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January 18th, 2022 No comments

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The Corrupt Political Power Of The NJ Chemistry Council, NJ Petroleum Council, And Big Pharma Is Blocking Common Sense Land Use And Chemical Safety Protections

January 18th, 2022 No comments

From Bhopal To Beirut To Paulsboro: Passaic Chemical Fire Shows It Can Happen Here

Legislature Urged To Conduct Oversight And Enact Reforms 

More than 217 people were killed and 7,000 injured when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut’s port on 4 August 2020. The blast displaced 300,000 people and caused widespread destruction and devastation, damaging buildings up to 20km away.  ~~~ Lebanon: One year on from devastating Beirut explosion, authorities shamelessly obstruct justice

The following is literally insane:

In places in NJ, it is illegal to smoke a cigarette within 100 feet of a school or playground.

  • But you can store millions of pounds of “extraordinarily hazardous”, toxic, flammable and/or explosive chemicals literally next door to a school with minimal restrictions.

DEP regulations prohibit idling your car for more than 3 minutes to “protect the lungs of our children”.

  • But you can operate a chemical plant or petroleum refinery that emits millions of pounds of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals into the air literally next door to a school with minimal restrictions.

You can’t get State and local permits to open a bicycle shop, bookstore, art gallery, Internet cafe, food co-op or affordable housing in an old industrial building without making massive investments in fire and other common sense safety measures, like sprinklers, smoke alarms, CO detectors, and fire prevention and suppression systems.

  • But you can store millions of pounds of hugely flammable and explosive chemicals in old industrial buildings – firetraps with wooden floors and roofs – with minimal restrictions.

When Beirut blew up a little over a year ago, killing more than 217 people, Americans ignored or dismissed that catastrophe as the consequence of backwards and corrupt Middle Eastern governments: what government would ever allow millions of pounds of highly explosive material to be stored in a densely populated city?

“The Beirut blast, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, inflicted widespread devastation and caused immense suffering. Lebanese authorities promised a swift investigation; instead they have brazenly blocked and stalled justice at every turn, despite a tireless campaign for justice and criminal accountability by survivors and families of victims,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“The Lebanese government tragically failed to protect the lives of its people, just as it has failed for so long to protect basic socio-economic rights. In blocking the judge’s attempts to summon political officials, the authorities have struck yet another blow to the people of Lebanon. Given the scale of this tragedy, it is astounding to see how far the Lebanese authorities are prepared to go to shield themselves from scrutiny.”

But even larger deadly catastrophes can happen right here in NJ, see:

And we almost just saw one in the Passaic, NJ chemical fire.

And just like Beirut officials resisted and covered up investigation and accountability, so too does that happen right here in NJ.

The resistance and corruption of State and local officials is compounded in NJ by the power of corporate interests, like the NJ Chemistry Council, the NJ Petroleum Council, and Big Pharma who repeatedly have blocked reforms (e.g. see below discussion of how they killed the bill to eliminate the $50 million liability cap. Those same corporate interests have blocked laws and DEP regulations to mandate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions).

For example, very few people are aware that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an investigation into the toxic train derailment that forced evacuation of Paulsboro NJ. For a link to the NTSB Report and excerpts of many critical findings, see:

The NTSB made several highly critical findings about the performance of State and local agencies, yet that NTSB Report was virtually ignored by NJ media, Legislative policymakers, and regulatory agencies like NJ DEP. NTSB found:

About 7:30 a.m., police radio transmissions suggested that the vapor cloud was “nontoxic.”  The police then changed the evacuation orders from mandatory evacuation to shelter-in-place. The police department did not become aware that vinyl chloride had been released until 8:30 a.m., just before the first incident command briefing. The situation was further confused when, at 10:30 a.m., the NJDEP publically (sic) announced that the hazard had dissipated. Therefore, the community protective measures were based on incorrect information about the released material.

…  The NTSB concludes that the dissemination of inaccurate public information about the release of vinyl chloride revealed the lack of an effective system for communicating to the public accurate information about the current situation following the accident.  (@ page 41)

These statistics indicate that many communities in the state still do not have NJSP-OEM-approved EOPs and that these communities are likely unprepared for emergencies that could occur in their jurisdictions, as was the Paulsboro community. This problem is  amplified by New Jersey home rule laws that keep authority for managing an incident at the lowest local government level, thus discouraging regional and state authorities from intervening in an incident, even when faced with obvious response deficiencies.

