Archive for August, 2013

Pumping Sand on Beaches Will Not Protect the NJ Shore – NJ “Drunk” on Federal Money and Pursuing A “Dangerous Path”

August 31st, 2013 No comments

Beach Replenishment is Costly, Unsustainable, and Ineffective

NJ Needs a Coastal Climate Adaptation Plan That Addresses Land Use and Natural Dunes

Former DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello testifies to legislature on Sandy rebuild (8/15/13)

  • And so what we’re missing are opportunities to acquire some of these oceanfront properties, create a little bit of space where it doesn’t currently exist. And that space then can be used to build sand dunes, to restore dunes; and on the Bay side, restore wetlands and natural systems that will protect our communities. People always say it’s very expensive to buy that house, but we’re spending an awful lot of money, and we’ll continue to do so. And we’re doing it in a manner that’s not really sustainable over the long term. We’re going to have to keep spending the money, whether it’s beach nourishment, or sea walls, or whatever it may be. We have to adapt differently, and we have to pull back incrementally to create some additional space within which we can sustain these natural systems.  ~~~~ Testimony of former DEP Commissioner Mark  Mauriello (8/15/13)
  • All of the impediments to meeting this 309 programmatic objective that appeared in the last New Jersey Coastal Zone Section 309 Assessment and Strategy remain. These include lobbying efforts of special interest groups, legal challenges to DEP permit decisions, provision of flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, and public perception that large-scale beach nourishment projects eliminate vulnerability to coastal hazards. ~~~ NJ DEP, 2006

Sometimes it is truly amazing how a reporter can miss a story and/or get it completely wrong – today’s Bergen Record story:  Sandy aid helps Jersey Shore rebuild to withstand the next storm is one of the worst examples I’ve ever seen.

At exactly the moment we need quality reporting to drive an informed public debate about the need to change our basic approach to the shore, we get regurgitated status quo spin from the same old self interested sources.

At exactly the moment when Gov. Christie and the US Army Corps of Engineers are vulnerable to severe criticism for mismanaging the rebuild strategy, instead of holding them accountable, the Bergen Record praised their misguided efforts.

At the same time, the story reinforces false public perceptions and contributes to a false sense of security that invites more development to hazardous locations. DEP historically tried to warn the public about the very misconception in the Record story headline (those warnings were eliminated by Christie DEP, which should be another scandal). So, here it is.

Since Sandy struck last October, Gov. Christie has done dozens of shore events and at each one, he claims that dunes spared some shore towns.

The Gov. has stressed a dune system from Sandy Hook to Cape May as the key feature of his plan to protect the coast.

But, contrary to the Bergen Record story, the US Army Corprs of Engineers is NOT building dunes, is not designing dunes, and the Gov.’s dune system has not been funded and is not remotely on the horizon.

Beach replenishment is not dunes. 

Meanwhile, the Gov. repeatedly has rejected consideration of climate change, sea level rise, and state land use planning and infrastructure regulations in his rebuild plans, while the only other tool he has used – elevating buildings to meet new FEMA elevations – also does not consider sea level rise and climate change.

The only reporter that has figured all this out and had the balls to tell the story is Brian Donohue from the Star Ledger, watch his superb video report: NJ’s Hurrican Sandy Rebuil: Are We Screwing It Up Again?

Meanwhile, just weeks ago, the Obama Administration released its Sandy Rebuild Taskforce Report. That report emphasized the need to consider climate change and plan for a more resilient shore. The role of “Green infrastructure” was highlighted as far superior to engineered measures:

Green Infrastructure

For the purposes of this Rebuilding Strategy, green infrastructure is defined as the integration of natural systems and processes, or engineered systems that mimic natural systems and processes, into investments in resilient infrastructure.110 Green infrastructure takes advantage of the services and natural defenses provided by land and water systems such as wetlands, natural areas, vegetated sand dunes, and forests, while contributing to the health and quality of life of America’s communities.  […]

Communities at increasing risk from coastal storms can use green infrastructure approaches that restore degraded or lost natural systems (e.g., wetlands and sand dunes ecosystems) and other shoreline areas to enhance storm protection and reap the many benefits that are provided by these systems. There is also quantitative evidence supporting the importance of protecting intact systems where they exist because these systems may provide some wave attenuation capability, particularly in low-energy storm surges.111 Protecting, retaining, and enhancing these natural defenses should be considered as part of any coastal resilience strategy. 

