Archive

Archive for February, 2011

Love Gets in the Way

February 28th, 2011 No comments

I’m All Wild in Places I Wasn’t Before

Sorry Joni Mitchell, I still love your work, but this is the best love song ever (beyond dancin’ up a river in the dark).

And No Regrets Coyote,  it’s from a Jersey girl (listen live).

i’ve made love with one eye on the door
i’ve left good rooms with nothing to say
i wanted to love them
but love got in the way
i wanted to love them
but love gets in the way
and so what if everything’s changed
and so what if i’ve held out for more
i’m all wild in places i wasn’t before
i’m wild in places where i wasn’t before
so come on and make a mess of me
i won’t walk away
i’m ready as i’ll ever be
i won’t walk away
i want to be fed by you
i want to be led by you
i thought i wanted freedom
but love got in the way
i went looking for freedom
but love got in the way
so come on and make a mess of me
i won’t walk away
i’m ready as i’ll ever be
i won’t walk away  ~~~~ “
Love Gets in the Way” (Dayna Kurtz – 2002)

Categories: personal Tags:

Thousands Rally In Trenton In Solidarity With Wisconsin Workers

February 25th, 2011 1 comment

Pro-labor Crowd Denounces Christie Agenda and Attacks On Middle Class

wisc1

[Update 2/27/11: I noticed that NJ Democrats (other than Frank Pallone) were notably nowhere to be seen at the rally. Did I miss them? Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono has a great Op-Ed. But here's' where "Democratic" Senate President Sweeney was:  NJ Senate President Sweeney presents his own reforms - Big Problem.]

Thousands of labor supporters rallied today in front of the Statehouse in a show of solidarity with Wisconsin labor unions and to oppose attacks on public sector employees and labor rights. Threats of heavy rain likely dampened turnout.

After a warmup singing Woodie Guthrie’s classic “This Land Is Your land” and other labor songs, the crowded roared as a series of rousing speakers denounced Republican policies that cut taxes for corporations and the rich, while slashing social programs and destroying the middle class.

While voicing support for Wisconsin labor unions, the crowd sent a message to Governor Christie and the Legislature that the labor movement was unified, building coalitions with other progressives,  and ready to fight to protect hard won middle classs lifestyles.

Governor Christie has refused to focus on reversing growing inequality and the struggles of working people. He ignores the Wall Street deregulation and corporate greed that caused the recession.

"New Normal: Unions get busted: corporations get deregulated: Middle class gets crushed: Rich Get richer"

"New Normal: Unions get busted: corporations get deregulated: Middle class gets crushed: Rich Get richer"

Instead, attempting to define a “new normal”, Christie puts the pedal to the metal on exactly the policies that have caused the problem: even more aggressive blind pursuit of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, deregulation, privatization, and attacks on public employees.  A protestor’s sign summed up the process (apologies for the poor resolution):

New Normal:Unions get busted: corporations get deregulated: Middle class gets crushed: Rich Get richer”

Adding insult to injury, Christie has joined with Democratic Senate President Sweeney in what looks like a conscious effort to divide public and private unions, by exploiting legitimate anger over high unemployement, stagnant wages, record home foreclosures and bankruptcies, and a deep insecurity in what looks like an increasingly bleak future for people who work for a living.

For thirty years now, corporations have received huge tax cuts and subsidies, while they enjoyed record profits from off shoring jobs, deindustrializing, slashing workers’ wages and benefits, in pursuit of a cost cutting, short term profit maximizing, race to the bottom strategy (some call it “financialization”).

Christie now wants to import that corporate disaster into the public sector.

Christie appeals to resentment – pitting worker against worker, private union versus public union - and employs divide and conquer and blame the victim tactics, a view summed up by Sweeney himself in a New York Times magazine interview:

“My politics are union politics,” Sweeney, the Senate president, assured me when I visited him in his State House office. He reminded me that he is not only the state’s top elected Democrat, but also a union ironworker. And yet, he said, “what I think that public-sector employees have to do is look at what’s going on around them, look at all the pain around them, and understand that no one hates them, but they want them to sacrifice like everyone else. It’s that simple.”

Well, it’s not that simple Mr. Sweeney. As a colleague wrote in a recent email:

In NJ, we saw businesses and their interests use the recession as an excuse to drastically reduce environmental protection and privatize our jobs under the guise of spurring the economy (as if NJ DEP caused the recession in NJ!), so I’m not surprised.  It’s full-scale class warfare if you ask me. Today, it’s public workers in WI, tomorrow it will be retirees everywhere. Next we will be told that there’s no money for social security but we can’t raise taxes on the wealthy making over $200K per year because that isn’t fair.  But we can take away pensions, social security, medicare or  unemployment compensation that were promised.  That is totally fair!

Here are some more photos – I was proud to stand with this diverse crowd of everyday people!:

wisc2

wisc3

wisc4

wisc5

wisc6
wisc7

wisc8

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Fracking Debate – “Our Water, Our Future”

February 24th, 2011 No comments
Clean water advocates oppose fracking at DRBC hearing - NJ State Capitol in background

Clean water advocates oppose fracking at DRBC hearing - NJ State Capitol in background

[Update 3 - 3/4/11 - check out the fracking photos on this site!]

Update 2: 2/28/11 - Propublica provides a useful readers guide as the debate heats up]

Update 1: 2/28/11 – We helped with this superb NY Times piece: Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers]

Today, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) held the 3rd of 3 public hearings in Trenton NJ on controversial draft regulations that would end the current moratorium on “fracking” natural gas wells in the Delaware River basin (see this for DRBC draft rules and public comment process).

The DRBC rules would allow deep vertical well drilling and horizontal ”fracking” at thousands of sites to extract natural gas from shale formations that underlie large portions of the Delaware River Basin, a small part of the Marcellus shale formation.

“Fracking” is a controversial new gas drilling technology that injects millions of gallons of toxic chemicals, under high pressure, deep undergound to fracture rock formations to extract natural gas deposits  (for useful background info, read the outstanding series by Propublica, or watch the award winning documentary “Gasland“, or  see this and this and this and this).

The controversial “fracking” practice was exempted from federal environmental laws in 2005, during the Bush Administration, based upon corrupt political pressure organized through Vice President Cheney’s energy industry dominated and secret Energy Task Force. 

Since then, the gas industry has engaged in a gold rush mentality, with States trying to catch up and put in place adequate safeguards to protect critical drinking water supplies. 

State regulatory efforts are being controlled by big monied special interest lobbying. The gas industry is relying on false promises of jobs, energy royalty payments, and rural economic development, which are powerful temptations during the current deep economic recession and local and state fiscal crises. 

State’s are desperately eager to attract short term economic exploitation. They foolishly are welcoming the gas industry with open arms, relaxing regulations on drilling on state lands, and minimizing economic royalty payments.

NJ Governor Chris Christie’s representative on the DRBC, retired energy consultant and now DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, has emphasized the economic potential of Marcellus gas reserves and supports fast tracking gas development. Martin is attempting to strong arm DRBC into relying on the primacy of State level regulations, which are dominated by the gas industry and woefully inadequate.

As far as I could tell, Martin did not even send a representative to tonight’s hearing – how’s that for arrogance?

This is the same NJ Governor who talks a lot of BS – and gets credit by the press and some co-opted environmentalists – for “killing” off shore LNG development, while at the same time that he supports new gas pipelines across NJ’s most sensitive forested lands, provides sweatheart deals for gas pipeline easements across state parks and water supply watershed lands, and aggressively undermines strong DRBC regulation of fracking:

The administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the only Republican governor in the group, is pressing the commission to hurry up and allow drilling in Pennsylvania. In a July letter to Collier, Bob Martin, the head of Christie’s Department of Environmental Protection said DRBC should not use its authority to impose stricter water quality standards than Pennsylvania, which would reduce New Jersey’s influence over water quality decisions regarding the Delaware.

“New Jersey does not believe DRBC regulations should expand into areas that are under a state’s authority,” wrote Martin, a retired energy consultant.

(and Martin still has failed to fix the underlying DEP lease problems , despite finally admitting a problem exists months ago).

Perhaps Christie and Martin will listen to thousands of New Jerseyans who oppose fracking. If Christie disregards public sentiment, maybe he will listen to a recent letter [link forthcoming h/t Sierra Club], signed by 36 [39] NJ legislators, [opposing the draft rules as premature and not based on science] urging DRBC to slow down and extend the public review process (see this for pending NJ moratorium legislation).

The lure of industry money also has prompted desperate rural local governments, landowners, and farmers to support the practice. 

One farmer went so far as to say he opposed ANY DRBC regulations on “his land, and his water”.

It was the hope that the DRBC, a regional body operating under the 1961 compact, would be insulated from these state and local economic and political pressures and act with integrity to provide a strong science based regional plan and regulatory controls. Such controls would include bans on any industrial scale energy resource exploitation that would risk irreversible harms to the Basin’s water resources (and industrialize a largely rural, agricultural, and forested landscape).

That hope has been dashed (unless direct action by advocates can reverse industry influence – there is too much money at stake and it is too late for traditional lobbying).  

Simply, DRBC lacks a comprehensive plan and the proposed reactive site specific regulations lack a sound scientific basis or precautionary public policy approach that honors DRBC’s mission to protect the basin’s water resources. 

Instead, the DRBC’s pro-gas industry regulations – which would rescind the current moratorium, allow drilling,  and therefore promote industry objectives over water resource protection - are being fast tracked in an effort to frustrate effective organization of strong and growing public opposition.

DRBC regulates water resources that supply drinking water to NY, NJ, Pennsylvania and Delaware, yet no hearings were held in Philadelphia and New York, where millions of residents rely on the Delaware for drinking water.

DRBC set a minimal 90 day public comment period, in a rush to put rules in place before public opposition can be organized. Public testimony at the hearing was strictly limited to 2 minutes, hardly time to state your name and briefly introduce your concerns

DRBC draft rules were proposed before scientific studies determine the risks and environmental impacts – US EPA is currently conducting such a study.

The DRBC draft rules did not include an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (legal eagle question: are DRBC actions subject to NEPA?).

The DRBC rules did not even attempt to analyze the cumulative inpacts of  thousands of individual wells, each using up to 5 milllion gallons of water each, or the ecological and public health risks of billions of pounds of toxic chemicals, the destruction of thousands of acres of forests and natural resources, or air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions.

The whole process is a sham.

Although the turnout at the hearing was relatively small, advocates did voice powerful arguments in favor on clean water over gas industry profits.

I spoke briefly of the high risks of the new fracking technology and the complete inability of regulations to protect the water resources of the Delaware Basin.

I expressed my sadness, as a former DEP regulator who typically advocates regulation, at the total inadequacy of the regulatory approach.

I also expressed my disgust for the corruption of science and public policy, the anti-democratic nature of the DRBC process, and the ugly power of politics and money.

I urged DRBC to withraw the draft rules and either propose an outright ban, or a long term moratorium until such time as the DRBC is able to put in place a science based comprehensive plan and adequately protective regulations.

The burden to prove that fracking can be done safely is on the gas industry. They have not come close to meeting that burden.

Given the risks and scientific unknowns, it would be recklesss to allow fracking to occur.

Sierra Club, Delaware Riverkeeper, and Food and Water Watch were the NJ/PA based groups leading the activist effort – please reach out in support.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Did Bob Martin Pull a Schundler?

February 23rd, 2011 No comments

Yesterday, emphasizing “tough choices”, Governor Christie said in his Budget Address to the Legislature that the DEP budget was cut by 10%:

In total, spending will be down by 2.6% versus last year. Down for the second year in a row. Many departments, indeed most departments, will have a cut.

• Department of Community Affairs, down 1.6%
• Department of Agriculture, down 1%
• Department of Corrections, down 2%
• Department of Environmental Protection, down 10%

I went with the Governor’s statement and wrote Christie Budget Slashes DEP by 10% – Subsidies to Polluters; More Burden on Taxpayers

But less than an hour later, DEP Commissioner Martin circulated an email to DEP staff that directly contradicted the Governor’s basic message and said that DEP’s budget had INCREASED by 5.3%:

 >>> Commissioner 2/22/2011 3:56:02 PM >>>

The Governor’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012 is all good news for the DEP. Due entirely to savings on DEP’s debt service through bond refunding, interest earnings and cost-cutting, you may have heard relative to Governor Christie’s budget address this afternoon that the DEP budget is being cut by 9.8%.  These savings on debt service do not affect any projects, programs, staffing or operations.  In fact, DEP funding excluding debt service is up 5.3%, from $329.2 million to $346.9 million

DEP also is receiving a major bump in CBT (corporate business tax) money–a more than $17 million increase over last year.  FY12 increases are:

  • Watershed Management  $2.6 million
  • Site Remediation Program Administration  $1.5 million
  • Grants in Aid-Diesel Retrofits  $2.9 million
  • Capital-Parks Development  $2.6 million
  • Capital-Site Remediation  $3.3 million
  • Capital-EDA Brownfields (HDSRF) and UST $4.3 million
    TOTAL  =  $17,415,000

So how did that happen? Did Martin pull a Schundler?

Did Martin smoke the Front Office into thinking his DEP budget was cut?

Or did Christie knowingly mislead the Legislature and the public that DEP’s budget had been cut 10%, when in fact it effectively increased 5.3%?

Or is the Governor so detached from the substance of governing that he doesn’t know the difference between debt service and an operating budget?

Or is it just politically taboo in conservative Republican circles to support DEP and environmental protection?

My guess, is that the Governor wants it both ways and was again spinning the facts – this time to create a false impression that DEP was cut because that is the Republican line in Washington and he wants to remain politically viable at the national level.

Wingnut control of the Republican party makes attacks on the environment a litmus test. 

The same logic explains the Governor’s global warming denial comments – he so wants to remain in good stead with the wingnuts running the Republican party, that he’s willing to say anything.

I don’t like to mislead my readers and I get pissed off when I am mislead.

I’ve also worked at DEP and briefed the Front Office – and I’ve never seen a “mistake” anywhere near this magnitude. I almost got  fired for a miscommunication with McGreevey (not my mistake) that doesn’t even come close to this.

If I were a real reporter and wrote the wrong story, I’d sure as hell starting asking a few questions.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Christie Budget Slashes DEP by 10% – Subsidies to Polluters; More Burden on Taxpayers

February 22nd, 2011 No comments

[Update 3 - this is getting tedious, Dave Pringle forwarded DEP Commissioner Martin's email to DEP staffers, which we print in full as it begs the question about why the Governor would create a false impression of deep cuts at DEP:

>>> Commissioner 2/22/2011 3:56:02 PM >>>
The Governor's budget for Fiscal Year 2012 is all good news for the DEP. 
Due entirely to savings on DEP's debt service through bond refunding, interest earnings and cost-cutting, you may have heard relative to Governor Christie's budget address this afternoon that the DEP budget is being cut by 9.8%.  These savings on debt service do not affect any projects, programs, staffing or operations.  In fact, DEP funding excluding debt service is up 5.3%, from $329.2 million to $346.9 million.

Current DEP staffing levels will be maintained.  There are NO layoffs planned and NO attrition numbers assumed in this budget.  

I am pleased that $6.2 million in Parks funding is being restored from the State's General Fund, and all of our State Parks will remain open.

DEP also is receiving a major bump in CBT (corporate business tax) money--a more than $17 million increase over last year.  FY12 increases are:
Watershed Management  $2.6 million
Site Remediation Program Administration  $1.5 million
Grants in Aid-Diesel Retrofits  $2.9 million
Capital-Parks Development  $2.6 million
Capital-Site Remediation  $3.3 million
Capital-EDA Brownfields (HDSRF) and UST $4.3 million
TOTAL  =  $17,415,000

In addition, funding for the Pinelands Commission and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission will continue at the same level as last year, and Highlands Commission funding is being increased by $463,000.  Green Acres monies are intact and funding will continue as scheduled.

While the topline numbers may look like DEP's budget is being trimmed, it's all debt service reduction, and in fact we will have more program dollars in FY12. There are no program cuts and no staffing cuts.  The Governor's budget demonstrates his recognition of DEP's transformation efforts and his continued commitment to protect New Jersey's natural resources.  [end update3]

[Update 2 - Dave Pringle just provided me with the more detailed  Governor's FY 2012 Budget Summary.

Although Governor Christie stated in his budget address that DEP budget was cut 10%, I could not find that cut in the actual budget document.

Dave suggests that that number deals with debt service so is not relevant and that DEP programs were basically held harmless. I don't disagree with that assessment.  In fact, the only problems I could find are (based on quick review):

  • looks like a $38 million cut in fee/fine revenue (Schedule 1, page 106). This shifts burden from polluters to taxpayers, so that concern still stands.
  • a new $1.425 million to "Support economic development" 
  • looks like the Recycling Fund was raided by $20 million
  • looks like the No Net Loss Reforestation fund was raided by $4.4 million
  • looks like only $10 million was stolen from the Clean Energy Fund, which last year saw more than a $168 million diversion. (I say looks like because I am not absolutely certain, as budget docs are complex)

Bottom line, it is not nearly as bad as the Governor stated in his address - which prompted my harsh headline (which is misleading, but will not be revised, for purposes of accountability, myself included - end update 2].

[Update 1: link to Budget Overview is working now - DEP takes a $38.6 million, 9.8% cut. As a percentage, that cut is second largest among all Departments, only to Health and Senior Services 15% cut.

As noted below, because there is no fiscal logic for the DEP cuts in terms of taxpayer savings, this shows that DEP is targeted for other ideological reasons, to further dismantle environmental regulation at the request of corporate masters. Christie is acting just like the Republicans in Washington DC, who have targted EPA:

Republicans unveiled a budget plan on Wednesday that proposed a $1.6 billion cut [1] to the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency whose authority they have sought to curtail, while business trade groups [2] have complained about the burden placed on them by agency regulations. Politico also reported that the GOP’s proposal would hit the Energy Department hard [3], with a proposal to cut energy efficiency and renewable energy programs in half. [end update 1]

I just listened to Governor Christie’s Budget Message.

I will leave many other issues with which I disagree alone, and focus exclusively on the environment.

The Governor mentioned the word “environment” at least twice – and not with respect to the natural environment, but to the “business environment”.

The Governor said all state Departments would see budget cuts - DEP would be cut by 10%.

There is no fiscal rationale for cutting DEP’s budget. Due to the way the DEP is funded, these cuts translate into subsidies for polluters.

As I previously wrote:

NJ taxpayers pay less than 2 tenths of 1% of the State budget to fund the operating budget of DEP. This implements the polluter pays policy. There is no taxpayer savings to be had by further slashing DEP budgets.

ONLY 24.7% of DEP’s FY 2009 $230 million operating budget, just $56.81 million, is paid by taxpayers from the state general fund. (read DEP budget here)

The link on the Governor’s webpage is not working, so details are not available at this time.

In addition to subsidizing polluters and shifting the burden to taxpayers, further cuts to DEP reflect a warped set of priorities that contradict the public’s strong support of environmental protection.

New Jersey faces severe environmental challenges.

Chronic cuts to DEP’s budget over the past 15 years have undermined DEP’s capacity to assure protection of clean air, clean water, public health, and natural resources.

Chrisitie’s comprehensive assault via DEP budget cuts, deregulation, cuts in polluters fines, and regulatory rollback are a prescription for disaster.

We will keep you posted as details emerge.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: