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Christie Administration Outsources Climate Change Adaptation Planning

Monmouth County Pipeline Collapse Illustrates Vulnerability

[Update #3 – 11/11/12- Who knew I had all this brilliant academic and theoretical backing?

While many practitioners and academics use the term sustainability instead of landscape integrity, this author is more closely aligned with Forman (2008) when he eloquently argues that, “I usually avoid the term [sustainability] as mainly being a goal reflecting each user’s agenda rather than a base of knowledge, and more to the point, it feels about as solid as sitting on a chair of jello, or toothpaste” (2008, 252; see also Conroy and Berke 2004). (@ p.3)

Update 7/5/12 – I urge readers to click on to the comments and read the response and information provided by Randy Solomon of Sustainable Jersey.]

[Updates below]

As the dust literally settles in the Monmouth County water emergency and accountability investigations begin, I thought I’d take a more detailed look at the Christie Administration’s Climate Change Adaptation Planning Program.

Amazingly, Middletown Township – the location of the pipeline collapse – has a  “Sustainability Plan” application that is supposed to address infrastructure and climate change adaptation – but it doesn’t. [ The map of participating towns shows Middletown as having a certified plan.]

Even more amazingly, analysis shows that the State relies completely on this failed voluntary local process and outsources the content of the plans to a private, corporate dominated group.

So, the results are shocking, but not surprising: a massive across the board failure.

So follow the logic closely as we trace the Administration’s failures.

The performance is so consistently bad, it makes analysis and criticism like shooting fish in a barrel.

The first place I checked was NJ’s State planners at what used to be called the Office of Smart Growth (which is now promoting economic development as part off the Lt. Gov.’ “Business Action Center”).

Climate change adaptation is such a tabooed anathema to the Christie Administration that State planners can not even mention the words! 

Not only is there a gag on using words to describe the concept, the State had merely delegated the entire issue to the local level and tried to shoehorn it into the pre-existing and now defunct “plan endorsement” process (which ignores infrastructure, maintenance, adaptation, and financing).

But worse, Christie’s new State Economic Development Plan eliminated cross acceptance, so planners are relying on a process that no longer exists. Here is a state planner’s explanation:

The Office of Smart Growth has been working with communities [in the plan endorsement process] to craft land use ordinances that include strategies to reduce vulnerabilities to flooding and extreme tidal flux. [Note: this is exactly what took out the bridge & pipeline in Middletown]. Specifically they are trying to reduce the amount of impervious surface along the coasts, protect wetlands and wetland buffers, and restore coastal sand dunes. Land is targeted for protection or restoration through low-resolution shape file analysis and with local guidance and suggestions. Although these measures are not explicitly labeled as climate change adaptation, these strategies will enhance the region’s resilience.

So, I then checked with DEP, the agency in charge of adaptation planning under NJ’s Global Warming Response Act.

According to a review of the NJ DEP Office of Sustainability and Green Energy, DEP has abdicated state responsibility, delegated to the local level, and outsourced adaptation planning to a corporate dominated group called “Sustainable NJ” (e.g. check their website for membership and video promotion of NJ Natural Gas).

DEP says this:


Despite our best efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, there will be permanent public health, ecological and economic impacts in New Jersey from those emissions already in the atmosphere. Scientists predict that in the coming years New Jersey will experience higher temperatures during the summer months that will result in an increase of heat-related illnesses, as well as poor air quality and short-term droughts; and more intense rain events, leaving residents susceptible to high flooding.  These intense rain events will also worsen the impacts of rising sea level in New Jersey’s coastal and bayshore communities. …[Note: this is exactly why damaged the bridge and pipeline that collapsed. DEP also forgot to mention that record heat increases water demand.]

In particular, local governments, as the agents on the “front lines” during natural disasters, and as those with influence over planning and zoning decisions, need to be aware of their vulnerabilities and risks, as well as what actions they can take and where they need additional support.  The Department has partnered with Sustainable Jersey to form a Climate Adaptation Task Force (CATF), which is working to determine how best to support local efforts to become resilient in the face of changing climate.  The CATF released two educational tools to help local governments understand what climate adaptation is and how it will effect them.  One tool is a glossary of climate-related terminology.  The other tool is a New Jersey-specific climate trends and projections document. The CATF is now working to develop other risk assessment tools to support local government adaptive thinking.  For more information on the CATF, visit Sustainable Jersey’s website.