… The NTSB concludes that had the borough of Paulsboro [or NJ OEM] performed an assessment of the emergency response needs and capabilities for the hazardous materials that are present and transiting through its community, it would have been apparent that the emergency response capabilities and plans were inadequate for the types of high consequence incidents that can occur in the jurisdiction. (@ p.51-52)

Fact-based decisions regarding the community exposure did not occur until the unified command was established at 1:00 p.m., when the federal on-scene coordinator directed more information to be gathered about community exposures. (@ p.42)

Like many small fire departments throughout the country, the Paulsboro Fire Department was unprepared for large-scale hazardous material emergency responses. The frequency of hazardous materials train traffic through the borough would have suggested a higher level of awareness and preparedness. The firefighters need to understand how to respond to incidents involving such hazards and advise the community on whether to evacuate or shelter in place if a release does occur. (@p.47)

The NTSB concludes that the New Jersey firefighter certification and training requirements were not effective as demonstrated by the failure of emergency responders to conduct operations in accordance with established health and safety protocols and OSHA HAZWOPER standards, and their lack of familiarity with available tools to evaluate toxic exposure threats.  (@p.46)

That must not be allowed to happen again.

To try to stimulate the oversight, accountability and legislative and regulatory reforms to improve chemical safety in NJ, I fired off the letter below to Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith.

At the outset, I reminded Smith that he Chaired an Assembly Committee that held oversight hearings on the 1995 Knapp Technologies explosion in Lodi, NJ that killed 4 workers (full disclosure: I testified at that hearing and focused on the Whitman RTK and later broke the story on the TCPA rollbacks):

Dear Chairman Smith:

I am writing to urge that you direct an independent investigation, conduct open public legislative oversight hearings, and sponsor much needed legislative reforms to strengthen chemical safety and emergency response management planning and regulation, as recently exposed by the chemical fire in Passaic NJ.

As you will recall, as Chairman of an Assembly Committee, you held oversight hearings in the wake of the 1995 Knapp Technologies explosion in Lodi, NJ that killed 4 workers and put the community and emergency responders at risk.

Since then there have been a number of related incidents that strongly suggest the need for strengthening NJ’s chemical safety programs, including the toxic train derailment that forced evacuation of the community in Paulsboro, NJ.

As you know, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an investigation into the Paulsboro incident and issued a Report that found significant deficiencies in NJ’s State and local programs.

Unfortunately, the NTSB Report was largely ignored and necessary reforms were not adopted.

In light of those NTSB findings and the recent chemical fire in Passaic, I suggest you focus attention on the following issues: (not an exhaustive list)

I)  Unacceptable Risk Standard and Siting Restrictions, Phase Outs, And Bans

Under the federal Clean Air Act Section 112 Risk Management Planning (RMP) and NJ’s State Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act (TCPA), certain facilities are required to conduct worst case “off site consequence” analysis, including mapping of “kill zones” where nearby people might be killed by a catastrophic release or accident.

Facilities that use and store similarly hazardous chemicals and pose similar risks are not subject to these TCPA  requirements under the NJ Worker and Community Right to Know Act (RTK).

Legislative reforms should: 1) expand TCPA to RTK facilities above a certain risk threshold and mandate those analyses more broadly, 2) require that the results of these analyses be disclosed publicly, and 3) set siting standards as to what would constitute an “unacceptable risk” and unacceptable locations that would force shut down of operations. 

II)  Stronger State Standards and Oversight – Rescind Local Delegations

Please see the NTSB Report findings for deficiencies and suggested reforms.

“This problem is  amplified by New Jersey home rule laws that keep authority for managing an incident at the lowest local government level, thus discouraging regional and state authorities from intervening in an incident, even when faced with obvious response deficiencies.”

III)  Expansion of TCPA Protections Into RTK Program

(see above)

IV)  Public Disclosure Of “Kill Zone” Risk Maps

(see above)

V)  Immediate Incident Response Command Center And Real Time Disclosure Of All Monitoring Data

DEP should be required to immediately – or no later than 30 minutes after discovery – establish an incident command on scene.

DEP also should be required to create a website and disclose all monitoring data, in real time.