Adding even more clarity, former DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello testified to the legislature on numerous flaws in the Gov.’s plan, especially noting the facts that climate change and sea level rise are here and that beach replenishment is costly, ineffective, and not sustainable.

Mauriello said NJ was “drunk” on federal money, pursuing a “dangerous path” in reliance on beach replenishment and was making huge mistakes and missing multiple opportunities to improve the shore and reduce future storm risks.

One of the concerns that I’ve recognized is that we have the Army Corps coming into the State to do a massive beach nourishment project for the whole coastline. The cost of that has been a little bit subject to debate. Clearly over $1 billion, maybe less than $2 billion— a lot of money coming in with sand.[…]

I express that concern on behalf of a number of public groups, nonprofits, and other interested folks such as myself who really see  this as a dangerous path. Because the decisions we make now– And we’re a little bit drunk with all this money. I mean, this Federal appropriation is massive, and it’s unprecedented, and it sort of makes you a little bit less concerned about what you do because there is so much money. But we can’t lose site of the fact of being smart in how we spend the money. And we have to make sure we’re spending it on things that don’t come back to haunt us once the Federal money dries up, and the beaches erode, and we have these recurring storms. And it doesn’t have to be another Sandy. We all know that northeasters pound our coast, damage our infrastructure, and threaten our property and our people

To simplify and make all this abundantly clear, provide additional information, and connect the various dots, PEER issued a press release noting the conflicts between the Obama Sandy Rebuild Task Force Report and Gov. Christie’s rebuild plans.

PEER disclosed the fact that prior key DEP scientific findings and warning were deleted from the Christie DEP Reports, including findings about climate change risks and warnings about the limitations of beach replensihment:

Titus demonstrates (link) that in certain instances, structural engineering solutions will not be practical or economically feasible. In these cases future public and private development and redevelopment must be directed

away from the hazardous areas. While some derogatorily refer to this option as “retreat,” from the perspective of sound planning based on the best available science, the concept actually involves “strategic adjustment.” Prudent planning requires that we expand upon the existing studies of the societal, economic, and environmental costs of possible mitigative actions while the greatest number of alternatives exist.

The state’s coastal area continues to experience substantial seasonal and residential population increases. Conversion of formerly seasonal homes  to year-round residences continues unabated. In many instances, formerly modest houses are replaced with significantly more expensive homes while property values continue to escalate.

At the same time, risks associated with coastal hazards continue to increase. Factors such as escalating sea level rise and cyclical and possibly long-term increases in storm frequency and intensity threaten both the natural environment and built environment of New Jersey’s coast. Consequently, the ranking of the Coastal Hazards Section 309 enhancement area remains a high priority with the NJCMP.

for full release, see:  OBAMA – CHRISTIE EMBRACE ENDS OVER SANDY REBUILDING – Feds Resilient Strategy Runs Counter to New Jersey Armor Plating Vulnerable Coast

So, with all this context, focus, and good information on natural dunes, climate change, sea level rise, and criticism of beach replenishment, what does the Bergen Record write about?

The wonders  of beach replenishment!!!! Celebrate the Status Quo that led to disaster!!!! 

All while contributing to the mistaken public perception that DEP previously found an “impediment” to reducing coastal risks – a waring that has been deleted from Christie DEP documents – ironically compounding the scandal story that the Record missed:

public perception that large-scale beach nourishment projects eliminate vulnerability to coastal hazards

My note  to Record reporter Karen Sudol:

Karen – pumping sand on beaches is the costly, unsustainable and ineffective status quo and it is NOT going to protect the jersey shore.

