Home > Uncategorized > Builders Put Insane Rebuild Agenda on the Table in Trenton

Builders Put Insane Rebuild Agenda on the Table in Trenton

Environmentalists Hiding Under Their Desks, Playing Corrupt Inside Game

Instead of Reforms, NJ Could Be On The Verge of Further Rollbacks

“People opposed every one of our measures because short-sighted people say ‘Let’s enjoy it today, don’t worry about tomorrow,'” said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican who proposed a coastal commission in the 1980s in an ultimately failed bid to curb excessive development. “You just can’t do that as a state, or you have to expect that sooner or later you’re going to lose that game.” ~~~ Huffington Post 12/12/12

By the 1960s, the New Jersey shore claimed distinction as both the most developed coastline in the United States and a budding ecological disaster. Noted landscape architect Ian McHarg highlighted the rapid development of the Jersey Shore in his seminal 1969 book Design with Nature, a widely read critique of environmental planning. “Houses are built upon dunes, grasses destroyed, dunes breached for beach access and housing,” he wrote. “Ignorance is compounded with anarchy and greed to make the raddled face of the Jersey shore.”

Coastal researchers coined the term “New Jersey-ization” to describe the folly of human intervention along the shore. By 1971, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had classified 81 percent of New Jersey’s coastline as being in “critical” condition from beach erosion.

We became a laboratory for how not to do it,” said Wolfe, the former Department of Environmental Protection analyst.

 [Update: 12/20/12 –  Better late than never – The Asbury Park Press nails itclosely follows our take, including quoting former Gov. Tom Kean on the need for a Coastal Commission and Gov. Christie’s reckless cheerleading for Rebuild Now! (see: Watchdog: How greed and politics nearly destroyed the coast – here’s my favorite contrast:

Christie, a Republican, has said that the Jersey Shore has no choice but to rebuild, and already has allowed hard-hit towns to reconstruct roads, bridges and other infrastructure without considering protections against the next storm.

“We’ll rebuild it,” Christie said days after the storm. “No question in our mind we’ll rebuild it.” […]

Kean, a Republican, said it was essential to plan for protection “because when you think of New Jersey, you think of the Shore.”

We were expecting a big hurricane because they happen sooner or later,” Kean said of the effort in his second term in the late 1980s [to establish a Coastal Commission]. “Builders were opposed. They were the biggest obstacle.”

Now would be a good time to try again for such a coastal commission, he said.

“It’s worth a try, given what happened. People react together in a crisis. If we’d had it in place, we’d have less damage,” Kean said. “If the global warming people are correct, and I believe they are, this is going to happen more often.” ~~~ end update]


While the NJ environmental community was holding a teleconference with a handful of reporters to release a list of vague and empty platitudes, the NJ Builders Association was in the trenches in Trenton yesterday, putting an insane rebuild agenda on the table before the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee (Star Ledger story)

Dave Fisher, treasurer of the New Jersey Builders Association, said the state should come up with ways to reduce regulatory burdens and costs, streamline the permitting and inspection processes and regionalize the disaster planning and permitting processes. He also urged committee members to consider supporting a sales tax holiday for building materials and supplies or at least reduce the sales tax on those items.

Meanwhile, in Washington, on the same page with their shortsighted NJ counterparts, Republicans and business groups were crafting another fraudulent “cliff”, claiming that now President Obama was taking us over the “regulatory cliff”, with more “job killing red tape regulations” (Bergen Record/AP story):

“WASHINGTON — While the “fiscal cliff” of looming tax increases and spending cuts dominates political conversation in Washington, some Republicans and business groups see signs of a “regulatory cliff” that they say could be just as damaging to the economy. …

Under an Obama EPA that has earned a reputation for abuse, American families will be subjected to a regulatory onslaught that will drive up energy prices, destroy millions of jobs and further weaken the economy,” he wrote in a 14-page report on expected EPA regulations for 2013. The report predicts an influx of regulations that “spell doom for jobs and economic growth.”