VI)  Eliminate The Spill Act $50 Million Cap On Liability

In the wake of the Gulf of Mexico BP oil well blowout, I recall that you sponsored legislation to eliminate the current $50 million liability cap in NJ Spill Act. see:

I understand that that legislation was never adopted, see:

That liability cap is obviously inadequate, as the risks exposed in Paulsboro and Passaic illustrate.

VII)  Additional Training, Certification, And State Oversight

(see NTSB Report findings)

VIII)  Eliminate Current Law Protections Of Trade Secrets

Current law establishes trade secret protections and criminal penalties for disclosure of trade secrets.

The public has no idea about how broadly these laws apply and what information is being kept secret.

It is likely that these secrecy protections are being abused. They should be strictly narrowed or abolished.

I am available to disuse this recommendations or provide additional supporting material.

Respectfully,

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What The People Of Passaic NJ Didn’t Know Almost Killed Them

January 17th, 2022 No comments

Will DEP & Chemical Industry Get A Pass On Huge Risks Revealed By Passaic Chemical Fire?

A Bhopal Toxic Catastrophe Can Happen Here

Kuehne Chemical, Kearny, NJ. Accident would kill over 100,000 people. Note chemical industry “Responsible Care” PR logo. Is it responsible to pose this kind of fatal threat to 12 million people living in an urban area?

Kuehne Chemical, Kearny, NJ. Accident would kill over 100,000 people. Note chemical industry “Responsible Care” PR logo. Is it responsible to pose this kind of fatal threat to 12 million people living in an urban area?

These totally unacceptable risks are concentrated in NJ’s poor and minority communities, yet the highly touted NJ environmental justice law does not apply to chemical safety issues, e.g. the DEP Right To Know, Pollution Prevention, or Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Acts.

They built a giant power station
And It ticks each night as the city sleeps
Or maybe seconds from annihilation, yeah
But no one stopped to think about the people
Or just how they would survive
Yes we’ve almost lost Detroit, this time, yeah, this time
When it comes to people’s safety,
money wins out every time. ~~~ We Almost Lost Detroit, Gil Scott-Heron

The people of Passaic NJ and surrounding towns just dodged a deadly bullet. Actually, it was far more than a bullet, it was a bomb.

How can millions of pounds of a deadly chemical be allowed to be stored in a densely populated city?

And it is not the first time –

I was around in 1995 when the Knapp Technologies explosion (hit link for the NY Times story) killed four workers, where an investigation revealed that the Whitman Administration’s rollback of DEP Right To Know (RTK) regulations put workers, emergency responders, and the public at risk.

Just prior to that disaster, the Whitman DEP rolled back chemical safety regulations despite warnings from DEP experts that there would be a “significant increase in the number of potential fatalities“.

Specifically, a July 29, 1994 memo from Assistant Commissioner Nagy to Commissioner Shinn compared DEP’s strict standards with weaker EPA requirements. It warned of a significant increase in the number of potential fatalities if DEP rolled back NJ standards to federal EPA minimums. This was not some tree hugger warning, it came from Shinn’s own Assistant Commissioner (complete memo found on page 126 of Whitman Senate confirmation transcript):

“Industry (e.g., CIC and NJBIA) would obviously prefer backing off to the EPA thresholds. ….However, the increases made by EPA on adoption were so large (averaging some 18 times the TCPA values with 33 of the 60 substances common to both lists assigned from 5 to 167 times corresponding TCPA values) that they are not technically justifiable in an area as densely populated as New Jersey where substances are generally handled on small sites, and would correlate with a significant increase in the number of potential fatalities.

Got that? The Whitman DEP policy would result in an “Increase in the number of potential fatalities”. That warning was issued 9 months BEFORE the Knapp Technologies disaster. In addition to ignoring those TCPA warnings, Whitman  slashed New Jersey’s Right to know list by about 2,000 chemicals and adopted the weaker federal EPA RTK reporting thresholds, based on Whitman’s Ex. Order #27 federal consistency policy.

DEP’s “Worker and Community Right To Know Act” regulations explicitly acknowledge (but under-regulate) fire and explosive risks:

“Unusually Hazardous” means likely to explode due to a highly volatile nature, a propensity to produce toxic fumes, or a tendency to react with water or common firefighting chemicals and any other property which the Department of Environmental Protection determines will make a substance an uncommon danger to firefighters and the surrounding community in the event of its exposure to a fire.