DUNES – NATURAL DUNES – are what works best (with a land use plan that moves development out of the most vulnerable or hazardous locations).

You completely missed the story, which is that Gov. Christie has touted DUNES as what spared some towns from Sandy, and has PROMISED DUNES,  but the Army Corps is not building DUNES, has not designed DUNES and has not funded DUNES. (and most of what the Gov. is calling dunes are really piles of sand that lack the structure of real natural dunes).

Meanwhile, the NJ DEP is approval all sorts of haphazard and discredited local engineered sea walls, revetments, et al that do not work.

Both of these situations are scandalous – and if you don’t believe me, read former DEP Commissioner Mauriello’s recent legislative testimony (begins on page 17):

Sorry to be so harsh, but your wrote the wrong story at exactly the wrong time.

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EPA Regional Administrator: Hudson Valley “Ahead of the Curve” on Climate Change

August 30th, 2013 No comments

RA Enck Says there is “No Debate” on Climate Change, Except in Congress

Enck Needs to Visit NJ

Judith Enck, EPA Region II Regional Administrator shows fish consumption warning of PCB toxic contamination of fish in Bound Brook, NJ (12/10/09).

After US EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck’s first visit to NJ back in December 2009 (see: New Obama EPA Regional Administrator Plants the Flag in NJ), I had high hopes that her leadership would serve as a brake on then Gov. elect Chris Christie’s anticipated rollback efforts.

I was right about Christie’s rollbacks – but , for the most part, have been disappointed with Enck’s ability to pushback (although she has weighed in on critical debates behind the scenes, she has done little publicly or in a high profile way).

In the most recent example of what she could be doing in NJ, Enck again steered clear of Gov. Chris Christie’s NJ and appeared last week at a Marist College roundtable to discuss climate change with New York’s Hudson Valley leaders.

Maybe I missed the NJ roundtable?

The Hudson Valley is my home, so, of course I’m proud that leaders there are engaged and ready to take action (and that’s the Hudson River across the banner above!).

But I now live in NJ, and am disgusted that Gov. Chris Christie views climate change as an “esoteric” issue he has no time to consider, except for diverting almost $1 billion in clean energy funds, withdrawing from the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to appease the Republican right wing base; and dismantling climate change emission reduction efforts under NJ’s  2007 Global Warming Response Act.

After the Marist College event, Enck did a radio interview – you can listen here.

Enck said two things of interest to New Jersey residents: first, she said that Hudson Valley leaders were “ahead of the curve on climate change” and that there was “no debate” on the reality of climate change “except in Congress”.

RA Enck needs to visit NJ to say those things to the NJ press corps and challenge Gov. Christie.

Unfortunately, despite one of the nation’s leading climate change laws – the Global Warming Response Act – NJ is no longer “ahead of the curve” and Gov. Christie’s failures have created a debate.

Enck’s NY visit and focus on climate change follows Obama Cabinet visits from HUD Secretary Donovan and Energy Department Secretary Moniz.

So, it looks like the Obama Adminsitration is beginning a full court press to generate support for the Administration’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.

If so, they will need to ramp things up considerably.

I like and respect Judy Enck, but am troubled that she seems to dodge NJ debates and unfortunately  appears to have little influence on the Obama Cabinet level folks and the Administration’s energy and climate policy apparatus.

While the EPA Regional Administrator position is not in a policy making role, with the NY media market as a platform, and Enck’s prior experience working for Eliot Spitzer, and a very, very big target in the NJ Governor’s Office, Enck could be doing a lot more, without getting her  head cut off  by Obama.

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EPA Injects Further Delay in Dupont Mercury Cleanup of Pompton Lake

August 30th, 2013 No comments

EPA Requests Extension of Environmental Appeals Board Review of Dupont Challenge of EPA Cleanup Plan

Critical Negotiations on Ecological Cleanup Going On Behind Closed Doors

Abuse of Legal Appeals Process

I just received EPA’s August Newsletter for the DuPont/Pompton Site and was disappointed to learn of further significant delays in the cleanup of mercury contaminated sediments in Pompton Lakes.

