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Archive for September, 2010

Happy 50th! – Back to the Future? Noah’s Arc Update!

September 30th, 2010 No comments

 [Update: 12/5/10 - From the Creation Museum to Noah’s Arc! No bullshit, you can’t make this stuff up. NY Times reports:  In Kentucky, Noah’s Ark Theme Park Is Planned

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Today is the 50th Anniversary of The Flinstones (Source: Google)
Today is the 50th Anniversary of The Flinstones (Source: Google)

“When you enter the Garden of Eden there are lots of animals and it shows Adam when he named all of them.

Before the fall Dinosaurs were herbivores that lived in the Garden of Eden along with Adam, Eve, and the rest of the animals.  

If you look closely in this picture you can see the serpent in the tree. He actually looked much creepier than I have ever pictured him in my mind!”  Scenes from The Creation Museum

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Is this child abuse?

Is this a form of child abuse?

h/t to Matt Tiabbi’s latest Rolling Stone article “Tea and Crackers“. A taste:

Buried deep in the anus of the Bible Belt, in a little place called Petersburg, Kentucky, is one of the world’s most extraordinary tourist attractions: the Creation Museum, a kind of natural-history museum for people who believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. When you visit this impressively massive monument to fundamentalist Christian thought, you get a mind-blowing glimpse into the modern conservative worldview. One exhibit depicts a half-naked Adam and Eve sitting in the bush, cheerfully keeping house next to dinosaurs — which, according to creationist myth, not only lived alongside humans but were peaceful vegetarians until Adam partook of the forbidden fruit. It’s hard to imagine a more telling demonstration of this particular demographic’s unmatched ability to believe just about anything.

Even more disturbing is an exhibit designed to show how the world has changed since the Scopes trial eradicated religion from popular culture. Visitors to the museum enter a darkened urban scene full of graffiti and garbage, and through a series of windows view video scenes of families in a state of collapse. A teenager, rolling a giant doobie as his God-fearing little brother looks on in horror, surfs porn on the Web instead of reading the Bible. (“A Wide World of Women!” the older brother chuckles.) A girl stares at her home pregnancy test and says into the telephone, “My parents are not going to know!” As you go farther into the exhibit, you find a wooden door, into which an eerie inscription has been carved: “The World’s Not Safe Anymore.” 

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Here We Go Again

September 29th, 2010 No comments

Lurching from Drought to Flood

As we’ve observed again and again, read today’s news:

National Weather Service issues flood watch throughout N.J.

Heavy rain on its way to New Jersey has prompted the National Weather Service in Mount Holly to issue a flood watch for the entire state from tonight into Thursday night.

The storm will move up the East Coast tonight and Thursday, with heavy rain starting tonight and slowing down Thursday night, according to the service.

Total precipitation is expected to average two to four inches, but could reach six or seven, according to the service.

The western area of the state is expected to be hit the worst.

Flash flooding caused by thunderstorms is also expected south of Interstate 195.

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Christie DEP Privatizing Land Use Permits

September 28th, 2010 No comments

[Update: 10/1/10: Jim O’neill of the Bergen Record: DEP looking for private contractors to oversee some permit applications

Where did DEP find $600,000 in this year’s budget to fund this contract?

 

Was this money appropriated for this specific purpose?

 

Press Release

For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Contact:  Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

 

 New Jersey to Privatize Land Use Permitting

Contractors to Write Flood Control, Coastal Wetlands and Other Approvals

 
Trenton — New Jersey is now looking for private companies to review applications and draft permits for all of its land use programs, according to a request for proposal posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The five-year contract would radically extend Governor Chris Christie’s privatization agenda into regulatory decisions traditionally seen as inherently governmental.

The request for proposal quietly posted on a state web site solicits bids from contractors to assume permit review and drafting for virtually all state land use regulations, including permits for flood control, coastal protection, wetlands, tidelands, stormwater management, the touted Highlands area protections and even threatened and endangered species reviews.  Up to $600,000 “is expected to be available” during the first year of a five-year base contract that could be extended to a total of eight years, however, the source of funds in a strapped state budget are not identified.  Bidding is slated to close on November 4, 2010.

