Lowell, Arizona – An Authentic Twilight Zone Town

October 22nd, 2021 No comments

You’re travelling through another dimension. A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

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Now wake up from that dream – You’re On Erie Street (no pun):

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[End Note: Ironically, my family emigrated from Eastern Europe during the Civil War and settled in Lowell Massachusetts, to work in the textile mills as “wage slaves”.]

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The Biden “Bipartisan” Infrastructure Bill Is A Climate Disaster

October 22nd, 2021 No comments

Promotion Of Logging And Other Major Flaws Would Massively Increase GHG Emissions

I just read an important Report from the John Muir Project (h/t CP) that exposes and documents the impacts of massive flaws in the Biden “bipartisan” infrastructure bill and the so called “progressive” budget reconciliation bill that I need to summarize here, see:

My initial rapid read of the Senate infrastructure bill flagged the logging and climate flaws documented in this Report. While I focused on carbon capture and other fossil subsidies, I briefly mentioned the logging and others flaws in this August 19, 2021 post:

But just reading the table of contents of the bi-partisan infrastructure bill reveals lots of bad stuff.There are NEPA categorical exclusions to “streamline” regulatory review (and something called “one federal approval”), several exemptions & loopholes for logging, and privatization and deregulation.

The tradition highway construction funding will result in huge new greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps the Congressional Budget Office might produce a “score” on this bill, not in terms of spending and effects on the deficit, but on quantifying the new carbon emissions the bill would create.

The Biden Neoliberal approach amounts to all carrots and no sticks (the bill has been dubbed “false solutions” – and “apocalypse soon”)

I have not read the current version of the budget reconciliation bill under negotiation.

For years, I’ve been trying to make the link between logging and climate and DEP failures in opposing what are relatively small logging projects here in NJ, e.g. see:

So I’m glad John Muir made the effort to document them in the pending bills.

Here are the John Muir Report’s mind blowing Key Findings:

Screen Shot 2021-10-22 at 9.18.33 AM

As Jeffrey St. Clair ironically wrote:

+ A new report from the John Muir Project and the Center for a Sustainable Economy details how provisions in Infrastructure & Reconciliation bills would increase annual CO2 emissions from logging by 48%, pushing these annual emissions well over 1 gigaton per year. So perhaps Manchin and Sinema are unwittingly doing the planet a favor by blocking this bill…

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Murphy DEP Cynically Spins Allocation of Green Acres Funds To Cover For Failure To Implement “Historic” Environmental Justice Law

October 21st, 2021 No comments

NJ Spotlight Parrots DEP Spin, With No Mention Of Context

More Gaslighting By DEP On Environmental Justice And Climate

Duck Island Neglect Continues

Last September, NJ Gov. Murphy boldly claimed that the flawed environmental justice bill he signed into law was “historic”. In fact, that was the title of his self promoting and highly misleading press release.

But note how the Gov. correctly highlights the regulatory role of the DEP:

Fulfilling a commitment to enact sweeping protections for environmental justice communities, Governor Phil Murphy today, alongside U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Ras Baraka, Senator Troy Singleton, Assemblyman John McKeon, and environmental advocates, signed legislation (S232), which requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications. New Jersey is the first state in the nation to require mandatory permit denials if an environmental justice analysis determines a new facility will have a disproportionately negative impact on overburdened communities

Yet, over 1 year since the Gov. signed the bill into law, the DEP has failed to implement it.

The DEP permit regulations authorized by the bill are nowhere in sight.  

So just where are these “historic” and “sweeping protections”?

Yet the EJ advocates, Murphy “vanguard” sycophants, Democratic politicians, and cheerleading press corps have not raised one objection to this DEP delay.

Just the opposite: at every opportunity, they have misled the public about DEP’s actual EJ performance.

The most recent example of this false and manipulative cheerleading is today’s NJ Spotlight’s “fact of the day”:

The Garden State Preservation Trust will consider the following recommended allocations:

  • $42.2 million in grants and loans for 49 park development projects in urban, suburban and rural communities. Nearly 84% of these funds are for local park development projects and land acquisitions in municipalities with overburdened communities;

The Spotlight factoid not only ignores critically important context on the very recent history of open space and parks funding, but it creates the misleading impression that funds are allocated primarily to “overburdened” urban communities.

I)  Grossly Misleading Spin On Environmental Justice, Climate, and Resilience

Let’s start with Spotlight’s “overburdened communities” claim.

