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Dems Say Oversight Not the Purpose of Martin Kabuki

Following up on what I wrote on Wednesday, both the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees did in fact “invite” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin to testify on Thursday about “the state’s environmental priorities for 2010″, and he did testify.

But I was way wrong when I wrote:

“This is diplomatic code for oversight hearings on the Christie Administration’s environmental policy. […]

It is vital that these hearings result in real substantive oversight of Martin’s policies, and not become another platform for the same Kabuki Martin offered during confirmation and budget hearings.

Senate Environment Committee Chariman, Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) - "let's get to know each other"

Senate Environment Committee Chairman, Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) - "let's get to know each other"

No, you see, despite almost 5 months of Christie Administration attacks on core environmental and public health protections I’ve documented here in depth, and many questions submitted by the public to the Committee, according to Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith, the purpose of the Senate meeting was not for Senators to ask questions and conduct legislative oversight of this assault, but:

to get to know each other


Things got a little better in Martin’s afternoon session before the Assembly, where Chairman McKeon and some members actually asked Martin questions and expressed support for several major environmental initiatives.

It is tough to find a silver political cloud in this spineless debacle, but both Committee Chairmen did express a desire for input, a concern about Martin’s “stakeholder meetings”, and will  conduct continuing “oversight”.

Both Chairmen invited Martin back to testify about his upcoming “strategic plan” and “transformation agenda” for DEP. The Senate will meet again on June 3 and Martin will be back.

Oh Boy I can’t wait for that! Bet it’ll be a real showdown! No more Dems keeping their powder dry!


In terms of the hearing  itself, I won’t repeat Martin’s testimony (you can listen here), but a couple of things did jump out:

1)Turning over rocks at DEP

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin gets a laugh at Senate Environment Committee hearing. It was all fun and games as he was given a pass.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin gets a laugh at Senate Environment Committee hearing. It was all fun and games as he was given a pass.

Amazingly, Martin claimed “to be candid” that he learned about the year old Oyster Creek radioactive tritium leak by calls from Asbury Park Press reporter Todd Bates, and a meeting 2 weeks ago with shore legislators, not from DEP staff.

While Martin previously stated this in a May 7 press release and I wrote about it at the time, I thought that, upon reflection, this would be viewed as a mistake by the press office. I was shocked that Martin repeated that story in testimony.

Why would Martin want to public notice the embarrassing fact that he doesn’t seem to know what’s going on in his own agency?

The Oyster Creek leak occurred in April 2009. DEP Commissioner Mauriello weighed in on the issue in writing. So this issue was not buried in the bowels of the DEP bureaucracy.

Martin has met with Exelon corporate people. Martin has publicly discussed Oyster Creek cooling tower issues. Martin was involved in weeks of transition briefings. Martin was a member of the Governor’s Red Tape Review Group that did a “top to bottom” review of DEP. Martin claims he is an energy policy wonk and adviser to the Governor.

So one would assume that Martin has been briefed on all facets of Oyster Creek’s operations.

My guess is that it is a cover story and designed to provide an excuse (“really? I didn’t know THAT”!) and blame DEP staffers for his management failures.

Dodging accountability probably is why Martin emphasized and repeatedly made the claim that he was “turning over rocks at DEP“.

Is Martin suggesting that DEP staffers are intentionally withholding information from him? Gaslighting him? Sandbagging him?

I know the professionals in the DEP radiological program and their management reports are perhaps the most rigorous in DEP. It is inconceivable that they did not fully brief Martin on this issue in the months since his DEP involvement.

Martin’s claim that he heard of the leak from reporter Todd Bates and shore legislators is simply not credible and another slap in the face to DEP scientists.

I also have worked on two transition teams (Florio and Corzine) and at the Commissioner’s level at DEP for several years. I can personally attest that a new Commissioner would have been fully briefed on an issue of the magnitude of Oyster Creek tritium leak.

And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also disputes Martin’s claims (see this)

Martin looks like a classic “kiss up – kick down” kind of guy.

2) Expand LSP Privatization Model for DEP Land Use Programs?

Senator Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) - seeking expanded privatization at DEP?

Senator Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) - seeking expanded privatization at DEP?

Senator Gordon (D-Bergen) really surprised me by suggesting that the controversial toxic site cleanup Licensed Site Professional (LSP) privatization model be expanded into DEP land use permitting programs.

That is a really bad idea that actually goes beyond the radical assault of the Christie Transition Report.

The Senator’s constituents and Trenton ENGO lobbyists need to tell him to drop that foolishness now.

3)  Who is Senator Back listening to?

Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) enjoys the hearing.

Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) enjoys the hearing.

The newest member of the Senate Environment Committee is Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth). I have heard good things about her that suggest she is a moderate strongly pro-environment republican. Beck is a new member, who can’t be expected to be up to speed on complex environmental laws and issues. And it is refreshing to have a legislator acknowledge that they don’t know everything and ask questions that challenge lobbyists and fellow legislators to defend and explain their ideas.

But I was dumbfounded by several of her statements (“I don’t know anything about this light pollution issue, but as a woman I feel unsafe at Mall parking lots because the lighting is too dim” and “road lighting is too dim hard to see“).

I was surprised by some of her premises and questions, which revealed a lack of preparation and that she had been listening intently to business lobbyists but not environmentalists (e.g. Beck didn’t know the basics of renewable energy – e.g. what NJ’s Renewable Portfolio Standards or Societal Benefits Charges et al were,  but she did express concerns about preventing business and industry from subsidizing solar power in electric rates and she did “know” that the Chemical industry lobbyists told her that NJ had lost over 60,000 chemical manufacturing jobs as a result of high energy costs (hey – didn’t Hal Bozarth of Chemistry Council testify last week that DEP regulations had killed all those manufacturing jobs?).

4) Chairman McKeon tried – but not valiantly!

Assembly Chairman John McKeon (D-Essex) - making a list and checking it twice!

Assembly Chairman John McKeon (D-Essex) - making a list and checking it twice!

In fairness, the Assembly hearing was much better than the Senate, in terms of asking questions and expressing support for  several environmental programs. McKeon expressed concerns and/or asked Martin about his policy and plans for the following:

a) over $400 million cuts of DEP Global Warming program, regional green house gas auction, and clean energy funds;

b) Highlands, including push back on exaggerated claims of failure to compensate landowners (noted only 16 TDR application filed for less than 500 acres) and Martin’s plans for the septic density standards;

c) Renewal plans and permanent stable source of funding for open space;

The only policy questions of the day came from Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) who asked about Executive Order #2 policy regarding federal standards an environmental justice policy

5) Will someone please tell Bob Martin that DEP’s mission includes protection of Public Health and does not include promotion of economic development?

Martin again failed to include protection of public health in DEP’s mission.

He limited DEP’s mission to protecting the environment and natural resources.

Yet, while ignoring public health, he repeated his policy that DEP mission is to promote economic development.

Martin needs to be told this – who will take on this educational challenge?

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