A New Cover Story on the Open Space Diversion of $100 Million Of Environmental Funds

October 22nd, 2014 No comments

How Did Cuts and Layoffs of This Magnitude Stay Under the Radar for So Long?

The debate I’ve been seeking on the open space Ballot Question #2 regarding the impacts of diverting funds from existing State parks and DEP environmental programs seems to be buzzing behind the scenes.

Reporters and editorial writers are looking into these issues as well.

So, in this fluid environment, I thought I’d report briefly on developments of significance or new information I come across.

I got a call earlier today from a longtime, well respected, and well placed conservationist, who wanted to ask me a few questions about my criticisms.

This person had called Board members and staff of KIG coalition member groups and asked for their response to my criticisms regarding the DEP & parks diversions, layoffs, etc

This person was told that early on, after Sen. Smith made an inquiry to DEP about use of the CBT, and after DEP refused to respond, then the KIG coalition members suspected and later assumed that the Christie Administration had diverted the CBT money into the General Fund!

This assumption appears to have morphed into some kind of urban myth.

See, if the CBT money was being diverted into the General Fund – just like Gov. Christie diverted over $1 billion of Clean Energy Fund revenues – then by definition there could be no harm to environmental programs or DEP if the CBT funds were diverted to open space.

Effectively, there would be no Peter for Paul to Rob.

I told this person that that story was not credible, because in April, during the budget review process, OLS asked, and DEP responded to, specific OLS question on the use of CBT money and DEP provided a written response.

I published those OLS questions and DEP responses in my prior post.

But this story could explain how they kept this whole set of issues quiet for so long – just accuse Christie of diversions and then KIG diversion for open space becomes a GOOD THING!

The truth will out on all this – the only question  is whether its too late to influence the Nov. *4 vote.

[Note - * means technical error corrected]

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Flying Blind on Open Space – And Lying About It

October 21st, 2014 2 comments

What will be the result of diverting $100 million/year from DEP environmental programs?

Don’t Ask Because No One Knows

You go to war with the army you have – not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.   ~~~ Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

This is the ballot question we have. It is up to all of us to work together and pass it whether you like it or not, because losing will cause bigger harm to the environment. ~~~ Director of NJ Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel

I spent several hours last night doing research on the legislative history of the Open Space ballot question.

I began my research at the prompting of a news editor, who yesterday sent me an October 6 Sierra Club press release that the editor felt was a response to my October *6 PEER press release on the the negative impacts the would result from the open space ballot question.

Sierra Club’s October 6 press release provided very lame (and false) excuses for the DEP environmental program cuts they supported and then went on offense with this indirect attack:

To be clear this dedication is not going to zero out funding for parks and park maintenance because park capital repairs is still included in the question and the money will be set aside during the implementation legislation. None of this money is going to go too (sic) maintenance, it goes for capital repairs. The Site Remediation funding was supposed to go towards cleanup sites especially orphaned sites and not for staff. The money that used to go to staff from the Spill Act now goes to balance the budget. Also $100 million from the Passaic River cleanup settlement is being diverted to the general fund. Money for Watershed programs were supposed to go to water projects, restoration programs, and to towns for water shed (sic) planning not for staff. 

People are criticizing this dedication, but where were these people for the last 2 years when Sierra Club was fighting money being taken from other programs to fund open space or supporting us on a water fee for open space? We are committed to getting additional funds for these programs from other sources.

I took NJ LCV to the woodshed for similar falsehoods and spin, so before I get to the legislative history (which has Tittel’s fingerprints all over it) let’s take my friend Jeff Tittel’s press release claims quickly in order: (please read the OLS fiscal estimate to get the law and the facts straight).

  • Parks funding

First, you can read a DEP parks employee go into great detail on the issues.

Firstly, Tittel seems confused about what a capital project is and is dead wrong about the deferred maintenance backlog and capital projects. The DEP staffer explained:

Back in 2006, voters were asked to approve, and overwhelming did, a constitutional amendment that authorized 15% of corporate business tax (CBT) funds to assist NJ State Parks & Historic sites with major deferred maintenance known as capital projects. 

Next, read the OLS fiscal estimate and see that the Ballot question does in fact legally terminate and “zero out” the current Constitutional dedication of 32% (about $32 million/year) of CBT funds to parks:

for financing improvements and facilities for recreation and conservation purposes on parks and other preserved open space lands

Tittel does not seem to understand the legal meaning of a dedication to a specific use versus authorization of a range of allowable uses, and is totally clueless about how that influences political decisions on allocation of funds and impacts the administration of funds at DEP.

