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Archive for March, 2008

Controlled Burn? A Hot Topic!

March 30th, 2008 12 comments

Adventures on a Sunday in Salem County

Out for a hike adventure today – came across this conflagration. Looks like what was a controlled burn got a little out of control, no? This week, we will report on a potentially far hotter and less controllable Salem County facility. I am too beat right now to research and write about PSEG’s proposed new nuclear power plant coming to South Jersey and why that’s a bad idea.

Posted this to see if anyone’s paying attention – that’s the PSEG Salem nuclear plant in the background. We will post on that issue this week.
Categories: Hot topics Tags:

Saturday Nuke News

March 29th, 2008 No comments

[Note: Due to today's small news saturday Star Ledger story reporting on Governor Corzine's Energy Plan's stealth embrace of PSEG plans for a new Nuke Plant in South Jersey, I thought I'd REPOST this March 10 post. Interested readers can listen to a WBAI radio interview on the issue by clicking on the mp3 Thursday March 27 6: 00 am link - listen at minutes 45:00 - 60:00 http://archive.wbai.org/ ]
BPU’s “hands tied” by deregulation – deal would lead to more air pollution, greater global warming emissions, and higher rates for consumers. PSEG announces that new nuke plant planned for south jersey. New plants and transmission lines for north jersey

Ed Selover, Executive V.P. and General Counsel, PSEG defends controversial power sale to NY City before Assembly Utilities Committee.
Former Star Ledger political columnist, Tom Moran, recently hired as PSEG’s Policy Director, watches hearing from the shadows.
Moran received a baptism of fire – It will take Moran’s best spin to pull PSEG’s chestnuts out of this fire.

Trenton – PSEG’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel appeared before the legislature today to try to justify PSEG’s controversial plan to sell electric power to NY City produced by the plant in Ridgefield, Bergen County. The proposal had been blasted by NJ Rate Counsel as likely to lead to higher rates and a less reliable power system for NJ consumers.
Other NY City power export deals already under consideration would cost over $1.5 BILLION in new power plant construction and transmission lines to offset and mitigate the loss of NJ produced power (PJM testimony). NJ Rate Counsel,Stephanie Brand, testified that the Bergen deal would cost NJ ratepayers from $35 million to $120 million/year in higher electric rates, while providing windfall profits for PSEG

PSEG plant, Ridgefield, NJ.
Plant would leave the NJ grid and connect to Con Edison’s 49th street Manhattan station. Plan would require new transmission lines, including one under the Hudson River.

An Assembly Committee held hearings today to explore the impacts of the sale on NJ consumers and regional electric markets. The deal would allow PSEG to supply NY City with 550 MW of power generated by PSEG’s Bergen power plant, which would abandon the “PJM” grid. A new 660 MW line would be buried under the Hudson River, providing additional capacity to export even more power.

Joseph Fiordaliso, Commissioner, Board of Public Utilities (BPU) – warns Assembly Committee that BPU’s “hands are tied” and BPU has no power to block the PSEG deal, beyond sending a “protest letter” to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Sam Wolfe, BPU Chief Counsel answers questions regarding ratepayer and system reliability impacts of proposed PSEG NY City power sale. Wolfe is a former Assistant Commissioner at NJ DEP (no relation to this author).

The NJ Board of Public Utilities (BPU) raised major concerns about the impact of the deal on the reliability of the PJM grid and electricity prices. Joseph Fiordaliso, Commissioner of BPU warned the Assembly Committee about negative aspects of the deal, including higher prices for NJ consumers, more air pollution, and an increase of imports of dirty power from the mid-western coal plants. But he said BPU’s “hands are tied”. As a result of energy deregulation passed by the NJ Legislature, BPU has no power to block the PSEG deal, beyond sending a “protest letter” to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Unfortunately, no legislator seemed willing to explore this predictable consequence and fatal flaw of energy deregulation.

Stephanie Brand, NJ Rate Counsel implores the Committee to do everything in their power to “stop this” deal from going forward.

NJ Rate Counsel,Stephanie Brand, strongly opposed the deal, calling it “grossly unfair”. She testified that it would cost NJ ratepayers from $35 million to $120 million/year in higher electric rates, while providing windfall profits for PSEG. Brand also raised concerns about effects of reliability after the PSEG Bergen plant abandons the NJ energy market and PJM grid for the “greener” pastures of NY City. This deal would open the door to even more exports of NJ produced power to serve NY City, leaving NJ holding the bag for higher electric rates and more pollution. Brand took strong exception to PSEG’s claim in its filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). According to Brand, PSEG’s FERC filing claimed that when a private market entity behaves in a market driven way, then consumers are automatically better off! Free market fundamentalism. PSEG filing argued that FERC should not review the negative economic impacts on NJ and that impacts on reliability were beyond the scope of FERC’s review and should be ignored. Brand implored the Committee to do everything within their powers to “stop this” deal.

