Revolving Doors, Lies, and Soft Journalism

March 20th, 2019 No comments

Longtime Trenton Insider Unconditionally Featured By NJ Spotlight

Business Group Brags About Revolving Door 

Ray Cantor, longtime Trenton insider

Ray Cantor, longtime Trenton insider

[Update below – “Lies are good for business”]

Two days in a row now, NJ Spotlight has quoted Ray Cantor, who was recently installed as a Vice President at the NJ Business and Industry Association (NJBIA).

No doubt, those quotes shaped the NJ Spotlight coverage, while displacing other critical voices from the story.

(In fact, NJ Spotlight seems to have done a complete U-Turn in how they reported the public access story, i.e. see this prior coverage. Did Cantor spin that – like he spun the Christie DEP rules? Or was the favorable coverage today a result of Tim Dillingham’s cowardly and corrupt fold? –

Update: A Trenton reader wrote me to say the amendments were drafted by Cantor and conveyed to DEP and on to legislators from the DEP. Sounds plausible, but I have no evidence to back that up.)

The first was regarding stormwater legislation and the second was about legislation regarding public access to NJ waterfronts.

Both quotes provided no context for readers to learn about who Mr. Cantor is, what he has worked on, and who he has represented.

Curiously, both quotes by NJ Spotlight failed to mention Mr. Cantor’s very recent and very controversial roles in both issues he was given quotes on.

Even NJ ethics rules restrict post employment work – I think there is a one year period during which high level state officials are prohibited from lobbying on issues they worked on while in State government. That post employment restriction is worthy of mention in Cantor’s case. Is he in compliance?

Because we believe readers need context and good information to judge the credibility of news sources and should understand how Trenton operates, we thought we might provide some of that important context.

Ironically, Cantor’s recent installation at NJBIA was announced by a fellow revolving door boss, Michele Siekerka, formerly a politically appointee and Assistant Commissioner in the Christie DEP.

Either NJBIA is tone deaf about the “optics” and ethics of revolving door abuses, or they are bragging with impunity about undue influence peddled by their Trenton insiders.

But at least NJBIA – in contrast to NJ Spotlight – honestly disclosed Cantor’s background:

Cantor, a former assistant commissioner and, later, chief adviser to the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, will lead NJBIA’s advocacy efforts on environmental and energy matters affecting the business community, effective Feb. 11, Siekerka said.

I first met Mr. Cantor in the 1990’s, when he served as staff to the Senate Environment Committee, Chaired by Hank McNamara.

While I rarely agree with him, I like him personally and he is smart, hard working and competent.

But, Ray is essentially a hack: he aggressively and often effectively represents his boss’ interests, often regardless of the science, the public interest and the facts.

More recently, Cantor was involved in highly controversial disputes, yet somehow managed to dodge any personal accountability for a series of high profile train wrecks, such as:

1. The US EPA took a highly unusual step and wrote a letter to call out Cantor’s false testimony to the legislature.

2. Cantor was involved in Christie’s Bridge-gate and was interviewed by Mastro. He personally was involved in promoting development in Hoboken and using his DEP position to accommodate the regulatory needs of the Rockefeller Group. For a link to Cantor’s Mastro interview summary and other details, see this post.

3. Cantor was the DEP point person on the highly controversial Christie DEP rollback of public access rules – this role is directly relevant to contextualize his NJ Spotlight quote today. I wrote

Cantor opened the hearing, repeating DEP’s continuing pattern of half truths and misleading spin. He claimed that the Department’s intent is exclusively to expand and “maximize” public access and respond to the Avalon Court decision.

He thinks we are stupid.

Sounding like an Israeli right winger defending illegal settlements as “facts on the ground” in Palestine, Cantor claimed that current public access restrictions are a function of geography and history, and that DEP is powerless to change that.

Cantor claimed that no current access will be lost, but did not say how that claim is supported by the proposed new rules or how it would be enforced. Cantor claimed that in the proposed “Municipal Access Plan” approach, that DEP was not delegating any powers to local government because DEP could reject local plans. He then went on to respond to critics, basically claiming that they were misinformed.

