Archive for June, 2010

All Quiet on the Privatization Front

June 19th, 2010 No comments

Perhaps a little too quiet – an eerie silence before the storm?

I’ve been focused on and writing mostly about Christie Administration deregulation issues. But there is another facet of his right wing agenda that presents a threat to protection of the environment and public health: privatization.

Just where are expansive privatization expectations coming from? Two places.

1) Governor Christie’s appointment of DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, who made his career privatizing public water systems; and

2)  On March 11, Governor Christie issued Executive Order #17, which created a 5 member Privatization Task Force headed by former Republican Congressman Dick Zimmer . The Task Force held hearings and was required to issue a public Report to the Governor and Legislature by May 31.  That Report has not been issued, but the Governor assumed $50 million in privatization savings in his budget, so there are shoes to drop.

But a litttle historical background is in order before we get to Christie policy and plans.

Last year, the Legislature enacted the Corzine Administration’s privatization plan for toxic site cleanups, known as the “Licensed Site Professionals” program (LSP).  The LSP plan was crafted by then DEP Commissioner (now USEPA Administrator) Lisa Jackson.

Private LSP’s, paid by their corporate polluter clients, now make toxic site cleanup decisions, with little or no DEP oversight and virtually no public knowledge or involvement in cleanup decisions.

The Gulf BP oil blowout illustrates how: 1) corporate profit motives; 2) private control over risky decisions that impact the public; and 3) lax government oversight and no public involvement, lead to disaster. BP simply made reckless decisions to cut costs. Those profit driven BP decisions are what caused the well blowout.

The LSP program represents hundreds of similar small scale disasters at toxic waste sites. The LSP program provides incentives for corporate polluters to cut corners to reduce cleanup costs. In representing their corporate clients and seeking the cheapest cleanups – with no government oversight or public accountability – the LSP’s shift toxic risks to NJ communities and the environment.

The LSP program is a horrible model that was so controversial that, during her US Senate Confirmation hearing, Jackson was forced to back away from it and pledge that she would NOT bring any similar LSP/privatization policy to US EPA.

Here’s the excerpt from the hearing: ( Watch CSPAN video of Jackson testimony here):

Question by Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer:

Q: Please provide “your views on polluters self certifying that property is clean” (@ time 3:26:45)

A: Lisa Jackson:

I don’t believe that process [i.e. private certification, as in LSP] has merit at the federal level” (@ time 3:42:43)

Chairman Boxer confirms that Jackson has rejected privatization at EPA and removes any ambiguity at time 3:43:03 by saying:

Q: Boxer: “you don’t anticipate and you do not expect to allow private consultants to certify sites as clean”?

A: Lisa Jackson: “No”

Some now are advocating expanding the LSP privatization model to DEP land use programs (wetlands, flood hazard, and coastal zone permits). Those very programs are now undergoing rollback reviews as a result of the Red Tape Review Report, so there is a serious risk that Christie deregulation and privatization policies could merge and radically dismantle these critical natural resource protection programs.

And proponents of expanding the LSP model are not just right wing ideologues, but also include Bergen County Democratic Senator Bob Gordon, and many other places in the Democratic party.

Just this week, at a conference of the National Association of Industrial Office Parks (NAIOP), a politically powerful developers lobby, DEP Commissioner Martin reinforced scapegoat myths about DEP’s impact on the economic recession, and continued to stoke extremely dangerous business community expectations. Here’s a flavor of the discussion Martin has with his business cronies:

Terming the new attitude at DEP a “culture change,” Martin explained that while guarding the environment, his agency also plays a key role in economic development. The thrust of the change at DEP includes the message delivered clearly to staffers that, “the applications on your desk right now are jobs, and they can’t be allowed to just sit there,” he said. “We are pushing every day to focus on growing business in the state while simultaneously protecting the environment. And in Chris Christie, we have a governor who ‘gets it’.”

The commissioner explained that his office has been looking at all possible aspects to develop a “transformation agenda, because nobody is happy with DEP’ ”not the business community, the mayors, or the environmentalists.” Among the early items on that agenda is to institute an inclusive stakeholder process “and get back to common sense.”

Covering a broad range of issues, Martin noted that recent measures have included the addition of a new assistant commissioner for economic growth, institution of one-stop permitting, resurrection of the Office of Dispute Resolution, and new emphasis on customer service. He cited clean water, green energy (including wind) as other key issues, and called the Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRP) program “an absolute priority. That program cannot and will not fail.

