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DEP Delivers Enron Testimony on Budget

Legislators Openly Mock DEP Commissioner Martin’s Testimony

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Today, I went to the Assembly Budget Committee in hopes that they might ask some tough questions of DEP Commissioner Martin (see this set up story).

I  had hoped that they would focus on climate change as a priority.

I also hoped they could defend the Legislature’s role against Gov. Christie’s Executive over-reach

Again, just like in the Senate, climate change was not even mentioned, Republicans on the Committee asked no questions, and Democrats made a half assed effort that at times praised DEP for horrible performance and policies.

I plead insanity, in the sense that Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

While I was disappointed – but not surprised- by the Committee’s inability to defend Legislative prerogatives against Gov. Christie’s usurpation (separation of powers), or ask an informed policy question, or otherwise hold the Christie administration accountable for their record, I was shocked – and I mean shocked – by moments when legislators expressed “incredulity” and openly mocked Commissioner Martin.

Thus the headline – Martin delivered Enron testimony. Martin simply was not credible and at times was openly mocked by Legislators.

The last time I recall anything like this was when Gov. Florio’s first DEP Commissioner, Judith Yaskin,resigned in humiliation.

But it seemed like water off a duck’s back to Martin, who plowed on with his super confident, aggressive, and clueless testimony.

And the Enron analogy is not a stretch – those interested or who doubt my take can listen to the hearing themselves.

For those unfamiliar with Enron, here’s the Wiki:

Enron Corporation (former NYSE ticker symbol ENE) was an American energy, commodities, and services company based inHoustonTexas. Before its bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, Enron employed approximately 20,000 staff and was one of the world’s major electricitynatural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies, with claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion during 2000.[1]Fortune named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years.

At the end of 2001, it was revealed that its reported financial condition was sustained substantially by an institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud, known since as the Enron scandal. Enron has since become a well-known example of willful corporate fraud and corruption. The scandal also brought into question the accounting practices and activities of many corporations in the United States and was a factor in the creation of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002. The scandal also affected the greater business world by causing the dissolution of the Arthur Andersen accounting company.[2]

The former consultancy and outsourcing arm of the firm, now known as Accenture, which had separated from the accountancy side in 1987 and renamed themselves after splitting from Andersen Worldwide in 2000, continues to operate and has become one of the largest multinational corporations in the world.

Note the role of the consulting firm Accenture.

DEP Commissioner Martin spent his career at Accenture.

I’ll let others connect those dots or suggest that Martin’s testimony today was unique and an unrelated affair, not the misleading and fraudulent tricks of the trade he learned and perfected in the Accenture consulting world.

So, getting back to the memorable moments of DEP’s budget hearing today.

While there was nothing new disclosed, the following surprised even this 30 year skeptical veteran:

1) Assemblyman Burzichelli (D-Oil and Chemicals), who is not even on the Budget Committee, was allowed to sit in and ask questions.

He spent his time asking 3 specific questions, that were obviously fed to him by and based exclusively on criticisms he got from his oil and chemical industry backers.

None of those questions involved ways that DEP can better protect public health and the environment. He didn’t even mention the Toxic Train Wreck that forced evacuations and poisoned people in his district.

Specifically, Burzichelli complained about the allegedly high costs to industry of air and water pollution control permits. He also complained about the increasingly oil/chemical industry payment to the NJ Spill Fund, and the fact that 67% of  of those revenues go not to toxic site cleanup (as originally intend by the Legislature in the Spill Act), but are diverted to the General Fund.

Remarkably, DEP Commissioner Martin – Enron style – claimed that those 67% revenues did in fact go to the Genral Fund, but all came back to DEP.

In response, Burzichelli, to his credit, openly mocked this false claim by Martin – Burzichelli knows that those funds do NOT return to DEP, as Martin falsely claimed.

2) Assemblyman Schaer, Co-Chair of the Committee, asked a series of questions.

He noted that DEP staff and budget had remained roughly flat, but that – according to Martin’ testimony – DEP had done an incredible amount of new work on Sandy response, recovery and debris removal. All this new work, according to Martin’s testimony, was done without any impact or reductions in prior work or any reduction in service or environmental protection.

Schaer said he was “incredulous” about how DEP could do so much more with less, and asked Martin flat out: “How do you do it”? 

At that point, I realized that we were in an Enron situation, and that facts didn’t matter.

That’s all, for now.

[Update: 5/10/13 – as usual, Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight gets it exactly right:

It is a promise repeated by Martin two years ago, appearing before the same Assembly Budget Committee, when he testified then, saying the administration would unveil a stable source of funding for the effort within the next month or so.

“We must consider new ways of doing things and develop a new mode to make our parks self-sustaining,’’ Martin said in written remarks not delivered orally in his annual appearance before the Assembly budget panel. It has yet to happen. …

In the DEP appearance, lasting just longer than an hour, Martin faced few probing questions, a contrast to past meetings when the agency was frequently criticized by lawmakers over its regulatory oversight of business and industry. …

In other issues, Martin downplayed the diversion of millions of dollars in DEP funding to the general fund, a practice the Christie administration and legislators often employ to plug holes in the state budget. He argued it would have no impact on the quality of the state’s environmental programs.

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  1. Lorax2013
    May 10th, 2013 at 11:59 | #1

    Welcome to the new Dark Ages of Environmental Protection.

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