4. Cantor was the DEP point person on the highly controversial Christie DEP rollback of the Highlands septic density standards, as I wrote: (that’s Cantor presenting and spinning the rollback)

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5. Cantor was the DEP point person for the highly controversial Christie DEP rollback of the stream encroachment and Category One stream buffer rules – this role is directly relevant to contextualize his NJ Spotlight quote yesterday. I wrote:

By repealing the SWRPA, the DEP is eliminating the only linkage between stream encroachment permit requirements and Surface Water Quality Standards.

Today, DEP gave conflicting responses to this criticism. Ray Cantor and Ms. Kopkash claimed it was resolved in the adoption document, but contradicted themselves by later by saying it was resolved in the Concurrent proposal.

Both claims are false.

In all these debates, Cantor was less than honest and constantly spun, misled and manipulated the public, the media and legislators about the true objectives and impacts of the relevant Christie DEP regulatory rollback initiatives.

So, I was not surprised to learn of Cantor’s career move to the NJBIA – he’s been representing business interests in the Republican party, the legislature, the DEP and the media for a long time.

But what I am surprised and disappointed by is the bold impunity with which NJBIA essentially openly brags about revolving door abuses of the public interest.

Just as bad – no, worse – is Tom Johnson’s embrace of a longtime Trenton insider, and giving him a platform to continue to mislead readers and the public about issues essential to the public interest.

That’s beyond lazy journalism – it is just more evidence of the corruption endemic in Trenton circles. 

[Update – the Cantor story reminds me of a prior exchange with Dennis Toft, where I concluded “Lies are good for business” (just ask Boeing about that – snark)

Lies are good for business

The lead witness for the business community (Chamber of Commerce, NJ BIA, NAIOP) at yesterday’s Senate Environment Committee hearing on a Resolution (SCR 66) to veto the Christie DEP’s proposed flood hazard rules was lawyer Dennis Toft – previously with the disgraced law firm Wolff & Samson –  a man I have described as a “heavy hitter”.

During his introduction, Chairman Smith praised Toft as “the best environmental attorney in the state”.

Take a look at all the damage Toft has done to protections of public health and the environment during the Christie regime:

Toft testified that the C1 steam buffer regulations (SWRPA) the Christie DEP rolled back were a major barrier  to redevelopment. Toft testified:

“… within 150 feet you could do nothing. … There has been no process to redevelop those sites. Developers are stymied because they can’t go within 150 feet.  The rules eliminated the hardship exemptions.”

Smith challenged Toft’s claim regarding the lack of a process to be granted a hardship waiver.

DEP agreed with Smith, but was unable to answer Smith’s question about how many hardship waivers were granted.

Later in the hearing, during my testimony, I noted that Toft’s claim that C1 buffer rules served as a barrier to redevelopment was false, because the rules do not apply to previously disturbed land. Redevelopment within the existing disturbed footprint is not restricted by the C1 buffer rules (and there are not many C1 waters in urban areas anyway).

I also noted that Toft’s claim “within 150 feet you could do nothing” directly contradicted DEP Ray Cantor’s testimony that so many waivers were issued that DEP had to make it easier to get them.

After the hearing, in the hall outside the hearing room, I ran into Mr. Toft, who told me that I should continue to mention his name on my blog, because it was good for his business.

 

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Desert Rainbow – Roosevelt Lake

March 18th, 2019 No comments

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A beautiful end of 3 days of heavy rain and cold at Roosevelt Lake recreation area.

After freezing our asses off in the rain for 3 days – almost got stuck in the mud getting out of the desert – we headed northeast to Payson.

We hit snow in the mountains there – frying pan to fire.

So we were delighted by the warmth in Phoenix.

We’re now in Agua Fria National Monument – part of an awesome landscape:

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A grand tour!

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Youth Climate Strike – Phoenix

March 16th, 2019 No comments

The Kids Are All right

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A couple hundred mostly young folks gathered on the State Capitol lawn in Phoenix yesterday as part of the Youth Climate Strike.

Let’s hope their movement continues to grow and expand beyond traditional tactics and challenge people to pursue more radical direct actions (e.g. see: Extinction Rebellion Week). Wouldn’t a real national general strike be awesome? If people shut down the economy, it would force policymakers to respond.