Heading an expert panel on site remediation, moderator Don Richardson of Environmental Waste Management Associates noted the importance of the ongoing decision-making process for the LSRP program’s final rules. Stephen Santola of Woodmont Properties concurred that LSRP, “cannot be allowed to fail. This has really been a bipartisan program with buy-in from industry and DEP.” He questioned whether the lending community understands the program, and urged that the LSRP concept be expanded into land use.

Attorney Andrew Robins of Giordano Halleran & Ciesla conceded that there have been some misconceptions and a lack of knowledge about LSRP, and perhaps some basis for caution. “I am finding that I have to be a ‘drum major’ for the program,” he said. Robins also applauded improved relations with DEP under the new administration.

There has been a sea change for environmental issues, industry, and the entire state,” said Lawra Dodge of Excel Environmental Resources. “It has been a long time coming. The regulatory climate for land use has been broken for a long time.”

As part of a panel of Land Use experts, Diana Fainberg of Diana E. Fainberg Inc., lauded a recent administrative order [by Martin]preventing DEP from withdrawing sewer service for reasons of deadlines and other strictures—reversing a bill vetoed by former Gov. Jon Corzine

While DEP Commissioner Martin testified to the legislature during DEP budget hearings that he had no privatization plans “at this time”, he also has said the Governor is the boss – and his testimony preceded EO 17 and the Privatization Task Force Report.

With the pretext of the Governor’s declared “fiscal emergency”,  rabid ideological support and the experience of DEP Commissioner Martin, virtually anything is possible (despite the fact that DEP’s budget is about 80% from federal funds, permit feees, and enforcement fines, so privatization would provide minimal reductions of General Fund appropriations, could jeopardize loss of federal funds, and increase taxpayer burdens).

Thus far, the DEP related privatization issues that have been broached publicly are expanded LSP program for land use permit programs, and privatization of the parks.

On May 5, the Star Ledger wrote a story that opened with a revealing question:  “A Starbucks in Stokes State Forest?”

The state Department of Environmental Protection and Gov. Chris Christie’s administration are in discussions about having private vendors, rather than state personnel, manage state forests and parks.

“We are barely getting by this year with enough funding to run the parks, so we are looking for ways to ensure that our parks stay open and that all residents of New Jersey have an opportunity to be able to use the parks and recreation sites,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin today.

Most recently, in a June 6 Atlantic City Press article, Amy Cradic, DEP Assistant Commissioner for parks, confirmed that privatization was being planned:

Cradic also said the DEP is trying to offer more services through privatization. New Jersey residents will find, for example, more kayaking and bicycling concessions than in past years, and the DEP is seeking more proposals for private concessions, she said.

The debate on privatization seems to have gone underground, and I am not aware of any groups publicly working in opposition to expanded privatization schemes at DEP.

Given the context, that is not a healthy situation.

You know the drill.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Christie Repeating Lax Oversight Errors that Led to Gulf Blowout

June 17th, 2010 No comments
Bayway Refinery, Linden NJ (Connoco-Phillips)

Bayway Refinery, Linden NJ (ConocoPhillips)

[Update: 7/4/10: ahem!. Confirming my point. There are lessons for NJ here: BP Texas Refinery Had Huge Toxic Release Just Before Gulf Blowout

In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank in the Gulf, BP has insisted that the incident, the nation’s worst environmental disaster, was a disastrous but unusual misstep for a company that has done much in recent years to change its ways.

But a look at BP’s record in running the Texas City refinery adds to the mounting evidence that the company’s corporate culture favors production and profit margins over safety and the environment. The 40-day release echoes in several notable ways the runaway spill in the Gulf. BP officials initially underestimated the problem and took steps in the days leading up to the incident to reduce costs and keep the refinery online.]

ABC TV Eyewitness news ran a killer story tonight on a pattern of “serious safety and pollution violations” at the ConocoPhillips Bayway refinery in Linden, NJ. At about 250,000 barrels per day processing capacity, it is the largest on the east coast.

The ABC story leads with a recognition that lax government oversight and BP cutting corners on safety and environmental rules were factors that led to the Gulf disaster. ABC reports:

[Bill Wolfe] “You’ve got safety risks posed because of lax government oversight and profit motives to drive the facility and maximize its production.”