So, how does DEP expect local governments to become aware of risks and vulnerabilities?

Via “Sustanable Jersey’s website you idiot!!

So, I then wandered over to check out the Sustainable Jersey website to review the content of  their climate change risk assessment, municipal educational tools, and adaptation planning materials looked like. Here’s what I found:

  • There is no risk assessment. None at all. Strike one.
  • The “municipal tool” link went to a webpage that listed numerous BPU programs (16 in fact!). Although BPU regulates private water companies like NJ American Water (the company that was negligent in the Middletown pipe collapse) and BPU oversees and directs infrastructure maintenance and investment programs, there was nothing – nothing at all – about climate change adaptation, risk assessment, or infrastructure impacts and preventive or adaptive maintenance. Strike two.

So, I then examined the certification content requirements, and found that the “Sustainable Jersey” municipal certification checklist has nothing explicit about “climate change adaptation” and neither did the “Greenhouse gas” requirements. Nothing.

However, if one scrolled down the checklist and really drilled down and clicked on the “Climate Action Plan“, one came across this one paltry and vague sentence:

A CAP includes actions to address climate change at these two different levels. Municipal actions will target improving efficiency in municipally managed facilities, infrastructure, operations, and services. Community actions will require joint efforts of the public and private sectors, and include policy changes that will affect the lives of residents and local private businesses. 

First of all, the infrastructure planning is limited to “municipally managed facilities”, thus eliminating the failed bridge and pipeline that caused the problem.

Second, Middletown has not even submitted a plan. No action – No Plan.

Strike Three!

How could it get any worse?

[Update – I also checked out the governing local  document –  the most recent version (2009) of the Middletown Master Plan – It is silent and says nothing about “Sustainable development”.

Similarly, the Master Plan’s Utility Plan map only shows sewer infrastructure, not water supply. As the Master Plan Utility Service Element states (@ p. 36), it does not even consider water supply infrastructure:

The Utility Service Plan Element addresses stormwater management, drainage and flood control facilities, sewerage and waste treatment, and water supply and distribution facilities.

What the hell kind of local sustainable development program is that?

I will next try to document BPU regulations and policies regarding infrastructure maintenance and financing and whether those programs include climate change adaptation planning. My sense is that they do not require it and probably don’t even mention it.

BPU has programs that look relevant – Reliability and Security

The Division of Reliability and Security is responsible for implementing ongoing strategies for utility disaster preparedness, reliability and infrastructure security in conjunction with the State’s domestic preparedness and security efforts. The Division manages BPU’s response to disasters, emergency or major disruptions by the comprehensive coordination of utility remediation and recovery actions. The Division also manages two major infrastructure Safety Programs: Underground Facilities Protection Act and Pipeline Safety Program.

Here’s from BPU website on water infrastructure:

Division of Water

The Division of Water oversees the regulation of approximately 45 investor owned water and wastewater utilities.  The Division mainly deals with issues such as: establishing rates for utility service; assessing water and wastewater infrastructure needs; prudency issues and related costs; ensuring a safe and reliable water supply; growth impacts on water and wastewater costs and availability; sustainability of future growth; water reuse; depletion of aquifers; service interruptions; terms and conditions of water and wastewater service and management contracts; and conservation initiatives.

The Division also deals with identifying and evaluating initiatives, programs and best practices and efforts to improve the efficient use of potable water; evaluating and analyzing conservation tariff structures and the feasibility of implementation; system integration that reduces costs and provides for increased customer benefits; and reviewing the utilities’ long-term construction plans for capital expenditure

Here is NJ American’s tariff. Cursory review suggests that these terms are relevant:


  1. 4-  The Company will endeavor to provide a regular and uninterrupted supply of water through its facilities. However, if because of emergencies beyond the control of the Company, including governmental mandate, service is interrupted, irregular, defective or fails, the Company will not be liable for damages or inconvenience resulting there from. In the event of an extraordinary demand and/or diminished supply, or when operational issues make such actions desirable, including, among other things, protecting the integrity of the system and permit conditions, the Company may restrict the use of water whenever the public welfare may require it and, if necessary, may shut off the water in its mains and pipes. In such cases the Company shall advise its customers by placing a prominent advertisement detailing the conditions and restrictions in a newspaper of general circulation in the utility service area. The notice will state the purpose and probable duration of the restriction or discontinuance. Failure to provide regular and uninterrupted service due to breakdowns is covered under other sections of this tariff.
  2. 5-  The Company may restrict water service during certain periods, where the Company advises the Board of Public Utilities, in order to protect the public water supply, or otherwise to comply with any regulations, orders or decrees issued by the Governor of New Jersey or the Department of Environmental Protection, or any successor agency or department pursuant to the Water Supply Management Act, or other statutes or regulations of the state or federal government. Such interruptions or restrictions shall be reported to the Department of Environmental Protection, if necessary, and the Board by each utility by the speediest means of communications available, followed by a detailed written report, pursuant to the provisions of N.J.A.C. 14:3-3.7(e) et seq., within one week. Thereafter the utility shall provide weekly reports for the duration of the emergency.


page16image46401. Company will endeavor to provide a regular and uninterrupted supply of water through its facilities. However, if service shall be interrupted, irregular, or defective, or fail because of breakdown or emergency, the Company will not be liable for damage, inconvenience or lost income resulting there from.

Here are NJ American’s duty and representations:

As the surviving entity of the Merger, New Jersey American will continue to provide safe, adequate and reliable, high-quality service consistent with its corporate history, in fulfillment of its obligations under New Jersey law, and subject to the continued jurisdiction of the Board. 

Ah, but don’t worry – so what if there is no funding, no planning, and no regulation by the State Agencies with jurisdiction.

“Sustainable Jersey” has a Task Force that includes DEP and the State Climatolgist! So, you’re in good hands with All State! (hahaahah!)

[Update: You find some amazing stuff on DEP’s website – where Sustainable NJ listed as a “Business Association” and “Sustainable Business” contact, along with such environmental champions asNJ Business and Industry Assc., NJ Chamber of Commerce, and the Chemistry Council of NJ. As I indicated, this shows how Sustainable NJ is working in partnership with the Christie Administration.]

World Water Day NJ American Water protest (3/22/11)

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  1. July 5th, 2012 at 11:42 | #1

    Dear Bill,

    I wish you had talked to us (Sustainable Jersey) before writing this. We could have cleared a lot of this up. Currently our Climate Adaptation Task Force is working on a slate of actions to be included. It is well underway, and will include a web-based planning tool, self assessment, and GIS visualizer, dealing with coastal and inland flooding. We hope to have this done by November. So the reason it’s not on the website is that it simply isn’t done.

    Regarding your assertion that we are corporate dominated, our goal is to have our funding come 1/3 from private corporate contributions, 1/3 from State Government, and 1/3 from foundations like Surdna and Dodge. Currently the corporate funding is less than 1/3. All of the actions in Sustainable Jersey are developed by our task forces, and a partial and out of date list is on our website. We’d be happy to provide to you or anyone who wants it. All of the relevant academics, non-profits, and yes some corporations, participate.

    Our Board of Trustees has 15 voting members, and two of which are corporate representatives. The rest are academics, local elected officials, and general respected people. I don’t think it’s remotely fair to say it’s corporate dominated.

    If you would like to participate in the Climate Adaption Task Force you would be welcome. And then you could see for yourself.

    I would never assert that Sustainable Jersey is a replacement for formal government action, or that we are solving all the world’s problems. But I would appreciate some fair treatment for us and our volunteers who work very hard trying to do good things.

    Randy Solomon

  2. July 5th, 2012 at 12:06 | #2

    @Randall Solomon

    Randy – thanks for your note. You raise a series of good questions and criticisms of my post, which I address as follows, from the end to beginning:

    1) You may not assert that Sustainable Jersey is a replacement for formal government action, but you apparently missed the major thrust of my analysis, which demonstrates that State and local government do so rely.

    And you failed to mention that you “partner” with NJ DEP – a very relevant fact that involves funding, independence, and credibility. I chose not to go there, but you’ve now put that on the table. We all know what DEP funding does to independence.

    2) Thanks for the invite – let me know when/where you meet. But my involvement can not remedy the policy and technical problems I document here.

    3) Your Board – all members are not equal.

    And you failed to mention the regulated entities and constants and government officials – all of whom and some others completely not knowledgeable and political (Jane Kenney, Bob marshall, etc), – who have many of the same interests as corporate members, in term of economics, politics, and avoidance of regulation.

    I could go into lots of history and detail on this set of issues, but again chose not to do so.

