Archive for April, 2008

Memo to Jon -“Skin in the game”

April 30th, 2008 1 comment

Dear Jon:
I read in today’s paper that you are denying speculations about privatizing the parks – thanks a lot pal.
However, you did say you were considering privatization of Parks concessions (Governor denies plans to privatize state parks
Let me suggest that there are better alternatives – especially for the corporations that hold easements over state lands to – as you like to say – get some skin in the game.

See below. Be advised that this same information was presented to your Transition Team over 2 years ago, so someone’s got some explaining to do, no?
New Jersey Parks Lose Millions in Uncollected Lease Payments
Park Closures Could Be Averted by Reaping Concessionaire and Easement Revenue

TRENTON, NEW JERSEY – April 21 – Questionable deals to reduce or waive rental payments from private leases and concessions throughout New Jersey’s State Parks is costing taxpayers a bundle, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The state has ignored repeated warnings that it is forfeiting millions of dollars each year by failing to collect what is owed by easement-holders and concessionaires, including some of the state’s largest corporations.
Governor Jon Corzine has proposed to close several parks serving an estimated two million visitors each year and lay off 80 park workers in order to save the state roughly $4.5 million. Yet, the Governor’s people failed to consider the unutilized revenue potential of the system they are trying to collapse.
“Collecting rents is basic management 101, but that is a course our top folks evidently failed,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) analyst, noting that utilities, oil companies and other big corporate players are not paying current market rates for use of state lands, facilities and right-of-ways. “Our parks can no longer afford corporate welfare.”
Internal documents from DEP, the parent agency for the Division of Parks and Forestry, indicate that uncollected and subsidized rents are common throughout the system. Problems include lack of lease agreements, failure to collect owed rents, rent-free arrangements, and outdated decades-old leases:
Millions of dollars in lease revenue goes uncollected from major corporations granted use easements for transmission lines, pipelines and sewage lines across State Park lands;
In Six Mile Run and Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park, for example, none of the agricultural tenants are paying any rent nor do they even have current leases; and
The parks Office of Leases and Concessions routinely signs off on “rent abatements” and other give-aways described by one former superintendent as “a scam”.
Over the past few years, Parks Supervisors repeatedly identified similar problems, but DEP management took no action. DEP also ignored a series of Office of Legislative Services Audit reports issued in 1997, 1999 and 2003 documenting a lack of internal financial controls needed to track lease payments owed.
“With parks facing shutdowns and visitors hit with higher entry and parking fees, it is past time to put our fiscal house in order,” added Wolfe. “Our parks are supposed to be free for the enjoyment of the public, not the concessionaires.”
Look at 2003 OLS Audit finding that DEP had not addressed prior reports of lost lease revenue
See the lease arrangements at one state park
Read e-mail describing Office of Leases and Concessions problems

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

DEP dons blinders on industrial site clean-up

April 29th, 2008 2 comments

Retreats from Real Estate Transaction as Leverage to drive Toxic Remediation

DEP Commissioner Jackson is under fire from the business and environmental community.
Defending budget cuts and the policy agenda of the Corzine Governor’s Office is taking its toll.

