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Pinelands Commission Caught on Tape – A Glimpse Into What They Really Think

October 31st, 2013 No comments

Commissioners Show Disdain for Public Criticism

Director Wittenberg Defends “Biased” Pipeline Review Process Based on Experience as Builders Assc. Lobbyist

Month after month after month Stacy warned you that the pipeline was coming. The public was here. We did not keep this a secret. It’s not my fault they missed it. ~~~ Director Wittenberg (9/13/13) (download MP3 and listen)

The Pinelands Commission came under sharp criticism from the public during the September 13, 2013 public comment session, including an unexpected presentation by a CWA union representative that disturbed the public and prompted even harsher public criticism (see this for coverage of that hearing).

At the very end of that hearing, after the Commission had returned from a closed Executive Session, they re-opened the hearing and went back on the public record. By that time, the public was long gone and the room was empty.

Apparently not realizing that they were being recorded, the Commissioners spoke bluntly amongst themselves, sometimes expressing frustration and disdain for public criticism they had received earlier in the day.

They also discussed serious substantive issues, which I’ll highlight below.

The discussion is quite revealing of how they think and deliberate amongst themselves.

We were given a 14 minute section of the audio tape of that discussion. You can download MP3 and listen to it here.

Aside from the various frustrations they expressed, I will note the following significant substantive issues that need to be  followed up on – all of which I had raised in testimony during the September 13 hearing and that Commissioners and staff were responding to:

1) The Pre-application review process created an appearance of agency capture – one Commissioner called this “bias”

A Commissioner agrees with my testimony that the pre-application review process, which began in April 2012 and was not made to the public for over a year, is “biased”.

I’m much closer to Bill Wolfe perhaps than others in this room – I’ve had this conversation with Commissioners for years. It does bias things. I wish I could go to the judge before I file a complaint. It does bias things, its not a one way street”

Director Wittenberg immediately challenged that view:

You know that in a previous life when I worked with the Builders Assc. and the Builders get ballistic about that because they may not have even bought the property yet and they’re coming in to find out about requirements

First of all, Ms. Wittenberg is way out of line here. Her job is to follow the policy lead of the Commissioners, not to challenge their views and debate policy.

We have previously opposed Ms. Wittenberg’s appointments as an Assistant Commissioner at DEP and by Governor Christie at the Pinelands precisely because of her background with the NJ Builders Assc.

We have said that Wittenberg is hostile to environmental regulations and can not objectively administer and enforce those regulations.

And in this discussion, she confirms our concerns and injects arguments and argues as if she were representing the Builders Assc.

And Wittenberg’s argument is a straw man – South Jersey Gas pre-application review process was nothing like the example she offered, of a builder who  had not yet acquired land innocently coming in to meet with the Commission to understand what permit requirements applied. Nothing at all like that.

2) The Commission needs an independent expert to review South Jersey Gas Company’s proposal and fill gaps in staff expertise

A Commissioner recommended that an independent expert be hired to review the pipeline proposal.

That recommendation appears to have been rejected – although it is not clear why. Listen closely and see if you can figure it out. See also point # 6 below.

3) The Commission is in denial on climate change

The Commission appears to have accepted Counselor Roth’s informal, off hand, verbal legal opinion and rejected jurisdiction to review climate change impacts – and has denied my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to disclose the written legal reasoning behind this crucial decision.

For more on the climate issues, see this and this and this.

4) The Commission lacks standards or Guidance to implement the MOA requirement that a project provide an “equivalent level of protection” or to define and weigh “offsets” that can demonstrate an equivalent level off protection 

This crucial issue is discussed very briefly on the tape.

Both Wittenberg and a Commissioner admit that the Commission lacks standards.

The Commission is highly vulnerable to legal challenge and scathing valid public criticism for these fatal gaps in regulations.

The Commission risks losing all public credibility if the MOA “offset” is a cash payment from South Jersey Gas – the reasonable public perception will be that Commission is not independent, not science based, not preserving the pines and enforcing the law – and that it can be bought and sold.

In fact, there are rumors right now that the deal will be for $20 million.