    Perhaps I can clarify in an update exactly what I mean by “corporate dominance”, but that would only make it WORSE from your perspective. Should I do that?

    4) You say your work is incomplete – I flagged several major policy flaws and technical issues in this post.

    So, noting that you chose to ignore ALL of them,

    So, in response, I ask: Will your final product address the specifics of the issues I raised? e.g. Does the Middletown certified plan (or application, I got conflicting info from your website) address water supply infrastructure, risk assessment, and re-engineering to mitigate those risk? If so, HOW? How can a town manage privately owned and regulated infrastructure? Are you working with BPU and DEP on REGULATIONS to MANDATE that? Why does’t the master plan even mention sustainability or climate change adaptation, etcetera.

    Why is the substance of what I wrote completly ignored?

    Next time, instead of taking issue with my minor criticism, deal with the substance.

  3. July 5th, 2012 at 16:33 | #3


    Ok, here is more detailed blow by blow. I may do this in installments since I’m technically on vacation. So please don’t accuse me of hiding something if I don’t address everyone of your points in every post. Also, if you really want to understand us, vs. blast us, you would have called us to talk this over before unloading. Anyway, on we go…

    Going back to your original post:

    1. Middletown. You say we certified them as having a climate adaptation effort, but that they didn’t. I’m not sure how you concluded this. Middletown is certified by Sustainable Jersey as a Bronze municipality. Bronze means “They have made a commitment to sustainability and have succeeded in implementing some initial meaningful steps.” We also offer Silver. In the future we intend to offer Gold certification, which would actually mean that a town is on course to be sustainable, and if everyone performed at their level, then collectively we would be on course to be sustainable.

    I think it is completely fair and legitimate for us to say that Middletown has reached the level described by Bronze. Or at least they did when they applied.

    All of the actions for which Middletown was certified are listed on our website. We don’t currently offer any points for Climate Adaptation. So I don’t know where you got the idea that being Sustainable Jersey Certified implied that one addressed climate adaptation. Again, we are currently working on our climate adaptation stuff and haven’t released it. So it is inaccurate to say that Sustainable Jersey conferred some status to Middletown regarding climate adaption and did not deliver.

    2. You say that NJDEP has “outsourced adaptation planning to a corporate dominated group called “Sustainable NJ.” Putting off the “corporate dominated” thing for a bit, I don’t know how you can say that DEP has outsourced anything to us. They participate strongly in a Sustainable Jersey Climate Adaptation Task Force along with FEMA, a bunch of Rutgers academics, the State Climatologist, the transportation MPOs, among others. Together we are trying to develop standards and resources for local government on climate adaptation.

    Choosing the word “outsourced” to describe this very open and legitimate effort by concerned people, is, again, just not fair.

    We have 25 different task forces. And most of them have state government participants, among others. And this was true during the Corzine administration. And will be true after the Christy Administration. By your logic then, Brownfields, Economic Development, Energy Efficiency, Green Building, Green Purchasing, and on and on, have all been outsourced to Sustainable Jersey. By that logic, anytime that state government participates on any kind of committee on a subject, then they have “outsourced” work on that topic to the committee. Obviously that doesn’t make much sense.

    And, please keep in mind, Sustainable Jersey focuses on policy and resources for local governments exclusively. It makes no sense to hold us up as a substitute for State Government and then find us lacking. Or a substitute for anything for that matter.

    3. So then you go back to noting that there isn’t much on climate adaptation on our website. Again, it’s a work in progress, expected near the end of 2012, and if you want to see it sooner you are welcome to help out. More help would speed us up. The “municipal tool” you linked to is a link that says clearly “Office of Clean Energy”. Why would you link to a page that says “Office of Clean Energy” and expect to find something on climate adaption? And then criticize us for that? That isn’t treating us fairly. I’m be very mild in my choice of words…

    4. So then you say “If one could navigate the Sustaianable NJ website, the adaptation planning material on the website led me to “Sustainable Jersey’s” certification checklist”…and there was nothing about adaptation on it. What “adaptation planning material on the website” did you follow? Again, we haven’t addressed it yet.

    5. Next you beat us up because our Climate mitigation strategies (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) don’t address climate adaptation. That’s like beating an apple up because it’s an orange. As the words describing it should make clear, our greenhouse gas reduction stuff is aimed at greenhouse gas reductions and nothing else.