This red meat ideological attack on regulation is getting little if any pushback in NJ – the environmental groups aren’t talking about it (they haven’t even shown up at Legislative hearings), the media isn’t writing  the stories, and no one is willing to talk about obvious failures and hold the Christie Administration accountable (other than the NJ Transit debacle).

We are in the absurd situation whereby in the midst of this backlash ideological attack on regulations, the NJ environmental community is mute, while:

1) the Asbury Park Press has strongly criticized Governor Christie and DEP Commissioner Martin, and called for a moratorium on rebuilding, stronger regulations, and a Coastal Commission;

2) A former DEP Commissioner and current developer Mark Mauriello has very publicly laid out a vision and recommended a very specific controversial legislative and regulatory reform agenda, including repeal of the right to rebuild and a new Coastal Commission;

3) the moderate and pro-economic development planning group NJ Future has supported a Coastal Commission.

Yet, in this context, since the storm the NJ environmentalists have been AWOL and surrendered the field in the policy and media arena. Now, after 6 weeks of sitting on the sideline, all they can do is release a list of vague platitudes? How can they possibly be behind the APP, a builder, and NJ Future in calling out Christie and demanding specific reforms?

Just like the response to the Wall Street fraud and greed driven housing bubble collapse – the product of economic deregulation – it was the lack of regulation and lax regulation that greatly contributed to the Sandy disaster.

The Huffington Post nails it:

New Jersey’s coastal land-use regulations are conspicuously lenient compared to other state an investigation by The Huffington Post has found — so lenient that authorities permitted the Cabana Club to adopt its precarious location between the seawall and the beach. Based on current state law — the fruit of a political compromise crafted nearly two decades ago — the club can fully rebuild here, in exactly the same spot. In New Jersey, owners of coastal developments possess unique rights to rebuild in the wake of storms. Whatever nature removes, and at whatever cost to taxpayers, property owners are free to put it all back.

Sandy is now testing the merits of the absolute right to rebuild like never before, resurrecting long-expressed concerns that it sets up homeowners and the government for future disasters. As New Jersey confronts the question of how and where to reconstruct its battered shore, experts warn that the state’s land-use laws are likely to perpetuate what has played out here for decades: cycles of reckless development followed by storm-inflicted devastation.

“The status quo is that you just put everything back,” said Mark Mauriello, a former commissioner for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, who worked in the agency’s coastal program for two decades. “Looking ahead, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see areas damaged again, people hurt, and the same kind of misery we’ve seen here. Clearly, I hope people realize that’s not a good plan for the future.”

If New Jersey is to forge a different path, it may require a change in philosophy from its famously pugnacious Republican governor, Chris Christie. Since taking office three years ago, Christie and his appointees have altered the composition of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees shoreline land use, replacing several credentialed experts in environmental science and coastal management with people drawn from the business world.

The department’s current commissioner, Bob Martin — an advisor to Christie’s 2009 campaign, and previously an energy and utility consultant at Accenture — has urged the agency to adopt a “customer service focus”while serving as “a driver for economic growth.” He has marginalized the authority of scientists and coastal policy experts, critics say, primarily by transferring them to other offices.

[Christie has] done the exact opposite of what’s needed to be done,” said Bill Wolfe, a former Department of Environmental Protection planner and policy analyst who now leads the watchdog group New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “He has been affirmatively promoting regulatory relief and taking away any development, land use planning and infrastructure expertise at the department.”

But instead of aggressively making that case and calling for bold and specific restrictive regulations, greenhouse gas emission reductions, massive renewable energy investments, and reforms in coastal land planning and use governance, the NJ environmental community is on the sidelines or is working behind the scenes with the Christie Administration.

In the wake of NJ’s worst disaster ever – with direct connections to both global warming and coastal land use planning and management regulatory failures – the environmentalists are not only missing a huge opportunity for real reforms, but I fear we are on the verge of a huge setback.

Here’s where I see this ongoing disaster unfolding in the immediate future:

1) Gov. Christie makes a Move – Enviro’s Provide Support and Cover

Given President Obama’s Executive Order and NY Governor Cuomo’s early move to appoint several Sandy recovery Task Forces, I see a similar move by Governor Christie on the horizon.