5) Director Wittenberg and Counselor Roth are manipulating the Commissioners and the public in support of the pipeline project

Director Wittenberg makes a whole bunch of arguments, all of them biased or flawed, and seeming as if they came from the lawyer for South Jersey Gas Co.. or the Governor’s Office. Here are a few examples of that:

a) After mentioning that there are “miles and miles and miles of pipelines” through the Pines (presumably to suggest that they are no big deal and are having no adverse impacts on the Pines). Wittenberg:

But I would never say that when the real public is here

But Wittenberg fails to mention that they were built BEFORE the Pinelands Act was passed and that the Pinelands Act – unlike the Highlands Act – does not exempt them from review but instead they are not an allowable use in the forest area

b) In what seems to be an attempt to deflect public criticism that the Commission is exclusively reliant on the scientific and engineering claims of South Jersey Gas Co. and lacks independent science, Wittenberg claims that she was planning to allow the Chief Pinelands staff scientist to testify, but that the public would “crucify” him because he doesn’t have a PhD.

That is nonsense.

Maybe Wittenberg doesn’t want public testimony from a scientist with integrity – someone who might openly talk about the limits of his expertise and the need for additional expert support.

Or maybe he would mention that those “miles and miles and miles” of pipelines Wittenberg mentioned were grandfathered – or maybe he might speak about a pipeline that was built without a MOA, a violation that undermines the argument the Commission now supports in favor of a MOA.

[clarification, from a knowledgeable reader:

Nancy fails to mention that they were built before the Pinelands Act or met the CMP requirement that they serve the needs of Pinelands residents.  There have been pipes in some areas of the pines that service the needs of Pinelands residents.  These pipes that are smaller.  They are 12 & 16 inch and at a lower pressure.

6. South Jersey Gas Has had an inside track and exclusive technical input to staff and the Commission for over a year and a half. That access must be balanced by public concerns and independent data and viewpoints.

There is a confused and rambling discussion about science, objectivity, independence, expertise, impartiality, and opinion.

This confusion is then expanded with respect to the Commission’s responsibilities to make independent, science based regulatory policy  decisions that reflect public sentiment and public comment.

Both Ms. Wittenberg and Ms. Roth aggressively shape this discussion and disparage critics, while narrowing the scope of their review. They aggressively reject independent expert support and a scientist requested by project opponents.

Do Ms. Wittenberg and Ms. Roth seriously think South Jersey Gas officials are “independent” or “impartial” or not “advocates??

There is even a remark by Wittenberg that clearly demonstrates that the Attorney General’s Office has provided some kind of legal guidance about the public request to have the opponents’ scientists, Mr. Heately, make a 30 minute presentation to balance all the time and opportunity for access and input to staff provided to South Jersey Gas Co.

South Jersey Gas Co. was given several months of one on one meetings with Pinelands Commission staff- perhaps dozens of hours and multiple meetings.

It is clear that South Jersey Gas also had access to Counselor Roth during the BPU review process – Ms. Roth made two presentations to the Commissioners from April – June and advised them that a MOA was being negotiated and drafted.

I also suspect that their was a coordinated project review team of BPU, DEP and someone from the Pinelands COmmisison, either Wittenberg or Roth.

Based on my experience in state government, I also suspect that there were meetings with the Governor’s Office that Ms. Wittenberg attended – perhaps even without the knowledge of the Commissioners, nonetheless the public.

Ms. Wittenberg also may have had involvement with the BL England portion of the project while she was an Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Regulation at DEP – this is why I testified back in July to suggest that Wittenberg undergo some kind of conflict of interest, post employment restriction, or recusal review.

Last, South Jersey Gas was given an opportunity to publicly present their plan – that lasted about an hour (view the SJG powerpoint  here).

So after all this, it is bizarre that public requests for independent scientific review are so harshly dismissed on this tape.

And finally, contrary to Ms. Wittenberg’s assertion, Counselor Stacy Roth did not provide “months and months” of “warnings that the pipeline was coming”.

Ms. Roth never mentioned that the BPU proceeding was underway and that the Commission and the public should participate in the BPU proceedings. A neutral professional lawyer would do that.

Ms Roth never gave the Commissioners and the public a heads up that DEP air and water permits were under review and that the Commission and public should participate in those permit proceedings. A neutral professional lawyer would do that too.

Instead, Ms. Roth provided briefings that highlighted the benefits of the project, ignored the criticisms of the project, and acted in support of the project .

Roth implied that it was a done deal and – way back in April – that a MOA was under negotiation with BPU and pinelands planner Larry Liggett.

Contrary to Director Wittenberg’s claims, those are not Paul Revere warnings of a neutral professional lawyer- that’s Chinatown.

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The Way We Were (Before Christie)

October 30th, 2013 No comments

Gov. Christie Dismantled DEP Climate Change Programs

I just thought I’d post portions of a DEP presentation New Jersey’s Climate Change and Water Resource Policy Initiatives, from December 7, 2009, just weeks before Governor Christie assumed Office.