The message was that policymakers had denied or failed to respond to the climate crisis and that their generation – which will bear the brunt of the impacts – would rise to the challenge.

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Many called for a Green New Deal. I suggested that they consider the history, politics, and policy of the original New Deal – including the pressure from organized labor and the left (including the Communist Party) that drove that compromise with capitalism.

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I was impressed by the maturity, commitment and organization evidenced by the event.

Speakers included a State Senator Juan Menendez who railed against defenders of the status quo and urged folks to challenge his legislative colleagues and pressure them for real climate policies:

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and Arizona Sierra Club Director Sandy Bahr, who focused on solutions.

sorry Sandy, I missed this shot!

sorry Sandy, I missed this shot!

Here’s a shot of the scene:

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Tucson Festival Of Books

March 15th, 2019 No comments
Books, panel discussions, music, food - good times

Books, panel discussions, music, food – good times

Just a quick note with photos of this year’s Tucson Festival of Books

We had a great time there last year, but this year, not so much.

The politics have changed significantly, and my perception was that the Festival and the Panelists had not kept pace.

This was the first year that Noam Chomsky was a professor at the University of Arizona and appeared on a panel.

I’ll expand upon all that and my reactions in s future post. Just some shots of what I saw for now:

Waffles

Waffles

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FEMA FLAYS MURPHY DEP STORMWATER PROPOSAL

March 12th, 2019 No comments

FEMA: Flawed Rules Lead To More Flooding and Water Pollution

FEMA: DEP fails to address climate change risks and impacts

FEMA Echoes and Validates Our Criticism

Groundhog Day

In a January 31, 2019 letter (h/t Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club) the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) submitted harsh criticism of the Murphy DEP’s proposed new stormwater management rules.

FEMA described the DEP’s stormwater rules as

an important defense in preventing the exacerbation of the state’ most devastating risk: flooding.

FEMA prefaced their harsh criticism by noting that the federal government had expended more than $2.7 billion in NJ, thereby clearly linking federal funding to DEP’s lax regulatory policies:

Coastal and riverine post-disaster support to New Jersey through Public Assistance and theHazard Mitigation Grant Program is nearly $2.7 billion to date- this does not include non-disaster funding through the Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant programs. These sizable contributions are indicative of New Jersey’s great exposure to flood risk.

The writing on the wall is obvious: NJ should not expect the federal FEMA gravy train to continue unless NJ strengthens their regulatory framework to reduce flood risks.

Meanwhile, instead of strengthening DEP’s flawed regulations, the Murphy administration has not only weakened current regulations, but also engaged in a distraction: a so called “coastal resilience” initiative. That sham initiative is the Murphy administration’s choice over far superior alternative policy frameworks, including: a Coastal Commission; State GHG emissions mitigation/climate adaptation planning and regulation; or a comprehensive set of enforceable DEP regulations (CAFRA, stormwater, Flood Hazard Act, C1, et al).

Repeating a disturbing pattern of news management, the Murphy DEP issued another cynical and diversionary press release today on “coastal resilience” grants, cynically in the hope of diverting media focus from the FEMA criticism.

In a prior egregious episode of similar news management, we noted:

The McCabe DEP press release was issued the same day that McCabe was personally slammed in a Newark Star Ledger editorial and harshly criticized again in testimony later that morning in a Senate legislative hearing on illegal disposal of “dirty dirt” (see S1683). That DEP press release was a blatant diversion to cover up McCabe’s own serious failures.

Sadly, that DEP news management diversion may work. The press is extremely weak on regulatory issues and the so called environmental advocates are in the tank with the Murphy administration.

The DEP isn’t the only one ignoring these major flaws in regulations – the press repeatedly has failed to hold DEP accountable. The latest example of that media failure is today’s NJ Spotlight story, which again focuses on flawed US ACE engineering approaches to the coastal zone, instead of the major risks and flaws flagged by FEMA and environmentally superior and cost effective alternatives, like a Coastal Commission or DEP regulations.