That Spotlight claim is based on a DEP Green Acres Report: (emphases mine)

This year, special priority was given to projects that meet the Department’s priorities. Applicants were encouraged to formulate projects that anticipate and address climate change impacts, advance long-term resilience goals, provide equitable and meaningful public access, and maximize social, environmental, and health benefits to the public, particularly within Overburdened Communities. Nearly 84% of the funding approved to local governments this round is for projects in municipalities that contain Overburdened Communities.

First of all, this is the first time I can recall DEP blatantly politicizing the Green Acres program in this transparent and cynical way, to not only mislead the public, but to mask their policy and regulatory failures. DEP has done nothing on climate, on EJ, or on resilience.

Just the opposite.

In addition to doing absolutely nothing on the regulatory front to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in fact, although unreported by the NJ press corps and NJ Spotlight, the DEP even failed to support a petition by climate activists.

The DEP’s spin on the benefits of Green Acres climate and resilience projects is misleading.

I read the project descriptions in the DEP Report – as well as in the Garden State Preservation Trust’s approved projects allocation spreadsheets.

I can assure you that the “climate” and “resilience” objectives are pure rhetoric the projects are designed for other purposes and those slogans are merely an appendage.

It is a fact free assumption that the geographic allocation to “overburdened communities” actually promotes environmental justice. The same is true for the DEP’s claims on climate and resilience. 

Why are fact free assumptions parroted by NJ Spotlight?

Second, the 84% funding to “overburdened communities” claim is even more misleading for three reasons:

1) it simply is not factually accurate – 84% of 42% is 35%.

Do the math: Of the $100 million total, $42.2 million is allocated. Of that, 84% is to “overburdened communities”. So, just 35% of the total funds are allocated to overburdened communities.

There is a very big difference between 84% and 35%. And the law defines “overburdened communities” very, very, broadly.

2) there is no factual or technical basis to support a conclusion that these projects (i.e. the allocation to the statutorily defined “overburdened communities’) are actually designed for, are based on, or would in any way actually promote environmental justice.

Such a claim is not even made or supported by those applicants seeking the funding. Such a claim is largely a figment of DEP Commission LaTourette’s imagination and more of his gaslighting spin.

[Update: a reader sent me this note on the statutory definition of “overburdened”:

The definition of overburdened in the EJ law is on race ,foreign born , speaks foreign language – not pollution- so if your definition includes Alpine and West Windsor they overburdened- while Gibbstown white working class is not. Orwell lives.

As I’ve written, even DEP defines “overburdened” based not only on race, ethnicity and income, but on the actual cumulative burdens and health impacts and risks of pollution and pollution sources. ~~~~ end update]

3) it masks DEP’s failure to implement the “historic” environmental justice law.

The only thing DEP has done to implement that law is to provide a list of “overburdened communities” as defined in that law.

The DEP permit regulations are nowhere to be seen, and with no commitment from DEP to a date certain to propose and adopt those regulations.

Regardless, as I’ve written many times, the law is fatally flawed and can not achieve it’s rhetorical objectives, e.g. see:

II) Lack Of Context And Recent History Of Green Acres Funding Masks Huge Problems

The DEP Report and Spotlight transcription create two main false impressions: 1) a priority to urban EJ policy and projects (which I debunked above); and 2) big funding of parks.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true:

1) total historic Green acres funds have been sharply reduced,

2) previously Constitutionally dedicated capital funding to State parks was terminated,

3) DEP clean water and toxic site cleanup funds were stolen, and funding for private elite conservation groups and highly questionable “stewardship” project was increased.

Spotlight falls to mention this critical context and these facts, particularly State Parks Director Texel’s devastating words:

As the Director of the NJ State Park Service now coping with the reality that our entire Parks capital budget will be completely eliminated beginning July 1, 2015 as a result of the YES vote I can say this is the darkest day I have faced in my professional career. Worse than Superstorm Sandy.

The “Keep It Green Coalition – a groups I call NJ’s “Green Mafia” – was responsible for the: a) Green Acres funding cuts; b) termination of State parks dedicated funding; c) diversion of DEP clean water and toxic site cleanup money; and d) self dealing by feathering their own elite nests, see:

I won’t rehash that entire history here today – those interested can chase the links in the above link or word search the blog.

The only “good news” I can report is that it looks like Trump Partner – whose “stewardship” program is led by a former Exxon hack – NJ Audubon didn’t get any money or for logging Sparta Mountain.