The parties provided a status update to the board on August 26, 2013 and requested an extension of the motion to stay until February 26, 2014. The motion is under consideration by the appeals board.

Equally significant, it appears that Dupont and EPA are using the Environmental Appeals Board legal appeals process as cover  to negotiate the extent and scope of the cleanup, as well as the technical aspects of the cleanup plans.

During the stay, EPA and DuPont are working together to resolve items raised in the permit appeals. Regarding the technical work, the EPA, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and DuPont have conducted conference calls and met in person to discuss the scope of work related to sediment and biota sampling in and around Pompton Lake. Based on those discussions, DuPont submitted the 2013 Sediment Sampling Plan that was approved by the EPA and is now being implemented. In addition, DuPont has submitted eight different scopes of work for tasks associated with their proposed ecological investigation. These scopes of work range from collection and analysis of bird, fish and amphibian tissue to the sampling/analysis of sediment pore water. The EPA has met with DuPont to discuss these scopes of work and is currently reviewing their submissions.

Regarding community engagement, the EPA issued the previous edition of this newsletter in April 2013 and conducted public information sessions in June 2013. In addition, the EPA has met with local officials, local community advisory groups and their representatives and other interested residents to answer questions as well as to respond to requests for information. This outreach has included representatives of the Passaic River Coalition, which the EPA will continue to keep informed as the technical work and settlement process moves forward. The EPA’s next public information session is scheduled for October 3, 2013.

It should be noted that the previously mentioned technical analyses and community engagement activities being undertaken are consistent with the work and activities that would be performed if an appeal had not been filed. 

This is total nonsense.

First of all, these negotiations – on the ecological aspects of the cleanup – are substantive and far broader than the primarily procedural legal issues involved in Dupont’s appeal of the EPA RCRA Corrective Action permit that mandated cleanup and additional sampling.

There are critical negotiations taking place behind closed doors, with no transparency or public review.

Dupont and EPA should be required to publicly present and defend every single detail of the cleanup plans now under negotiation.

This is especially important given the long train of abuses over a 25 year delay in failure to assure a complete cleanup and the scientific errors made by Dupont and EPA on the ecological aspects. Those avoidable errors had to be corrected at the end of the process by US Fish & Wildlife Service.

EPA is engaging in exactly the abuses that have alienated the community and led to bad science – and is replicating the mistakes of the last 25 years – as the community has been shut out of cleanup decisions made by Dupont, NJ DEP and US EPA.

This is a clear abuse of the Environmental Appeals Board legal appeal process.

That process is legal in nature. Policy and scientific decisions about cleanup should not be made there.

The appeal process should not be used as hammer by Dupont to force EPA concession and it is not a permission slip to negotiate a cleanup plan Dupont will support behind closed doors.

EPA should not be using a legal permit appeal process to negotiate the cleanup plan, particularly in the absence of sunlight and public involvement.

Second, EPA newsletters and public information sessions are not the same as formal public review and comment on the details of draft cleanup plans that are being negotiated – and its not even close.

It is totally misleading and manipulate bullshit for EPA to suggest that this “community outreach” is substantive or adequate.

Third, why is EPA seeking further delays?

Delaying the process until early 2014 risks losing another year to cleanup, as toxic contaminants continue to migrate off site and expose wildlife.

And, of course, in March 2014, EPA will announce some kind of deal as a fait accompli, with no opportunity to change it and all in a hurry to meet a spring 2014 construction start.

Last, why is the Passaic River Coalition (PRC) playing along in this private game?

Is PRC providing the community with detailed and documented ongoing negotiations?

Are they serving as an honest broker and seeking community input before taking positions with EPA and the Environmental Appeals Board?

Do you trust PRC to assure that the best science and most aggressive cleanup plan is negotiated? I don’t.

Does PRC even have the legal and scientific expertise to play in this kind of game?

Shame on EPA and PRC.

We want a complete cleanup and we want it now. And we want the plans developed publicly.