Steve Gabel, Gabel Associates (energy consultant). Gabel sought to educate the Committee about the “big picture” of “dynamic energy markets”. Gabel stressed “the benefits of interstate commerce” and was the only testimony that addressed related isues of energy efficiency, renewable power, and the global warming bill RGGI.

Energy consultant Steve Gabel focused on the “big picture” of “dynamic energy markets”. Gabel stressed “the benefits of interstate commerce” in energy markets.Gabel identified a “paradox” whereby NJ electric rates were tied to the low price of high polluting coal, a fact that makes investments in new cleaner power sources uneconomic. But just weeks ago, Gabel emphasized that interstate energy markets were a danger to efforts to combat global warming. During legislative consideration of the “Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative” (RGGI) bill, Gabel joined PSEG and a chorus of energy lobbyists to warn of potential higher prices and increases in global warming emissions due to increasing imports of dirty coal power from the mid-west. What 8 weeks ago was criticized as “leakage” that would undermine global warming policy and increase rates, has now become a pro-consumer “dynamic market in interstate commerce”.

“Pennsylvania/Jersey/Maryland (PJM) regional power grid representative brief the Committee on PJM role in power distribution, reliability, and rates.

The testimony of PJM representatives should be required reading – a primer on the economic and regulatory policy barriers to reducing coal based global warming emissions and market entry/access restrictions to renewable power technologies. The PJM primary goal is system reliability – with reliability viewed very narrowly as limited to increases in power production and distribution. As a result, economic regulatory policies provide incentives for more traditional power production that undermine energy conservation and renewable power.For example, no one mentioned the concept of a “carbon adder” to make dirty coal power prices reflect their true staggering environmental costs. The Committee took no testimony from environmental experts or those concerned about global warming.

Ed Selover summarizes PSEG’s $8.5 billion investment in new power capacity; $5 billion investment in new power distribution; plans to develop a new nuclear power pant in south Jersey; and plans to expand costly new power plants in north jersey (oh, BTW, he also mentioned PSEG commitment to clean air and global warming, and investments in what he called “non-traditional projects” like a $5 million energy efficiency pilot project and a $50 ($15?) million new electric metering initiative. So much for reciprocal investments between new supply and demand side management and renewable energy!).
Massive and controversial PSEG plans presented as a fait accompli (that’s a done deal, for Jersey folks).
Rick Thigpen. PSEG lobbyist.
Thigpen has close ties to the NJ Democratic party.
Karen Alexander (seated). Alexander is a former DEP Assistant Commissioner and knows how to work the inside DEP and BPU regulatory game.
Assemblyman John Rooney (R/Bergen) – called for investigation of potential “fraud” in prior PSEG regulatory filings

During the recent legislative debate on the RGGI bill, energy lobbyists suggested that PSEG was involved in a “paradigm shift” from earning profits from producing power to earning profits from reducing and conserving power. They used this argument to justify new regulatory policies and economic incentives for “rate decoupling” and enhanced return on investment for conservation and efficiency. But today we heard a completely different tune. Today, we heard that PSEG is for sure in the power production business. PSEG cavalierly announced multi-billion plans to increase in-state power production (including, BTW, a new nuclear plant) and plans to construct more transmission lines. Few concerns were expressed about imports of dirty mid-west coal. So much for global warming and all that tree hugger stuff.
During the recent RGGI debate, energy lobbyists suggested that NJ power demand far outstripped instate energy supply, causing imports of dirty mid-west coal power. How can they now claim that EXPORT of NJ generated power to New York City will have no impact on system reliability or air quality?
The whole scene recalled the closing line of one of my favorite Jack Nicholson movies:
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Planned Energy Exports from NJ to NY – 2,360 MW total

According to PJM, the following NJ power exports are planned or underway:

1,200 MW (Bergen, proposed)
300 MW (Linden under construction)
200 MW (Linden, proposed)
660 MW (Neptune to Long Island, existing)

Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics, Taxes Tags:

Legislation for the Birds

March 25th, 2008 No comments
Environmentalist, DEP Commissioner Jackson, DEP biologist Dr. Larry Niles, and legislators surround Governor Corzine during bill signing.