    6. Then you beat us up because we certified Middletown without them having a greenhouse gas action plan. I don’t get the connection. They are Bronze certified, so they haven’t done all the actions. And that is one they haven’t done. Our website is totally transparent so that anyone can see exactly what any certified municipality has and has not done. You can even see the actual documentation they submitted to us to prove they did each of the actions for which they got credit.

    I lost my train of thought. But somehow you are saying this reflects badly on us and I don’t think any of this holds any water.

    7. Next you examine the Board of Public Utilities and NJ American Water. I’m losing steam here. But in a nutshell you seem to say that their programs are lacking on climate adaptation, and somehow that is also our fault. Again, that isn’t a meaningful criticism. How is that helpful criticism to anyone?

    If your point is that Sustainable Jersey isn’t a replacement for state government, well that would be a fine thing to say and I would agree. I wish you had actually said that instead of saying a bunch of other unhelpful and unfair things.

  4. July 6th, 2012 at 12:17 | #4

    Regarding your comment and the next batch of allegations, that I would have hoped you simply checked in with us to get the actual facts, instead of just assuming the worst:

    1. We get no money from DEP. They do participate in a lot of our task forces and do work to develop many of the actions in the program, and all that in-kind work adds up. And for that we thank them. But they are not the majority on any any task force, they do not hold any purse strings. And your allegation is just flat out wrong. Wrong by a lot.

    2. You are correct that your involvement in a voluntary task force that creates voluntary standards for local governments cannot fix problems that you identified with state government. That it why your criticism of us is fundamentally unfair.

    3. Feel free to clarify anything you want. And perhaps you could even make a constructive comment and suggest something positive we could do while you are at it. I see now that you are saying that government involvement equates to corporate dominance in your calculus…well at least I understand your calculus now. Not much more to say there.

    4. I have not addressed all your original issues blow by blow. The big issue is that you find state government, Middletown, and the public utilities lacking, and then blame us for it all. We may be the only game in town on many of these issues. And in many instances that is indeed a sad thing as weak and small as we are. But we are not the cause of those problems and it’s wildly unfair to say that we are the cause.

  5. July 6th, 2012 at 12:19 | #5

    Regarding #4 above, I meant to say “I have NOW addressed all your original issues”

  6. July 6th, 2012 at 12:32 | #6

    Now I will go back to fighting off the Anti-Agenda 21 wingnuts who make equally unfounded allegations against us that we are communists dominated by the United Nations intent on taking away private property rights.

  7. July 6th, 2012 at 13:28 | #7

    @Randall Solomon

    Randy – you equate my analysis with the Te Party Americans for Prosperity Wingnuts?

    Well Fuck you pal – now I will do a little work and expose your bullshit entirely.

    I give you equal time and actually respond to your ass covering crap, and then you leave with that parting shot?

    Fuck you again.

  8. July 6th, 2012 at 13:31 | #8

    @Randall Solomon

    And had you read what I wrote analytically instead of defensively, you would have noted that the target of my criticism was the Chriiite Administration, not Sustainable Jersey.

    You guys are just tools – useful idiots in the jargon.

    You guys are the policy equivalent of the NJ Environmental Federation . Your role in life is to provide cover and diversion and sap the energy of well meaning publics.

  9. July 6th, 2012 at 14:18 | #9

    Feel free to ask me any questions, request any information, and I’ll be happy to save you the trouble of having to work hard to get it. Like I said, we are a phone call or email away.

    And frankly, I expect better from you, because I tend to agree with you on most issues. But yes, your analysis, where you click on a link labeled “Clean Energy Programs” and then beat us up because it doesn’t address climate adaptation, is about on par with Anti-Agenda folks. That is basically what they do to us.

    So instead of getting even with us because I dared to call you out, why don’t you participate on the task force and try to do something proactive.

  10. July 9th, 2012 at 06:02 | #10

    @Randall Solomon

    see point #2 in my original reply –

    2) Thanks for the invite – let me know when/where you meet. But my involvement can not remedy the policy and technical problems I document here.

  1. July 30th, 2012 at 14:20 | #1
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  3. October 26th, 2012 at 11:12 | #3
  4. December 10th, 2012 at 16:16 | #4
  5. August 2nd, 2014 at 11:48 | #5
  6. June 12th, 2015 at 18:26 | #6
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  10. October 5th, 2021 at 15:09 | #10
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