Christie DEP Adopts T&E Rollbacks – Sanitizes Criticism
Christie DEP Press Office Grows More Orwellian by the Day
New Species of “Special Concern” Provides Cover to Deregulate Habitat
[Intro Note: we wrote about this back in Jan. 2011 when the rule was proposed – see: DEP To Abandon Habitat Protections To Promote Economic Development – DEP CEO Martin Approves Controversial Plan Before Public Review]
We’ve already documented that the Christie DEP Press Office has set records for the most press releases issued by any former DEP Press Office (see: DEP Wins Press Prize).
But we now must note that the spin meter rates that same group the worst ever (and to exceed Brad Campbell’s spin and volume is a real “accomplishment”).
The most recent and egregious DEP Press office spin comes on DEP’s recent adoption of new T&E listing rules.
Those rules weaken protections for rare, threatened, and endangered species and remove previous regulatory protections for habitat and thereby open up over 31,000 acres of land to development.
We warned about mounting political pressure on the Corzine Administration to make these kind of listing changes and explained the regulatory implications for habitat protections back in October 2009, focusing on cooper’s hawk (see: DEP Will Delist Threatened Cooper’s Hawk To Promote Development).
And keep in my that the context for the Christie Administration’s new T&E listing rules include
- failure by DEP to move forward with T&E habitat protection rules recommended by scientists several years ago (during the McGreevey Administration);
- Christie Administration “Red Tape” attacks on the Landscape Project and regulatory protections for habitat;
- Christie DEP elimination of habitat protections in the water quality management planning rules
- Christie’s State Economic Development Plan proposes to eliminate the State Plan policy map and all linkages with DEP functional plans and maps, like the Landscape project maps and WQMP maps.
- Christie Executive Order #2 attacks on regulations and policy to inject economic considerations into rules and rollback state rules to not exceed federal standards
With that policy backdrop in mind – which should trigger a high degree of skepticism of any DEP claim to be improving T&E protections – and before we lay out some of the substance, let me now show the bureaucratic games DEP plays to spin the impacts of the new rules and sanitize the huge public opposition.
This spin includes attempts to sanitize the huge criticism that was provided by over 2,700 critical public comments, one of the largest volume of comments opposing a DEP rule.
Of course, as is standard practice,Â DEP’s press release itself makes all sorts of incomplete, exaggerated, and misleading favorable claims.
But, more subtly, DEP’s press release provides a link to the DEP Endangered Non-game Species webpage, where it is almost impossible to find the rule (I couldn’t), instead of a direct link to the rule adoption and response to public comment, and rule proposal documents.
Those key documents are not linked to by the Press Office because that’s where you can see the heavy criticism by thousands of people.
The rule adoption and response to public comment document shows that over 2,700 people and most environmental groups raised strong objections to the rule proposal. Read that document and see how DEP dismissed and now suppresses public criticism.
Similarly, the rule proposal document included key information.
By the DEP’s own admission in the proposal document, the rule changes would dramatically reduce protection of thousands of acres of currently protected habitat, opening up that land for development.
The DEP created a new category of species of “special concern”, but provided no regulatory protections for them or their habitat. This is the fig leaf cover used to fool some conservation groups into supporting the proposal (see comment #22 below, with which I agree).
According to the economic impact statement in DEP own Jan. 18, 2011 rule proposal: (@ page 17-18)
Current mapping of endangered and nongame species habitats used by the Department in administering the above land use rules includes threatened and endangered species occurrences in the Departmentâ€™s database as of May 2008. The proposed amendments would result in approximately 43,400 acres currently presumed to comprise endangered or threatened species
habitat no longer being presumed to comprise threatened or endangered species habitat. The addition of several species to the endangered species list and/or additions to species assigned threatened status results in approximately 12,400 acres not currently presumed to comprise endangered or threatened species habitat being added to the area of presumptive endangered or threatened species habitat therefore potentially requiring greater protection under the above land use rules. The overall result of the amendments to the lists proposed herein is a net decrease of approximately 31,000 acres of land presumed to comprise habitat for endangered or threatened species.
But the DEP Press Office wants no reporters or the public rummaging around in those documents. They wouldn’t want a reporter to see stuff like this:
2. COMMENT: Several commenters expressed concern about removing species from the endangered and threatened status categories because that will result in a net reduction in acreage that could be subject to other Departmental regulations, particularly land use regulations that make reference to habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife. The commenters noted that these lands serve as habitat for other wildlife, enable ecosystems to function and are important to quality of life of New Jersey citizens.
3. COMMENT: The proposed amendments are inappropriate as they place opening lands to economic development before the protection of critical habitat and preservation of the biodiversity of New Jersey.
4. COMMENT: The proposed amendments would promote more sprawl and overdevelopment, and jeopardize some of the most sensitive areas in the State.
5. COMMENT: The proposed rules fail to approach the conservation of critical species from a landscape context, instead focusing on individual species. The Department should instead be looking at preserving specific habitat types and ecosystems that are or could potentially be habitat for species of concern, threatened and endangered species.
6. COMMENT: The proposed amendments must be stronger to ensure potential habitat is available to species, and that regulatory protections are extended to all species in serious decline.
7. COMMENT: DEP should adopt strong rules that will not only protect existing endangered, threatened and special concern populations, but promote (wildlife) population growth by preserving critical habitat in the State.
8. COMMENT: Instead of weakening the rules, the Governor and the Department should be proposing a law to extend protection for plants.
9. COMMENT: Thirty years after the Endangered Species Act was passed, the State still does not have regulations to protect upland forest and grassland species.
11. COMMENT: The rulemaking process was not transparent: who was involved, what documents were reviewed and how were these decisions made?
12. COMMENT: The commenter received no notice of a stakeholder process or invitation to participate in this process in any way. Governor Christieâ€™s Executive Order 2 is very specific about the need for common-sense regulatory practices, including the requirement for stakeholder input
13. COMMENT: Some commenters used the form letter referenced as commenter letter #48 to make additional comments. Comments received in this manner included comments advocating for preservation of habitats and New Jerseyâ€™s natural resources for the benefit of people and their quality of life, for wildlife, and to preserve clean air, clean water and watershed integrity. Further, some of those commenters expressed their concern that development and corporate interests would benefit from the amendments more so than natural resource conservation that is in the public interest.
22. COMMENT: The proposed special concern category is not strong enough to protect populations that are declining in the State because it simply recognizes that those populations are susceptible to increased loss of habitat without affording the species any regulatory protection to prevent further decline. These species should be identified as threatened. The Department should make available the data and threshold levels used to qualify species as special concern rather than threatened.