Today, governor Corzine signed legislation establishing a moratorium on the harvest of horseshoe crabs. The law is designed to protect the food supply of the red knot – a migratory bird that stops to feed along the Delaware bayshore – and hopefully prevent extinction of the species.
Little recognized was the fact that for the first time in NJ environmental law, the Legislature embraced a true precautionary principle. The scientific standard in the law should serve as a model and precedent. Driven by the steeply declining populations of the red knot, the new law shifts the scientific and legal burden from DEP to show that the species is harmed, to the fishing industry to show that any horseshoe crab harvest will not harm the recovery of the red knot and several other migratory birds. This is an important policy shift and thus far ignored aspect of what is otherwise a band aid on a dire situation (see: http://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/2008/approved/20080325.html

Tom Gilmore, NJ Audubon Society worked hard for 25 years for today’s victory

The legislatively imposed moratorium was made necessary by the veto of a DEP imposed regulatory moratorium by the NJ Marine Fisheries Council. Outrageously, that Council is unique because it has the legal power to block and over-rule regulatory decisions by the DEP Commissioner. Commercial fishing interests dominate the Council. In this case, those commercial interests recklessly ignored the science and arrogantly jeopardized the extinction of this magnificent migratory bird that feeds on horseshoe crab eggs laid on Delaware Bayshore beaches. (read all about the red knot here: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/redknot.htm
Unfortunately, the legislative moratorium is a piecemeal solution that failed to resolve the underlying causes of a much larger set of problems that adversely affect the entire marine ecosystem. Although the legislation was critically important, the red knot moratorium is an illustration of what’s wrong with the Marine Fisheries Council and what must be fixed to reform that Council.
We should not have to drive species to the brink of extinction before acting. And we should not allow the fate of species and entire ecosystems to be controlled by narrow special interests. Fisheries, wildlife, coastal, water, and natural resources of the State are publicly owned resources that are held in trust and managed by DEP – the “public trust doctrine” is incompatible with the current powers and composition of the NJ Marine Fisheries Council.

Senator Bob Gordon (D/Bergen), co-sponsor

The causes and real problems result from: 1) the veto power; 2) the dominance of the Marine Fisheries Council by commercial fishing interests; and 3) the failure to subject the Council’s management decisions to scientific and public interest standards.

Assemblyman John McKeon (D/Essex) co-sponsor

Commercial interests on the Council have abused their authority and acted for selfish economic reasons in defiance science and the public interest. No other industry has the power to veto regulations by DEP – it is absurd to continue to allow this veto power to be exercised for narrow economic interests, for arbitrary reasons with no accountability to science or the public interest.
The Legislature needs to act to revoke the Council’s veto power; broaden and balance the composition of the Council; and subject the Council to scientific and public interest standards. These legislative changes are required to assure that the Council is a scientifically sound resource management body that acts in the public interest.

DEP Fast Track is Back – Environmental Rollbacks Underway

March 24th, 2008 3 comments

We will implement it [Fast Track] no matter what you call it” … “even in the face of the [Codey] Executive Order’s [moratorium], the Department has embarked on an ambitious program to recognize the powerful benefits of the [Fast Track] law for economic growth…in line with the Governor’s message of ‘invest, grow, and prosper’“;
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson – testimony to the Legislature on 4/25/06 and 5/1/06 (no typo: 2 YEARS ago) Link: http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=709

Let me set the stage for the most recent deployment by the business community of the big lie that environmental protection is responsible for economic downturns – and for the Corzine Administration’s shameful embrace of that lie:

Two weeks ago, a report was leaked to the media that showed that the Department of Community Affairs was secretly meeting with builders to develop an agenda to roll back environmental protections. The DCA recommendations amounted to a radical attack on 30 years of environmental progress, and went so far as calling for state mandated growth to over-rule local home rule controls.

In response, Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club issued a scathing press release claiming that “Dick Cheney comes to NJ”.. Here’s the AP wire story:

Environmentalists criticize government reports on NJ housing
TRENTON, N.J. – Environmentalists blasted draft housing reports Wednesday, accusing the Corzine administration of promoting sprawl by trying to relax rules governing development throughout New Jersey.
The environmental groups accused the administration of stacking government committees looking into housing and land use with people from the building and real estate trades.
“You basically have builders and people who work for builders … writing the environmental rules for the state of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the state Sierra Club. “This proposal has really been the wish list for the builders over the past 20 years in New Jersey, many of the things that could not get passed or have been stopped because of public opinion and outrage.” http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newjersey/ny-bc-nj–overdevelopment0312mar12,0,7846121.story

DEP Commissioner Jackson fired back hard at DCA Commissioner Doria, exposing a rift in the Corzine Cabinet. Jackson – who has family experience with New Orleans flooding – raised the stakes and drew a moral line in the sand with this zinger :

Building affordable housing there [in flood zones] would be morally wrong.

Lisa P. Jackson, Commissioner of NJ Department of Environmental Protection testifies before the Senate Environment Committee.

