El MalPais National Monument

May 18th, 2019 No comments

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We’re in El Malpais National Monument in western New Mexico now, on the road from Flagstaff to Santa Fe.

It’s a rugged and lovely landscape, with easily climbed sandstone cliffs and ledges, so we’ve spent 4 days here.

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While it’s been sunny and almost 60 degrees in the afternoon (a cold 30 at night), the wind has howled so strongly and continuously – – at least 25 mph constant with 40+ mph gusts – that we’ve been unable to spend a lot of time outdoors.

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We are on the Continental Divide trail and see lots of hikers – we’ve tried to help in providing conversation, water, and snacks.

The surrounding lands are either fenced or Indian Reservation, so walks are limited.

Oh well, while the cactus love it, at least we’ve had lots of reading time.

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Jersey Girl Goes All In For Biden – Exposes Corporate Power And Revolving Door

May 17th, 2019 No comments

From NJ Sierra Club, To Obama White House, To Corporate Whoring

I was so pleased to just now read my favorite writer, Jeffrey St. Clair at CounterPunch, absolutely crush Heather Zichal, and thereby expose Joe Biden’s corporate ways:

+ Biden’s top climate advisor, Heather Zichal, left her White House job in 2013. A year later, she landed on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas, where she pocketed over a million dollars. in 2018 (sic) became the Nature Conservancy’s Vice President for “corporate engagement.”

Just days prior to that, Bill McKibben blasted Zichal and Biden:

A few hours after the story, as environmental activists (and primary opponents) tweeted their dismay, the Biden team seemed to blush. Biden’s energy advisor Heather Zichal said that the Reuters reports were wrong, and that instead he planned to “enact a bold policy to tackle climate change in a meaningful and lasting way.” But the fact that it was Zichal making the statement essentially confirmed the accuracy of the original story: in the early Obama years, she’d headed up an interagency working group to promote the development of domestic natural gas.

The working group had been formed after pressure from the American Petroleum Institute, the chief fossil-fuel lobbying group, and Zichal, in a talk to an API gathering, said: “It’s hard to overstate how natural gas—and our ability to access more of it than ever—has become a game changer.” Zichal left her White House job in 2013; one year later, she took a gig on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas, which has earned her over a million dollars.

(Note: Zichal is not alone in this Jersey Girl corruption – recall that Obama’s first EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, formerly head of NJ DEP and then Chef of Staff for NJ Gov. Corzine – is now a well paid corporate flack at Apple – thus ending her career where it began, at the corporate front group seeking rollbacks of the federal Superfund program,”Clean Sites, Inc”.)

I wonder how long Z will remain with the Biden campaign after that.

But the story is even worse than this.

McKibben and St. Clair left out Ms. Zichal’s history, so, given my personal witness to this, we take this opportunity to do so. Check this resume and saga of climbing careerism and unbridled ambition.

I met Zichal (Z) in the mid to late 1990’s when I served as Policy Director of the Sierra Club’s NJ Chapter.

At that time, Zichal (Z), a farmer’s jeans flannel shirt clad Iowan, was an undergrad at Rutgers and a Sierra volunteer who chose to work with the Political Committee.

Let’s just say that I was not impressed with Z’s intellectual firepower.

Z was part of a faction that managed to convince the NJ political committee to reverse longstanding policy to support incumbents and endorse Democrat challenger Rush Holt over the Republican incumbent Mike Pappas.

At that time, after the departure of Director Tim Dillingham, I was Acting Director. I announced the Holt endorsement at a Trenton press conference.

Holt won the 1998 election.

Z then managed to parley that Sierra endorsement and Holt victory into a staff position in Holt’s Congressional Office.

I suspect that Holt, a scientist, shared my assessment of Z’s intellectual firepower, because shortly thereafter Z departed Holt’s Office for a staff position with fellow NJ Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone.

After another short stint at Pallone’s office, Z climbed to Senator Kerry’s office, then the Obama campaign, then the Obama White House.

I have never seen a more egregious individual example of unbridled ambition, lack of ethics, lack of expertise, revolving door, careerism, and systemic corporate & Democratic Party corruption.