While DEP regulations severely under-regulate the chemical industry and fail to adequately inform and protect the public, they do protect corporate interests and even establish criminal penalties for whistleblowing and/or leaking certain information:

7:1G-6.16 Penalties for Unauthorized Disclosure of Trade Secret Information

(a) Any officer or employee of the State, contractor of the State, physician or osteopath, or employee or a county health department, county clerk, or designated county lead agency, local fire department, or local police department, or any other person who has access to any confidential information, and who willingly and knowingly discloses the confidential information to any person not authorized to receive it, is guilty of a crime of the third degree.

But still, nothing essentially has changed at DEP for almost 30 years since the Knapp disaster. Gov. Murphy even retained the Whitman/Christie federal consistency rollback policy (see Murphy’s Ex. Order #63).

Twelve years ago, I again wrote this to warn of those risks:

Although the public knows virtually nothing about it, this is not a problem of NJ’s industrial legacy. NJ still is saturated with deadly dangerous chemical manufacturing and storage facilities, typically located in densely populated areas: (NJTV News)

“Shelter in place is what I grew up in as ‘duck and cover.’ The idea that you could somehow shelter in place and be safe from these risks is ludicrous on its face,” Wolfe said. …

These facilities are part of a chemical industrial complex that stretches for about 20 miles along the banks of the Delaware River. Paulsboro is a community that’s pretty much in the middle of that. We were at Paulsboro High School, about a football field away from those facilities.

“The industry has created maps showing where there is called a ‘kill zone’ where in the event of an accident like this, had that been a chlorine tank, literally hundreds or thousands of people could have been killed, instantly,” Wolfe said.  ~~~NJTV News, 12/4/14

The chemical fire in Passaic involved chlorine.

Very recently, on December 9, 2021, I again wrote about the NJ Right To Know and other chemical safety regulatory programs. I highlighted the fact that because DEP no longer issued annual public reports, that the people of NJ were put at risk, see:

The DEP has failed to prepare and publicly release annual Reports of the critically important data on manufacture, use, storage and discharge of toxic and extraordinarily hazardous chemicals collected under the NJ Worker and Community Right to Know Act, the Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act, and the Pollution Prevention Act. DEP had annually released public reports of that data for decades, prior to 2010….

These failures at DEP have gone unchallenged by any Legislative oversight or media coverage.

Environmental groups who used to work on these pollution and corporate accountability issues have abandoned the field for corporate foundation funded “greener” pastures.

The public has no way of knowing about any of this. […]

V) Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act

These are the “Bhopal” facilities, were an accident literally could kill thousands of people nearby.

In fact, DEP TCPA regulations require a chemical facility to prepare a map that show’s the “kill zone”.

They hide the “kill zone” behind the Orwellian bureaucratic euphemism “off site consequence analysis.

Thousands dead is some “consequence”, eh?

Do you live in a “kill zone”? Does you child go to school in a “kill zone”?

Don’t ask DEP – and they won’t tell 

These totally unacceptable risks are concentrated in NJ’s poor and minority communities, yet the highly touted NJ environmental justice law does not apply to chemical safety issues, e.g. the DEP Right To Know, Pollution Prevention, or Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Acts.

As I warned on 11/16/20 (see: Questions For Senator Booker and EJ Advocates At NJ Spotlight’s Roundtable On NJ’s “Landmark” EJ Law

The NJ EJ law does not apply to greenhouse gas emissions & climate adaptation

It also does not apply to “extraordinarily hazardous substances” (i.e. to facilities subject to NJ’s Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act and federal Clean Air Act Sect. 112 Risk Management Planning requirements).

It also exempted contaminated sites & air pollution sources that emit less than 100 tons/per year (including industrial emissions of hazardous air pollutant (HAP)s, many of which are carcinogens and create unacceptable risks in far lesser quantities).

There needs to be much stricter DEP regulatory oversight and stricter standards (like fire prevention and suppression in old industrial buildings that are fire hazards) for these kinds of unacceptable chemical risks, including banning some locations where storage of highly toxic chemicals is nearby dense residential neighborhoods.

