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DEP Budget Hearing a Bust

DEP Commissioner Martin (R) testifies to Senate Budget Cmte - Dave Barth (L), longtime head of DEP Financial Management, will retire in June. The look on Dave's face as he glances at Martin's awkward announcement of his retirement says it all. Martin was simply incapable of lauding the stellar career of a longtime public servant.

 Republicans Feel No Need To Lob Softball Questions

Business Lobbyists Sit in Back Rows With Smirks on Their Faces

Climate Change Totally Ignored

Today, the Senate Budget Committee reviewed the Christie DEP’s proposed FY’14 budget (see my series of live tweets of what went down at the hearing). (see also prior post on: Christie’s Warped Budget Priorities)

At a time when NJ is still suffering “unprecedented and widespread devastation” (OLS) that scientists suggest was the result of a climate change influenced extreme weather event, not one word was mentioned about climate change.

At a time when Gov. Christie and DEP are – at best – flat out ignoring climate change and defunding or dismantling existing DEP and BPU programs to secure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, develop renewable energy, and adapt, legislators asked not one question about climate change. 

At an unprecedented time when DEP has 1) ignored multiple scientific recommendations and not adopted a single new regulatory standard to protect public health and the environment after more than 3 years, 2) adopted a blanket “waiver” rule, and 3) openly acknowledged that Gov. Christie’s “regulatory relief”, cost benefit, and unfunded mandate Executive Orders are blocking action, there was not one question on regulatory policy – or air or water pollution or land use.

Republicans are so confident and smug they didn’t even feel the need to lob softball questions, the typical practice to deflect attention from any critical or adversarial oversight questions posed by Democratic opponents.

Business groups feel so safe that they really didn’t have to show up and lobby – they know by now that DEP Commissioner Martin’s got their backs.

On a positive note, there was bi-partisan support for renewal of open space funding and requests that the Christie Administration support one of three pending bills. Martin failed to respond, stating that was a Governor’s call, not his

I urge you to read the OLS analysisand the DEP “response” to OLS questions, and DEP Commissioner’s testimony.

OLS asked specific questions, many about DEP’s steps to prepare for future storms and plans regarding Sandy, including the need to conduct vulnerability assessments and develop coastal plans. DEP failed  to provide answers, relying on vague and curt replies that essentially blew off the question entirely. The arrogance reeks.

Well, the Legislature now has another reason to pass a Coastal Commission bill – the executive branch is simply non-responsive

Commissioner Martin’s testimony did disclose some new things and he made some embarrasing mistakes:

1) New CAFRA Emergency Rule coming soon

Another DEP Emergency Rule will be enacted soon. This one will be a CAFRA rule, and designed to promote, deregulate and privatize review of Shore rebuilding.

An Emergency rule-making procedure is ill advised – this should be nipped in the bud by Legislators, who should demand that DEP comply with the regular rule-making procedures of the Administrative Procedures Act and not ram another pro development rule down the public’s throat.

Martin also stated that DEP will be issuing a lot of voluntary Guidance – DEP should not be issuing unilateral guidance but instead must rely on rules that are enforceable and allow for public participation.

2) Drinking Water Quality Institute

Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer)

Senator Greenstein asked some questions on the status of the Drinking Water Quality Institute, the lack of a Chairman, and the lack of meetings –

But Greenstein did not ask Martin about what the DWQI failure to meet and DEP failure to implement their numerous scientific recommendations to upgrade drinking water standards means for the health of millions of NJ residents.

Martin simply dissembled and mislead – after 3 years, he hasn’t even submitted DWQI nominations to the Gov. Office for review. He again repeated that the Science Advisory Board was assisting in the science, a blatant violation of the NJ Safe Drinking Water Act, which expressly tasks the DWQI with that role. Martin said nothing about failure to adopt DWQI recommendations for numerous standards. But Martin did concede that the DWQI science was important and that he did not have plans to eliminate it – he’ll just continue to ignore it.

3) Garfield Chromium

Senator Pou asked Martin about the Garfield chromium site, recently listed under Superfund pursuant to a rare procedure due to a finding of significant immediate health threats determined by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Martin made a huge error and mistakenly claimed that it was a groundwater problem and there was “no direct impact to the public” –

I guess Irene Kropp didn’t brief him on another miserable example of complete breakdown in DEP oversight of the cleanup. For documentation of that failure, see the Bergen Record story:  A Neighborhood in Peril: Dangerous chromium spreads through Garfield groundwater

4) Recycling Fund diversions

Over $2 million collected to fund municipal and county recycling program is being transfered to Martin’s pet project to subsidize NJ businesses. These subsidies involve direct DEP technical support to business regarding compliance with environmental laws. The business subsidies are hidden behind an Orwellian new Office Martin created when he abolished the Offices of Policy & Planning and Climate Change, called the “Office of Sustainability and Green Energy”. This Office is responsible for Martin’s “transformation”, “economic development”, and “customer service” policies, and Christie’s “cost benefit analysis” reviews.

So, business gets subsidies and protections are rolled back, while effective local recycling programs are slashed.

Additionally, another $21.6 million in Recycling Fund monies are diverted to the General Fund to pay for some of Christie’s $1.5 billion corporate tax cuts.

5) Landfill Claims Funds Diverted 

As solar industry explores the siting of solar on old landfills, longstanding pollution problems at these old landfills due to inadequate closure are again getting public awareness and attention.

The Sanitary Landfill Closure and Contingency Funds were created by the Legislature to provide money to properly close landfills and to compensate nearby homeowners who suffered various injuries, including dimunition in property values, from odor or pollution impacts.

The Christie budget diverts $5 million from the Landfill Contingency Fund – ask the people in Roxbury who live near the Fenimore landfill about that.

6) Dry Cleaner Toxic Scam

Dry cleaners use highly toxic chemicals that cause significant risk to people who live nearby, contribute to violations of health based air pollution standards, and are responsible for hundreds of groundwater pollution and “vapor intrusion” cases.

Due to these severe environmental and public health threats, for years, DEP had been working on rules to phase out the use of these chemicals and require less toxic water based alternative cleaning agents.

Two years ago, Martin abandoned that effort and replaced a regulatory mandate with a voluntary incentive grants program, see:

Well, the $840,000 in funds for that grant program is now gone (see OLS, p. 7), so we now have the worst of all possible worlds:  an abandoned regulatory program and an unfunded voluntary grant program.

This is what happens when short term anti-regulatory ideology trumps sound public policy – we all breathe more toxic chemicals.

6) Transformation

Several times, Martin was asked questions about DEP staffing and Sandy response. Martin was asked about DEP’s preparation for and response to Sandy, particularly with respect to knocked out sewer and drinking water plants.

Martin repeatedly shamelessly lied that his “transformation” initiative had improved DEP’s capabilities to respond. That is just a flat out crock of shit.

DEP got caught with their pants down, and Martin’s dismantling of DEP programs and mismanagement made a bad situation far worse.

7) Sandy excuse for inaction

Martin suggested that Sandy was responsible for delaying several long delayed initiatives that were ready to go prior to the storm.

8. Martin Claims FEMA Recommended Regulatory Adoption of ABFE maps

Senator Sarlo asked Martin if DEP’s emergency rule adoption of FEMA’s draft ABFE maps was premature.

For the first time, to my knowledge, Martin claimed that FEMA recommended that DEP adopt the draft maps and that Gov. Christie followed FEMA’s recommendation.

I wonder if this is true. FEMA has an 18 – 24 month process for peer review and public comment on their draft ABFE maps. The DEP emergency rule derailed that quality assurance process.

A real reporter should get FEMA on the record on this specific question: Did FEMA recommend that DEP adopt the draft ABFE maps?

9) Reductions in CBT revenues not offset by General Fund

According to OLS:

  • Corporation Business Tax (CBT) revenues for FY 2014 total $100.3 million, a decrease of $12 million or 11 percent below the FY 2013 adjusted amount of $112.3 million

In prior years, reductions in dedicated tax funds were offset by increases in General Fund appropriations (OLS questions, p. 13) – but not this year, which means that CBT funded DEP programs are effectively cut.

10) $500,000 in clean water money transferred to cut trees in state forests

Speaking of CBT revenues – the budget proposes to transfer $500,000 in water monitoring and planning funds to the Bureau of Forestry (OLS analysis, p. 8.)

Forestry is developing plans to cut trees on state lands, under the guise of “forest stewardship” and habitat creation for certain migratory birds (more to come on this issue soon!)

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  1. Diane Nelson
    April 19th, 2013 at 13:18 | #1

    Bill Wolfe,
    Thanks for providing this information on the budget and the Office of Legislative Services. I have emailed my Senator (Bucco) to request specifics on a capital construction project of Div. of Fish & wildlife which has significant potential to degrade Splitrock Reservoir in Rockaway Township. The project is not specifically mentioned in the budget but a Seven Year Capital Improvement for 2013-2019 for NJ DEP shows a request for FY 2013 at $1,200,000

  1. April 20th, 2015 at 07:01 | #1
  2. May 7th, 2015 at 00:10 | #2
  3. June 12th, 2015 at 08:57 | #3
  4. June 12th, 2015 at 17:16 | #4
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