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Senate President Sweeney Attacks Public Health and Environmental Protections

Still, those [regulatory relief] bills won the approval of all but a handful of state lawmakers.

“Our regulatory process stinks and needs to be overhauled. . . . I think we should do much more,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester). “I think we’ve regulated the state almost out of business.” ~~~ Environmental Regulatory Shift In NJ Draws Praise and Concerns (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/21/11)

Senator Sweeney simply is ignorant and misinformed on both environmental regulation and economic development.

Is he competing with Governor Christie for the Biggest Idiot award? Or just talking to Hal Bozarth too much?

That Sweeney quote is from yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer story by Maya Rao.

I worked with Maya on the story and it follows what I wrote about most of last year, and more specifically in January when I outlined the year’s upcoming events (see: Shoes Drop in 2011, As DEP Implements Christie “Regulatory Relief” Policy):

I forsee a series of train wrecks, as DEP implements Governor Christie’s pro-business “regulatory relief policies that are codified in Executive Orders #1-4. The framework and foundation for implementation of those policies was laid during 2010. 

Because Senator Sweeney repeats the business community’s lie that environmental regulations “regulated the state almost out of business“, let me remind the Senator of a few fundamental facts about:

I) Here’s why we regulate strictly in NJ

Because another Governor named Christie – as in Whitman – tried and failed to rollback strict NJ standards to federal minimums, let me start with an excerpt of the transcript of my testimony to the US Senate Confirmation hearing on Christie Whitman for US EPA Administrator. I cited that excerpt in testimony to the NJ legislature last March 18:

At that time, we disclosed a July 29, 1994 memo from then DEP Assistant Commissioner Lou Nagy to Commissioner Shinn. The memo compared DEP’s strict standards with weaker EPA requirements and warned of a significant increase in the number of potential fatalities.

This was not some tree hugger warning, it came from Shinn’s own Assistant Commissioner who wrote to Shinn to warn about:

“Industry (e.g., CIC and NJBIA) would obviously prefer backing off to the EPA thresholds. .However, the increases made by EPA on adoption were so large (averaging some 18 times the TCPA values with 33 of the 60 substances common to both lists assigned from 5 to 167 times corresponding TCPA values) that they are not technically justifiable in an area as densely populated as New Jersey where substances are generally handled on small sites, and would correlate with a significant increase in the number of potential fatalities”. (complete Shinn memo found on page 126 of Whitman EPA confirmation transcript)

Got it Sweeney?

So let me repeat – especially given the toxic chemical industry in your district – we need strict regulations to avoid “a significant increase in the number of potential fatalities.” Ask Hal Bozarth about all that (or Jim Sinclair about this (watch it!) – the only effort to hold Christie accountable for “regulatory relief” EO and the first to focus on variance policy).

But lets look more broadly than fatalities associated with chemical plants adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

The environmental indicators that justify NJ’s stringent environmental and public health regulatory protections are uniformly dire.

On the public health side, NJ has the nation’s highest cancer and asthma rates.

As we wrote over a year ago (harsh truths we were unable to get published on NJ’s timid Op-Ed pages):

The environmental indicators that justify NJ’s stringent environmental and public health regulatory protections are uniformly dire.

NJ is the nation’s most densely populated state with the most cars, most development, most pavement and most toxic pollutants per square mile. NJ’s precious shore is highly over-developed and vulnerable to storms and sea level rise. Yet we continue to lose more than 15,000 acres of forests, farms, and wetlands per year to new development. NJ’s racially and economical segregated urban communities bear unjust disproportionate pollution and health burdens.  Contradicting lots of empty political rhetoric about reducing emissions, NJ’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise steeply. NJ has the most toxic Superfund sites and more than 20,000 other toxic sites. Communities are threatened by at least 15 chemical facilities, where an accident or terror attack could kill more than 100,000 residents. In NJ, more than 65% of streams and rivers and 100% of lakes [and Bays] fail to meet water pollution standards and lack cleanup plans. Statewide Fish Consumption Advisories warn that fish and shellfish are too toxic to eat. Over 12% of residential water wells fail health standards. The entire state does not meet health based standards for air pollutants ozone, fine particulates, and numerous cancer causing toxic chemicals; and not surprisingly NJ has the nation’s highest cancer and asthma rates.

II) Environmental Regulation Provides Net Economic Benefits

According to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) thirteenth annual Report to Congress on the benefits and costs of federal regulations:

“The estimated annual benefits of major Federal regulations reviewed by OMB from October 1, 1999, to September 30, 2009, for which agencies estimated and monetized both benefits and costs, are in the aggregate between $128 billion and $616 billion, while the estimated annual costs are in the aggregate between $43 billion and $55 billion.”

EPA recently testified to Congress that the economic benefits of Clean Air Act regulations exceed costs by a factor of 10-40 to one.

DEP economic benefit estimates of NJ’s clean air rules are similarly positive on the economics (while showing reductions in thousands of asthma attacks and other respiratory events, hosspital emergency room visits, sickenss, and death).

A DEP study calculated huge economic value of NJ’s “natural capital” that is protected by environmental regulations.

The Final Report was quietly posted on the Division of Science and Research’s website. Despite score of press releases posted by DEP, the only place I could find Report mentioned was in July 31, 2007 Corzine press release:

“New Jersey has preserved over 1.3 million acres of open space and farmland. In addition to the environmental impact of preserving open space, a recent DEP report valued New Jersey’s “natural capital”, which includes open space, at $20 billion annually.”

III) “Horror Stories” – But No credible Study – Blame Envrionmental Regulation for the Recession

No studies to summarize and link to here, as none exist.

Worse, by their own admission, the NJ Chamber of Commerce sought “horror stories” – not facts –  to fuel the Christie DEP Transition Team deregulation juggernaut.

According to NJBIZ,

Assembly Republican Executive Director Rick Wright said the transition team is interested in hearing from businesses about how regulations affect them. He encouraged the audience at a New Jersey Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday morning to show the transition team “the horrors that they need to hear about regarding regulations’  effect on businesses.

As we predicted:

So, the Christie Transition Team will be inundated with all sorts of anecdotes and alleged horror stories explicitly designed to mislead. Given the composition and bias of that group, they will lack expertise and experience to evaluate the merits of this sort of propaganda.

Worse, there is no public process during the transition, which tends to be secretive. Therefore, there will be no independent check on the process, to provide countervailing information, to correct errors, to create a context for misinformation, and to reject flat out falsehoods and bad information likely to be submitted.

This is a very poor policy-making process and – given Christie’s regulatory animus a prescription for disaster.

IV) Economists agree that Wall Street Fraud, Greed and Deregulation caused the economic crash

A large body of literature exists to demonstrate this fact. But instead of quoting the superb journalistic work of Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone (see: Why Isn’t Wall Streeet In Jail), let me quote more mainstream Nobel Prize winning Princeton economist Paul Krugman:

When the financial crisis struck, many people, myself included, considered it a teachable moment. Above all, we expected the crisis to remind everyone why banks need to be effectively regulated.

How naive we were. We should have realized that the modern Republican Party is utterly dedicated to the Reaganite slogan that government is always the problem, never the solution. And, therefore, we should have realized that party loyalists, confronted with facts that don’t fit the slogan, would adjust the facts.

The bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was established by law to examine the causes, domestic and global, of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States. The hope was that it would be a modern version of the Pecora investigation of the 1930s, which documented Wall Street abuses and helped pave the way for financial reform.

Instead, however, the commission has broken down along partisan lines, unable to agree on even the most basic points.

It’s not as if the story of the crisis is particularly obscure. First, there was a widely spread housing bubble, not just in the United States, but in Ireland, Spain, and other countries as well. This bubble was inflated by irresponsible lending, made possible both by bank deregulation and the failure to extend regulation to “shadow banks”, which weren’t covered by traditional regulation but nonetheless engaged in banking activities and created bank-type risks.

Then the bubble burst, with hugely disruptive consequences. It turned out that Wall Street had created a web of interconnection nobody understood, so that the failure of Lehman Brothers, a medium-size investment bank, could threaten to take down the whole world financial system.

It’s a straightforward story, but a story that the Republican members of the commission don’t want told. Literally.

Sweeney now joins the know nothings in the Republican party, including Governor Christie.

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