“This is not just the fox guarding the henhouse; this is the fox issuing henhouse tickets to other foxes,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that privatization of air pollution permits under former Governor Christie Whitman scandalously imploded after state consultants were discovered stealing proprietary information from permit applications.  “This is a hurried, secretive corporate giveaway of the entire suite of safeguards for soil, water, wildlife and landscapes.”

The request for proposal is structured on a sliding scale, where the contractor could take just a portion or all of the permit preparation duties from Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) scientists and technical specialists who now review applications and write conditions attached to permits.  The DEP Commissioner under Christie, Robert Martin, had no prior environmental experience but did specialize in privatization and deregulation of water and energy public utility systems.

“This contract is structured so that any DEP scientist who raises a troublesome issue could find his or her job outsourced at the drop of a hat,” Wolfe added, noting that an internal DEP “cultural transformation” stresses collaboration with business.  “Privatization is a means to impose corporate control over what are supposed to be independent government experts.” 

 
The land use permit contract would continue a steady march of privatization of state public health and environmental protections.  For example, the Christie administration put a number of industry consultants onto a newly formed Science Advisory Board which will determine what and how science is used to support tighter regulation of chemicals and pollutants, work formerly done by DEP scientist.  Similarly, DEP is putting the finishing touches on a Corzine administration-backed plan to privatize oversight of clean-ups of toxic chemical sites, substituting for state review to ensure that hazards are abated.

“Corporate consultants can work both sides of the street, advising polluters one day and the regulators the next,” Wolfe concluded.  “Business as usual will soon take on a special ominous meaning in New Jersey.”

###

Read the Request for proposal

 http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/purchase/bid/summary/11×21651.shtml 

 Look at Christie eco-privatization agenda

http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1317

See privatization of scientific reviews

http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1345

Note privatization of toxic site remediation program

http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1034

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

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DEP and “Fast Track” Implicated in Federal Criminal Indictments

September 27th, 2010 2 comments

Another Legislator Indicted  for Pushing DEP Approvals – Will Christie Repeat Corruption in Expediting DEP Reviews?

The recent FBI Operation Bid Rig resulted in convictions of NJ legislators for taking bribes to expedite DEP approvals. (for all criminal complaints see this).

Today, the US Attorney issued more indictments involving political intervention in expediting and securing DEP approvals, so lets trace some recent history.

Even before the Corzine administration era Bid Rig scandals, we always knew that efforts to “Fast Track” DEP permits and approvals were fundamentally corrupt, in terms of compromising protections of public health and the environment for the economic profits of special interests and developers.

After Governor McGreevey signed the Fast Track bill into law in July 2004, we led a succesful statewide environmental group campaign, which led directly to Acting Governor Codey’s Executive Order #45 which established a moratorium on implementing the law.

Subsequently, but prior to the Bid Rig indictments, the Encap Meadowlands project became the poster child for abuse of Fast Track and Pay To Play.  Our assessment of DEP’s role in Encap:

“It’s an egregious failure in oversight,” said Bill Wolfe of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

We noted:

Bill Wolfe, of the New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the loan “is a deep conflict of interest” for state environmental regulators who must also approve the validity of EnCap’s plans to close the landfills and clean up ground water in the Meadowlands.

“These limited state funds should be targeted to give us the biggest bang for the buck in terms of reducing water pollution — not more bangs for those with the biggest bucks,” Wolfe said.

Now it looks like those efforts were criminal too.

According to today’s US Attorney’s criminal indictments of former NJ State Senator Wayne Bryant and prominent attorney Eric Wisler:

BRYANT provided a consistent vote for legislation that was favorable to WISLER’s clients, such as a 2004 amendment to the Redevelopment Area Bond Financing Law that facilitated bond financing for the Meadowlands project, appropriations legislation by which the Meadowlands project received more than $200 million in loans from the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust (“NJEIT”) and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”), and “fast-track” legislation that required the NJDEP and other state agencies to expedite their review of applications for permits or have those permits deemed granted. BRYANT also sponsored a bill in 2005 for a $112 million loan from NJEIT to be used for the Meadowlands project.

Bergen Record reporer Jeff Pillets deserves a lot of credit for investigating and breaking the Encap story that led to these indictments - we like to think we helped him do so!

More to follow as details emerge.

[full disclosure: I witnessed attorney Eric Wisler in action in my capacity at DEP during loan negotiations on incinerator loans - federal investigators should look into the Newark incinerator financing.]