N.J. urged to weaken DEP rules for housing
Report is from panel co-led by developers

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-9/1205300314279400.xml&coll=1

Builders’ lobbyists have since gone on a PR offensive to blame DEP and environmental regulations for the collapse of the new housing construction market caused -primarily -by the sub prime mortgage financial crisis.

Joe Riggs, head of K. Hovnanian, NJ’s largest home building company timed an Op-Ed in Saturday’s papers that concluded:

“We hope the work by Commissioner Doria’s committees signals that the governor is applying the same determination to untangling the state’s housing mess.
There, too, the muddling reactive patch work planning needs to be replaced by new patterns of planning and development, land use, financing and regulation.”

(“Build it cost effectively” Trenton Times. 3/22/08)

Piling on, last Thursday, Legislators gave the business community a platform to broaden and deepen the attack. The Bergen Record headlined the story with

Business leaders urge state to cut red tape“:
“TRENTON — New Jersey’s economy — which has lost 10,300 jobs so far this year — will continue to shrink unless the state reforms its environmental rules and health care mandates, business leaders told lawmakers Thursday.
“This year, we’ll be lucky to [build] 16,000 units. We need 50,000 a year,” said Stephen Patron, vice president of the New Jersey Builders Association.
[...]

NJ Chamber of Commerce lobbyist calls for less regulation, lax enforcement, and more subsidies to corporate polluters.

Michael Egenton, a vice president for the state Chamber of Commerce, said members felt lost in a mire of Department of Environmental Protection regulations. Business owners, he said, need to know the DEP won’t “come back 10 years later” to enforce stricter rules that did not exist at the time of construction.
Mary Kay Roberts, representing the drug manufacturers group PhRMA, described how one member had to resubmit a permit application four times in seven years because regulations evolved.
[...]
Assemblyman Joseph Malone, R-Burlington, said he knew of a developer along the Delaware River who wanted to give up his entire project because of permitting delays alone.
“The environmentalists have taken over so much control,” Malone said.
“There is a bureaucracy that eats us alive,” said Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Union.”
http://www.northjersey.com/news/njpolitics/16886916.html

With those big guns to her head and sympathetic pro-development allies in the Governor’s Office, today DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson issued an Order establishing a DEP Permit Efficiency Review Task Force. The Task force was directed to issue recommendations – within 120 days – to streamline DEP permit programs.
As fig leaf cover, the Order includes rhetoric about developing strategies to promote sustainable development and global warming policies (but last year’s highly touted Global Warming Response Act mandates that DEP independently develop a greenhouse gas emisisons reduction plan to meet the Act’s emission reduction goals by June 2008 – so this “justification” for the Efficiency Task Force Order is a transparent sham).
The focus of the Task Force repeats an historic pattern of business community attacks on DEP going back to the Florio Administration. Those efforts have resulted in a series of flawed anti-environmental initiatives, from Permit Extension Act I and II to Fast Track.
This is a recurrent theme in NJ whenever the economy takes a downturn.
DEP Commissioner Jackson’s Order sets the stage for the DCA and business community economic development anti-environmental agenda to be given a platform to rollback DEP regulations. Worse, the Task Force members read like a who’s who list of pro-development and anti-regulatory advocates with a long history in NJ environmental politics. The context and the players represent a dangerous threat to over 30 years of NJ’s hard won environmental protections.
We plan to closely monitor this Task Force and urge intrepid reporters and citizens to get involved.

College Roadtrip with my son

March 20th, 2008 No comments

I had a wonderful experience driving my son back to college after his spring break, so thought I’d share with parents of college aged kids.

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.

When he left in September as a freshman – I think of myself as the opposite of a “helicopter” parent – I must admit I was anxious. And the 5 hour ride home alone from Pittsburgh was a new experience. It didn’t rank with dropping him off the first day at daycare, but it did create a certain turmoil.

But this trip was pure joy, out and back. We spent 5 hours intensely discussing everything from how to take better photographs (his hobby that I have literally stolen, lock, stock, and camera!), to how he was getting along and meeting the many challenges of freshman year. I learned a lot, and felt close. He had grown, and so had our relationship. We were on his turf now, and a lot of the father son tensions seemed to have melted away.

After we arrived, my son and his buds had a blast building me a new computer from components. That gave me a few hours to walk the campus, talk to kids, and take a few pictures. The Carnegie Mellon campus has a unique architectural style and intimate scale, and is situated between Schenley Park and University of Pittsburgh (design fans visiting the area should visit nearby Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater”).

Bill Gates computer science center under construction – opening in 2009.

This roadtrip enhanced my admiration for the next generation, and reinforced hope for the future. Below are a few of my favorite shots (and the ride home was a breeze – but the trucks and $17.25 toll on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are something else!).

Uo the hill – back to the dorm room.
Long day’s journey over – time to hit the road.
Categories: Family & kids Tags: