Defending the Indefensible (again)
[Update 4 – 10/13/10 – How’s ths one – perhaps Pringle’s worst yet,Â from today’s Philadelpha Inquirer story:Â “Environmental groups worry about Christie agency decisions“
Update 3: 10/8/10 – From today’s Bergen RecordÂ story. If this isn’t flat out providing political cover, I don’t know what is – BTW, “regulatory relief” is the term of art used in Governor Christie’s Executive Order #2:
Bill Wolfe with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is also concerned. “DEP’s mission, established by law, is to protect the environment and public health, not grow the economy,” he said. “Martin’s views are at odds with law, almost 40 years of practice, and the reality of environmental policy, where compliance burdens often cost industry real money. ‘Greater flexibility’ is merely a code for providing ‘regulatory relief.’ ”
David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation was more reserved in his assessment of the plan. “It’s a healthy process for an agency to look at how they’re doing things and modernize to be more effective,” he said.
Here is the processÂ DEP Commissioner Martin directed â€“ that Pringle finds â€œhealthyâ€œ:Â Â
Our agency does not have the luxury of transforming over a 3 to 4 year time frame. It is incumbent upon all managers to begin to identify, today, the changes that can occur immediately. We must identify what administrative and non-mission critical tasks we can stop doing without a protracted internal or external stakeholder process. (see page 3 of otherwise emptyÂ â€Transformation Planâ€œ) END
[with prior Updates 1 and 2Â below]
The Christie Administration was just caught trying to stealth a major policy change via a Department of Treasury Request forÂ Proposals (RFP) to privatize DEP land use permit reviews.
Understanding the significant negative implicationsÂ for protecting what’s left of NJ’s natural resources,Â the ChristieÂ move was immediately denounced by virtually all environmental groups, fromÂ the so called “moderates” toÂ the more aggressive voicesÂ (e.g. see this excellentÂ Op-Ed by Mike Catania, a former DEP Deputy Commissioner; see Jeff Tittel’s Op-Ed; and see NJ PEER press release).
It is extremely unusual for NJ’s diverseÂ environmental community to soÂ rapidly respond and harshlyÂ denounce a policy proposal.Â Â
But there was one notable exception, the token in the Christie camp.
Repeating a disgraceful pattern,Â that tokenÂ deviated from the consensusÂ categorical denunciation of the ChristieÂ proposal. Importantly, this deviationÂ echoedÂ the Christie DEP on a key point in support ofÂ privatization. FromÂ today’s Bergen Record story:
“Itâ€™s good the DEP would still have final say on permits,” (**Dave Pringle, NJEF – see clarifying footnote below)
Â “… the DEPâ€™s Hajna said. “The contractor wonâ€™t sign off on permit applications.Â … Final approval would still go through DEP staff.”
So called “final DEP say” is a fiction and the same lie that was effectively used to sell the privatized Licensed Site Professionals (LSP) program crafted by the Corzine Administration.
Some Trenton based NJ enviro’s initially went along with and laterÂ refused to aggressively criticize that LSP program. These environmental groupÂ failuresÂ enabled the LSPÂ program to garner media and legislative Â support. As a result, NJ’s toxic site cleanup program is basically privatized.
I held my fire in publicly criticizing colleagues for those LSP inside game failures, until it was too late.
So I’ll be damned if I will stand byÂ and see the same mistakes made in privatizing DEP land use permits.
But enough of history andÂ infighting,Â let’s getÂ back to the merits of theÂ above quoted so called “final DEP say” in the land use permit privatization proposal.
If a private sector PE drafts a land use permit,Â does anyone really think that a DEP staffer will effectively be able to challenge that draft?
The DEP’s own alleged justificationÂ forÂ the private contractor is a lack of DEP resources to address a (non-existent, given the economic recession and stalled construction industry) land use permit backlog in 90 day permits.Â
So,Â DEP staff resources are not adequate to review permits in a timely way, butÂ those scarce resourcesÂ are going to be divertedÂ to re-reviewing private contractor work? Are you kidding me?Â
In addition to the lack of time and staff to review consultant work, there is a larger political reality.Â My view (see this):
â€œThis 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,â€ Wolfe added, noting that an internal DEP â€œcultural transformationâ€ stresses collaboration with business. â€œPrivatization is a means to impose corporate control over what are supposed to be independent government experts.â€
A closing word: after being caught with theirÂ pants down, the DEP is nowÂ presenting conflicting justifications for the RFP.
Initially, we were told this (by the token):
“DEP claims that no decisions have been made, nothing’s imminent, they just put it out as the contracting process is so burdensome that they want to start the process now so that if/when they decide to move forward later after a public process with strong ethical standards… to only handle a rush/peak in 90 day permits they’ll be able to respond more quickly.”
Then we were told that it was all a miscommunication (by the token):
“DEP will get out an email soon setting up an inclusive stakeholder meeting within a couple weeks noting there’s confusion out there cuz DEP blew communication on this, nothing is decided or imminent, if any thing later not sooner, understand there are concerns, want to hear them and address them.”
And in today’sÂ Bergen Record story, DEP defends the RFP/private review program and provides a variant explanation and says nothing about any stakeholder process commitments:Â
The DEP says the process is only a contingency in case the economy improves and developers flood the DEP with new permit applications.
“We do not intend to use this contractor anytime soon, if at all,” said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna. …”Weâ€™re just trying to be proactive and thinking ahead because we want to keep the permit process as timely as possible.”
Are you kidding me? Is token getting played or what?
** Note: I realize I clipped Dave Pringle’s full quote, the remainder of which is critical of the RFP proposal. However, I did that for goodÂ reasons. First, because the so called “DEP final say” issue is so important, and second, because Pringle worked hard to get himself in the Bergen Record story and he did so in a way that effectively undermined the criticism of his colleagues. That is simpy intollerable. And he later called those colleague views “bombastic” and his own more “nuanced” and insider in nature. I say fuck that too, and the horse you rode in on Dave. As I said in a recent email:
“Tell Ray CantorÂ to revoke the RFP pending stakeholder consensus and legislative authorization andÂ appropriation.Â Grow a pair Dave Pringle, and stop covering for this pack of liars..”
Â Here is Pringle’s full quote:
“Itâ€™s good the DEP would still have final say on permits, but a lot of this conflicts with what Governor Christie said during the campaign about not privatizing the land-use program,” said David Pringle. “This kind of work is better done by full-time state professionals than by consultants who would be temping for the state and then looking for a job with the very developers whose permits they might have been reviewing. Thereâ€™s a significant conflict there.”