NJA CEO Eric Stiles seems to be “on the cusp”  seeking other government troughs to feed at.

III)  Speaking of urban parks and environmental justice

I remain frustrated by the neglect and total lack of engagement with the potential for a magnificent urban park on Duck Island:

3. Duck Island Should Be Cleaned Up, Restored, And Developed As An Urban State Park

Duck Island is a gem on the Delaware River in Trenton. It would make a spectacular urban riverfront park, in NJ’s Capital City.

The Island not only has major problems with illegal solid waste disposal and litter.

There are toxic sites on the island that are not completely cleaned up and the public has not been fully compensated for Natural Resource Damages (NRD) caused by major corporate polluters, including oil industry corporations and PSEG.

There also is a mothballed sludge incinerator that was so poorly designed it never operated, and a closed PSEG power plant.

PSEG recently sold their closed power plant property on Duck Island to Hilco Redevelopment Partners, a development company. According to PSEG:

HRP envisions redeveloping the sites as state-of-the-art industrial parks to serve the growing need for regional warehouse distribution hubs in central and northern New Jersey.

The last thing we need is another “warehouse distribution hub”, especially on the shore of the Delaware River on the edge of Trenton.

The state has no vision.

By failing to develop comprehensive remedial and ecological restoration plans for the entire Duck Island the State of NJ missed a golden opportunity to acquire that land from PSEG as the anchor of a new urban State Park.

But it’s not too late.

Hilco Redevelopment has not received DEP approvals for demolition or redevelopment at the site.

The Murphy administration should immediately do the following:

1) put Hilco on notice that the State of NJ plans to make the Island a State park, will not approve redevelopment permits, and desires to negotiate the purchase of the site. If Hilco is not interested, then NJ is willing to condemn the land, with compensation.

2) Put all the polluters on notice, via an NRD lawsuit, that the State seeks to restore damaged natural resources on the island and that they must pay for the damage they did.

3) allocate CBT Open Space funds to DEP Division of Parks to develop remedial, ecological restoration and park plans.

4) Begin acquiring lands on the island with Green Acres Funds.

5) Put together a package for a legislative appropriation and allocate adequate funds in next fiscal year’s budget.

This is all technically doable and financially feasible.

I am shocked that with all the Penn Foundation money dedicated to the Delaware Watershed (more tha $100 million) and all the well endowed NJ conservation groups that receive that money, that there is absolutely no vision for this gorgeous site, which could become a premier state park and provide tremendous benefits to a distressed city.

The fact this lack of vision and outright neglect is occurring under a Democratic administration that claims to be committed to environmental justice is an outrage and totally unacceptable.

Where are the conservation groups? The major Foundations? The Democrats?

The fact that this idea is not even on the radar is another example of corporate PSEG power in NJ.

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Delaware River Basin Commission Urged To Remove Dupont Representative And Restrict Chemical Industry Influence On Toxics Advisory Committee

October 20th, 2021 No comments

Dupont Representative Has Huge Conflicts Of Interests

A Test Of DRBC’s Scientific Integrity

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The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) announced that it is seeking a new “industry” representative to serve on the Commission’s “Toxics Advisory Committee” (TAC).

The current “industry” representative on the TAC is J. Bart Ruiter of The Chemours Company.

Chemours recently assumed the assets and liabilities of the Dupont corporation, so Chemours is essentially Dupont.

We previously attempted to block that Chemours spinoff or have US EPA impose regulatory conditions to protect the public interest, see:

Dupont/Chemours are major corporate toxic polluters to waters regulated by the DRBC, which creates an obvious and blatant set of problems, ranging from conflicts of interest to scientific integrity.

I just wrote DRBC Director Steven Tambini the below letter requesting that he remove Chemours from the TAC and establish new policies and procedures to prevent undue and/or improper industry influence on DRBC policies and decisions and promote scientific integrity.

Our recommendations are based on many years of direct first hand experience with Dupont, their scientific practices, and their corrupting influence on regulatory agencies, like DEP, for example, see this 2009 post:

Dear Director Tambini:

I understand that the DRBC is currently seeking an “industry” representative to serve on the Commission’s Toxics Advisory Committee. (see the below email to Ron Macgillivray, the Commission’s TAC liaison).

I understand that a representative of Chemours (Dupont) serves on the current TAC.

I am writing to request that you:

1) remove the current Chemours representative and

2) establish new policies and procedures to govern scientific conflicts of interest, scientific bias, ethics and disclosure requirements in order to ensure undue industry influence on the scientific deliberations of the TAC and the regulatory decisions of the Commission.