[End Note: I was sickened by the way McKibben closed his essay with his cowardly “dem-unity” spin, by essentially soft pedaling criticism of Biden and spouting delusional rhetoric about “turning his policies around”. Sorry Bill, Biden is a longtime corporate democrat who can’t change his stripes and he should not be legitimized in this way:

Obviously Biden will be better than Trump on this (and every other) issue; obviously everyone who cares about the earth should support him if he’s the nominee. (That paramount need is why I’ve been running the #DemUnityTwitterProject these past weeks). And he’s got time to turn his policies around—I remember when he gave a wink and a nod support to those fighting the Keystone pipeline, well in advance of Obama’s eventual veto of the project. His credibility with union workers is understandably high, which is why he would be the perfect person to push for large-scale retraining programs for clean energy jobs.

We’ll close by requoting Howard Zinn’s sage advice:

When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them….Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable….

Howard Zinn

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Climate Chaos – Arizona Style

May 16th, 2019 No comments

Insanity – From Coal To Deforestation

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We’re finding old and new insane forms of climate chaos as we continue on our journey.

Strip mines that fill mile long coal trains that rumble on seemingly 24/7, pulled by 7 -9 huge BNSF diesel engines.

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That’s the Cholla coal fired power plant in the background of our Skoolie: (Wiki)

The Cholla Power Plant is a 1.02-gigawatt (1,021 MW), coal power plant near Joseph City, Arizona. The plant is jointly owned by Arizona Public Service (APS) and PacifiCorp. The plant began operations in 1962.

The Cholla plant is also listed on EPA’s list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings.

According to recent local news reports, there are plans to covert the Cholla plant from coal to “biomass”:

Arizona Public Service Co. will try to save some jobs near Holbrook and reduce wildfire risks at the same time by testing whether pine trees can be substituted for the coal that is burned at the Cholla Power Plant.

The coal plant is scheduled to close in 2025, and while converting it to natural gas was considered, that is not being pursued, APS officials said.

About 200 people work at the plant in Joseph City, along Interstate 40 and the Little Colorado River.

A conversion at Cholla would ultimately assist in forest thinning, thereby reducing wildfire potential, ensuring forest health, and protecting our watersheds,” APS Vice President of Regulation Barbara Lockwood said in a March 20 letter to regulators.

How absurd can you get?

This one is almost as bad a Secretary of State Pompeo’s recent celebration of arctic ice melt.

Coal burning power plants have created climate chaos and extreme weather, which have driven wildfire and devastated forest health. So now, fossil plants are to covert to “biomass” – by burning the trees cut down in a scientifically flawed logging industry scam to “thin forests” to reduce wildfire risk? WTF!

We’ve been warning about the abuses of “biomass” and “forest thinning” – and, of course, the abuse of “jobs versus environment” is a longstanding Big Lie.

The hacks at APS have hit the propaganda trifecta, combining abuses of biomass and forest thinning and wildfires with a jobs justification.

We’ve engaged the forest health scam by DEP and NJ Audubon in the battle over logging on Sparta Mountain – but the “protecting watershed” claim is too absurd to even comment on.

And, to top it all off, the Cholla plant co-owner, Pacificorp – like our friends at NJ Audubon – has the best green cover money can buy.

(For example, here’s a new Orwell for me: “THERMAL” – that’s the term Pacificorp uses to describe their FOSSIL power plants, which make up more than 70% of their power production. The hide while downplaying the Cholla coal plant in their “less than 500 MW” category, because they own only 1 of 4 coal units there).

(On second thought, maybe “THERMAL” isn’t so bad, because it suggests what they are doing: warming the planet.)

We must reject insane corporate schemes and slogans and work toward a Green New Deal.

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Aqua NJ Has Over 1,500 Violations Of Federal Safe Drinking Water Act

May 15th, 2019 No comments

[Update below]

According to US EPA data, the private water company Aqua NJ has over 1,500 violations at its NJ public community drinking water systems.

According to Aqua’s BPU Annual Report, the private corporation Aqua has grown significantly by acquiring 37 smaller NJ public and community drinking water and wastewater systems.