We have been writing about those issues here for some time, and even President Obama admittted as much in his Oval office address Tuesday night:

“Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility—a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.

When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problem there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency — Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General. And his charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog — not its partner.”

As far as I know, for the first time, Governor Christie was asked by a reporter about his Executive Order #2 which is designed to provide “regulatory relief” and “waivers” from environmental requirements.

I don’t know which quotes were more absurd: Christie’s lame response or the oil company’s “no comment” dodge. ABC forced Christie to comment:

“Environmentalist Bill Wolfe spent 13 years at DEP. He says the massive spill in the gulf occurred because BP cut corners on safety while the regulators looked the other way.

Wolfe says Governor Christie is making the same mistake by issuing Executive Orders that call for immediate relief from regulatory burdens and waivers from regulations.

[Wolfe] “It will make government facilitate, not regulate – actually promote the interests of the polluters – protect the polluters, not the people of the state”.

[Governor Christie] ” Our environmental policies so far have been very progressive … I don’t know where you’re getting that from, but there’s none of that stuff going on”

(Jim Hoffer, ABC reporter] “Your Executive Order, where you call for less regulation

[Governor Christie] “No, what we call for is common sense regulation. We don’t call for less regulation

Watch the whole thing: Scroll down until you find Lax regulation at Bayway refinery in NJ

(ps – I got detained by Linden police for almost an hour for taking the above photo. The ConocoPhillips security guard falsley claimed that I trespassed on their property. I never left the public sidewalk, as my photo’s revealed. As a result, police refused to press charges. Damn, a false arrest charge might have funded my retirement!)

Christie was obviouslty flummoxed by and unprepared for the question from ABC’s Hoffer and equally shocked by the comeback by Hoffer.

Christie feels completely immune from criticism on envrionmental policy. Gotta figure NJEF support has lots to do with that, as does a deferential NJ press corps.)

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

DEP Caught in Cut & Paste Job on Global Warming Data

June 17th, 2010 No comments

Commissioner Martin Out of Touch With DEP Data and Global Warming Plan

Yesterday, DEP issued a press release touting a new 11 state regional initiative to address the transportation sector’s global warming emissions.

It tripped my spin detector beause it also had a claim about creating “green jobs”.

Just the day before, I slammed Commissioner Martin for appointment of a new Assistant Commissioner who allegedly would focus on “green jobs”, so I though the release was political cover for that.

So I read the DEP release closely (having previously written about DEP’s emissions inventory), and noted that not only did it have little to nothing to do with “green jobs”, but it read like a cut and paste job from the press release issued by Georgetown Climate Center.

So I did a little fact checking, in keeping with my promise to give this Commissioner no quarter.

Minor plagiarism can be expected and tolerated from the DEP press Office, but not when it makes mistakes on the data or science. Especially when the Commissioner’s quote contains a fact error on an issue as significant as global warming emissions.

Commissioner Martin has ignored DEP’s own Global Warming Plan; called DEP science “poor, not organized, anecdotal at best“; called the BPU Energy Master Plan “the worst analysis” he’d ever seen; and repeatedly insisted that DEP decisions must be based on “facts and science” (and always stated in a context that implies that prior DEP decisions have not been based on facts and science). So obviously, Martin’s claims warrant scrutiny.

If he’d read DEP’s own emissions inventory and Plan, Martin would discover that DEP’s Global Warming Plan emissions inventory finds that the transportation sector is the largest and has the greatest opportunity for emissions reductions. Martin should be touting this emissions inventory as the best in the Region and a model for other states.

But oops, he can’t do that because he not only has shelved DEP’s Global Warming Plan and fired the head of the Office that developed it, he killed the DEP green house gas emissions inventory proposed rules! (see this for DEP’s proposal Martin killed).

So, let’s get to the embarassing fact error in Martin’s quote. Martin stated (he meant “sector” not “factors” but that’s no big deal – give Martin some slack,  after all he has no training, and it seems obvious that he makes statements and issues press releases without scientific vetting):

“We’ve identified that 30 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in this state are caused by transportation factors.’’

Georgetown made this claim about the transportation sector:

The transportation sector is responsible for about 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the United States.

According to DEP’s own Global Warming Response Act Plan, transportation accounts for 35% (net) and 49% of gross emissions (See Figure ES on page 7).

So it is obvious that Martin never read his own Agency’s Plan, cut and pasted the Georgetown regional estimate, and has made a fact error in the process!