The current *$32 million Constitutional dedication in under the total control of DEP’s Parks program for specific parks related purposes. Parks has a $400 million maintenance backlog, so that funding is already spoken for.

[* it increases from 15% to 32% in 2016, when diesel retrofit funds are shifted to parks]

Take a look at what that funded this year, per DEP reply to OLS questions:

State Parks Projects:

The projects below are being funded from the department’s appropriation for Recreational Land and Development (CBT dedication); reimbursement is being sought from FEMA Public Assistance funding and from the Community Disaster Block Grant – Disaster Recovery funding (State’s ten percent share)::

Current:

  • Island Beach State Park, Fisherman’s Walkway Reconstruction $181,109 7/1/14
  • Leonardo State Marina, Temporary Office $128,180 7/1/14
  • Leonardo State Marina, Maintenance Area Gasoline Tank Repairs $57,041 7/1/14
  • Liberty State Park, Ferry Slip/Walkway Repairs $938,696 5/31/14
  • Liberty State Park, Terminal Exterior Repairs $4,798,758 9/1/14

Planned:

  • Leonardo State Marina, Demolition of Various Damaged Structures $75,000 9/1/14
  • Leonardo State Marina, New Office/Visitors Service Complex $2,000,000 12/31/16
  • Liberty State Park, Terminal Interior, Mechanical, Plumbing, Electrical Restoration $7,500,000 6/15/15
  • Liberty State Park, Interpretive Center Restoration $2,000,000 6/30/16

The proposed ballot question would significantly change that.

It would legally abolish the currently dedicated 32% to parks and pool it with other allowable uses., specifically, 71% – 78% for the preservation and stewardship of open space (Green Acres), farmland, historic sites, and flood-prone areas (Blue Acres).

Does Tittel not understand that this means that parks would have to compete with HUGE unmet needs for open space, farmland, historic sites, and blue acres?

There is no way – none whatsoever, that parks will get anywhere near the $32 million – that would be 45% of the new total pool of funds.

Far more likely, parks would be on the short end of the funding stick when competing against all those other very popular and hugely unmet needs. Parks simply will not be able to win the bureaucratic and political war for scarce funds.

That lack of political clout and support at DEP is what created the $400 million deferred maintenance backlog in State Parks. Had Parks been able to compete effectively for DEP funds, that backlog would never have been created.

  • DEP salaries

For the record, contrary to Mr. Tittel’s false claim, the original 1996 CBT ballot authorized DEP to use funds for salaries. In fact, it was drafted, in part, in response to Gov. Whitman’s budget cuts and layoffs at DEP. Since then, for 18 years, the Legislature has annually appropriated CBT funds to specific DEP program staff in every DEP budget, and DEP has been spending CBT funds on DEP staff. Here is OLS on that:

under the current constitutional dedication, up to 9% of the total amount dedicated may be used to pay for administrative costs of the State’s hazardous substance discharge program.

Even more broadly, here is how DEP advised the legislature regarding the use of CBT funds during the FY’15 budget review:

  • [OLS] Question: How many positions in the DEP are funded in whole or in part by the Corporation Business Tax dedication? Please provide a breakdown by program.
  • [DEP] ANSWER: Approximately 266 positions in the DEP are supported by the Corporate Business Tax dedication. 230 of these positions are on accounts directly funded by CBT appropriations. The remaining are funded via reimbursement from CBT funds.

Below is the breakdown by program:

  • Site Remediation- 107 positions
  • Compliance & Enforcement/UST Inspections- 10 positions
  • Water Monitoring & Planning- 123 positions
  • Air Quality- 8 positions
  • Parks Management- 18 positions 

How could Tittel and others now object to this when they knew or should have known that CBT funds were used for hundreds of DEP salaries for 18 years?

  • History - where were these people for the last 2 years

Mr. Tittel also knows that I have been fighting DEP budget cuts and diversions since 1985 both from within DEP and in the non-profit sector.  Over that 30 year period, I have written about and testified multiple times  to the legislature and in other DEP fora in support of all sorts of fees, taxes, fines, and funds to support various infrastructure and environmental programs.

Tittel himself testified on March 17, 2014 to the Senate Environment Committee (link below) and explicitly recognized my work on the original 1996 CBT dedication, which was done BEFORE Tittel was even with Sierra Club’s staff.