I urge readers to check out that EPA data and see how your system is doing, especially when you read news reports about what a great job DEP is doing in protecting drinking water, or when Legislators, DEP and water industry corporate hacks tout the benefits of privatization. Private companies were supposed to bring greater resources, technical expertise, and management skills to all those small public systems.

Violations include failure to monitor and/or report for and exceedences of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MLC’s) for a host of toxic and cancer causing chemicals including volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s),  radiologicals, inorganic chemicals, lead, nitrates, fecal coliform and disinfection by-products.

The top drinking water systems total violations were as follows:

  • Bunnvale – 556
  • Byram – 238
  • Lawrence – 180
  • Wallkill – 178
  • Spartan Village – 171
  • Cliffside Park – 79

Regardless of the time period, that data shows repeat violations and suggests systemic problems.

In contrast, Warren Glen only had 2 violations.

So we wonder what the hell is going on in Bunnvale (Lebanon Township) and Byram! (Calling Scott Olson!) Are the people who live there and drink that water aware of these violations?

I have not reviewed the entire EPA data in detail to determine important facts like the time period for these violations, whether EPA or DEP took enforcement action for the violations, how serious the violations were from a public health perspective, whether they were minor paperwork violations, or how Aqua’s violations compare to other NJ public water utilities and private corporations.

There were 3,643 records in the EPA database for NJ violations – each violation is documented, but that would take a lot of work to figure out what is going on in an individual system, never mind statewide. I’d also wonder how NJ compared to other states. The EPA national data is presented by State, so that analysis also can be conducted.

There were other community drinking water systems numerous violations. For example, the Alpha system had 321, Hopewell Boro had 318, Flemington had 271, and Allendale had 267.

I selected Aqua because the EPA data are listen alphabetically, and the number and significance of the Aqua violations jumped off the page.

I urge readers and the NJ media to look into those issues.

This post is just a teaser, encouraging more in depth investigation. Let me know what you find out.

[Update: We got an amazingly quick and important clarification about what is happening in Byram, from friend and Byram Councilperson Scott Olson. These are Scott’s personal opinions, not the view of the Township or Council. Byram’s situation could be typical, but I just don’t know:

Formerly private system, poorly run (in my opinion) by volunteers of a small homeowners association. System acquired by Aqua June 2016. After a quick look at the EPA site, there only appears to be one non-health violation since Aqua’s acquisition, “Total Haloacetic Acids” which may have been shortly after they acquired the system and flushed it with chlorine after doing some pipe repairs? Not sure. And one ‘Consumer Confidence Report” report Due 7/1/18 and not filed until 8/16/18.

The numbers on the EPA site are not for 2018 only, they are totals for an extended period of time. ALL the 236 other violations date as far back as 1997 and were from private ownership doing a half-assed job. Aqua provides the 148 homeowners a much safer, better quality drinking water than they had been provided by the private, owner run system. A system, by the way, which also had numerous DEP violations in that time period for exceeding their withdrawal allocations (purportedly due to leaks in pipes). The Highlands Council (at the urging of the township) provided assistance to the homeowner run company to get financing to fix the system during the Eileen Swan era there.

Hate to disappoint you, but Aqua is doing right by these 400 consumers here in Byram. Can’t speak to the rest of the state though.

end update]

 

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Murphy DEP Outsourcing Critical Climate Adaptation Work To Private Water Company

May 10th, 2019 No comments

NJ Still Has No Climate Adaptation Policy, Plan, Planning Process, or Regulations

Corporate Giant Suez Fills Void

Ad Hoc permit imposed 500 year storm for wastewater not mandated for dam safety

The little known NJ Water Supply Advisory Council (WSAC) will meet next Friday in Lawrenceville. The WSAC meets monthly, typically in a sparsely attended DEP or USGS conference room.

WSAC historically has kept controversial and important policy discussions confined to a small circle of industry engineers and DEP regulators and remained below the media radar, except for a brief period during the Christie administration, during the controversy regarding DEP’s failure to upgrade the State Water Supply Plan.