I sent to this note to Bergen Record reporter Yellin, who did a local fire department focused story about how Passaic dodged a bullet, asking for followup to investigate the broader issues and the need to reduce these unacceptable risks:

Greetings – just read your story.

Perhaps you might want to do followup on the DEP angle, as the stored chemicals were subject to DEP Right To Know (RTK) program requirements and DEP Emergency Management was on scene. Both program have not been subject to media or public scrutiny in a long time and the last time it was (Paulsboro toxic train derailment), the National transportation Safety Board issued a scathingly critical report on their performance. You might be surprised by the qualifications (NONE) of the DEP Chief of Staff who oversee the DEP Emergency Response program. And the fact that DEP no longer releases annual RTK Reports and data on chemical use etc.

Were their RTK plans up to date? When was last DEP inspection? What is the compliance and enforcement history here? Were local emergency responders aware of RTK hazards and fire prevention and emergency response? Are sprinklers and otters fire prevention measures required by DEP RTK regulations?

Here is an excerpt on my initial take:

http://www.wolfenotes.com/2022/01/passaic-chemical-fire-raises-concerns-about-dep-emergency-response/

“First off, it looks like the chlorine Pool Trol Chlorine Stabilizer by Qualco, Inc. (Cyanuric acid CAS #108-80-5) is a chemical regulated by NJ DEP’s Right To Know program.

5. Fire Fighting Measures Suitable Extinguishing Media: Use water spray, alcohol-resistant foam, dry chemical or carbon dioxide Special Hazards Arising from the substance or mixture: Carbon oxides, Nitrogen … additional processing occurs. Provide appropriate exhaust ventilation at places where dust is formed. For precautions, see section 2.2. Storage: Keep container tightly closed in a dry, well ventilated place.

Second, the DEP Emergency Response program was severely criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in how it responded to the toxic train derailment in Paulsboro, NJ, see:

A lot of the NTSB criticism involved various communications and management failures.

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Passaic Chemical Fire Raises Concerns About DEP Emergency Response And Chemical Safety Issues

January 15th, 2022 No comments

DEP Emergency Response Reports To Gov. Via A Weak Link In The Chain of Command

Was Chemical Plant Subject to DEP Right To Know & TCPA Regulations?

Another “duck and cover” and “duct tape” job?

evacuation1

The NY Times concludes its report today on the chemical fire in Passaic thusly: (my emphasis)

Mr. Lora said that he had spoken to Gov. Philip D. Murphy, who dispatched state environmental and emergency management officials to the scene.

Mr. Murphy said on Twitter on Friday that he was urging “everyone in Passaic to stay safe.”

“Praying for the safety of our first responders on the scene,” he wrote.

So, let’s dispatch with the Gov.’s prayers – on Twitter no less – while I make just a few important observations about DEP’s Emergency Response program that some enterprising journalist may want to investigate.

(Does Gov. Murphy even know that stuff like this actually happens in NJ?:

First off, it looks like the chlorine Pool Trol Chlorine Stabilizer by Qualco, Inc. (Cyanuric acid CAS #108-80-5) is a chemical regulated by NJ DEP’s Right To Know program.

5. Fire Fighting Measures

Suitable Extinguishing Media: Use water spray, alcohol-resistant foam, dry chemical or carbon dioxide Special Hazards Arising from the substance or mixture: Carbon oxides, Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
Advice for firefighters: Wear self-contained breathing apparatus for firefighting if necessary.

7. Handling and Storage

Handling: Further processing of solid materials may result in the formulation of combustible dusts. The potential for combustible dust formation should be taken into consideration before additional processing occurs. Provide appropriate exhaust ventilation at places where dust is formed. For precautions, see section 2.2. Storage: Keep container tightly closed in a dry, well ventilated place.

Were their RTK plans up to date? When was last DEP inspection? What is the compliance and enforcement history here? Were local emergency responders aware of RTK hazards and fire prevention and emergency response?

Second, the DEP Emergency Response program was severely criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in how it responded to the toxic train derailment in Paulsboro, NJ, see:

A lot of the NTSB criticism involved various communications and management failures.

About 7:30 a.m., police radio transmissions suggested that the vapor cloud was “nontoxic.”  The police then changed the evacuation orders from mandatory evacuation to shelter-in-place. The police department did not become aware that vinyl chloride had been released until 8:30 a.m., just before the first incident command briefing. The situation was further confused when, at 10:30 a.m., the NJDEP publically (sic) announced that the hazard had dissipated. Therefore, the community protective measures were based on incorrect information about the released material.

…  The NTSB concludes that the dissemination of inaccurate public information about the release of vinyl chloride revealed the lack of an effective system for communicating to the public accurate information about the current situation following the accident.  (@ page 41)

These statistics indicate that many communities in the state still do not have NJSP-OEM-approved EOPs and that these communities are likely unprepared for emergencies that could occur in their jurisdictions, as was the Paulsboro community. This problem is  amplified by New Jersey home rule laws that keep authority for managing an incident at the lowest local government level, thus discouraging regional and state authorities from intervening in an incident, even when faced with obvious response deficiencies.

… The NTSB concludes that had the borough of Paulsboro [or NJ OEM] performed an assessment of the emergency response needs and capabilities for the hazardous materials that are present and transiting through its community, it would have been apparent that the emergency response capabilities and plans were inadequate for the types of high consequence incidents that can occur in the jurisdiction. (@ p.51-52)

Fact-based decisions regarding the community exposure did not occur until the unified command was established at 1:00 p.m., when the federal on-scene coordinator directed more information to be gathered about community exposures. (@ p.42)

Like many small fire departments throughout the country, the Paulsboro Fire Department was unprepared for large-scale hazardous material emergency responses. The frequency of hazardous materials train traffic through the borough would have suggested a higher level of awareness and preparedness. The firefighters need to understand how to respond to incidents involving such hazards and advise the community on whether to evacuate or shelter in place if a release does occur. (@p.47)

The NTSB concludes that the New Jersey firefighter certification and training requirements were not effective as demonstrated by the failure of emergency responders to conduct operations in accordance with established health and safety protocols and OSHA HAZWOPER standards, and their lack of familiarity with available tools to evaluate toxic exposure threats.  (@p.46)

Were those same flaws repeated in this Passaic fire? Who will ask DEP about all that?

Third, I Hear An Echo: Does anyone recall the real reason for Gov. McGreevey’s downfall?

It was not because he was gay.

It was because he installed his lover in a critically important emergency management post:(Wiki)

During his gubernatorial tenure, McGreevey—who was then married to Dina Matos —appointed Golan Cipel, his secret lover, as homeland security advisor despite Cipel’s lack of relevant experience or qualifications.

Now let’s explain that echo to the McGreevey administration.

The current Murphy DEP Emergency Response Program is headed by longtime veteran DEP manger Bon Van Fossen (see DEP Org chart). Despite scathing NTSB criticism, he is eminently qualified for that job.

So far, so good.

But notice from the DEP organizational chart that veteran DEP Emergency Response manager Bob Van Fossen reports to DEP Commissioner LaTourette (who reports to Gov. Murphy) through the DEP Chief of Staff, a very young and inexperience woman named Jane Rosenblatt.

She has no business being in that position and is totally unqualified for it.

She has ZERO education or experience in Emergency Management or Emergency Response or even DEP. NONE. NADA

How can Rosenblatt possibly be the Chief of Staff at DEP – reporting directly to the Commissioner and overseeing the DEP Emergency Response Program – when she has ZERO DEP experience and ZERO management experience? What kind of Commissioner would hire someone like that?

If that name sounds familiar, perhaps that’s because her father, Dave Rosenblatt, is a long time DEP manager and Chief Resilience Officer and Assistant Commission at the Murphy DEP. Slightly off the emergency response topic (but germane to the Commissioner’s judgement), but this Rosenblatt has his own issues:

Surely [LaTourette] must know that [his] chosen “Chief Resilience Officer” Dave Rosenblatt was DEP’s point person in dealing with former Gov. Christie’s “Sandy Redevelopment Czar” Marc Ferdan.

Thus, Gov. Murphy is dependent upon someone with absolutely no experience or expertise in how he gets his information from DEP regarding critical emergency response activities.

Thus, DEP Commissioner LaTourette – who reports directly to Gov. Murphy – is reliant on a Chief of Staff with no expertise or experience in communicating and managing complex scientific and regulatory issues involved in emergency management.

Thus, the community at risk of evacuation and the media are dependent on this same weak link in the DEP chain of command.