  • Current Uses of CBT Funds that would be diverted to open space

Contrary to the documentary practice of PEER, which always provides links to source documents, we note that Tittel provides no data or documents to support his false and misleading claims, so here are the facts, with links to the underlying official documents:

The current CBT dedication provided $103 million to DEP in the FY 2015 budget (DEP section starts on page D-105).

Since 1996, 4% of the revenue annually derived from the tax imposed by the Corporation Business Tax Act (P.L.1945, c.162) has been dedicated to the Department. A portion of this dedication has been used for the following purposes: watershed-based water resource planning and management, financing the cost of water quality point and nonpoint source pollution monitoring, nonpoint source pollution prevention projects, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) development and implementation, as well as lake restoration and grants. Conducts planning on watershed management, water quality, water supply, coastal zone management, nonpoint source control, stormwater management, and other planning requirements associated with the federal Clean Water Act and the New Jersey Water Quality Planning Act. Also administers the National Estuary Program and federal Section 604(b) water quality management planning.

As outlined in the FY’15 budget, here is how the current CBT funds are allocated among DEP programs (all of these will be cut under the Open Space Ballot diversion):

  • $16 million goes to science and technical programs (water supply, science support, & land use regulation)
  • $53 million goes to site remediation and waste management
  • $18.1 million to environmental regulation
  • $16 million to natural resource management (development and conservation of recreational lands)

Additionally, the CBT funds municipal brownfields cleanup and redevelopment projects and provides millions of dollars in grants to homeowners to remove underground storage tanks.

Tittel also knows that I was the author of the 1997 Watershed Management Act that created the current watershed planning process. His claims about watershed planning funds are flat out false.

  • Legislative History of Open Space Ballot Question

Now that Tittel’s spin has been exposed as false and misleading, lets now ask: How did this happen?

I was trying to get my head around how we could possibly have come to a point where $100 million per year of funds dedicated to specific DEP programs (i.e. parks maintenance, water resources, & toxic site cleanup) will be eliminated – and without a word of opposition from DEP; labor union CWA who represents DEP employees who will be laid off as a result of the diversions; the press; and environmental groups.

You would be shocked to know. Basically, they don’t know. And made very little effort to find out.

Senate Environmental Committee Chairman – and sponsor of the Open Space initiative SCR84 [SCS] – explained it all at the first hearing on the introduced version of his Resolution SCR84 on March 17, 2014 where he described the “crisis on open space”  (listen here – open space is the last up).

Smith said he just did not know how current CBT funds that would be diverted are currently used at DEP because DEP refused to provide information or respond to his requests for information!

The problems with that is … that the $100 million in CBT money has been used for other purposes. …

One thing you’re going to find out is that we’ve not been able to get any information from anybody – not the Treasurer, not the DEP.

Nobody is willing – we’ve asked for the information, nobody is willing to provide it.

So there it is -

But the ignorance, laziness, and lies of legislators and environmental lobbyists does not explain why DEP failed to provide that information or why the DEP’s employee union, CWA, failed to raise objections.

Next, we challenge the claims made by Keep It Green Advertisements.

[Endnote: I must observe two absurd ironies:

1. For "environmentalists" to suddenly be shocked - a la Claude Reins - that, after 18 years, CBT money is being used for DEP salaries is absurd. They are either ignorant or lying, perhaps both.

Ironically, that concern echoes Hal Bozarth of the Chemical Industry's criticisms that his members were paying Spill Act fees to support DEP staffers who were overseeing toxic site cleanups by his members.

Before that, Jim Sinclair from the NJBIA made those arguments, for very similar reasons: corporate NJ resented having to pay for DEP oversight of their operations.

It's called "Polluter Pays" and its been DEP policy since the Florio Administration - shockingly, NJ ENGO's seem clueless about all that and are parroting industry arguments.

2.  If you listen to the testimony of the March 17, 2014 Senate Environment Committee hearing (link above), ironically the groups I have been criticizing most harshly (e.g. KIG, LCV, watershed) actually expressed more concern about the impact of the DEP diversions than Tittel did. - end]

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Followup on Gov. Christie’s Pinelands Fiasco

October 20th, 2014 No comments

The Koch Brothers and Big Oil & Gas are watching

David Reilly wrote a followup story in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer on the Christie Pinelands retaliation scheme, see:

I am glad to see the press stay engaged with this issue, so will make a few observations on Reilly’s story.

