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APP Rebuke to DEP’s Martin: “Stop Restricting Public Discusssion”

June 30th, 2011 No comments

Supports Development Moratorium 

This is what PR looks like - DEP Commisioner Martin spins

This is what PR looks like - DEP Commisioner Martin spins (photo credit: NJDEP)

While I strongly disagree with their characterization of the Christie plan as “ambitious”, today a superb Asbury Park press editorial – as we recommended  – calls out DEP Commissioner Bob Martin for spin and frustrating public participation: Stop restricting public discussion -

it would be nice if state environmental commissioner Bob Martin’s public presentations had more public participation and less spin.

As per the typical pattern, I was not even aware of, never mind invited to Martin’s “briefing” session.

I wrote Tuesday’s piece based exclusively on the DEP press release and Kirk Moore’s story.

Who got invited to the DEP briefing? Was it public noticed? What ENGO issued an alert? 

Why would they participate in and thereby legitimize such a BS forum? I thought the inside Pringle game was over.

On the substance, APP slams DEP sewer plans and, surprisingly, calls for DEP to declare a moratorium:

In fact, the DEP should declare a moratorium now on development around Barnegat Bay until such time as all the in progress scientific studies and surveys have been completed and analyzed.

I take issue with the legal and political feasibility or even need for a moratorium, and instead urge DEP and EPA to enforce current laws.

Now, while they’re on a roll, the APP needs to call out NOAA for their policy that requires scientists to “avoid advocacy at all costs” or risk termination of NOAA funding.

Some might find mere engagement in the public debate to be “advocacy”.

NJ scientists and academic institutions need to step up and publicly denounce that NOAA policy as an egregious affront to academic freedom.

The opportunity to write that story comes today, at a NOAA listening session at Monmouth University.

[Update: 7/2/11 - Jeff Tittel Op-Ed lays out the solutions we have been urging for years now: Stand up for the bay, not special interests.

Tittel points to a big problem that has gotten little attention: loss of freshwater flows in coastal streams and into the Bay (the Bay has lost over 30% of freshwater input, which alters salt, temperature, and ecological conditions).  The water deficits in the Metedeconk and Toms River explain the lenghty DEP delays in update to the Water Supply Master Plan, which is years later now, as we noted last August. At that time, DEP claimd the draft plan would be released in May, 2011.  But, the only reporter to cover the issue, Ed Rodgers of NJN is no longer broadcasting, which is just what Christie wanted. - end]

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NOAA Keeps Gag Rule On University Marine Scientists — Rejects Petition to Lift Ban against “Advocacy” by Sea Grant Recipients

June 29th, 2011 No comments

The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind; …  By the public use of one’s own reason I understand the use that anyone as a scholar makes of reason before the entire literate world.              ~~~  What is Enlightenment? (Kant – 1784)

We all know that issues related to the management of NJ’s prescious coastal and ocean ecosystems are often highly controversial and scientifically complex.

That’s why we particularly need scientists who are willing to become involved in the public policy debates to ground the discussion in science. By doing so, they can serve as a counterveilling force to the “expert” hired guns of special interests, expose the corruption and deceit of anti-rational science deniers, and hold government accountable. 

By publicly talking about how their research applies to public policy issues, scientists can become public intellectuals and key advocates of the public interest as arrived at through public discourse (see Scholar as Citizen, a blog of University of Wisconsin Professor William Cronon for a perfect example of how this works).

Unfortunately, despite lofty American principles like “academic freedom” and “free speech” and “scientific integrity“, scientists run the risk of retaliation and loss of funding if they become involved and speak out.

NOAA policy mandates that scientists must avoid advocacy “at all costs” or risk being stripped of NOAA Sea Grant funding.

See below for a distressing example of this - the remarkable story of marine scientist and Professor Rick Steiner.

NJ scientists and professors are directly at risk. 

NOAA funds the NJ Sea Grant Consortium, which is comprised of  20 member NJ colleges and Universities, including Monmouth, Rutgers, NJIT and Stevens.  Their mission is:

New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium Member Institutions are colleges, universities and other groups with expertise in marine, coastal and/or estuarine science and an interest in New Jersey’s marine, coastal and/or estuarine affairs. Collectively the group works to advance knowledge and wise-utilization of New Jersey’s marine and coastal resources and make a positive impact on marine and coastal policy throughout the region. The Consortium also coordinates and seeks funding opportunities for cooperative research, education and extension projects among its members.

NJ Sea Consortium member institutions and scientists should speak out against this NOAA policy, which compromises their academic freedoms and free speech rights. ENGO’s should join that effort because we lose when science is muzzled or sidelined. And the media should oppose this as well, as they lose the best sources for stories.

