical statement by Deb Mans of NY/NJ Baykeeper.

So after 5 years of the Christie administration’s pro-corporate environmental record, and repeatedly being spun and at times lied to by the DEP press office, the press still went with the story in the DEP press release.

Did reporters and their editors really think that Christie DEP would hammer a corporation and promote environmental and public health investments? The exact opposite of what they’ve been doing for 5 years now?

And they apparently think that journalism, e.g. researching and fact checking a story, consists of a phone call to Jeff Tittel.

NJ Spotlight, an independent outlet that has a professional environmental reporter and is not driven by the race to get it published first, got the story right this morning.

This crap happens all the time. But the media mistakes based on lies and spin are rarely caught and corrected like this.

[update: At least the Star Ledger clearly notes and makes the story update transparent. In contrast, while the Bergen Record story notes two updates, it is impossible to understand the substance of those updates or view the original story. Orwell's memory hole phenomenon.]

2) Flooding Risks – Status Quo with a Bright Red Bow 

The Senate Environment Committee heard and released an important bill that purports to mandate that DEP update flood hazard maps. (see S308)

We’ve been writing about this issue for a long time, most recently, see:

So, the release of the bill is a very good thing, right?

Wrong! – and here’s the rub:

The Christie DEP strongly opposed the bill, based on cost. According to the OLS fiscal note:

  • According to informal information provided by the DEP, updating the delineations of flood hazard areas and floodways would be a major undertaking involving a significant cost to the department that could amount to millions of dollars annually. 

So how did the bill address the cost issue and pay for the map updating?

Did it require that the cost of the program be included in permit fees and be borne by developers seeking flood hazard permits?

Did it establish a new funding source?

Did it just flat out mandate that the maps be updated and require the DEP to find the money from somewhere else in the DEP budget?

Nope – none of the above.

It simply ignored the issue by adopting the Assembly compromise by inserting this amendment into the bill:

The department shall, within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available therefor, update delineations of flood hazard areas as appropriate as provided in subsection b. of this section.  

Legislators know damn well that there will not be a special line item appropriation in the budget next year for updating flood maps. And nothing in the legislation would suggest they will or require that they do so.

No legislator banged the table and pledged to fight for this money.

The DEP can now point to the lack of a special appropriation to ignore the law.

Both the legislature and DEP appear to have done something good, but nothing actually changes, while the flooding risks get worse.

And none of this got reported anyway.

This crap happens all the time.

3) Prescribed Burns – It’s About Protecting the Bottom Line

The Senate Environment Committee heard and released a bill to promote prescribed burns on public and private lands. (see S2012).

We’ve written about and testified in opposition to this bill (see this for details, which I will not go into here):

I want to highlight two things that show systemic flaws:

A)  A private citizen – not a lobbyist or environmental group member – testified in opposition to the bill.

The citizen objected, among other things, that people negatively impacted by the burning and smoke were not provided public notice (which could allow avoiding and getting away from the smoke) or given an opportunity to object.

Senator Codey expressed a concern about that, noting that the land use law requires notice about small things, like building a deck on a home.

Ed Wengren from the NJ Farm Bureau testified in support of the bill. Based on Senator Codey’s concerns, Chairman Smith was essentially forced to ask Wengren point blank whether notice was provided to nearby land owners and municipal officials.

He either did not know exactly what the notice requirements were – in which case he should have said “I don’t know” and just shut up – or he misled the Committee by implying that notice was provided and spinning about the notification practices under the current program.

DEP’s representative was asked the same point blank question. At least he had the integrity to say he didn’t know the details, at which point Chairman Smith demanded that he make a phone call to his DEP associates and find out.

That almost never happens – DEP is almost never called to account. And I have never seen the Chairman direct DEP to immediately provide a response like that.

This rare drilling down all happened only because  Smith wanted to move the bill (Smith’s “Forest Stewardship bill also involves prescribed burns); because Senator Codey raised the concern, and because the Farm Bureau and DEP badly bungled the issue.

So, this episode points to several flaws: 1) citizens’ valid concerns are rarely listened to and acted on – in this case they were and the bill was amended. This is the exception that proves the rule; and 2)  lobbyists routinely either don’t know what they are talking about or mislead and are never called out for it nor is their credibility impaired for it (unless they are private citizens or Tea Party or Americans for Prosperity).

B)  NJ Audubon testified in support of the bill.

They cried crocodile tears for the people and property that were at risk from wildfire, and repeated all the myths about fire suppression as the cause of this risk.

Audubon then justified their support on the basis of promoting habitat for wildfire dependent species.

Wow, so Audubon is looking out for people and wildlife habitat, and this bill would promote additional protections, right?

Not really.

You see, Audubon, private landowners and DEP don’t need this bill to conduct prescribed burns when necessary.

Its all about money – not fire risks or habitat.

Audubon never mentioned the cost and availability of insurance and that liability thing. Or their financial interests in the “relief” provided under the bill.

You see, the NJ Fire Wardens and DEP Forest Service already have the authority to conduct prescribed burns to reduce legitimate fire risk and promote habitat.

The the real issue is that private landowning conservation groups – like Audubon and NJCF – and private landowners – like Farm Bureau members – are either unable to get or must puchase costly insurance.

The bill provides a waiver of liability so they don’t have to spend the money to get proper insurance for an inherently dangerous activity.

They mask this financial interest in all sorts of BS about reducing wildlife risk and enhancing habitat.

And no one even mentions this, surely not the media.

And this self dealing under cover of conservation happens all the time – I call it the Green Mafia.

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