Just let that sink in.

Then call your legislator and demand legislative oversight at DEP.

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NJ League Of Conservation Voters Joins NJ Builders Association In Promoting Pinelands Development

January 15th, 2022 No comments

Attack On PDC Program Will Be The Camel’s Nose Under The Tent To Gut CMP

Time For Conservation Community To Rein In Potosnak And Circle The Wagons

DSC1729

“Twenty, 25 years ago, 30 years ago … the towns, many of them did not want to accommodate residential growth,” said Grogan. “That has completely turned around. What we see today are towns begging the commission to allow for more residential growth.” (Asbury Park Press, 1/7/22)

[Update below]

The delicate situation in the ecologically critical NJ Pinelands is spiraling out of control. It could become a death spiral.

Economic and political forces are mounting enormous development pressure on the Pinelands region, and Gov. Murphy – after 4 years of virtually ignoring the Pinelands – just radically upended and weakened an already pro-development Pinelands Commission.

The Gov.’s Pinelands move follows his administration’s support of an economic development plan for the NJ Highlands region, whose authorizing legislation (the Highlands Act) and Regional Master Plan land use plan was based on the Pinelands Act and the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).

The Governor just appointed a personal political loyalist (Laura Matos, immediately installed as Chair) and a corporate crony (Davon McCurry, with Orsted, the Gov.’s heavily subsidized & Wall Street financed  off shore wind developer) on the Commission.

The Gov. terminated reliable conservation votes by the Chairman Richard Prickett and Commissioner Rohan Greene. Two good people just thrown under the bus in order to install the gov.’s political loyalists and corporate cronies. Disgusting. No good deed goes unpunished (and the conservation community didn’t even fight for them).

That move comes at a time when the Commission is seeking a new Executive Director after the unexpected death of Nancy Wittenberg. The Gov.’s move exacerbated the prior 7 – 4 County appointee pro-development voting block on the Commission to a 9-3 pro-development slant.

At the same time, the conservation community – who are supposed to serve as an advocate for preservation and watchdog on the Commission – just completely collapsed, fragmented, cut a dirty deal, and actually supported the Gov.’s move.

Asbury Park Press reporter Amanda Oglesby recently wrote a good overview piece, that sets the stage and outlines what’s at stake, see:

Oglesby quotes Carleton Montgomery, Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, at length on the ecological and water resource values provided by the Pinelands forests and why the Pinelands Commission is so important.

But, while not really surprised given his political corruption in support of Gov. Murphy, I was shocked by how Olgesby then quoted Ed Potosnak of the NJ League of Conservation Voters (NJ LCV) at length, concurring with the NJ Builders Association:

Though [Acting Executive Director] Grogan says the credit system is a success, New Jersey builders think otherwise. Jeff Kolakowski, CEO of the New Jersey Builders Association, said the credit system has added “unnecessary costs to the production of housing” around the Pinelands and has failed to work as it was originally intended.

“Regardless of whether you are building a 1,000-square-foot apartment or a 10,000-square-foot mansion, the price of PDCs (Pinelands Development Credits) are the same on every unit of housing, which in turn serves as a disincentive to more compact development,” Kolakowski said in an emailed statement. “Further complicating the matter is that PDCs are scarce and in high demand, which resulted in the price of PDCs more than doubling since last year.”

It’s a concern he shares with environmentalists, who also say new nominees to the Pinelands Commission need to address the issue.

“What we want to see is denser development in the growth zones, because it reduces the (suburban) sprawl and has a smaller environmental impact,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “The existing system actually disincentivizes this kind of development so you have things like six-acre zoning. The houses are further apart, which means you need longer roads and longer water systems and sewer pipes, and you are cutting down more trees.”

Potosnak wants Pinelands rules to favor more dense housing surrounded by open space.

“We can provide, through the Pinelands Commission, even more incentive by changing the way the credits work, that folks can get more credit if they do some of these things we think are better for the environment and actually better aligned with what … prospective homeowners are looking for.”

Whoa! WTF? Are you kidding me?

Is Potosnak now a real estate agent? (“aligned with what … prospective homeowners are looking for.”)