My sense is that Christie will issue an Executive Order creating a “bipartisan” Task Force or Blue Ribbon panel and that his “consensus” reforms will be focused on incentives, tax cuts, deregulation, local control/home rule, and voluntary measures.

Any reforms would be  incorporated in changes in his State Strategic Economic Development Plan (previously known as the State Development and Redevelopment Plan) overseen by the State Planning Commission, thereby sidestepping debate and totally frustrating attempts to close legislative loopholes, strengthen DEP regulations, and create a real regional planning entity like a Coastal Commission with regulatory control over land use, infrastructure, and spending priorities. 

Just remember, the State Plan has no teeth. Don’t fall for a coastal gum-job.

Look to all – including environmental groups – to praise the Governor’s “bold leadership”.

And don’t be surprised if token environmental supporters Tim Dillingham and Cindy Czipf – the new NJEF and Dave Pringle – are named to represent the environmental community on those Task Forces (and later receive significant mitigation money in exchange for their support). [Those same groups and individuals have provided cover in support of Gov. Christie on Barnegat Bay, the Oyster Creek deal, gutting DEP TMDL and the Gov. veto of TMDL legislative efforts, and have accepted $1 million in State funds for “restoration” and upcoming federally funded “mitigation” projects:

“A lot of money is going to be coming into the state through federal programming, hopefully, and we need to strategically figure out where we are spending that money. As we bring in that money, we have to make sure that the waterfront is open to everyone.”

Brazen game, no? It just might explain why they fail to call for specific reforms – they are more interested in appeasing the Governor and shaking the money tree, than calling for the specific reforms they must know are the right thing to do.

2) Privatization of DEP Permitting – Pressure Builds

It is actually possible to see privatization of coastal redevelopment oversight – the Builders and others have already called for a private “Licensed Site Professional” based model for coastal permitting as a way around DEP oversight and permit requirements. Even two years before Sandy, DEP put out a bid to privatize land use permiting, a move later blocked by the Legislature;

3) Pressure mounts to deregulate and “relax” DEP rules

it is actually possible to see further deregulation of environmental oversight – DEP Commissioner Martin has already deregulated public infrastructure and announced plans to further “relax” the Flood Hazard regulations (you can watch Martin make that commitment).

Now how crazy is that  – in the wake of the worse flooding in the state’s history, the DEP Commissioner openly calls for relaxing flood regulations! (and no in the press, legislature, or environmental community calls him out for that!)

The normally controversial privatization and deregulation initiatives would be masked and provided political by the consensus bipartisan  recommendations of the Task Force – all signed on to by friendly environmentalists.

4) No Strings Congressional Block Grants Put Christie in Control

Congress seems poised to enact a “no strings” multi-billion taxpayer bailout of rebuilding, with maximum flexibility to states in the form of block grants.

5) Will Democratically Controlled Legislature Continue to Sit Back?

How can Legislative Democrats and NJ environmentalists support a multi-billion block grant dominated bailout to a Governor who has appointed a “Rebuild Czar”, provided $1.5 billion already in corproate tax breaks, and diverted over $680 million of clean energy funds (among many other things).

How is it possible to trust Gov. Christie to spend those billions of dollars in federal monies wisely – under the control of a Czar and  with no public process, no overall strategy or plan, and no new  policies, standards, and criteria in place to govern how and where the rebuild occurs and the money is spent?

This is where we are heading, unless there is a significant change in the debate.

6) The Prospects for Reform

The only brakes on the accelerating disaster that is unfolding is for Congress to put strings on federal money (I will lay that out in future post) and for NJ Legislators to enact legislation that takes unilateral control away from the Gov. and his “Rebuild Czar (more on that later too).

Of course the NJ enviro’s could mount a public campaign and wage a huge battle to convince the public to demand reforms – but, too late, that opportunity has been squandered.

That is insane – but par for the course at this insane moment in our public life.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.