News Releases

For Immediate Release: June 29, 2011
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

NOAA KEEPS GAG RULE ON UNIVERSITY MARINE SCIENTISTS — Rejects Petition to Lift Ban against “Advocacy” by Sea Grant Recipients

Washington, DC — The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will continue to forbid scientists who receive its marine research grants from speaking out on matters of public concern even as private citizens, according to its denial of a rulemaking petition filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, academics must avoid advocacy “at all costs” or risk being stripped of NOAA Sea Grant funding, under official guidance that remains in effect.

The PEER petition was sparked by a case in which the University of Alaska withdrew federal Sea Grant funding from a prominent marine scientist under pressure from NOAA officials who complained about his “advocacy” for marine conservation. The marine scientist, Professor Rick Steiner, came under attack by NOAA officials for speaking at a press conference protesting a pro-oil industry slant in a Sea Grant conference on proposed petroleum development in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

PEER filed a rulemaking petition with NOAA on December 17, 2009 shortly after Prof. Steiner’s Sea Grant funding was stripped. In a decision dated June 1, 2011 (but actually delivered more than three weeks later), NOAA declined to clarify its policy, contending the guidelines were “not a binding legal requirement” even though NOAA sought to have the restriction enforced in the Steiner case.

Curiously, earlier this month NOAA circulated a draft Scientific Integrity Policy affirming the ability of its employees to express “personal” viewpoints in their fields but this policy would not apply to grantees. The text of the draft NOAA policy reads: “NOAA scientists are free to present viewpoints within their area of professional expertise that extend beyond science to incorporate personal opinion but must make clear they are presenting their individual opinions when doing so…”

“Rather than taking this opportunity to clarify its support for academic freedom, NOAA has chosen to hide behind the fig leaf of a legalism,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that it took NOAA over 18 months to issue a curt denial of the PEER petition, a delay which officials ascribed to the need to coordinate with its emerging Scientific Integrity Policy. “It makes no sense that NOAA agency scientists would be free to speak out but academic scientists who receive NOAA Sea Grants are not.”

Nonetheless, NOAA officials have consistently defended their position that academic grantees should not take “positions on issues of public debate.” In the Steiner case, a top Sea Grant official approached Prof. Steiner’s dean indicating that NOAA had “an issue with Rick Steiner” because “he was acting as an advocate,” adding that “one agent can cause problems nationally” and urging that Prof. Steiner “not be paid with Sea Grant funds.”

“If the U.S. wants to restore ocean health and integrity, then NOAA Sea Grant has to allow and encourage conservation perspectives to be voiced publicly by scientists it funds,” said Steiner, who resigned his professorship over the flap. “The denial of the PEER petition, which had simply asked NOAA to do just that, is a clear sign that NOAA remains clueless as to the desperate state of the ocean and their responsibility for correcting it.”

###

See the PEER Sea Grant petition

View the Sea Grant ban on advocacy 

Read the NOAA rejection

Look at NOAA draft Scientific Integrity Policy

Examine pending PEER petition to repeal Commerce-wide speech restrictions

Scan Alaska Legislature citation for Richard Steiner

 

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DEP Caught Spinning Barnegat Bay (Again)

June 28th, 2011 5 comments

[Update: 6/30/11 - While I strongly disagree with their characterization of the Christie plan as "ambitious", today a superb Asbury Park press editorial - as we recommended below - calls out DEP Commissioner Bob Martin for spin and frustrating public participation: Stop restricting public discussion -

it would be nice if state environmental commissioner Bob Martin’s public presentations had more public participation and less spin.

As per the typical pattern, I was not even aware of, never mind invited to Martin's "briefing" session. I wrote this piece based exclusively on the DEP press release and Kirk Moore's story. Who got invited to the DEP briefing? Was it public noticed? What ENGO issued an alert? Why would they participate in adn thereby legitimize such a BS forum? I thought the inside Pringle game was over. - end]

Yesterday, DEP issued a press release, ostensibly to provide an update on the “Christie Administration’s Action Plan Toward Long Term Restoration”.

Note the not too subtle insertion of the phrase “long term” in the headline. This is a caveat designed to dampen expectations, dodge performance accountability, and provide an excuse for more delays and lack of effective action. 

That “long term” caveat was not included in the Governor’s original plan, which was titled: December 09, 2010 – Governor Christie Fulfills Pledge to Clean Up and Restore Barnegat Bay; Announces Comprehensive Plan of Action. “Action” means action right? Not more study.