The man knows nothing about land use planning or the Pinelands CMP. (And, while I’ve been out of State for several years, I’ve never seen him at a Pinelands Commission meeting and am not aware of anything NJ LCV has ever done in the Pinelands to promote preservation). (a reliable longtime Pinelands advocate just wrote to tell me that Potosnak has never been to a Pinelands Commission meeting. How is he possibly now a spokesman for “environmentalists?”).

Potosnak’s statements are ill-informed, politically dangerous, and flat out false (it will take several posts to explain why).

On top of that, it is abundantly clear that he is a political whore for Gov. Murphy and is committed to supporting Gov. Murphy’s tools the Gov. just installed at the Pinelands Commission and their policy agenda.

And on top of all that, Potosnak is concurring with the NJ Builders Association on flaws with and need to revise the CMP to promote denser development and “reform” the Pinelands Development Credit (PDC) system.

I am no fan of trading schemes like the PDC program, because they are designed to promote growth, are a form of privatization that restricts public involvement, and because the designated growth areas are often poorly planned and allow far too much growth (and climate issues and ecological water limits were never considered).

It is obvious that the NJ Builders Association game plan is to focus on”reforms” to the PDC program and that will serve as the camel’s nose under the tent to gut the CMP. Ed Potosnak is either a dupe or a whore – or both.

Opening the dood to any CMP amendments to promote growth under the current economic and political conditions would be a disaster.

We should not even be talking about more growth.

The conservation agenda for the Pinelands needs to focus on adopting CMP amendments to address the climate emergency, restrict water use to protect ecological functions, restrict destruction by ORV’s, and regulate endocrine disrupting chemicals.

To slow this train down, I sent the following email to Carleton Montgomery, who sits on the NJ LCV Board and has the power to rein him in: Potosnak can not possibly become the voice of the conservation community in the Pinelands (or anywhere else):

Carleton – You are on the Board of NJ LCV.

I was disgusted by the role NJ LCV played in supporting Gov. Murphy’s nominees (he also undermined PPA’s position, which I also did not support)..

Now, I read in the Asbury Park Press that Ed Potosnak is speaking on Pines land use issues and agreeing with the NJ Builders Association? WTF? see:

https://www.app.com/story/news/local/land-environment/2022/01/07/pinelands-commission-future-ocean-county-south-jersey-stake/8793943002/

You must rein Potosnak in. We are in dangerous times. Suggest you folks circle the wagon and do something publicly to slow this train down.

Wolfe

We’ll keep you posted –

I’m highly skeptical of any engagement, and note that the NJ LCV Board is stacked with other lame, well fed fellow Foundation funded, Murphy sycophants, including Tom Gilbert, NJCF and Julia Somers of the Highlands Coalition. They have not only been Murphy cheerleaders, but have not objected to the Gov.’s Highlands economic development initiative.

Ed Potosnak, 2nd from left w/ Gov. Murphy - this is what a sycophant looks like

Ed Potosnak, 2nd from left w/ Gov. Murphy – this is what a sycophant looks like

[Update: 1/18/22 – Carleton Montgomery of PPA writes to tell me that I got it all wrong:

The point that development in the regional growth areas should be higher density than it has been to date is one PPA has advocated for many years.  That means, among other things, changing the incentive structure built into the PDC requirements so they do not dis-incentivize higher density.  The very low density development that has marked almost all residential development in the growth areas just uses the limited growth area land inefficiently, while causing just as much habitat and water loss as would higher densities on the same land areas – something the Commission’s science program found long ago to be the case.

To rebut his ideas about density in the growth areas and the risks of opening the CMP right now, I responded thusly:

So, you would support opening the CMP to amendments regarding managing growth in the growth areas?

Do you think that is a wise stance right now, given the recent changes on the Commission and the development pressures?

I disagree with your characterization of low density land use as “inefficient” – what exactly is your optimization objective to define “efficiency”? Revenue per square foot? Lower per acre site improvement and infrastructure costs to the developer?

I have not reviewed the science program report, so if you could send a link, I’d appreciate it.

Aside from all that, if you are not troubled by the role of NJ LCV in recent events – a concern I raised that you ignore – I would strongly differ.

If you are concerned with habitat and water loss (recharge? consumptive use?), perhaps you might want to shrink the growth area boundaries and allowable growth in them and focus on setting the long overdue ecological based water allocation restrictions.

That might be a far more protective approach than supporting higher densities.

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