DEP Commissioner Martin and governor Christie killed all those programs, which would have helped manage and reduce the damage caused by Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

Gov. Christie has set back NJ’s climate change and water resource programs by at least a decade. And that is an irresponsible outrage – take look:

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“Sustainability” Has Served As Cover for Regulatory Rollbacks for 20 Years in NJ

October 30th, 2013 No comments

A Sham – From Christie Whitman to Chris Christie

“Sustainable NJ” Director Solomon Attacking Critics 

Donna Drewes, co-director of Sustainable Jersey, said the group does not restrict whom it accepts money from as long as the organization is allowed to spend the money that fits their overall mission.  ~~~ The Press of Atlantic City, 10/28/13

Monday’s protest of the greenscam by South Jersey Gas and Sustainable NJ has spawned a furious round of retaliation and attack by SNJ Director Randy Solomon.

In his attempt to justify the unjustifiable, Solomon has attacked the Sierra Club and Jeff Tittel, calling them hypocrites who lack transparency.

That  attack was promptly apologized for when Tittel took exception – Solomon put his tail between his legs and wrote;

Jeff,

I really wish that you had come and talked to us directly, and actually made us aware of what you wanted, prior to having a press conference about it outside of our event. I didn’t know that groups did that to each other honestly. Maybe I’m naive.

I have to check in with our board about this and get some direction. And after that I’ll get back to you and I hope we can have a deeper and meaningful engagement about your legitimate concerns.

Best,
Randy

Let’s hope his board reins him in – or better yet, fires him.

If not for hits attacks, than for asserting a big lie. The Big Lie is Solomon’s claim that SNJ does not “do advocacy”.

In reality, the entire SNJ program represents advocacy for a different – and ideological – model of environmental activism – a model based on voluntary local initiative, personal market based choices (sometimes referred to as tokenism) and cooperative and non-adversarial relationships with corporations and government. That is a very different an corporate friendly model, compared to traditional, genuine, grass roots environmental activism.

In his increasingly desperate response to critics, Solomon even stooped so low to post false and libelous comments on the Press of Atlantic City story – which were taken down – but here is the attack that came after me:

Randall Solomon · Highland Park, New Jersey

Steven, that is just not true. Because we go to great pains to ensure it’s not so, and it is all transparent. Unfortunately, Bill Wofle (sic) is not a credible source. We don’t engage with him because we don’t want to drive attention to something so factually challenged. But specifically, Sustainable Jersey was founded by the Dodge foundation, the State (then under Corizine) (sic) the NJ League of Municipalities, and a coalition of environmental groups and others. The purpose is to set objective standards for what municipalities could and should to, and provide public and private support. By not doing advocacy we can partner, where there is common ground, with whomever is in the statehouse. By balancing our funding nobody can call the shots, and we make that clear to all funders. Just a case in point – Some or our small grants, funded by W…See More

[Update: Mr. Solomon is an inept liar by omission. Although he states that Sustainable NJ was formed during the Corzine Administration, he failed to disclose his background and history in the Whitman Administration, which we explain below – see this, from back in the Whitman day:

Finally, the Working Group would like to acknowledge Randy Solomon, our key partner at New Jersey Future, for his continuing contributions as the leading citizen advocate for the Sustainable State Project. – end update]

Aside from Solomon confirming that he is willing to provide cover for “whomever is in the statehouse” (where they need that and are willing to pay for it – Solomon gets $1.4 million from Christie’s BPU), this is transparent bullshit – with the exception that yes, it is technically true that Sustainable NJ was formed during and with the support of the Corzine administration.

But, since Mr. Solomon apparently is not aware of the history or use of the “Sustainability” concept in NJ – a remarkable ignorance given that his own organization’s sole stated mission is sustainability – and how prior NJ Governors have cynically used that concept for cover for pro business environmental rollbacks, I thought I’d provide a brief history.

The Origins and Political Abuse of “Sustainability” in NJ

While the “Sustainable Development” concept was originated in the popular imagination by the 1992 UN Rio Earth Summit and is now perceived as a communist plot by the Tea Party, let’s start by setting the political and policy context at the national level.

At that time, over a decade of increasingly stringent environmental laws and regulations, prompted a business community backlash strategy laid out in “The Powell Memo”, environmental protections and EPA were under assault by the “Gingrich Revolution” and Congress’ “Contract With America”.

Al Gore spearheaded the Clinton Administration’s accommodation and appeasement to that attack, under the banner: Reinventing Government”. 