Citing “budgetary constraints” the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection quietly announced last week that, beginning tomorrow, it will no longer accept notifications of real estate transactions involving former industrial sites to ensure that they contain no buried hazardous wastes. This is the first in a series of steps toward abandoning real estate transactions as a lever for pollution control and marks a reversal in decades of state policy, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Under a nationally recognized New Jersey law known as the “Industrial Site Recovery Act” (ISRA), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must approve a clean-up plan before certain industrial properties may be sold. Since 1983, DEP has overseen the key determination of whether an industrial facility must address hazardous pollution prior to sale or transfer to unsuspecting buyers.
Last week, DEP posted an ISRA notice on its website stating:
“Due to budgetary constraints and a focus on required services, the Department’s Site Remediation Program will discontinue the issuance of applicability determinations pursuant to ISRA on April 30, 2008. Applications for applicability determinations (more commonly known as LNA’s) received after April 30th will be returned unprocessed.”
“Once a national leader in environmental protection, New Jersey is now engaged in a frantic race to the bottom,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing to a number of other fiscal-inspired environmental rollbacks in recent weeks. “This short-sighted economy darkens our state’s investment climate as purchasers of former industrial land will be less certain about what is hidden on sites they may want to develop.”
The “poster child” for the value of ISRA is the failed cleanup at the W.R .Grace asbestos facility in Hamilton Township, Mercer County. In the W.R. Grace case, the company submitted a fraudulent ISRA certification to DEP, which rubber stamped that certification without taking samples at the site. An outraged community later learned of high levels of asbestos that was illegally disposed on site. This prompted a federal Superfund emergency removal of contaminated soil, civil lawsuits, criminal investigations and legislative oversight hearings during 2005.
“Despite these recent object lessons, this abdication by DEP leaves the key regulatory decision as to whether ISRA even applies totally in private sector hands,” added Wolfe, noting that industrial landowners have a distinct economic incentive to avoid ISRA oversight in order to quickly close real estate deals. “Because DEP has no field staff or ability to otherwise monitor compliance with the ISRA laws, this DEP decision effectively amounts to a de facto privatization of the entire ISRA program.”
Considered the cornerstone of New Jersey’s toxic site clean-up strategy, the ISRA law requires industrial establishments that plan to close or transfer ownership to first notify DEP. After that notice, DEP must issue either a “No Further Action” letter or approval of a clean-up plan for contamination found on site as a precondition for ownership transfer. The state employs a similar approach under the “Private Well Testing Act” to make sure that before a home is sold the well is tested and, if pollution is discovered, there is effective treatment or clean-up incorporated into the contract of sale.
The issue of toxic protection is paramount in New Jersey which is the most densely populated state in the nation, and also has the highest number of identified contaminated waste sites per capita.
See the DEP notice that ISRA applicability services have been discontinued
Find out about the ISRA program
Read about the W.R. Grace asbestos EPA clean-up in Hamilton Township
Review DEP admission that industry self-reporting does not work
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability.

Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Corzine Model for Privatized Toxic Site Cleanup Fails Audits

April 29th, 2008 1 comment
DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson and Assitant Commissioner Kropp propose privatized toxic site cleanup program to joint Assembly and Senate Envrionment Committee hearing.
Audits of the Massachusetts model have consistently shown high rates of non-compliance with cleanup regulations.

Serious Violations Found in More than Two-Thirds of Audited Massachusetts Sites

Hal Bozarth – lobbyist for the NJ Chemistry Council.
The Godfather of Toxics in NJ.

More than two out of three privately supervised toxic clean-ups in a Massachusetts program that New Jersey wants to adopt failed audits with serious violations, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite these red flags, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is rushing to embrace further privatization of its troubled toxic remediation program as a cost-free panacea.
State audits of work done by licensed private consultants in Massachusetts during the April to June 2007 period indicated the following:
* Serious violations were found in 21 of 30 sites subjected to full (Level 3) reviews, for a failure rate of 70%. The “most common violation cited was…failure to define the horizontal and vertical extent and concentrations of oil and/or hazardous materials”, according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection audit report; and
* Less intensive audits yielded a lower percentage of violations with 24 of 89 sites subjected to Level 2 reviews found to be out of compliance, with the most common violation being failure to follow the clean-up plan specifications.
“These audits show that privatization is not a substitute for strict public oversight,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “The central problem at DEP is not lack of resources but the poorest departmental leadership within memory.”

The NJ Chemical Industry Network, Chamber of Commerce and Business Industry Association strongly support DEP privatization.

PEER argues that DEP has an unrealistic view of its plan to license private sector consultants to replace state employees in overseeing remediation of contaminated sites program by overlooking –
Privatization does not mean the program is free. DEP has disclosed no cost study to justify the proposed outsourcing and no plan to plan for financing the program.
Nor is it clear how the state will save any money in its operation.
Perhaps most importantly, DEP has failed to prioritize any of its more than 16,000 toxic sites – something DEP is legally required to do and has promised to do for the past two years. Without a ranking system, public health will remain secondary to developer interest in deciding where to invest scarce resources.