Anyway, aside from further politicizing the issue by holding Commissioner Martin’s event in a blatently partisan Republican Ocean County setting, I want to note that the DEP press release touted the following, first among “accomplishments” (note the past tense, as in “done already“):  

Some key accomplishments so far, the Commissioner said, include:

  • $44 million in grants and loans made available to local governments for nearly 100 projects, primarily upgrades to aging and ineffective stormwater systems;
  • To back that claim up, DEP even provided a link to a project list - it took some web navigation and 6 clicks to get to it, but did DEP think no one was going to find it and then read it?

    It turns out, even a cursory review shows that DEP did not make $44 million  available for “nearly 100 projects”.

    That is just flat out false.

    Which embarrasssed and forced DEP Commissioner Martin to walk back those false claims from his own DEP press release.

    Kirk Moore, a fine reporter who reads the documents, fact checks claims, and knows the difference between real money and an “accomplishment” versus a proposed project wish list, quoted Martin:

    Some 90 stormwater projects are proposed across the 660-square-mile watershed, and $44 million for those could come soon from the state Legislature, Martin said. Funding for new projects in fiscal year 2012 will increase from $10 million to $17 million, he said.

    “We expect to get that approved this week,” Martin said. “We only expected about $10 (million) to $15 million

    How many times must DEP be caught spinning before they either stop doing it or are called out by media explicitly for doing it?

    In terms of the substantive elements of the DEP status report, I’ve previously criticized the Governor’s vetoes of the stormwater management bill and the TMDL bill and written extensively about flaws in the Governor’s plan.

    So, I would make the following new observations now:

    1. Here are relevant quotes from a news story two years ago – my sense is that very little on the ground or in regulation, or DEP practices  have changed since then:

    With Barnegat Bay’s survival in question, action demanded

    Friday, July 31, 2009
    STAR-LEDGER STAFF

    It’s choked by invasive aquatic weeds, infested with jellyfish and devoid of clams and oysters that used to support an entire shellfish industry.

    The Barnegat Bay, which separates mainland Ocean County from a barrier island of seashore towns, has been the subject of numerous studies, all pointing to the slow death of a fragile ecosystem over the last two decades.

    “We’ve actually reached a critical threshold where action is required to protect the bay,” said Michael DeLuca, the senior associate director of Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science. “Now it is clearly time to act.”

    Representatives from many environmental groups said state officials have been aware of the bay’s problems for years but have taken no significant steps to correct them.

    They worry yesterday’s meeting — like others in the past — will end up being nothing more than lip service from legislators who lack the interest or the political will to save the bay.

    As commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection last year, Lisa Jackson publicly stressed the need to restrict the levels of nitrogen in lawn fertilizers that wash into the bay after rainstorms. Nitrogen promotes the excessive growth of algae and other plants, and deprives water of oxygen for native marine life, a condition known as eutrophication.

    Bill Wolfe, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said neither Jackson — who now heads the federal Environmental Protection Agency — nor her interim replacement, acting Commissioner Mark Mauriello, has addressed the nitrogen issue.

    2. Today’s Star Ledger coverage of DEP’s press release and remarks by Commissioner Martin notes that some environmentalists are calling for a development moratorium.

    In the abstract, as a matter of policy, that would be great, but practically it is totally unncessary.

    Politically, a moratorium is deploying the nuclear option, and politically it is not realistic.

    In this economy, there is effectively almost a defacto moratorium, with very little development happening. So a moratorim is not necessary.

    So, if a moratorium is an extreme policy measure and it is not needed, why would ENGO’s call for it?

    That kind of demand only makes them look extreme and the Governor’s defiant do nothing approach seem reasonable.

    Instead of a development moratorium, ENGO’s need to demand that EPA intervene and enforce the Clean Water Act and withold NJ’s federal EPA Clean Water Act funding.

    EPA enforcement is required because the Governor of NJ – by vetoing the TMDL bill and not honoring prior DEP TMDL commitments to EPA – is flouting the Clean Water Act.

    3. ENGOs’ need to demand that DEP fund and enforce NJ environmental laws and DEP regulations to protect and restore the bay.

    Here is the DEP regulatory agenda I laid out, again two years ago.

    It should become the set of demands for a unified ENGO community campaign (see: All Quiet on the Regulatory Front – DEP Sits on Sidelines While Barnegat Bay Dies:

    If DEP were serious about protecting the bay, they would: 

    1) adopt enforceable nitrogen standards and enforce nitrogen BMPs in regulatory programs; 
    2) classify all streams draining to the bay as “Category One’ waters, which provide 300 foot wide protected naturally vegetated buffers; 
    3) enforce cumulative impact standards in the CAFRA coastal permit program to limit the growth of addition soil/vegetation disturbance and new impervious surfaces, pollution sources and water withdrawals; 
    4) mandate cooling towers at Oyster Creek; 
    5) adopt the Ocean County Soil Conservation Service study recommendations on soil compaction and modify “TR 55″ manual to force builders to change site construction and storm water management practices; 
    6) mandate water conservation measures and cap current water withdrawals; 
    7) provide technical and financial assistance to Towns;

    8 ) enforce the Clean Water Act’s “TMDL” program

    9) restrict new sewers.