Reminds me of the BP’s Gulf oil drilling Plan, which was obviously a cut and past job from Alaska, because it listed “Sea Lions, Seals, Sea Otters [and] Walruses” as “Sensitive Biological Resources” in the Gulf, suggesting that portions were cribbed from previous Arctic exploratory planning.

So Martin is going down a BP road.

Now if  the press and legislators also would fact check and hold Martin accountable, we might make some progress!

(ps -  I also checked out the BPU Energy master Plan. According to BPU EMP, in year 2010, transportation sector accounts for 40.2%  (See Table 1, page 20.)

 Either way, it is NOT 30%!  

It also is interesting to note that BPU and DEP have significant differences is basic data, like actual currrent and 1990 baseline GHG emissions and in projected emissions scenarios.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Martin Doubling Down – Revolving Door Opens For Business Crony Appointment

June 16th, 2010 No comments

Earth to Martin: The Chamber of Commerce is Not “Green”

[Update: I just read Obama’s Oval Office address (missed it last night) and feel compelled to preface this post with this Obama quote, which explains the failures of federal regulators:

Over the last decade, this agency has become emblematic of a failed philosophy that views all regulation with hostility a philosophy that says corporations should be allowed to play by their own rules and police themselves. At this agency, industry insiders were put in charge of industry oversight. Oil companies showered regulators with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations.

When Ken Salazar became my Secretary of the Interior, one of his very first acts was to clean up the worst of the corruption at this agency. But it’s now clear that the problem there ran much deeper, and the pace of reform was just too slow. And so Secretary Salazar and I are bringing in new leadership at the agency — Michael Bromwich, who was a tough federal prosecutor and Inspector General. And his charge over the next few months is to build an organization that acts as the oil industry’s watchdog — not its partner.

Despite a scathing Asbury Park Press editorial opposing DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s plan to change DEP’s mission in order to promote economic development, and strong warning signs from the Gulf BP oil blowout illustrating exactly what happens when government regulators get too friendly with polluters, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin just appointed a Chamber of Commerce Crony as a new Assistant Commissioner for Economic Development and “green” business.

Sorry Bob, calling a Chamber of Commerce appointment “green is so obviously cynical it becomes laughable.

And claiming that the focus of the appointment will be on renewable energy after slashing more than $400 million in Clean Energy Funds and trashing the DEP’s Global Warming Response Act Plan is way beyond the pale.

Just like his Boss, Martin ignores facts, makes rash moves, and dismisses criticism, damn the consequences.

The Asbury Park Press sure gets what’s wrong here

In a strongly worded April 16 editorial; Aiding economy not DEP’s job, the APP blasted DEP Commissioner Martin for his views on DEP’s role in economic development and his plans for creating a new Assistant Commissioner for economic development:

Now and then, some public official will say things that make the attentive listener go, Whoa! That doesn’t sound quite right. Does this guy understand his job?

The most recent example to come out of the Christie administration is found in the musings of Bob Martin, the new commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP’s job is to protect and preserve the environment, not to insert itself into questions of the economic issues involved. That’s for other state policymakers to address. It is much too early to form any judgments on how Martin will do on the job. But some of his statements thus far should give those who care about New Jersey’s environment real pause.

The problem is that Martin was not just engaged in “musings” – he’s now acted on those absurd remarks.

And in addition to previously working for the auto industry (a real “green” career path! as a lobbyist?) we note that the appointee hails from the Mercer County Chamber.

Back in my Sierra Club days, we were involved in a Mercer County campaign to defeat the $240 million proposed garbage incinerator. We ran into some pretty nasty players in Mercer County Republican Party and business circles, friends of the Prunetti Machine.

That Machine used the Mercer County Improvement Authority to issue bonds and serve as a money laundering operation, while the Yardville National Bank was the political piggy bank. Lots of the corrupt machine deals were masked as “economic development ” and provided cover as “green” recycling programs. Martin seems to know how to play this game too. It’s amazing that despite investigations by the FBI and federal bank regulators, only one crony went to jail after the incinerator was cancelled and millions of dollars simply walked away and went unaccounted for (case prosecuted by US Attorney Chris Christie!).

The former executive director of the Mercer County Improvement Authority pleaded guilty today to participating in a mail fraud scheme with Harry G. Parkin, the former chief of staff to the Mercer County Executive, and to conspiring with Alex Abdalla to bribe a Ewing Township official, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie announced.[…] According to the terms of the plea agreement, Lambert agreed to cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation of Mercer County public corruption.