In a recent opinion piece, DEP Assistant Commissioner Irene Kropp wrote “We recognize that we still have details to work out, and we will do so working closely with the Legislature and stakeholder groups”.
“Ignoring all evidence to the contrary, DEP has decided to bull forward” Wolfe added. “DEP is guilty of magical thinking about privatization as the preordained solution without working it through.”
See the latest audit results for Massachusetts privatized clean-ups
Find out more about the DEP toxic privatization plan
Look at DEP’s failure to rank its 16,000 toxic sites
View the Irene Kropp op-ed

Assembly Environment Committee Chairman John McKeon (D/Essex) and Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D/Middlesex) conduct joint oversight hearing of DEP toxic site cleanup program.
Will McKeon and Smith allow privatization to happen?.

Breaking spin: DEP urges public to go green

April 28th, 2008 No comments
DEP Commissioner Jackson is all laughs in introductory remarks to the Clean Air Council’s annual meeting in Trenton.
But that was BEFORE she heard the testimony – which prompted her to warn that hazardous air pollution emissions were a serious cancer risk for NJ urban residents.

In a news release worthy of Pravda (or the Bush White House Pentagon Generals Iraq War Propaganda Task Force), I just learned that DEP is urging the people of NJ to “go green”.
According to DEP:
(08/29) TRENTON — Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson today marked the beginning of Air Quality Awareness Week by reminding residents that just a few simple changes every day can contribute to a cleaner, greener environment.
“This special week offers an opportunity to focus more attention on the ways we directly affect the quality of our air and the steps we can take to improve our environment at home, at work and throughout our communities,” Commissioner Jackson said.”
Earth To DEP in Trenton:
Environmental protection is your job – please do it.

Large industrial emissions

Just 3 weeks ago the Clean Air Council provided compelling testimony about totally unregulated emissions from NJ ports that cause major air pollution and public health risks that you are ignoring.
The California SAQMD spokesperson said that LA Port emissions – alone – will violate ambient air quality standards for fine particulates and ozone by 2010 – plus exceed cancer risk benchmarks for Hazardous Air Pollutants by 1,600X.
NJ has similar problems but NJDEP doing nothing at ports and is focused on public school buses, where taxpayers pick up the compliance tab, not corporate polluters:
For details see:
Experts and Advocates: Pollution from Ports A High Cancer Risk to Urban NJ
In Harm’s way
Diesel fumes called NJ’s “greatest cancer risk”
PS – see below, in case you need names and addresses!

Echoes from California

April 24th, 2008 3 comments

Corzine & Schwarzenegger both slashing parks and blowing hot air on global warming – California does it bigger
Are the two “Governators” reading from the same playbook“Politics for idiots” ?

Corzine & Schwarzenegger face off at Yale to sign “Governors Declaration on Climate Change”.

Headlines in California eerily echo NJ’s. Here’s news from California:
Governor Schwarzenegger Has Really Rattled the Cages with Proposed Cuts to California’s State Parks
The Save Our State Parks (SOS) Campaign held a rally on the West Steps of the Capitol yesterday in protest of the proposed cuts to state parks. More than 300 park advocates including legislators, mayors, surfers, hikers, campers, RV enthusiasts, and other parks users chanted slogans and held signs decrying the proposed closure of 48 state parks and the reduction of life guard staffing at 16 state beaches.
Same story in New Jersey:
Statehouse rally protests park closings
By Tom Baldwin • GANNETT STATE BUREAU • April 24, 2008
TRENTON — A rollicking array of hikers, horse people, historical re-enactors, Boy Scouts, birders, unionists — just about anyone who enjoys state parks and historic sites– rallied on the sun-splashed steps of the Statehouse Wednesday to urge Gov. Jon S. Corzine not to shut those venues as a way to economize in the budget crunch.

Corzine drew hisses from the Yale partisans when he brought greetings from the Princeton Tigers
Schwarzenegger was well received and got laughs for remarks that ridiculed environmentalists