    More to follow on the other elements in DEP’s status report when I get the time.

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    A Deeply Mysterious Whodunit Story

    June 28th, 2011 No comments

    [Update: 7/2/11 - In contrast to the Ledger story, see Jim O'neill's Bergen Record story today, which specifically addresses each deficiency I noted in the Ledger story. Coincidence?:  River too dirty to host oysters - end]

    Today’s Star Ledger runs a page one story on NJ’s toxic environment and the Clean Water Act: Piles Creek species remain at risk despite environmental protections

    The story concludes with this recommendation:

    Weis — who is chair of the [AHEM! "controversial"] science advisory board of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, has served on committees for the Environmental Protection Agency, and is currently writing about water for the United Nations — believes the Clean Water Act and other environmental protections since the 1960s have brought life back to Piles Creek and other places. Yet she said the environmental threats remain.

    “The current regulations are allowing really dreadful places like Piles Creek become better,” she said. “However, it will take a lot more effort, money and stronger regulations — and a lot of years — for them to really become healthy environments.”

    Wow. This is a page one story? Where do I begin?

    Maybe next time, the Ledger reporter will explore and inform readers of the context and a few important facts, like:

    • Who are the corporate polluters who made this toxic mess?
    • Are they paying to clean it up?
    • Are DEP or EPA enforcing the Clean Water Act on those polluters?
    • What is the status of current regulations and is there any prospect of new regulations under the Christie Administration?
    • What is the status of current funding and is there any prospect of increased funding under the Christie Administration?
    • What are the threats to the ecosystem and public health from this pollution?
    • How prevalent is this toxic pollution in NJ?
    • What is the DEP Science Advisory Board and what are they doing?

    Perhaps the Ledger reporter needs an intervention by Wolfenotes.

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    Christie DEP Budget cut $16.7 million more – Move to Kill New Economic Development Office

    June 28th, 2011 No comments
    DEP Commissioner Martin testifies before Senate Budget Committee (2010)

    DEP Commissioner Martin testifies before Senate Budget Committee (2010)

    Real Story: DEP Budget Slashed Further

    Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight reports that the Assembly’s budget eliminates the DEP Office of “Green energy and Economic Development”, created by Commissioner Bob Martin to implement his vision that DEP’s role is to promote economic development:

    The draft budget proposed by Democratic leaders would eliminate funding for the office, saving $1.26 million, a fraction of the DEP’s overall $330 million budget. All told, the agency’s budget has fallen by $16.7 million from the budget introduced by Gov. Chris Christie in March. The drop-off is largely due to the fact that the administration lowered its projections of revenue coming from the corporate business tax. A portion of the tax is dedicated to specific environmental programs, such as cleaning up hazardous waste sites and leaking underground storage tanks.

    First, I am pleased to see that Office scrutinized and the issue of economic development promotion at DEP finally engaged, but must note that Greenwald is not killing that Office because of policy reasons (i.e. Greenwald didn’t say that DEP should not be promoting economic development and that role violates their mission).

    As such, this is more a political embarrassment to Commissioner Martin than a real challenge to the Christie environmental policy rollback.

    But maybe Greenwald would have done the right thing for the right reasons if the enviro community opposed the Christie/Martin economic development Uber Alles from the start, 18 months ago.

    If Greenwald is concerned about duplication of services and other management issues, he should restore the DEP Policy and Planning Office and function.

    That was the ONLY place in DEP that even attempted to integrate the various permit silos in the Department. Bob Martin killed that Office.

    For those interested, I’ve been writing about all this for many months, most recently, see: Some Stuff at Christie’s DEP

    Second, I was one of the creators and worked on the 1996 Constitutional amendment to dedicate 4% of corporate business tax proceeds to DEP.

    The intent of that was dedication was to stop diversions of DEP and environmental funds.

    That CBT money was not supposed to displace General Fund appropriations to DEP.

    So, if DEP’s share of CBT revenues is declining, they should be made up by more General Fund appropriations to DEP.

    In this case, Christie is slashing DEP’s budget further – and the Democrats are allowing it to happen.

    That’s the real story here – not Greenwald’s political games.

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