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DEP Using “Frankenstorm” as Cover for Weakening Regulations

DEP Deploys Classic “Shock Doctrine” Tactics

Only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.  ~~~ Economist Milton Friedman

[Update – 11/14/12 – We’re on the same page – Check out this 11/5/12 Naomi Kline piece – “Superstorm Sandy – a People’s Shock?” – note particularly the role of the Occupy Movement in helping people and the opportunities she sees. – end update]

Back in the day, disasters – like oil spills or rivers catching on fire or chemical plants blowing up or toxic waste disposal – used to prompt governments to respond and take steps to strengthen laws and regulations to prevent a recurrence and protect the public.

But more recently – perversely – right wing forces have seized the initiative, and used crises as opportunities to attack and rollback government and regulations, while advancing a corporate agenda of privatization and deregulation.

Naomi Kline wrote a brilliant and all too prescient book about all that called “The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” – here are examples of how the “Shock Doctrine” works:

At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts…. New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters — to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy.

Well, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin obviously got the Milton Friedman memo and understands the “Shock Doctrine”.

[Update – DEP does more diversion – closes shellfish beds]

The “Frankenstorm” should be a teachable moment to show how “extreme weather” and lax regulations of greenhouse gas emissions and coastal over-development have put thousands of people and billions of dollars of property in harms way.

The storm should be a clarion call for finally addressing the rising global warming crisis.

But instead of that teachable moment and reform opportunity, Martin is shamelessly using the oncoming “Frankesnstorm” as cover to promote the upcoming weakening of DEP flood hazard/stream encroachment regulations.

Weakening of the Flood Hazard regulations will be controversial – so Martin is killing two birds with one stone:

  • diverting focus from the global warming “extreme weather” connection, DEP failures, and the need for stronger planning and regulation; and
  • getting out in front of the controversial upcoming debate on weaking stream encroachment regulations.

Truly shameful.

But not surprising after a year of denial about record temperatures, wildfires, drought, and extreme tornadoes and thunder storms.

Here is the full text of Martin’s letter to NJ Mayors:

From: DEP Commissioner <Commissioner@dep.state.nj.us>
Date: Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 7:59 PM
Subject: Hurricane Sandy Preparation
To: DEP Commissioner <Commissioner@dep.state.nj.us>

Dear Mayor,

As DEP prepares for potential statewide impacts from Hurricane Sandy, I wanted to remind you how you can help mitigate impacts in your own town and assure you that DEP is here to assist you however we can.

First, we recommend picking up as many leaves off the ground as possible, running your street sweepers, and ensuring that storm drains are stormwater basins are clear of any debris. Please also advise your residents to pick up leaves and any other debris from their own property.

Second, if you need to remove any trees, debris or other obstructions, including shoal dredging, from streams to prepare for this storm, you can conduct those activities without contacting DEP if you follow the guidelines athttp://www.nj.gov/dep/landuse/download/fh_012.pdf. If you need to do other activities that do not fit these guidelines, please call us and we will make every effort to work through any issues with you over the phone. In most cases, all we need is notification of what you are doing on an emergency basis. You can contact us about your projects or with any questions you may have by calling Nabil Andrews or Tina Wolff, DEP engineering and environmental staff dedicated to stream cleaning projects, at (609) 633-6563.

Moving forward, DEP will soon be proposing regulatory changes to make it even easier for you to maintain streams and ease any flooding in your towns, including broader Permits By Rule, automatic authorizations if the Governor or FEMA declares a State of Emergency, new General Permits and simpler Individual Permits.

We are compiling in one place on our website information and resources to help get you through the storm from a DEP perspective. I will email you again on Friday with the link to the Hurricane Sandy information that is being added to the DEP homepage at nj.gov/dep, and we will continue to add to that site any new information you might need.

As always, DEP’s emergency responders are on call 24/7 to manage any spills or discharges or other incidents that may impact the environment. Anyone who experiences or observes an incident should call the DEP hotline: 1-877-WARN-DEP.


Bob Martin
NJ Department of Environmental Protection

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