First of all, Reilly relies on political pollster Patrick Murray to explain the politics. But Murray muddies the water for two reasons.

First, Murray must not be closely following this issue because he filters this dispute through 2 conventional wisdom lenses. Murray essentially says:

1) National: Gov. Christie is running for President and cares only about right wing primary voters who do not support the environment; 2) In state/NJ:  how the environment stacks up as an issue compared to other priority issues (code for jobs and economic growth, which in turn are code for corporate profits and capitalism).

From the national perspective, Murray ignores the fact that the pipeline is a test of Christie’s ability to deliver on major fossil energy infrastructure projects –  the Koch Brothers and Big Oil & Gas are watching.

Crushing environmental and democratic (small “d”) opposition to energy infrastructure is a key test to attract the Big energy money required to fuel a 2016 campaign, especially if it can be done on a “bi-partisan” basis (note: with the support of Democrats Van Drew & Sweeney and a Democratically controlled Senate and mobilized trade unions).

[Note to Mr. Murray: it's not primary voters Christie is concerned about, it's primary money.  Iowa voters are not following the Pinelands, but Koch & Energy people definitely are.]

Does Murray not recognize the national implications of pipeline and energy infrastructure debates, given the exploding Climate Movement?

[Keystone XL is only the tip of a huge iceberg on the expanding debate over extreme energy and climate change. "Leave Fossil in the ground" is the new battle cry.]

[Update -10/21/14 - I swear, when I wrote this, I was not dating Coral Davenport and did not have a mole in the NY Times, see:

Murray is simply dead wrong when he says:

“there’s no political pressure for him [Christie] to pay,” said Murray,

From the NJ instate perspective, first, this is not a traditional “jobs versus environment” issue.

Murray ignores the bi-partisan letter from 4 former Governors that elevate this issue way beyond that stale debate.

This is about the integrity of the Pinelands Commission and whether Gov.’s will be  allowed to get away with abuses of power that compromise their independence as a regulatory body.

Evidence of the importance of the issue can be seen by the fact that Chairman Scutari used Republican Senator Bateman as the initial attack dog in questioning the nominee on the pipeline. In his questions, Bateman cited Gov. Brendan Byrne’s [D] legacy and asked the nominees whether we should go backward and weaken regulations that protect the Pines.

Similarly, Democrats on the Committee cited the Gov.’s letter.

It also explains why Gov. Christie’ strongest backers on the Judiciary Committee, Kyrillos and O’Toole, did not lift a finger to defend the Gov.’s nominees and let them twist in the wind.

Second on the in-state political issues is the fact that the fate of the nominees is in the hands of Senate Democrats.

So, from Gov. Christie’s perspective, this is a test of his machine alliances -

George Norcross is all over South Jersey infrastructure and economic development decisions. The pipeline has been justified as a major south jersey economic development project. That means Norcross/Sweeney are involved.

Accordingly, there very likely were prior political commitments and agreements made that now test Christie’s ability to honor deals he may have made with Senate President Sweeney and the South Jersey wing, represented by Van Drew.

Keep in mind that Van Drew has publicly stated on the record that he has the support of Sweeeney and the Gov.’s Office in backing the pipeline.

From the Senate Democrats’ perspective, the NJ political issue is the South v. North intra-Democratic party split and the degree to which South Jersey machine deals with Christie will be allowed to continue.

Which takes us to our next point – how and why were these nominees selected?

The Gov.’s motives are obvious – just like the Mob enforcing discipline, he is retaliating for 2 Commissioners voting their conscience, particularly Ms. Rohan Green who is a republican and a Christie nominee.

The nominees were handled the way they were to give the Governor and the Gov.’s office a plausible deniability of direct involvement.

The deals likely were made by political surrogates.

The Gov.’s office low level staffers were just the waterboys.

Evidence suggesting this was brought out by Sen. Gill, who asked a key question that nominee Roohr failed to respond to.

Gill asked if anyone mentioned the Gov.’s position on the pipeline – that conversation would go something like this:

Q: “Are you a loyal team player”  A: Yes, of course.

Q: “Gov. Christie supports the pipeline and BL England plant as critical to south jersey’s economic development and believes it can be built with no harm to the Pinelands.

“Are you willing to accept the nomination? – A: Yes

See how political understandings are reached? The quid pro quo remains unsaid.

But the nominees know EXACTLY what is expected of them in return for the nomination.