[End note: Dupont’s legal challenge is on a alleged procedural defect. EPA could have remedied the procedural flaws that Dupont attacked merely by re-proposing the draft permit cleanup plan. That would have mooted the Dupont appeal to EAB. The fact that EPA didn’t suggests that EPA will map concessions in the cleanup plan they originally proposed.]

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DEP Focus on “Natural Causes” In Dolphin Deaths Ignores Role of Pollution

August 29th, 2013 No comments

Pollution Suppresses Immune Function, Creates Conditions That “Facilitate the Emergence of Morbillivirus” 

On August 1, as reports of dolphin deaths proliferated, with absolutely no evidence to support their claims, DEP issued a misleading press release, strongly implying that the cause was natural and not linked to pollution:

While the underlying cause of the deaths has not been confirmed, they appear to be part of a natural disease cycle and not related to water quality, which has been excellent this summer.

I suspect that this was part of the typical DEP pattern of attributing various environmental harms to “natural causes”, as a means of dodging any responsibility.

That historical problem has been magnified by the Christie Press Office, who now must deny science, mask bad news and put out “good news” to “restore the shore” and not scare away any more tourists.

Since then, DEP has not walked that claim back, despite numerous statements by scientists and federal officials that the cause was unknown and research that indicates that pollution plays a role.

Just 2 days ago, NOAA scientists said other man made and pollution factors could be involved:

Other factors may have weakened the dolphins’ immune systems, making them more vulnerable to sickness. They include chemicals, other disease-causing microbes, biotoxins and expansion of the dolphins’ range, according to officials and experts. The investigation is ongoing.

In another press release today, the DEP doubles down on this “natural cause” deception:

Morbilliviruses are naturally occurring pathogens in marine mammal populations, and because these viruses suppress the immune system, many animals ultimately die from secondary infections, according to NOAA Fisheries. Not all dolphins exposed to morbillivirus will die from these infections, but a large proportion may not survive.

DEP not only stresses natural causes, but claims that the virus “suppress the immune system”.

All while ignoring the fact the man made conditions – from ocean acidification; to temperature; to navigation & ships; to fishing and food chain impacts;  to sound, bacterial and chemical pollution – all are known to be stressors that “suppress the immune system”.

Clearly, man made conditions and pollution are factors in declining ocean ecosystem health, and dolphin deaths are impacted by man made conditions and stressors – just like diet, stress, smoking, drinking, lifestyle and pollution effects human mortality and morbidity.

I certainly am not expert on these issues, but just in case DEP is unaware of the literature, here is some research that discusses the role of pollution in morbillivirus and immune suppression – I’m sure there’s a lot more research out there since this paper was published:

[End note: and of course, today’s DEP press release is designed to create an appearance of aggressive management and a high level of ecological concern at DEP and the Christie administration, which is truly Orwellian.]

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News Coverage of Pinelands Gas Pipeline Needs Context and History

August 29th, 2013 No comments

Christie Administration DEP and BPU Are Pushing Pipeline Project

So called state regulatory “hurdle” is more like a speed bump

I was going to do this an as update to my post yesterday on the Pinelands Pipeline meeting, but rejected that in favor of a new post because the issues involved are critical and they need to be highlighted independently.

The first issue arises from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s excellent coverage: State rules pose hurdle for proposed Pines pipeline

South Jersey Gas Co.’s proposed pipeline across 21 miles of South Jersey would be permitted through some sections of the Pinelands but not its forest area under state rules, an environmental specialist for the Pinelands Commission told members Wednesday.

My problem is that both the headline and the story over-state the strength of the staff presentation and the Commission’s likelihood of enforcing the “state rules” to kill the project, i.e. conflict with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan and regulations.

Further down in the story are the critical facts that are buried by that headline and lead paragraph of the story:

Ellis said she began “pre-application” conversations with representatives of South Jersey Gas in April 2012 and had met with them regularly since. […]

One who repeated his opposition Wednesday was Leon Rosenson, a trustee of the advocacy group Pinelands Preservation Alliance. “It’s not your job to help them [South Jersey Gas] find an illegal route,” he told commission members.

The Pinelands Commission was “starting to give the appearance of being a regulator agency captured by the interests it’s supposed to regulate,” Rosenson said. “If you turn them [South Jersey Gas] down . . . they’ll find another route, and you won’t have violated your rules.”

Margo Pellegrino of Medford Lakes urged “a lot of deliberation” before the commission makes a decision. “We have a climate in Trenton where everything is fast-tracked,” she said. “We can’t be fast-tracked.” 

At the same time, the story does not specifically report other critically important factors supporting the project at the highest levels of state government.

As a result, the opposite conclusion is far more likely. The so called state regulatory “hurdle” is more like a speed bump.

The Pinelands staffer did not make any recommendation about implementation or enforcement of the regulations and dodged the implications of the conflict in terms of killing the project.

In fact, the quote in the story on “agency capture” supports my conclusions.

The gentleman quoted about “capture” made a statement that included an excerpt from a letter by the Pinelands staffer to South Jersey Gas regarding negotiation of the MOA, or waiver of Commission regulations.

That communication from staff during negotiations on the development of the pipeline application for submission was basically a green light signaling a likely approval despite the conflicts, and is not appropriate for staff to do at that time and behind the scenes without a clear policy decision by the full Commission.

I wonder who directed the staffer to discuss the MOA option with South Jersey Gas ?

The second point arises from the set up and a quote by the DEP Press Office regarding the DEP enforcement Order for the BL England facility with respect to re-powering in the Press of Atlantic City story:  Pinelands panel hears pipeline arguments.

DEP’s Larry Ragonese is quoted as follows:

The plant has been ordered by the state to convert to burning natural gas because of ongoing violations of the federal and state clean air requirements. Owners of the plant, RC Cape May Holdings, have said the approval of the second pipeline is critical to keeping the plant operational.

Several land use permits from the Department of Environmental Protection would be needed for the project and those permits still have yet to be finalized, said spokesman Larry Ragonese. “From an air perspective, it would be a huge benefit to be able to convert that plant from coal to gas.”

Ragonese is distancing the Christie Administration from the their support of the pipeline project and the BL England re-powering, and at the same time creating a false perception that the DEP land use permits are being reviewed independently and objectively – issuance of those permits is a done deal.

It is correct, but misleading without providing the context and history, to say that the state ordered the plant “to convert to burning natural gas”.

The BL England plant was issued an Enforcement Order in 2006 (scroll to page 37 for Order).

That original 2006 Order mandated that the plant upgrade to meet pollution control requirements or shut down.

The original Order allowed for re-powering as an option, solely up to the corporation to decide. Repowering was NOT state policy. Any re-powering was speculative and accompanied by “regulatory risk”.

The Christie Administration DEP renegotiated and amended the Order on May 18, 2012.

The amended Order is what” mandated” the re-powering – as a matter of state policy – and made commitments to issue regulatory approvals and permits.

Shortly after the May 2012 amended BL England Order by DEP, the BPU issued its Order in June 21, 2013 approving the Pinelands pipeline.

That pro-natural gas policy was not limited to the BL England plant, but was expanded statewide to promote expansion of natural gas as a fuel source and to expand natural gas pipeline infrastructure in the Christie Administration’s Energy Master Plan (see page 58). BPU testified to the Commission and confirmed this.

Here is the critical text which greases the skids and basically commits DEP to issuing all  the permits – including land use permits – for the repowering and pipeline project – see paragraph 22:

This history and DEP commitment is critical context for the Ragonese quote, where he dodges the fact that the re-powering and the pipeline project are supported by the Christie Administration, and then tries to ignore the fact that DEP has made commitments to issue the permits required to make the re-powering project happen.

In addition to these points, there was excellent testimony during yesterday’s hearing about a prior SJG pipeline denial, so SJG knew exactly the regulatory risks they were running – these issues require additional research.

But, like I said, it’s Chinatown, Jake.


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