FEMA flagged many significant and fatal flaws in the DEP proposal: (emphasis mine)

 To highlight, FEMA finds that the abandonment of the nonstructural stormwater management in design and the absence of restrictions in the increase in runoff volume post-development to be significant deficiencies. FEMA is also concerned that the proposed rule does not consider future conditions of increasingly intense precipitation that is expected with climate change. The use of the term Green Infrastructure will not offset the proposed changes to the nonstructural stormwater management strategies and the multiple missed opportunities to reduce riverine and urban flooding impacts.

Wow! FEMA found “significant deficiencies”. FEMA noted that the green infrastructure cover slogan “will not offset” the rollbacks!.

Let’s repeat that – THE DEP PROPOSAL:

does not consider future conditions of increasingly intense precipitation that is expected with climate change. 

You rarely get that kind of strong criticism from a federal regulatory agency. That should give folks a sense of just how bad the DEP proposal is.

FEMA also blasted these fatal flaws:

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FEMA saved the best for last, and blasted DEP’s failure to consider current science and address climate change increased rainfall:

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What ever happened to the DEP policy to begin to regulate based on the 500 year storm event to address climate change, see:

“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.’’

Is DEP Commissioner McCabe even aware of this? If so, why did she sign off on such a clearly deficient – and technically inconsistent – rule proposal?

FEMA criticized many of the same issues were wrote about in this December 14, 2018 post, including failure to address climate change, lack of numeric enforceable water quality standards, and repeal of current nonstructural stormwater management requirements:

The only solution at this point in time is for DEP to rescind the proposal – there is no time to simply allow it to expire after one year – and go back to the drawing board and start over on a proposal that addresses FEMA criticism.

Folks, it’s Groundhog Day again:

Here’s what we warned the public, over 12 years ago, – 6 years before Sandy – on September 25, 2006:

JERSEY SHORE HIGHLY VULNERABLE TO STORMS AND SEA LEVEL RISE

Numerous scientific studies and NJDEP Reports show that the over-developed NJ shore is increasingly vulnerable to hurricane and storm related wind, storm surge, and flooding damage. Those risks are magnified by the effects of global warming induced sea level rise. NJ already is among the worst states in the nation for payouts on repeat claims under the federal flood insurance program. While risks are great and growing, DEP’s own studies show that public awareness is low, and local and state disaster planning and emergency response capabilities are woefully inadequate.

Despite these significant risks, continued over-development, particularly in known high hazard areas along the shore, puts more people and property in harms way, greatly increasing not only risks to life and property. The probability is increasing for a catastrophic coastal storm event that would cause huge economic dislocation.

We repeated that warning in a November 16, 2009 post – 3 years before Sandy –  where we excerpt text from DEP’s own Coastal Management Strategy, science and policy that they repeatedly ignored and failed to enforce. Read what DEP’s federally approved Coastal Zone Management plan actually says (you won’t read it in the press or hear it whispered from lips of NJ’s lame coastal advocates):

Titus demonstrates (link) that in certain instances, structural engineering solutions will not be practical or economically feasible. In these cases future public and private development and redevelopment must be directed away from the hazardous areas. While some derogatorily refer to this option as “retreat,” from the perspective of sound planning based on the best available science, the concept actually involves “strategic adjustment.” Prudent planning requires that we expand upon the existing studies of the societal, economic, and environmental costs of possible mitigative actions while the greatest number of alternatives exist.

The state’s coastal area continues to experience substantial seasonal and residential population increases. Conversion of formerly seasonal homes to year-round residences continues unabated. In many instances, formerly modest houses are replaced with significantly more expensive homes while property values continue to escalate.


At the same time, risks associated with coastal hazards continue to increase. Factors such as escalating sea level rise and cyclical and possibly long-term increases in storm frequency and intensity threaten both the natural environment and built environment of New Jersey’s coast. Consequently, the ranking of the Coastal Hazards Section 309 enhancement area remains a high priority with the NJCMP. [end excerpt – link to complete DEP document below]

Ironically, the houses in the photographs in that post were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, including the summer house of one of my best friends.

So, in light of these mounting risks and DEP’ abject failures, where are the coastal advocacy groups?

They are safely “in the room”, posing as “stakeholders” in DEP’s sham coastal resilience initiative, kissing Gov. Murphy and DEP Commissioner McCabe’s ass,  and seeking more DEP grant funding for their organizations.

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