The WSAC was created by the Legislature to provide science based recommendations to DEP: (DEP WSAC website)

P.L. 1981, Chapter 262, also known as the Water Supply Management Act was enacted by the Senate and General Assembly concerning the management of water in New Jersey and ensuring an adequate water supply for its residents. Also established by this Act was the Water Supply Advisory Council (WSAC), which advises the Department concerning the next iteration of the New Jersey State Water Supply Plan (NJSWSP) and other related water supply resource issues.

The WSAC and DEP will receive a  hugely important briefing from Suez on a critical climate adaptation issue. Item #6 on the WSAC agenda:

Climate Resilience Evaluations in Northern New Jersey and Delaware –Alberto Quiroz Centeno, Suez

Suez is a large private corporation that provides water resource infrastructure, management and consumer services in NJ. I assume the agenda reference to “Delaware” is the Delaware River, not the State.

I also assume that their “climate resilience evaluations” have an inherent bias and conflict of interest, and will be self serving, not serving science and the public interest (see cost implications of the technical details below).

Climate resilience is a critical issue in NJ, as illustrated by the billions of dollars in damages caused by Superstorm Sandy and the billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades that public and private utilities are seeking approval of  by the NJ Board of Public Utilities.

The Delaware River has huge flooding problems, as does north jersey.

In addition to the risks and impacts created by climate change, numerous studies have documented the need for billions of dollars of investment required to keep NJ’s crumbling water supply, wastewater, stormwater, and dam infrastructure functioning safely.

Shockingly, despite these huge environmental, safety and financial impacts, the State of NJ still has no statewide policy, no plan, no planning process, or no regulations to address climate change (adaptation or emissions mitigation) or critical infrastructure.

(The Murphy DEP recently embarked on a locally focused voluntary regional coastal resilience plan, but that process is small bore, voluntary, locally based, not statewide, not comprehensive, and not linked to State laws and DEP planning and regulatory programs. This is a “silo” structured & privatized prescription for failure by design).

(Similarly, DEP’s “Asset Management Guidance”, despite including Sandy funds, shockingly fails to even consider climate change impacts on infrastructure. However, that Guidance does stress the importance of public involvement – but cynically, largely to generate public support to justify “full-cost utility rates“, not educate the public about the problem – something lacking in the Suez work

Public Outreach

Explaining the importance of asset management to the decision makers and the public is essential because the benefits of a successful asset management plan are realized over time and may not be readily apparent (i.e. the number and severity of emergencies minimized/avoided). Therefore utilities should consider working with NJDEP to do appropriate public education in conjunction with asset management planning efforts. Communicating the successes and realized benefits (e.g. the reduced costs of proactive maintenance vs. emergency costs and service disruptions) is essential to justifying full-cost utility rates and retention of sufficient revenues to ensure long-term capital reinvestment and system viability.

Importantly, the DEP Asset Management Guidance does indirectly address climate change impacts, but climate is not mentioned and the scope of the application of the technical infrastructure issue with respect to the 500 year design storm is extremely narrow (e.g. it does not address the volume of rainfall and runoff from a 500 year storm, or other relevant projected climate impacts – see technical end note):

  • Elevating critical structures and system components (see Infrastructure Flood Protection section above), etc., above the FEMA 500-year flood elevations

So, the upcoming WSAC briefing on climate resilience fills a very important policy and planning void.

Because I am unable to attend this important meeting, I wrote to DEP to ask the following questions at the meeting.

I hope the media and my former environmental and climate colleagues attend this meeting and ask similar questions (particularly in light of a recent Rutgers/Eagleton poll which found that NJ residents lack knowledge of climate change).

1) Why is a private company, Suez, doing this kind of critical climate adaptation and infrastructure work on their own with no public knowledge or involvement, instead of DEP conducting the work in the context of either the Water Supply Master Plan planning process or a statewide climate adaptation planning process, which are public with public awareness and include public involvement?

This sounds like outsourcing essential public planning processes that are DEP’s responsibility under NJ State law.

2) Suez has touted their climate work in upgrading the Woodcliff Lake dam to consider climate change, see:

SUEZ IN NORTH AMERICA COMPLETES MAJOR SAFETY UPGRADE TO WOODCLIFF LAKE DAM

“With powerful storms like Sandy and Irene occurring more frequently in recent years, purveyors of water supply dams must do what they can to protect the integrity of their facilities. The infrastructure will now be able to withstand a storm event equivalent to nearly four times the intensity of Tropical Storm Floyd.”

Based on these Suez claims:

a) What was the “design storm” that formed the basis of the safety upgrades, purported to address climate change risks and impacts?

b) Who chose that design storm?

c) Does DEP have regulations that mandate a minimum design storm?

d) Since design storm frequency drives exponentially larger volumes of rainfall and runoff, the “nearly four times” linear metric used by Suez may be misleading. Can DEP and/or Suez provide the data to support these claims? i.e. the numbers on rainfall and stormwater runoff and lake storage capacity.

3. FYI, I reviewed the Feasibility study for the upgrade, see:

http://www.hillsdalenj.org/vertical/Sites/%7BFE916F8D-CA48-4788-B4B7-6A2BF8501398%7D/uploads/Woodcliff_Lake_Dam_Study_Report_2013-05-08.pdf

In Table 1 on page 18, a US Army Corps of Engineers Flood Protection Feasibility Study compares costs of 100 and 200 year design storms. Note the huge cost increases, from  $76 million to $116 MILLION.

In contrast, DEP recently imposed a 500 year design storm on a wastewater treatment plant, as NJ Spotlight reported, see:

STATE WANTS SEWER PLANTS TO PLAN FOR 500-YEAR STORMS, EXTENDED OUTAGES

In an effort to prevent raw sewage from spilling into New Jersey’s waterways, the state is beginning to require sewer plants to plan for 500-year storms and to prepare for extended outages of up to 14 days.

The new requirements are incorporated in draft permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection to wastewater treatment plants. They are part of an effort to deal with the recurring problem of untreated sewage mixing with runoff from storms, taxing the capacity of facilities to remove the pollutants, often to the detriment of rivers and bays. […]

“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.’’

Why would DEP impose permit conditions for a 500 year design storm for a wastewater treatment facility and yet apparently not impose the same level of protection for dam safety and other water supply infrastructure? 

The USACE and local feasibility study for the Woodcliff Lake dam upgrade made no mention of DEP regulatory requirements or design storm frequency.

Could you clarify these issues and provide responses to these questions?

I appreciate your assistance.

 [End Note: The DEP Asset Guidance incorporates by reference, in a footnote, to the following technical requirements:

ii See recommendations for critical infrastructure in: The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) code referred to as “ASCE 24-05: Flood Resistant Design and Construction,” FEMA’s Hurricane Katrina Recovery Advisory: “Designing for Flood Levels Above the BFE,” and the Association of State Floodplain Mangers, Inc. position paper “Critical Facilities and Flood Risk.”

The ASCE and FEMA 500 year design storm applies only to “Flood Design Class 4″, which are the following facilities:

Buildings and structures that contain essential facilities and services necessary for emergency response and recovery, or that pose a substantial risk to the community at large in the event of failure, disruption of function, or damage by flooding. Flood Design Class 4 includes (1) hospitals and health care facilities having surgery or emergency treatment facilities; (2) fire, rescue, ambulance, and police stations and emergency vehicle garages; (3) designated emergency shelters; (4) designated emergency preparedness, communication, and operation centers and other facilities required for emergency response; (5) power generating stations and other public utility facilities required in emergencies; (6) critical aviation facilities such as control towers, air traffic control centers, and hangars for aircraft used in emergency response; (7) ancillary structures such as communication towers, electrical substations, fuel or water storage tanks, or other structures necessary to allow continued functioning of a Flood Design Class 4 facility during and after an emergency; and (8) buildings and other structures (including, but not limited to, facilities that manufacture, process, handle, store, use, or dispose of such substances as hazardous fuels, hazardous chemicals, or hazardous waste) containing sufficient quantities of highly toxic substances where the quantity of the material exceeds a threshold quantity established by the authority having jurisdiction and is sufficient to pose a threat to the public if released. [Note (b)]

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