According to DRBC policy, you are authorized to remove a TAC member, “with or without cause”:

“All advisory committee members shall serve at the pleasure of the Executive Director and Commissioners and may be removed by either without cause.”

https://www.nj.gov/drbc/library/documents/ResForMinutes031616_adv-comm.pdf

The bases for removal of Chemours is a result of: 1) significant material conflicts of interest, 2) scientific bias, and 3) the reasonable appearance of, or actual undue or improper influence on DRBC policy and regulatory decisions.

All these bases undermine public trust and confidence in the independence, objectivity, and scientific integrity of DRBC decisions.

This is especially the case because DRBC TAC policy explicitly empowers TAC members to advocate for policy:

“VII. Policy Issues

1. Members may identify policy issues for consideration by the Commission and offer motions to elevate these issues.”

https://www.nj.gov/drbc/library/documents/TAC/06182019/TAC_Procedures_2019.pdf

It is highly inappropriate for an industry representative with an economic and legal stake in DRBC policy, science, and regulatory decisions to advocate for scientific and technical policies that may impact their interests. There is obvious potential for self dealing.

Here are some obvious facts in support of my requests:

1) As you know, Chemours assumed unknown legal, liability and regulatory obligations of the Dupont corporation.

2) As you also know, Chemours and Dupont are entities that are regulated by the DRBC, as a result of historic, present and future discharges of pollutants to waters regulated by the DRBC (e.g. via DRBC regulatory oversight and Clean Water Act NPDES, TMDL, stormwater, and remedial programs, as well as water allocation decisions).

As a result, Chemours has large financial and legal/regulatory interests in DRBC policy, scientific, and regulatory decisions, many of which are influenced by the TAC recommendations.

Given these facts, you must exercise your removal powers and remove Chemours from the TAC.

For many of the same reasons (and more), I strongly urge you to direct DRBC and TAC staff to develop new scientific integrity and ethics policies and procedures to avoid the appearance of or actual conflicts of interest and to promote transparency, accountability, and scientific and regulatory integrity.

Below, I provide links to source documents that might guide such policies.

I appreciate your timely reply.

Bill Wolfe

[End Note – I cited the following prior request I made to DRBC TAC liaison:

Hi Ron – quick questions regarding the DRBC announcement and search for an industry representative on the TAC, see:

https://nj.gov/drbc/about/advisory/TAC_index.html

1. The DRBC website shows that the industry representative is J. Bart Ruiter
The Chemours Company, FC, LC

https://nj.gov/drbc/about/advisory/TAC_committee.html

Is Ruiter being replaced? If so, why? Has her/his term expired? Has she/he retired or resigned?Or is DRBC seeking to add an additional industry representative?

2. Is the DRBC TAC subject to the requirements of and have the equivalent of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) in terms of how the advisory committees conducts business, e.g. transparency and public participation policies

https://www.gsa.gov/policy-regulations/policy/federal-advisory-committee-management/legislation-and-regulations/the-federal-advisory-committee-act

3. Does the DRBC TAC have scientific conflict of interest, bias and ethics policies, for example, like the DEP Science Advisory Board?

https://www.state.nj.us/dep/sab/

4. Chemours (previously Dupont) is a major regulated entity and source of toxic pollution discharges to waters regulated by DRBC.

I’ve long felt that those facts create conflicts of interest, scientific bias, and ethical issues that should disqualify them from serving in an advisory capacity to DRBC.

I’d appreciate your thoughts or the policy of DRBC regarding these concerns.

Respectfully,

Bill Wolfe

[Update: 10/21/21 – The Commission has the same authority to implement my recommendations as ED Tambini, so I forwarded the request to the Commission via the DRBC press office.  As policymakers and ED Tambini’s boss, they should be the lead as well as be aware of what ED Tambini is doing. ~~~ end update]

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The Murphy DEP Perpetuates The Christie DEP’s Abdication And Climate Denial

October 19th, 2021 No comments

Commissioner LaTourette’s “imagination” can’t somehow embrace enforcement of DEP’s regulatory responsibilities

DEP abdicates State responsibility by delegation to local government

As Towns Refuse To Act, DEP message to towns: Shit Happens!

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, we explained the dynamic, an analysis that was rejected by the Christie DEP and ignored by NJ media, see:

Almost 9 years later, nothing has changed. The Murphy Administration rhetoric recognizes the science of climate emergency, but the lack of action is effectively climate denial.

NJ Spotlight today ran another puff piece and highly misleading story based only on an interview with DEP Commissioner LaTourette.

There’s really no excuse for Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle doing this again, because just last week I sent him the FEMA climate adaptation proposal, which responded to a very detailed regulatory petition by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and the State Association of Floodplain Managers.

That NRDC rule petition included specific scientific recommendations and identified huge regulatory gaps, including NJ specific recommendations based on Superstorm Sandy’s devastation in NJ.

The FEMA proposal has huge national implications and has gotten national press coverage – I sent Hurdle The Washington Post story on that too. I wrote:

Jon – FEMA just announced, in response to a petition for ruelmaking, that they are seeking public comment on stricter standards to address climate risks. Here’s the Federal Register Notice:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/10/12/2021-22152/request-for-information-on-the-national-flood-insurance-programs-floodplain-management-standards-for

The Biden White House issued a FACT SHEET statement about broader reforms that sound almost exactly what DEP Commissioner LaTourette has said about information disclosure of risks – basically a buyer beware voluntary market based approach

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/10/12/fact-sheet-biden-administration-makes-climate-information-and-decision-tools-more-accessible/

The Washington Post covered it yesterday

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/10/12/white-house-fema-flood-climate/

Since the FEMA regulations are national in scope, it would apply to NJ. FEMA’s response to the petition for rulemaking also contrasts with NJ DEP’s failure to act on a related climate petition for rulemaking (a huge story that still has gotten no press).

Here’s a relevant NJ issue: Source is from a well written NRDC petition for rulemaking to FEMA:

“Mitigation Assessment Team Report, FEMA P-942, Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York: Building Performance Observations, Recommendations, and Technical Guidance” (2013)

  • FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team recommended that new structures and structures undergoing Substantial Improvement or that have sustained Substantial Damage be elevated at least 2 feet above the height of the 100-year flood. For critical facilities, such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, and emergency communication centers, the  Team recommended they be elevated above the height of the 500-year flood

https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/petition-fema-rulemaking-nfip-20210105.pdf

Why not use Biden/FEMA announcement to write about lack of a 500 year flood height standard in NJ and DEP failure to act in response to climate petition?

Wolfe

But instead of reporting on any of that, incredibly Spotlight gave DEP Commissioner LaTourette a platform to spout drivel about “re-imagining” DEP’s responsibilities and “encouraging” developers:

“The program needs to be reimagined,” he said in an interview with NJ Spotlight News last week. ….

“The policy question is how you build that network together; how you encourage folks to invest in stormwater management to the degree that they don’t now; how you encourage developers to take a longer view,” he said.

It doesn’t take any “imagination” to read the applicable NJ laws, the powers these laws delegate to DEP, and DEP’s flawed and failed regulations – LaTourette is a former corporate lawyer who represented developers, so he is fully aware of these laws and regulatory flaws.

But LaTourette can’t seem to imagine “adaptation” and “resilience” to include things like eliminating the “right to rebuild” under NJ Flood Hazard Area Control Act and NJ Coastal law (CAFRA) – or ratchet down on DEP State regulations, as recommended in the NRDC petition to FEMA.

And obviously, it is not DEP’s role to “encourage” developers – it is DEP’s job to regulate them to protect the public interest and the environment.

The one positive aspect of the story is that Hurdle exposed the total failure of DEP’s strategy and local delegation abdication:

But LaTourette said he was unaware that any town has yet conducted a climate-vulnerability assessment. Similarly, none has yet created a stormwater utility following passage of a law in 2019 enabling them to do so or adopted a new DEP “toolkit” to help them integrate climate change into land-use policy.

He warned that towns are leaving themselves more vulnerable to the next monster storm than they would be if they took advantage of the help that’s available.

“If the expectation is that the Army Corps is going to step in, or the DEP is going to step in, folks will continue to be surprised by the Idas,” he said. “We have to promote coordinated governance, and that’s part of our climate-resilience strategy.”

Get that?

DEP’s entire climate adaptation (“resilience”) strategy is based on local government action, instead of enforcement of DEP’s regulatory role.

Yet not one local government has done anything!

Instead of recognizing the failure of his strategy and taking concrete steps to fix it, LaTourette doubles down and essentially threatens that “folks will continue to be surprised”.

Maybe he just should have said “Shit happens”.

Not since Gerald Ford told NY City to “drop dead” can I recall a more irresponsible public statement and policy position.

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