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On the Threshold of a Fracking Nightmare

September 26th, 2010 2 comments

Shamefully, NJ Governor Christie Backs the Frack

Live hand-in-hand
And together we’ll stand
On the threshold of a dream
.  ~~~
  Moody Blues (1969) (read lyrics and listen to the music)

Binghamton, NY (9/23/10)

Binghamton, NY (9/13/10)

Sorry for delay in writing about the important September 13  EPA public hearing in Binghamton NY to take public comment on the scope of a scientific research study to assesss the impacts of fracking.

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D/NY)

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D/NY)

Creation of  that EPA  study was spearheaded by NY Congressman Maurice Hinchey and has generated enormous public interest (the deadline for public comment is September 28)

Despite the public outrage, many well publicized destructive impacts, and a wild west gold rush mentality, since that public hearing, it looks like the Obama Administration is corrupted by gas industry lobbying (see NY Times: Obama Rejects Time Out for Natural Gas Drilling in NY, Pa.”

Remarkably, it appears that EPA is about to cave in to gas industry pressure to politicize the science.

This would repeat the 2004 scientific  fiasco  (exposed by EPA whistelblowers) when Vice President Cheney and his Energy Taskforce installed Haliburton lobbyists to be in charge of EPA’s initial study that led to 2005 Congressional exemptions from environmental laws.

If the Obama EPA and Science Advisory Board allow a repeat of that, they will destroy all credibility EPA may have gained by what appear to be good faith efforts thus far.

Propublica has been doing outstanding work on the fracking issue, which excuses my laziness. So I urge anyone involved or interested in the fracking issue  to read that coverage. It is extremely unusual for journalists to so beautifully investigate, understand, and report on a complex scientific and regulatory issue.

All I can say is a huge thank you to ProPublica, and to urge our home town NJ reporters to emulate that superb work.

Anyway, getting back to the issue at hand – EPA held a public hearing to take comments in Binghamton NY back on September 13.

The hearing was preceded by a street protest (I was proud to discover that I went to college with Binghamton’s Mayor, Matt Ryan, who was a fellow graduate of SUNY Binghamton’s environmental science and public policy program. In a superb irony, my later graduate thesis topic at Cornell was “Land Use Controls to Prevent Groundwater Contamination of NY Southern Tier River Valley Aquifers “).

Technically, my only comment on the scope of the EPA study is that it seeems like EPA is too narrowly focusing on drinking water impacts of chemicals, and ignoring the massively destructive land use and ecological impacts of thousands of fracking wells. And with current drought conditions, how are DRBC and NY, NJ, and Pennsylvania officials going to allocate reductions among current users that are necessary to account for the 5 million gallons of water needed for each of thousands of fracked gas wells?

Strategically, I’d note that some NY activists seems hopelessly naive in presuming a “de facto” drilling moratorium.

But NY activists were already screwed by NY Governor Paterson and the Legislature when they enacted the so called “spacing bill” that provided the gas industry a certain “by right” drilling density. (read the PR cover story here).

In a rare and refreshing bit on honesty, a western NY spokesman from the Onandaga Indian Nation recognized this by stating “we’ve already been fracked”.

The links above provide more than enough technical information, so all I will do below is post a few pictures of the event.

US EPA Region 2 Administrator, Judith Enck

US EPA Region 2 Administrator, Judith Enck

In addition to posting photos, I also take this opportunity to do three things:

1) to recognize the leadership of longtime environmental warrior Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who sponsored the legislation to conduct the EPA study, as well as the “Frack Act”  (HR 2766) to regulate fracking;

2) to thank EPA Region II Adminsitrator Judy Enck for her sincere and outstanding efforts; and

3) to condemn NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin and NJ Governor Christie for quietly acting behiond the scenes to support fracking.

(some photos)

residetns welcome EPA, as Binghamton mayor Matt Ryan addresses protestors

residents welcome EPA, as Binghamton mayor Matt Ryan addresses protestors

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Lehigh River (at Jim Thorpe, Pa.) is threatened too
Lehigh River (at Jim Thorpe, Pa.) is threatened too

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NY State's Southern Tier remains rural (underlain by Marcellus gas bearing shale)

NY State's Southern Tier remains rural (underlain by Marcellus gas bearing shale)

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