So, that Mercer County affiliation is one fine pedigree!

The Revolving Door Swings Open at DEP, again.

(ps – and would Dave Pringle at NJEF care to comment? How’s that Christie endorsement looking now? – it sure looked bad, as I wrote BEFORE the election)

His eye is on the sparrow - Puppetmaster Jim Benton, head of NJ Petroleum Council, keeps an eye on DEP Commissioner Bob Martin during yesterday's testimony on Gulf BP oil blowout

His eye is on the sparrow – Puppetmaster Jim Benton, head of NJ Petroleum Council, keeps an eye on DEP Commissioner Bob Martin during yesterday’s testimony on Gulf BP oil blowout

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Police can not “rummage at will”

June 15th, 2010 No comments

Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled that police are limited in conducting searches of vehicles without a warrant.

At the time, I had just been the victim of a blatently illegal car search by local police. So, I wrote favorably about that Court decision on May 19, 2009, see: Supreme Court car search decision a victory for privacy rights. I emphasized the strong language used by a conservative court, including Justice Scalia:

The court found that police can not “rummage at will”:

the State seriously undervalues the privacy interests at stake. Although we have recognized that a motorist’s privacy interest in his vehicle is less substantial than in his home, see New York v. Class, 475 U. S. 106, 112- 113 (1986), the former interest is nevertheless important and deserving of constitutional protection, see Knowles, 525 U. S., at 117. It is particularly significant that Belton searches authorize police officers to search not just the passenger compartment but every purse, briefcase, or other container within that space. A rule that gives police the power to conduct such a search whenever an individual is caught committing a traffic offense, when there is no basis for believing evidence of the offense might be found in the vehicle, creates a serious and recurring threat to the privacy of countless individuals. Indeed, the character of that threat implicates the central concern underlying the Fourth Amendment “the concern about giving police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person’s private effects.”³

The court found that police officer safety is not jeopardized and that police don’t even need these invasive powers:

“Contrary to the State’s suggestion, a broad reading of Belton is also unnecessary to protect law enforcement safety and evidentiary interests. Under our view, Belton and Thornton permit an officer to conduct a vehicle search when an arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. Other established exceptions to the warrant requirement authorize a vehicle search under additional circumstances when safety or evidentiary concerns demand.”

The Scalia backed opinon (and he’s no bleeding heart liberal) concluded that police practices in question were “anathema” to 4th amendment privacy protections:

“Construing Belton broadly to allow vehicle searches incident to any arrest would serve no purpose except to provide a police entitlement, and it is anathema to the Fourth Amendment to permit a warrantless search on that basis. For these reasons, we are unpersuaded by the State’s arguments that a broad reading of Belton would meaningfully further law enforcement interests and justify a substantial intrusion on individuals’ privacy.”³

A year later, today, the Star Ledger reports that vehicle searches are down – as expected – but that requests for “voluntary consent” searches are up by a staggering 32%.

More “consent” searches are bad news, because first of all, everyone knows that a roadside request by an armed cop is highly coercive, and that any consent given under these conditions can never be “voluntary”.

But worse, consent searches are a frequent tactic in “The War on Drugs” and are highly prone to racial profiling and other discriminatory abuses. Such searches are not limited to vehicles, and are often done on city streets, typically of black youth and young men. In addition, police engage in “pretext stops” of vehicles and courts have found that any pretext is valid and that a police officer’s motivations can not be questioned.

I urge folks to read Michele Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow for an in depth discussion of these and related police and prosecutorial practices that have resulted in huge racist disproportionate jailing of black men.

And to illustrate just how extreme and out of touch with basic constitutional rights State Police attitudes are, consider the fact that conservative right wing Justice Scalia admonished police with the strong phrase: the police could not “rummage at will“.

Yet NJ State Police spokesperson sees the Court’s decision as exerting a “chilling effect”:

Dave Jones, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association, said the court decision and resulting guidelines have a “chilling effect” on troopers’ ability to do their jobs.

“You smell it, you see it, you hear it” that used to be good enough as a professional,” he said. “They put in a mechanism to create hurdles so cumbersome you couldn’t continue the search.”

That’s a crock of shit!  I think the state troopers just need to chill out!

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: