Archive for August, 2013

Latest NOAA Science: Climate Change Impacts on US Oceans & Marine Ecosytems

August 29th, 2013 No comments

Third Recent Major Federal Initiative Shows Gaps In Gov. Christie’s Sandy Recovery Plans

Yesterday, NOAA released a new scientific Report  that summarizes Climate Change Impacts on U.S. Oceans, Marine Resources.

The Report:

reviews how climate variability is affecting the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of ocean ecosystems, and how these changes are already having societal impacts by affecting fisheries and other valuable ocean products and services. It also synthesizes information on projected climate-driven changes in U.S. ocean ecosystems over the next 25 to 100 years.

The NOAA Report is the third in a series of recent federal initiatives to shine a bright light on climate change and to expose major flaws in the Christie Administration’s plans and recovery efforts.

The NOAA Report follows the release of the Obama Administration’s Sandy Rebuild Taskforce Report, which stressed the need to consider climate change and sea level rise in planning for a more resilient shore, a fundamentally different approach than the Christie Administration.

Similarly, Obama Energy Secretary Moniz appeared last week to highlight the role of climate change in Sandy and to stress the need for aggressive policy responses to climate change, again illustrating major flaws in Governor Christie’s policy, which views climate change as an “esoteric” issue that plays no role in his decisions(except to defund and dismantle effective climate and energy programs).

The NOAA report focuses on the ecological impacts of climate change – particularly on fisheries, which are issues of critical economic importance to the Jersey shore. 

These important “esoteric” ecological and natural resource issues have been neglected and gotten very  few resources and little attention by the media and Christie Administration (with the exception of pumping sand on Delaware Bay beaches for horse crab/red knot habitat preservation).

Worse, the Administration failed to make appointments to the Coastal and Ocean Protection Council. The Council was established by the Legislature to provide scientific and policy guidance to the DEP on ecosystem based management. The Gov.’s first budget  defunded, and then via Executive Order effectively abolished the Council, while DEP Commissioner Martin abandoned an emerging ocean ecosystem based management focus at DEP.

As I wrote, just weeks before Sandy struck (see: Science Meets Politics at the NJ Shore):

This is why we worked to enact the law that created the Coastal and Ocean Protection Council to focus on ecosystem health and ecosystem based management.

Governor Christie’s budgets zeroed the appropriation for that Council. The Governor  has failed to make any appointments to the Council.

DEP actually proposed to abolish the Council under Christie Executive Order #15, a blatant over-reach of Executive power, because the Council was created by the Legislature and can not be abolished by the Governor or DEP.)

And the DEP has done nothing to integrate EBM into existing coastal programs.

The Governor is irresponsibly ignoring the science and refusing to incorporate climate change in his Administration’s recovery efforts.

The NOAA Report will be published soon- here are links and an overview from NOAA’s press release:

Oceans and Marine Resources in a Changing Climate is designed to help marine resource managers, communities, and businesses understand, prepare for, and respond to climate impacts on U.S. ocean ecosystems.  It details the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, and then summarizes what is known about how those changes will affect human uses of marine ecosystems. The report also examines some of the key international implications of climate impacts on ocean ecosystems for the United States (e.g., impacts on seafood supply, international fishing agreements, and protected species conservation), and gives examples on how to prepare for and adapt to these impacts.  Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Because the physiological responses of organisms vary, climate change can have positive, negative, or null effects on species with different tolerances, so that both “winners” and “losers” are likely to emerge.
  • Species ranges are shifting toward the poles and the rate of this shift is greater for marine organisms than for terrestrial ones.
  • The societal impacts of climate change are enormous, affecting all sectors pertaining to human uses of the ocean, including fisheries, energy, transportation, security, human health, tourism, and maritime governance. These changes will require reassessment of governance regimes for ocean environments.
  • Climate change will demand new international partnerships to ensure that management plans are coordinated for shared marine resources.
  • Significant gaps remain in our knowledge of climate impacts on ocean ecosystems.  We  need to better understand the interactions between ocean environmental systems and ocean uses to be able to project and respond to future climate-driven changes.

The report concludes that marine ecosystems likely will continue to be affected—in most cases negatively—by anthropogenic-driven climate change and rising levels of atmospheric CO2.  The authors identified a number of knowledge gaps to help guide future research and action to reduce the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems, marine resources, and the people and businesses that depend on them.

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Pinelands Commission Staff Presents Controversial Gas Pipeline Plan

August 28th, 2013 No comments

Plan Was Quietly Under Review Since April 2012 – Nature of Review Process Suggests “Agency Capture”

[Updates below in text]

An overflow crowd spilled outside the packed hearing room today, as Pinelands staff presented the controversial South Jersey Gas Co. natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands to re-power the BL England coal/oil power plant at Beesley’s Point. I will provide a link to that presentation when it’s posted on Commission website (here it is).

The presentation was to the Policy and Implementation Committee – the proposed project is not yet before the full Commission for formal review. Accordingly, there is still time to make changes to improve the review process, as I suggested today (see below).

Staff outlined the review process to date, provided a brief overview of the project and its impacts, and described its current status.

The staff briefing said nothing about future review plans going forward, a critical omission.

The project has been designated an “inconsistent certificate of filing” because it conflicts with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) and regulations.

Curiously, while staff did not present the going forward review options for such an “inconsistent” project, I assume that there are two options at this point: a) denial; or b) approval via a “Memorandum of Agreement” (MOA) based upon a finding of “equivalent” protection.

The term “equivalence” is bureaucratic regulatory code for a dirty deal.

As I’ve suggested, the project – politically – is a done deal.

It has the support of the Governor – BPU bluntly emphasized that the project was approved because it implemented Gov. Christie’s Energy master Plan. The project has received all other permits and approvals (all made with little public input). The Commission is last in line and under enormous political pressure to approve the project. The project can not proceed without Commission approval.

There are no regulatory standards, scientific methods, or technical criteria or methods to define, measure, or determine what an  “equivalent level of protection” is, so there is enormous – virtually unconfined – discretion by the staff and Commission in making this call.

The existence of unconfined discretion, coupled with enormous political and economic pressure to approve what amounts to a $500 million project, are a formula for abuse.

When discretion, politics, and money combine, they tend to produce a corrupt review process, whereby professionals lack a defensible legal and scientific basis to say “NO”, while they are pressured to find a way to approve the project, offset by some kind of “equivalent” mitigation package that the politicians can hold out as “equivalent protection” (expect a money payoff and land donation).

Almost everything I heard today during the staff briefing reinforced that perception of a corrupt process – here are just a few examples of the red flags that kept popping up:

1) There was a “pre-application conference” way back in April 2012.

The pre-application” process is inherently prone to abuse, especially on a major project.

When the public first learns of the project, most big decisions have already been made:  there is frequently a conceptual approval issued, expectations are formed,  and the broad parameters have negotiated by staff long before the public even gets wind of the project.

In this case, the public was kept in the dark for over a year, while staff had a series of private meetings (and I assume phone calls) regarding the project. Several what I assume to be deficiency letters and correspondence were mentioned. I assume these letters and emails are public records, but I doubt the pre-app meeting and phone call notes are. The project were deemed complete in July 2013.

During this 14 month period, it appears that staff did more than review the merits, and basically acted to guide and facilitate review and approval of the project.

I say this because one person testified read from one of the letters, which indicated that a MOA would be the vehicle to approve the project. Discussion of a MOA is a bright green light to the applicant.

The decision to proceed with a MOA is NOT a staff level decision. It is not even a Director Wittenberg decision.

The decision to pursue a MOA is a policy call that is made by the Commission on the record with public involvement.

The fact that staff were contemplating a MOA over a year ago is inappropriate, at best.

[Update #1 – there is disagreement on this point – see the Commission’s 12 steps to crafting a MOA. h/t TL]

[Update #2 – In my July 27 post, I criticized Counselor Roth for equivocation on the MOA issue, when BPU Order had included a MOA.  But, upon further research, it turns out that the MOA issue is even murkier and more problematic. Check out this from the April 12, 2013 minutes – The April 12, 2013 P&I minutes state that Roth expected a MOA “this spring”.

Ms. Roth said that she anticipated bringing two draft agreements to the Committee this Spring related to:

  1. An MOA to enable development of a natural gas pipeline through the Forest Area to serve the Atlantic City Electric Company’s B.L. England Generating Station in Cape May County;  – end update].

2) The Commission lacks independent subject matter expertise on staff – and is not seeking external expert contractor support

Lacking necessary expertise, staff therefore had to rely exclusively on the applicant’s engineers for numerous technical judgements and evaluations, including critical factors like engineering, geotechnical, pipeline safety, and other  issues.

In other cases, staff relied on BPU or DEP reviews.

The fact that the staff presentation so casually alluded to these critical delegations of their review to the applicant’s engineers is deeply troubling.

3) South Jersey Gas is driving the review process.

