Archive for August, 2013

Christie Veto of Bill To Allow Development on Hazardous Piers Refused to Enforce NJ Environmental Law

August 20th, 2013 No comments

Christie Sees Insurance Risks and Costs, Not Environmental Hazards

Governor Christie vetoed a bill (S2680) that would have allowed new development on piers in the Hudson River located in a “coastal high hazard area”.

The Governor deserves praise for his veto of a terribly irresponsible bill.

But even when Christie does the right thing, he just can’t seem to do so for the right reasons.

The rationale and text of the Governor’s veto message is troubling and raises a host of questions.

The Governor refused to enforce the current NJ State law (NJ DEP CAFRA rules – correction: Waterfront Development Act) that bans development in those coastal him hazard areas.

This reflects his animus towards NJ State level environmental regulations.

It also is consistent with the “regulatory relief” policy under Executive Order #2, which includes a “federal consistency” policy that seeks to rollback stricter state regulations in lieu of their minimum federal counterparts.

Legally, the Gov’s refusal to enforce this State regulatory development ban also leaves its status in limbo.

Politically, it provides an escape hatch and cover from criticism by pro-development interests – the Gov. can say that his hands were tied, that federal law made him do it.

The bill was designed to and would have overcome a development ban under State DEP environmental regulations.

It is highly revealing that the Governor did not enforce and defend that State DEP regulatory ban.

Instead, the Governor’s veto relied on the federal regulations implementing the federal flood insurance program:

Federal law provides that no flood insurance may be sold or renewed under the NFIP in areas that lack adequate land use and control measures. The federal regulations implementing the NFIP expressly provide that “all new construction” within a coastal high hazard area shall be “located landward of the reach of mean high tide.” Allowing new construction on a pier in a coastal high hazard area as this bill provides contravenes that federal regulation and may therefore jeopardize NFIP eligibility for those municipalities with existing piers along the Hudson River. I cannot condone such a risk.

Note that the Governor’s rationale is not grounded in State regulations or on any land use planning, environmental objective, or coastal risk.

Instead, the Governor is concerned about risks of an inability to secure flood insurance or an increase in the cost of flood insurance.

So, it is obvious that Gov. Christie is blind to the risks of coastal hazards, consistent with and so evident is his Sandy “rebuild madness”.

The Governor cares more about insurance markets and costs than in land use planning and environmental regulation.

That’s the real message of this veto.

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NJ Transit $120 Million Failure Just Part of Larger Story

August 20th, 2013 No comments

Failure to Plan for Climate Change Is Underlying Cause Of Multiple Errors

Focus Of Legislative Oversight Misplaced and Far Too Narrow

The Bergen Record did a followup to yesterday’s NJ Transit story, predictably reporting on the political fallout, not the substance or the policy:

Senators call for transit hearing to question why agency didn’t follow storm plan

State legislative leaders 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 Superstorm Sandy approached, resulting in roughly $120 million in damage.

Unfortunately, once again they managed to miss the larger story and bury the lead, in one sentence in the 12th paragraph near the end of the story.

The Record reported that NJ Transit ignored a Report warning about climate change risks:

He [NJ Transit’s Weinstein] has also said the Hoboken yard has never flooded. Yet a climate change report that the agency commissioned and received months before Sandy placed both yards in flood-prone areas.

Was NJ Transit the ONLY State agency to ignore climate change warnings that lead to unnecessary damage and losses?

What is the larger policy context for that “climate change report” issued to NJ Transit?

Why did NJ Transit solicit that Report?

Does each State agency, independently and on an ad hoc basis, decide to study climate change risks and plan for them?

Or is there an underlying statewide planning framework and policy?

If so, what is it and who is responsible for that planning and preparation?

These are the relevant questions that have been either buried or have gone unasked.

The Record’s reporting today did attempt to paint a larger picture.

The story included a summary of several – but not all –  criticisms of Governor Christie’s response to Sandy.

Curiously, the story omitted the biggest one: there is a growing chorus of criticism of his failure to consider climate change in Sandy rebuild, e.g. see this Star Ledger editorial last week: New Jersey’s Blind Spot on Climate Change).

The next logical step in that emerging line of criticism is to look at the Governor’s PREPARATION and PLANNING PRIOR TO SANDY LANDFALL (i.e a “look back”) as well as going forward – i.e. the stuff of Climate Change Adaptation Plans.

The omission of climate change was no accident because the author of the story, State House reporter John Reitmeyer, has written prior stories about scientists’ criticism of the Governor’s failure to consider climate change and sea level rise in Sandy rebuild policy.

That storyline began back in February, when Gov. Chrisite dismissed climate change as an “esoteric” issue he had no time for and that people “didn’t give a damn about”.

Additionally, yesterday I had an email exchange with the other  supporting reporter, and she had read my blog post and was well aware of the issues raised regarding fatal  flaws in NJ’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Thankfully, things soon may change.

Senator Gordon, Chairman of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, was quoted in the story as welcoming oversight.

Gordon has professional experience in hazard planning.

Gordon surely knows that NJ Transit’s failures were not unique to that agency and are statewide in scope.

Gordon knows that the AshBritt scandal was caused by NJ’s failure to have a “propositioned” debris removal contract in place BEFORE Sandy struck, strong evidence of failure to plan and prepare.

Gordon is a well informed pro-environmental legislator, so he knows about the underlying threats of climate change and the need to engage in adaptation planning.

Gordon knows that Governor Christie’s reckless rebuild plans have failed to incorporate climate change risks, including sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.

Gordon knows that sewage treatment plants, who discharged billions of gallons of raw sewage to rives and streams, failed to conduct adaptation planning or even the minimum emergency planning and installation of back up power systems described in NJ DEP rules.

Gordon knows that dozens of NJ towns lost water supply because DEP failed to plan for water supply emergency, as their own rules require.

Gordon knows that Rutgers and Princeton University’s sea level rise projections were ignored.

Gordon knows that FEMA ABFE maps did not include sea level rise or other climate change threats.

Gordon knows that last week, former DEP Commisioner Mark Mauriello laid out a devastating critique of the Christie Administration’s rebuild policies and DEP regulatory actions.

Gordon knows that the HUD Sandy Task Force Report is too little, too late, lacks enforceable mandates, and is being largely ignored by the Administration with respect to land use, climate change, planning and regulatory reforms.

These are the appropriate topics of investigative journalism and legislative oversight.

NJ Transit is the tip of a large iceberg.

Let’s hope that someone connects these dots, and soon.

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NJ Transit’s “Storm Plan” Was No Plan At All

August 19th, 2013 No comments

NJ Only State in Northeast without a Climate Change Adaptation Plan

NJ State Police Ill-Suited for Climate Change Risks & Adaptation Plans

Technical information on the four (4) most recent disasters and climate change issues are still being reviewed and are not included in this April 2012 NJ Hazard Plan update.  ~~~ NJ Hazard Mitigation Plan (April 2012)

[Important Update below]

The Bergen Record has an important story today that alleged that NJ Transit did not follow its own “storm plan” – but unfortunately, the lead is buried in the 3rd paragraph:

NJ Transit did not follow its own storm plan

Newly released internal documents show NJ Transit had a plan in place for moving railcars and locomotives to higher ground as Superstorm Sandy approached, raising further questions about why the agency left hundreds of pieces of equipment in low-lying locations in the storm’s path, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. […]

The NJ Transit document stands in stark contrast to the more detailed hurricane plan prepared by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, which, taking into account concerns about global warming, enabled the transit system to move the vast majority of its trains to higher ground, saving all but 11 of its rail­cars from flood damage.


So why doesn’t NJ Transit’s plan take into account global warming?

Do other important state plans consider the risks and impacts of global warming?

Here’s the real story.

NJ Transit’s repeated attempts to redact public documents to cover up and block media access to prevent the disclosure of embarrassing information is an outrageous violation of the NJ Open Public Records Act and a gross abuse that someone should be held accountable and fired for.

NJ Transit redacted the entire content of their storm plan for 2 reasons:

1) to cover up their mismanagement (i.e. they didn’t follow their own plan, which included alternate safe storage sites that were available); and

2) to avoid the embarrassing disclosure that he substance of the “plan” is a joke and it does not include consideration of climate change.

NJ Transit’s so called “3 page plan” was not a plan at all.

But, NJ Transit is not alone among State and regional infrastructure agencies for lacking plans.

NJ DEP lacked a water supply plan and local sewer authorities lacked emergency plans and back up power – both are addressed under NJ DEP permit rules under the Clean Water Act.

But the larger issue – and framework within which all these various plans exist – is climate change adaptation planning to consider extreme weather events.

Many states have climate adaptation plans – but not NJ.

NJ addresses all theses unique climate related risks under the State Hazard Mitigation Plan.

That plan is developed by the State Office of Emergency Management security and safety experts, housed within a police institutional setting. They  lack adequate knowledge, training, and experience on the science and other aspects of climate change related “hazards”.

So LOOK again at this caveat on the banner page of that Hazard Mitigation Plan:

“Technical information on the four (4) most recent disasters and climate change issues are still being reviewed and are not included in this April 2012 NJ Hazard Plan update.” (see plan).

Climate change NOT INCLUDED in NJ’s Hazard Mitigation Plan Updated AFTER Irene and just 5 months before Sandy hit.

According to Georgetown University Climate Center, NJ is the only northeastern state without a climate change adaptation plan – a serious deficiency noted in a recent federal Report.

NJ lacks a plan because Governor Christie thinks climate change is an “esoteric” issue that he has not time for and no one “gives a damn about”. (John Reitmeyer story quotes from the Record).

NJ also fails to have a climate plan because the State historically views hazard planning as primarily a local responsibility.

Governor Christie made this historic state abdication policy much worse by issuing Executive Order #4, which restricts so called “unfunded state mandates” to local government.

Christie has shifted additional state responsibilities to local governments and outsourced planning to private groups, as he dismantles State regulations, slashes the resources of agencies, and guts relevant planning programs at DEP.

Again, the accountability rests with the Governor.

That is the story – period.

Who will write it and when will it be written?

Readers want to know – and journalism awards are waiting!

[Update: HUD just released the Sandy Rebuild Taskforce Report mandated by President Obama’s Executive Order (see this for full Report].

I am reviewing the recommendations now, but, while we’re on the topic of state and local government capacity to do adaptation planning, I’ll briefly note this, which flies in the face of Gov. Chrisite’s abdication of State responsibility:

The scope and scale of Hurricane Sandy challenged the uneven capacities of State and local governments, which also faced differences in needs and readiness for disaster recovery. Many of the municipalities that experienced severe river flooding and the coastal towns along the New Jersey Shore and on Long Island are without full time planners, city managers, grants managers, engineers, and architects, and thus do not have the in-house capabilities to lead comprehensive, long-term recovery planning efforts on their own.  (@ p. 125)


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Good Gas?: The Case of the Well Meaning But Misguided Editorial

August 18th, 2013 No comments

 “Heroic” Meadowlands & “good news for the planet” is way over the top 

Cheerleading for Carbon Trading While Ignoring Christie RGGI Kill

Editorial writers are significantly dependent on news coverage for the focus and factual basis of their editorials.

When the reporting gets the story wrong, even a well meaning editorial page typically follows suit.

Unfortunately, while we appreciate the sentiment, we have an example of that today from the Bergen Record. Today’s editorial is based on yesterday’s “good news” coverage I criticized in this post.

That “good news” story used the flea on the tail of the climate change dog (i.e. wetlands carbon sequestration) to support failed and flawed market based carbon trading and wetlands mitigation schemes.

That story now has generated today’s editorial: “Good Gas:

But from an environmental standpoint, the Meadowlands should be hailed as the hero of our time. Especially in light of new research that concludes that even when hobbled by all sorts of manmade problems, urban wetlands forge ahead with their job of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. It’s amazing, really, what they can do. […]

Not only is this study good news for the health of the planet, its conclusions may help bolster attempts to monetize wetlands restoration. This is a clever twist on cap and trade, in which investors preserve or restore wetlands, and then make a profit by selling credits to store carbon. Industries whose manufacturing processes emit carbon can buy those credits to compensate for the pollution they create. Environmental preservation is transformed into a commercially viable business, in which buying credits creates a profit, which spurs more wetlands preservation, which helps to combat climate change.

That is way over the top and misleading.

The misleading Record editorial closely follows the misleading and flawed news story I criticized yesterday, so I won’t repeat those criticisms here.

To be clear, yes I agree with the Record editorial that it is amazing what wetlands can do. But with respect to carbon sequestration, unfortunately the big picture data suggest that its not very much – and disturbing new research suggests that even that small sequestration potential is being reduced by extreme heat.

The editorial’s characterization of “heroic” Meadowlands and “good news for the planet” is way over the top. 

So, aside from the in the weeds science (pun intended), more narrowly, if the Record is going to report and editorialize in favor of a carbon trading scheme, they should at least put the complete NJ carbon emissions trading story on the table.

NJ did have a carbon trading scheme, until Gov. Christie killed it.

So, a few additional facts and contextual points are in order.

The underlying and unstated premise seems to be that market based trading schemes and mitigation are inherently good and important mechanisms for funding wetlands conservation and scientific research.

While we oppose carbon trading and mitigation schemes, we do agree that this scientific and conservation work needs to get funded.

While we’re on the topic of money, the news story reported:

The Meadowlands research was started with $40,000 from the commission; since then, Schafer and her collaborators at Princeton and other universities have secured about $800,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation for the work, which includes a variety of projects.

So, just like we put the wetlands’  carbon sequestration data in the larger context of carbon emissions, let’s put that $840,000 one time research funding in context.

Critically, the story did not report – and the Record editorial writers seem unaware of – the fact that Governor Christie diverted sequestration dedicated revenues and then killed a revenue generating program known as RGGI – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

But what does RGGI have to do with carbon sequestration in wetlands?

Hint: the citizen won’t find out from reading Governor Christie’s “Global Warming” webpage, which has deleted the prior section on RGGI.

RGGI generated approximately $45 – $60 million per year from the sale of “carbon allowances”. Major carbon polluters in the electric energy sector were required to purchase these allowances for each ton of carbon emitted. That money was programmed by a law called the “Global Warming Solutions Fund Act” (Act):

Global Warming Solutions Fund Act

Adopted in January 2008, the Global Warming Solutions Fund Act (pdf) authorizes the auction of allowances under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a ten-state mandatory carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program for electric power plants. The law directs that auction proceeds be used to: fund energy efficiency, renewable energy, and innovative greenhouse gas reduction technologies; promote local government greenhouse gas reduction efforts; preserve and restore forests and tidal marshes; and reduce energy demands and costs for low- and moderate-income New Jersey citizens.

Christie diverted money from and then killed RGGI – RGGI generated $45 – $60 million/year, so we’re talking about $180 – $240 million for the Christie 4 year term.

The Act allocated 10 percent of the Fund to the DEP to support programs that enhance the stewardship and restoration of the State’s forests and tidal marshes that provide important opportunities to sequester or reduce greenhouse gases.

So, Christie diverted from $18 – $24 million for wetlands sequestration.

That’s 21 – 28 TIMES larger than the Meadowlands research project funding.

And that Meadowlands funding was a one shot deal –

In contrast, RGGI provided a stable, ongoing, dedicated funding source – the perfect and reliable funding mechanism to plan for and carry out a long term research and program agenda.

Now, if I were a wetlands ecologist, reporter, or editorial writer, I would be much more interested in making the public aware of that, than in exaggerating the benefits of mitigation and trading schemes.

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Trading Schemes Creeping Into Climate Change Stories

August 17th, 2013 No comments

Science used to support “new impetus to concept of selling carbon credits”

[Update below]

A climate change story yesterday in the Bergen Record caught my eye: Meadowlands shown to be valuable for pulling carbon dioxide from the air  – suggest you read it.

I have a number of problems with the focus and context of it.

No doubt, coastal wetlands are critically important and valuable natural resources, particularly in proximity to urbanized areas like the Meadowlands. They provide flood control, pollution treatment, wildlife habitat and other important ecological services.

But, carbon sequestration is probably their least important and valuable feature. We should not be protecting coastal wetlands just to store carbon.

The story estimated that the 31 acre wetland research site stored 27 tons of carbon. Although it was not made clear in the story, I assume this is an estimate of annual uptake – a rate – and not net total carbon storage.

That prompted me to do a quick back of the envelope to put those numbers in context, in terms of sequestration versus carbon emissions. At that storage rate, how much wetland land would be required to store NJ’s annual emissions? Data are most recent from US DoE and US census.

(27 tons)/(31 acres) = 0.87 tons/acre

(8,864,590 people in NJ) X 18 tons/capita = 159,562,620 tons of carbon

(159,562,620 tons) X 0.87 tons/acre = 183,405,310 acres!

For context, the entire state of NJ is just 5,586,560 acres – so it would take a wetland system 32.8 times the entire land area of NJ to absorb the carbon emitted by NJ.

Obviously, carbon storage in coastal wetlands will not play much of a role in mitigating climate change.

Ironically, while this “good news” story exaggerates the climate benefits of carbon sequestration, it ignores the much more important risks that these wetlands systems face due to climate change induced sea level rise. Simply, as water levels rise, the wetlands have nowhere to migrate to in urban areas and will be inundated.

Also ignored is recent troubling research that shows that their ability to sequester carbon is significantly reduced by the extreme heat projected to occur due to climate change.

Curiously, I came across and read this Record story after reading a story in Climate news, about new research that shows that the ability for wetlands systems to sequester carbon is significantly reduced by extreme heat (per Climate News Network):

The researchers calculate that because of extreme events that already occur, terrestrial ecosystems – forests, marshes, mangrove swamps, grasslands and so on – absorb around 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide less than they would if there were no extremes.

But, aside from these flaws, my bigger problem with the story is how the science is contextualized.

The science in the story basically says that the Meadowlands serve as a carbon “sink”, providing net storage of carbon – but the story goes well beyond the science, allowing science effectively to be used to support completely non-scientific policy arguments in favor of carbon trading schemes:

The research showing how well wetlands capture and store carbon could add new impetus to the concept of restoring wetlands and then selling carbon credits. “It bodes well for the concept,” said Andrew Baldwin, a wetlands plant ecologist at the University of Maryland.

Baldwin should stick to plant ecology and stay the hell out of regulatory policy, a topic he appears to know very little about.

The idea of emissions trading is a scam –

If readers  want to understand the fatal flaws in all trading systems – and why carbon trading is uniquely problematic – watch this superb video, by 2 EPA lawyers with over 40 years experience in trading programs:

The Huge Mistake

Another scheme, literally a pipe dream – carbon sequestration – also seems to be creeping in to the narrative as well – there is a reason why that technology does not exist on any commercial scale and never will.

Keeping it on the table just prolongs reliance on coal.

Which is just what the coal industry wants.

[Update: a reader just shot me a note to observe:

It is worse then that – mitigation is big fraud. The mitigation banks do not replace filled wetlands with new ones, they take areas,  spray herbicides then  dig them all up including the vegetative mat releasing all the stored carbon. They replace them with spartina that stores less carbon. Also fragmities hold toxic chemicals especially heavy metals while spartina respires putting the toxins back in the environment. … a NJ Audubon report [shows] that they are sitting on increased levels  of metals bio accumulating in birds.

They are filling in 7 acres of additional wetlands for Xanadu and the mitigation is deed restricting open space that is already protected. Also Baykeeper, Audubon, and hack riverkeeper get monies from mitigation Banks.

I agree on serious flaws with mitigation and that mitigation is essentially a trading scheme , see:

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