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Senate Stalls Gov. Christie’s Pinelands Pipeline Retribution Scheme

October 16th, 2014 1 comment

Unqualified & Evasive Christie Nominees Humiliated in Transparent Political Payback Scheme

Scheme Was Too Corrupt Even For Trenton Standards

Egg on face of Gov. and Senator Van Drew – Perhaps Sweeney Too

This farce just further shows that the Gov.’s Office lashes out at opponents with no strategy and without thinking through the consequences. It also shows that Christie is still suffering from the Bridgegate scandal.

Jacyln Rhoads, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, speaks at rally on State House steps (10/16/14)

Jacyln Rhoads, Pinelands Preservation Alliance, speaks at rally on State House steps (10/16/14)

[Updates below - news coverage]

Something very unusual happened today in Trenton, amounting to an epic political embarrassment for whomever signed off on the scheme, a stunt that unravelled before the very eyes of members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow me.

At the conclusion of extensive grilling of Gov. Christie’s two replacement nominees for the Pinelands Commission, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Scutari abruptly adjourned the hearing, taking no testimony from dozens of opponents who had signed up to testify and avoiding a likely deeply embarrassing vote to kill the nominees.

As I wrote last May:

This is a test of the integrity of Senate Democrats, particularly those on the Judiciary Committee who must vote to confirm the Gov.’s nominations.

I hope they do not roll over like they did on confirming Gov. Christie’s Highlands nominations (including Christie’s firing of the Executive Director).

Dozens of opponents, all defenders of the Pinelands, were unified in opposition – the entire NJ environmental community, plus local activists, fracktivists, climate change activist, and good government types – all rapidly organized to oppose the nominees. They held a rally on the Statehouse steps before the hearing and blitzed Committee members with emails.

judiciary2

Both nominees made extremely short perfunctory opening statements that did not even attempt to establish any reason for the Committee to approve their nominations.

It was as if they thought the deal was in and all they had to do was show up and not vomit or fart out loud.

The collapse began very soon into the hearing – in the non-response to the Chairman’s opening softball question that seemed designed to elicit a response that could allow the nominee to plausibly rebut the opponents (paraphrase): “How do you respond to the critics who say you’re just a puppet of Christie installed to approve the pipeline?”

The Chairman seemed to beg for a “just give me one – just one – reason to vote for you” – but quickly it became obvious, by their own testimony, that both nominees clearly were unqualified and totally unprepared for critical questions from the Committee.

[Update: the immediate incredulity and scorn was bipartisan. Republican Kip Bateman [R-Somerset] was uncharacteristically blunt, critical, and harsh – right out of the box, as the first questioner, he set the tone. Bateman asked the nominee’s opinion on the pipeline. The nominee dodged, said he had no opinion, and knew nothing about the issue:

Sir, to come here and not have an opinion on that, I find that very disturbing that you have no opinion on the issue. And I’ve got to be honest with you, without a straight answer, I could not support your nomination.

Both had no witnesses in support and dozens of witnesses signed up to testify in opposition, a fact noted by the Chairman at the outset. The only defender on the Committee was Senator Cardinale – Gov. Christie’s supporters Senators O’Toole and Kyrillos demurred.

Frankly, I have never seen anything even remotely this incompetently managed.

Both had never attended a Pinelands Commission meeting or had any other experience with the Pinelands.

Both said they intentionally did not make any inquiry about Pinelands issues – both pleaded no knowledge of the pipeline.

[Update with Orwell, 1984:

“Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.”

Both had no credibility in response to detailed questions about the origin of the nominations and interactions with Gov. Christie's Office.

Both confirmed nomination timelines (i.e. they were asked to serve by Gov.'s Office in "January or February", which follows the Commissioner Jan 10 vote) that were consistent with claims that Gov. Christie nominated them to replace two Commissioners who voted against his wishes to oppose the South Jersey Gas pipeline.

Senators Weinberg and Gill were particularly effective in their lines of questioning. At one point, Weinberg ridiculed a nominee: "Do they have newspapers where you live?" - and then even forced him to name the papers!

Senator Smith asked a nominee if, as a Mayor, he supported new ratables. The Mayor said NO. Incredulous, Smith replied "You are the only Mayor I've ever met that opposed new ratables".

The whole thing was an epic farce.

By the end of the hearing, I actually felt embarrassed for both men. Listen for yourself here.

I must admit that I assumed that the deal was in on these nominations. I'm pleased to eat crow on that.

Typically, a decision by the Judiciary Chairman to post a Gov.'s candidate for full Senate Judiciary Committee consideration (after interview) for a high profile post like the Pinelands Commission is highly significant and only done carefully and with the express approval of Senate leadership (i.e. Sweeney).

Given the pipeline controversy, the nominees would be expected to receive heightened scrutiny.

Senate leadership does not green light Gubernatorial candidates for Committee consideration without having done personal candidate vetting and a political calculus that the candidate is OK.

Once a candidate's name is posted for hearing by the Judiciary Committee, it is highly unusual that the candidate is rejected - that would make the Chairman look very stupid as well as leadership and the members of the Committee that conducted the interview.

But it seemed like today we entered a twilight zone - where the regular rules and typical protocols were suspended.

Democrats on the Committee seemed to smell blood in the water at the outset.

They were well prepared and grilled the candidates with questions that echoed the hearings on Bridgegate.

The nominees were like lambs before the slaughter.

As the hearing progressed, it became more and more obvious that the nominees lacked the votes for approval by the Committee.

So, instead of a humiliating rejection, my sense is the chairman Scutari simply pulled the plug.

van drew1In my mind, the key political questions are:

  • who persuaded Chairman Scutari to put these clowns up?
  • why did Scutari post the nominees for consideration - as a favor to Van Drew or did Sweeney twist his arm?
  • by abruptly adjourning before testimony or vote, who was Scutari seeking to avoid embarrassing: the hapless nominees? Senator Van Drew? Senate President Sweeney? Members of his Committee?
  • I'm fairly certain, but who will confirm that these nominees are dead?

The supreme irony is that this was a needless embarrassment. An un-forced error.

There already are sufficient pro-pipeline votes on the Commission right now, as a result of the County replacements.

Gov. Christie didn't even have to do this to get his damn pipeline. He just wanted to retaliate against Commissioners who defied him and voted their conscience.

The smoking gun is that, according to the testimony of his own nominees, they are approached by the Gov.'s Office in February 2014. Not only is that just after the Commissioner's Jan. 10, 2014 vote to kill the pipeline, but is was 4 MONTHS BEFORE the Commissioner's who voted NO terms expired. 

Those terms expired in June 2014 - most Commissioners serve months or years on expired terms - it is unheard of to replace someone BEFORE the terms is expired.

Just further shows that the Gov.'s Office lashes out at opponents with no strategy and without thinking through the consequences.

[Cautionary end note: In similar circumstances, I was dead wrong about Christie's replacements to the D&R Canal Commission who were excellent and rejected DEP's Bulls Island clearcut plan.]

Kate Millsaps, Sierra CLub (R), Mago Pellegrino (C) unknown  (L)

Kate Millsaps, Sierra CLub (R), Mago Pellegrino (C) unknown (L)

[Update – Here is the Burlington County Times story:

Philadelphia Inquirer:

Press of Atlantic City:

NJ Spotlight

Asbury Park Press – I can’t believe APP ran a crappy AP story when they just let Kirk Moore go!

The AP story is by far the worst, and gives the Gov.’s Office a platform to flat out lie about the lack of qualifications of both candidates. Disgusting! 

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EPA Announces New Region 2 Deputy Administrator & New Independent Scientific Review

October 16th, 2014 No comments

We shift gears today, from inchoate catastrophic climate chaos to more mundane matters of management of the bureaucracy.

We thought we’d write about two recent noteworthy announcements by US EPA that caught our eye.

Both have implications for and provide strong contrasts to NJ’s efforts in enforcing environmental laws and in protecting public health and the environment.

  • New Deputy Regional Administrator

The first is the announcement of a new Deputy Regional Administrator in the EPA Region 2 NY City Office. EPA region 2 has oversight of NY, NJ and Puerto Rico.

Enforcement specialist to become Region 2′s new No. 2

Robin Bravender, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A new second in command with enforcement chops will soon be arriving at U.S. EPA’s regional office in New York.

Catherine McCabe, a veteran of EPA and the Justice Department, will be leaving her post at EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., next month to become deputy chief in Region 2, Regional Administrator Judith Enck told staffers last month in an email obtained by Greenwire. McCabe will take over for George Pavlou, who plans to retire after more than 40 years at EPA.

McCabe is currently a judge on EPA’s environmental appeals board; she was previously principal deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. She also spent 22 years in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department and was an assistant attorney general in New York before she joined the federal workforce.

Since November 2011, McCabe has been one of four judges on the EPA appeals board — an impartial panel that’s charged with resolving some of the disputes that arise from the application of environmental laws. The board primarily decides cases that involve challenges to environmental permits and challenges to EPA’s assessments of fines for those who violate environmental laws.

We note that Dupont successfully filed a challenge of EPA Region 2′s RCRA permit to the Environmental Appeals Board during Ms. McCabe’s tenure – so we assume that she will recuse herself from Dupont matters – at least in Pompton lakes –  and her enforcement experience will be useless where it is most needed. EPA really screwed that RCRA permit up.

NJ PEER issued this statement:

We are pleased that the new EPA Region 2 Deputy Administrator has an enforcement background. Catherine McCabe is a veteran of EPA and the Justice Department.

We hope that Deputy McCabe can beef up Region 2′s oversight of the Christie DEP, particularly with respect to regulatory rollbacks and enforcement of federally delegated and funded clean air, clean water, and hazardous waste management programs.

McCabe’s leadership also may have implications for the Dupont Pompton Lakes RCRA site, that begs for EPA enforcement, as well as for NJ violators who have evaded lax NJDEP enforcement efforts.

Perhaps McCabe can stiffen the spine of her boss, Regional Administrator Enck.

At the outset, we had high hopes for Enck, and looked to her for a strong federal oversight backstop against the Christie Administration’s regulatory and enforcement rollbacks. But she has been a disappointment.

Instead of playing that aggressive watchdog role – from enforcement of the Clean Water Act in Barnegat Bay; to blocking rollbacks in State water quality management and surface water quality standards; to water quality assessment and TMDL requirements; to RCRA in Pompton Lakes; to oversight on a privatized state toxic site cleanup program; to abandonment of drinking water standards; to failure to properly monitor air quality; to blocking extension of the BL England coal plant closure; to putting the brakes on the Christie DEP’s “regulatory relief” and “customer service” policies that have turned DEP enforcement staff into industry consultants – EPA has largely stood down, with a few exceptions where EPA symbolically saber rattled but never really cracked down.

Worse, EPA has folded on some big federal decisions – the Superfund cleanup decision in Ringwood alone is enough to tarnish Enck’s legacy. We can sense a similar cave coming in the Passaic River Superfund cleanup.

To her credit, Enck resisted strong political pressure and did the right thing in listing the Troy Chemical Superfund site in Newark.

We wish McCabe best of luck – she will need it.

  • Independent Scientific Review? 

The second EPA announcement is about expanding independent scientific expertise in EPA’s assessment of chemical risks:

Today, EPA announced that the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) Program’s Bimonthly Public Science meetings will be supplemented with independent scientific experts identified by the National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC). These independent experts will contribute to the scientific discussion of issues amongst EPA and public commenters. The input provided by individuals identified by the NRC will ensure that a range of scientific perspectives are represented in IRIS public science meetings. [...]

These experts, who will be reviewed by the NRC for conflicts of interest and bias, will provide valuable, independent scientific input to these meetings.  The involvement of NRC experts will significantly contribute to broadening the range of perspectives represented at our public meetings.

Science and scientific integrity are the backbone of every decision, policy, and action at EPA.  The supplementation of our ongoing public meetings with independent experts identified by the NRC will help assure that overall a full and impartial representation of the science will serve as the foundation for the IRIS Program’s assessments to protect human health.

These reforms seem to be well intentioned and originate from a critical NRC Report.

But we’ve heard all this kind of rhetoric before and remain skeptical.

We’ve seen – repeatedly – how industry always seems to hijack reform efforts and end up using them to promote their own economic interests.

Let’s hope that the EPA IRIS review process works out better than NJ DEP’s Science Advisory Board (SAB).

Here in NJ, our DEP Science Advisory Board includes such eminent “independent” “non-biased” scientists as representatives of the Dupont Corporation .

The NJ DEP SAB was created by former Obama EPA Administrator and then NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

We recently reported that Dupont’s representative on the SAB, John Gannon, according to a Rutgers scientist, provided “significant input” into the SAB’s most recent report on unregulated emergent contaminants.

Amazingly, that SAB Report recommended the use of a Dupont developed chemical hazard assessment methodology – no kidding, Gannon touted a Dupont method to screen the safety of hundreds of chemicals in your drinking water! see:

Yet amazingly, that breach of scientific ethics and sell out of  the public interest got no press coverage whatsoever.

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