At one point in the presentation, staff indicated that a decision was made, by South Jersey Gas, not Pinelands staff, to eliminate an alternative route that required Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) under Great Egg Harbor. Staff said this option was eliminated due to environmental impacts and risks of “drilling fluid escape”.

When that critical fact went unexamined by the Commissioners, I interrupted the presentation to ask for an explanation of “drilling fluid escape”. What is it, what are the risks, and why, if it is too risky for Great Egg, is it OK for rivers, streams, wetlands, and lakes in the Pinelands?

This being the Commissioner’s briefing portion of the meeting, I correctly was ruled out of order by Chairman Lohbaur.

But shortly after, my rude gambit proved successful, as a few questions were asked by Commissioners. As the questions mounted, and staff was unable to answer them satisfactorily, Director Weinberg intervene to shut down that line of inquiry.

Instead, Weinberg said that staff should convey these questions to SJG engineers for response.

Weinberg is not supporting her own staff or defending the independence and integrity of the staff or the Commission.

Again, the fact that there seems to be no concern – or outright contempt for – a lack of independent expert review and the de facto delegation of that function and public responsibility to private SJG engineers – who have a gross conflict of interest – is simply stunning and a major deficiency in the review process.

4) Staff seem “captured” – appearance of a lack of rigor

One Commissioner, and the crowd, seemed incredulous when staff indicated that there were no impacts on threatened or endangered species – none – because none were present in the area of the chosen pipeline route.

When questioned how that was possible, staff indicated that the “proposed development area” of the project was an 8-10 foot wide pipeline corridor.

Are you kidding me? How is it possible to build a 22 mile pipeline with only an 8-10 foot wide disturbance? Are they using helicopters? What about subsurface issues? What about impacts beyond that narrow “proposed development area”?

The fact that staff seemed to have no problem with that absurd narrowing in the scope of the project again was a troubling indicator of a lack of objectivity and rigorous review, consistent with the “agency capture” model of bureaucratic decsion-making.


I recommended that the Commission hire independent subject matter experts on the engineering, geotechnical, safety, and other important issues. Just look at this photo  and powerpoint SJG did on “resiliency strategies”.

I suggested that they needed to consider the capacity of the high pressure (700 psi) 24 inch pipeline, whether that infrastructure had land use implications and would induce development pressures, and whether concerns about natural gas exports are possible.

I suggested that look at failures in North Jersey pipelines as examples of poor design, engineering, and construction practices. (like sinkholes and severe erosion and failure to comply with storm water and restoration requirements).

I forgot to mention the SJG “resilience” presentation and whether the touted “safety” “shut off valves” would work better than they did during the massive fires in the wake of Sandy.

Did SJG not have the capability to shut off the gas? Or was that just an oversight? Lots of burned out homeowners would like to know.

I also forgot to mention the sham rationale about “redundancy” and “reliability”.

Some people argued that a benefit of the project is to keep the lights on after another major storm event.

That is a crock of shit, because it was a manufactured pretext – this whole project was designed long before Sandy struck.

And if redundancy and reliability were such important issues for South Jersey, why didn’t BPU mandate expansion of pipeline network years ago?

There was lots of great testimony today – especially about a prior denial and OAL hearing to contest that denial. So, SJG knew all about the regulatory risks they were running.

As I said today, this project needs a file review, so I’ll close now- maybe the Commission can post a summary or transcript.

One last word: the politics are being ramped up – proponents had their union and local official puppets turned out. One claimed it was all about “balance” – but it’s really all about money.

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NJ Dems Need to Stop Whining About Christie “Photo Ops” and Conduct Oversight

August 27th, 2013 No comments

Christie’s Record of Denial & Dismantling Provides Strong Contrast With Buono Leadership

Herb Jackson’s Bergen Record column today finally put the issue on the table, see: Christie basks in bipartisanship, but photo ops starting to irk Democrats

Governor Christie’s second joint appearance in a week with a member of President Obama’s Cabinet was not as chummy as the first. Christie had to stand by uncomfortably on Monday as Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz spoke about his certainty that climate change is a factor in severe storms like Sandy. […]

We are past the point of debating whether policy responses are needed,” Moniz said as Christie stood by silently. “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. We have a climate issue that we have to address.”

Climate change is an issue Christie would rather duck as he prepares for a potential run for the presidency in 2016.

The only thing Jackson missed is the issue of Legislative oversight, which was discussed in fellow Record columnist Charlie Stile’s last column. Stile suggested that NJ Legislative Democrats were contemplating oversight on at least the NJ Transit fiasco (see: Attack on Gordon may be prelude to seeing more of Christie in Bergen

In that sense, the Obama Administration’s high profile events with Governor Christie were particularly bad.

Both the timing and the subject matter could not have been worse.

Just as Governor Christie was becoming vulnerable to critical media coverage and legislative oversight – on his keystone issue, Sandy – the Obama HUD Secretary provided cover on Sandy rebuild and climate change and the Obama Energy Secretary provide cover on NJ Transit preparedness and climate change.

And then consider that Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Senator Buono has been a leader on climate change and the environment for her entire legislative career, offering strong contrast with Gov. Christie, who has mounted a sustained and systematic assault on environmental protections, denied a need to consider climate change, and dismantled climate programs.

That is phenomenal political incompetence and malpractice by Team Obama – way to go!

Throw Christie a life preserver just as your fellow State Dems are finally beginning to get some traction on the issue!

But, NJ Dems can’t just whine about this stuff.

They need to roll up their sleeves, use the powers they posses, and conduct formal legislative oversight of the Christie record – there’s plenty of low hanging fruit.

And not just on the NJ Transit fiasco – which is s symptom – but on much broader and significant policy and management failures on climate change, disaster planning and preparedness, and climate change adaptation planning.

My goodness, it’s so obvious, even the cartoonists get it!


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Gov. Christie Launches Preemptive Attack on Senator Gordon In Anticipation of Sandy Oversight

August 25th, 2013 No comments

when the cartoons start, the issue is made

NJ lacks a climate change adaptation plan for the same reason that George Wallace’s Alabama Department of Education lacked a school integration plan to comply with the Supreme Court’s mandate in the Brown V. Board of Education decision:

the opposition of an intransigent, ignorant, powerful, and ideologically motivated Governor

[Update below]

Last week, I wrote about the Bergen Record’s poorly framed and narrow focus on the NJ Transit $120 million fiasco, instead arguing that the real story was the Christie Administration’s failure to prepare and plan for extreme weather and climate change (see:  NJ Transit $120 Million Failure Just Part of Larger Story).

In that post, I called for broader, more substantive, and focused media investigation and legislative oversight of the Governor.

I offered very specific policy and planning grounds for oversight, and highlighted the expertise and role that Senator Gordon could play in conducting that oversight.

I again strongly urged media and legislators to connect the dots I laid out.

In a followup post, to inform readers and document exactly why the Governor was accountable, I outlined the overall legal and planning framework that Governor Christie was operating under during Sandy, and outlined some basic and fatal mistakes the administration made (see: Gov. Christie Claims “No Knowledge” of NJ Transit “Storm Plan” Prior to Sandy).

Well, it looks like things are moving in that direction.

Today, Record columnist Charlie Stile wrote about Gov. Christie’s recent attack on Senator Gordon – and Stile used that attack to connect the dots to suggest why Gov. Christie is seeking to discredit Gordon.

As I’ve been suggesting for many months, Stile correctly surmised:

Democrats are considering holding a special oversight hearing to find out why NJ Transit ignored its own emergency plan and allowed railcars and locomotives to remain in low-lying areas as Sandy approached, resulting in roughly $120 million in damage. The idea, pushed by Weinberg, came in response to a report last Monday in The Record.

Gordon says the issue “cries out for oversight.”

A hearing could create unflattering publicity for Christie, who has made his leadership during Sandy the centerpiece of his reelection campaign. Revelations from the hearing could undermine that image and fuel Buono’s charge that Christie’s leadership is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Gov. Christie is an incompetent fraud.

Despite NJ’s huge vulnerability due to a heavily developed coastline, NJ is the only state in the northeast without a climate adaptation plan.

Former Gov. Corzine began the process in 2006 with his “Climate Summit”: “Confronting Climate Change in NJ”. 

The Legislature began hearings.

At that time, I testified on how to strengthen NJ’s laws (also see more relevant  testimony).

Gov. Christie has dismantled those efforts (aside from limiting economic development and requiring tabooed government planning and “job killing red tape” regulations, adaptation is a “weak” strategy. In contrast, Gov. Christie thinks he’s “stronger than the storm”.)

The best way I can explain why this is the case is by analogy:

NJ lacks a climate change adaptation plan for the same reason that George Wallace’s Alabama Department of Education lacked a school integration plan to comply with the Supreme Court’s mandate in the Brown V. Board of Education decision:

the opposition of an intransigent, ignorant, powerful, and ideologically motivated Governor.

Make no mistake, he’s said it himself: Gov. Christie views climate change as an “esoteric” issue he has no time for.

He’s bragged about not considering extreme weather either BEFORE of AFTER Sandy struck – in storm planning & preparation or in recovery and rebuilding decisions.

In addition to the posts linked above, here are the documents that provide contrast and substantive content, and cry out for oversight that can prove it:

  • Stunning Contrast Between NY Gov. Cuomo & NJ Christie. Cuomo Promises Action on Climate Change. Gov. Christie in Denial 

We look forward to detailed investigations and oversight hearings – more to follow to provide even more ammo for all that.

[PS – let’s hope that Senator Gordon, Chair of Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, has a stiffer spine than Senator Smith, Chair of the Environment and Energy Committee, see:

And of course, Senate President Sweeney may be blocking all this.]

[Update 8/27/13 – In another galling pre-emptive attack to divert attention from his own vulnerabilities for mismanaging Sandy recovery and misleading the public about dunes. Gov. Christie goes after Assemblyman McKeon on dunes:

Christie: Jersey Shore not ready for another major storm

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Gov. Christie’s Silence on Off Shore LNG Project Is More Evidence of National Political Ambition

August 24th, 2013 No comments

Christie will not buck his party on an important energy issue

Yet another example of how Christie’s national political ambition harms the interests of NJ residents

The public comment period just closed on the proposed off shore Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) project known as “Liberty Natural Gas”.

The Asbury Park Press editorial “Scuttle Plans for LNG Port” framed the issue exactly right:

A company pitching a liquefied natural gas terminal off the New Jersey coast didn’t get very far a couple of years ago, when Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the plan. An amended proposal moving the project more toward the New York coast didn’t get a much better review from Christie; then-Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa told federal officials in March 2012 that Christie remained opposed.

Now Liberty Natural Gas has come back with a “new” proposal scarcely different from the amended version, but Christie hasn’t yet pulled the plug. Public hearings have been held, and a public comment period ended Thursday.

State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, introduced a bill on Tuesday urging rejection of the project. We don’t know what Christie is waiting for, but we urge him to state his opposition to it as soon as possible. It is still as bad an idea for New Jersey as it has been all along.

We think we know exactly why the Gov. has not “pulled the plug”.

Here’s why (hit link for full story)

GOP urges swift action from Energy Department on natural gas exports


Republicans say faster action is needed from the Obama administration to prevent the United States from squandering a golden opportunity to become a major exporter of natural gas.

They cheered the Energy Department’s decision on Wednesday to approve a third liquefied natural gas export project but noted that there are nearly 20 other applications still pending before the administration.

“This announcement is welcome news but we need faster approvals to support domestic job creation and economic growth and to ensure we don’t miss our window of opportunity. The rest of the world won’t stand idly by as we continue to debate what DOE’s own study already confirmed would be a net positive for the U.S.,” a Republican House Energy and Commerce Committee spokeswoman told The Hill in an email.

Just like the Congressional Republicans, Governor Christie supports all forms of extreme energy and insane fossil fuels (with the exception of building new coal plants in NJ, a meaningless stance by Christie used to secure the support of his environmental sycophants. A new coal plant is not economically viable and something the private sector would never do because of cheap natural gas prices).

Just like the Congressional Republicans, Governor Christie is in thrall to the money and influence of the energy corporations, and enthusiastically does their corporate bidding instead of protecting the public interest.

Just like the Congressional Republicans, Governor Christie views environmental regulations as “job killing red tape”.

These are all facts abundantly documented in the public record.

I am not trying to be partisan here in my focus on the Republican party – the majority of the corporate Democrats are almost as bad.

The reason I mention only republicans is obvious: Christie will not buck his party on this important energy issue because he is now running for President in 2016 (and he needs campaign contributions from billion $ energy corporate profits).

And that’s why he won’t “pull the plug” by exercising his veto over this insane project.

This is yet another example of how Christie’s national political ambition harms the interests of NJ residents.

But don’t expect to hear this messsage from Christie’s envrionmental sycophants, like COA.

Curiously, COA’s Op-Ed on Liberty LNG not only diverts attention, but it actively misleads the public by conflating Christie’s prior veto of a simialr prior  proposal with the current proposal on which he is silent. Note the dishonest way this issue was addressed in COA’s Op-Ed:

These hazards and more were identified by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when he vetoed this project in 2011 and reaffirmed his veto in 2012.

The APP made the distinction between the prior and current projects quite clear in noting the Gov. silence and failure to “pull the plug”.

So it’s pretty amazing when a newspaper editorial is more aggressive in holding the Governor accountable and seeking his veto than the so called “lead environmental group” opposing the project.

Make my day – prove me wrong Gov. Christie and COA. I’ll gladly eat crow.

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