This all led to a whole pile of rollbacks under slogans like “third way environmentalism”, “market based environmentalism”, voluntary corporate compliance, environmental indicators, and performance partnerships based on environmental indicators. 

At the state level, NJ Gov. Whitman, in her first term (1994-1998) embarked on her own sweeping assault on environmental regulation and the DEP.

While the Whitman slogan was “NJ is open for business”, from a policy perspective, the  foundations of that attack were set out in her Executive Order #27, her “Strategy to Advance Regulatory Reform” (STARR) Report, her deep budget cuts at DEP, and diversions of hundreds of millions of dollars from various statutorily dedicated environmental funds. The latter is what spawned the Constitutional amendment via voter referendum that dedicated 4% of the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) proceeds to various environmental programs.

Just like our current Governor, Whitman viewed DEP as a bureaucratic “red tape” institution and NJ’s strict environmental regulations as an overly burdensome drag on the economy.

But because environmental protections were very popular with the public, Whitman needed political cover for her pro-business anti-environment policy agneda.

To provide this political cover for Whitman’s  assault on DEP and environmental protections and too create a false public perception that she was pro-envrionment, Whitman deployed non-profit groups, business partnerships, and slogans, including thinks like The Dutch Model, “Green & Gold Taskforce” and “Sustainability”.

So, the “sustainable development” concept in NJ was incubated in this toxic mix of market ideology, pro-business sham, manipulation of environmental groups, scientific and policy fraud, and regulatory rollback.

I was there, I lived through it, and I fought it tooth and nail.

But you don’t need to rely on my word, just look how Whitman promoted “sustainability” and used it at DEP.

Officially, we start the formal NJ policy story here – at the same time Whitman was conducting a sweeping assault on DEP, science, regulations, and enforcement of environmental laws, she wrote:

in 1995, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, the nonprofit New Jersey Future engaged in a wide-ranging community dialogue aimed at identifying long-term goals intended to enhance the quality of life for all residents of New Jersey, now and in the future, and identifying important economic, environmental and social indicators which could be utilized to measure our progress toward achieving these goals“. (Whitman EO #96)

That was followed by a 1999 Report by non-profit NJ Future: Living with the Future in Mind

Note how, in the first “Sustainable State Report”,  Gov. Whitman used this Report as a core element of her environmental policy:

The answer will come in part from State government. This report, Living with the Future in Mind: First Annual Update to the Sustainable State Project Report 2000, maintains the use of these goals and indicators and reports on our State’s perfor-mance on these indicators over the past year. It is with great anticipation that I await the Whitman administration’s forthcoming implementation report, Governing With the Future In Mind. This report will highlight what State agencies and de- partments are doing and will do in the future to bring about the vision of New Jersey we all worked so hard to create. 

Which led to NJ Gov. Whitman’s Executive Order #96 (June 20, 1999)

WHEREAS, the State of New Jersey is at the forefront of becoming a “sustainable” state by encouraging economic, social and environmental goals that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; and

WHEREAS, in 1995, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, the nonprofit New Jersey Future engaged in a wide-ranging community dialogue aimed at identifying long-term goals intended to enhance the quality of life for all residents of New Jersey, now and in the future, and identifying important economic, environmental and social indicators which could be utilized to measure our progress toward achieving these goals; and

Note how DEP later applied the concept along with allegedly science based “environmental indicators” (see this).

The Whitman DEP game plan was to design regulatory and planning programs around those environmental indicators, as both a voluntary compliance paradigm and as performance benchmarks to spin the public on how well her Adminstration was protecting the environment.

Well, we now know how well all that turned out – the NY Times explains (via Sourcewatch):

Reporting on the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (D.E.P.’s) weak record with regard to the cleanup of contaminated sites in the state, the New York Times mentioned Whitman’s not-so-green record as governor: [10]

During the administration of Gov. Christie Whitman, the staff of the environmental agency was cut 20 percent, and hours were reduced to 35 from 40 a week, said Bill Wolfe, a former department official who today is director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit watchdog group. The agency’s site remediation program, which is responsible for overseeing cleanups, dropped to 500 employees from 600 in 1996, even as the department’s responsibilities were expanded to include the regulation of solid and hazardous waste.

“The D.E.P. never recovered,” Mr. Wolfe said.

The Whitman rollbacks were exposed in a superb and award winning investigative journalism series by the Bergen Record titled “Whitman: Open For Business”. Again, from Sourcewatch:

Many of Whitman’s environmental policy changes and funding cuts came under the heading of her “Open for Business” initiative. Whitman said the initiative “created jobs and improved the local economy,” according to the American Journalism Review. But in a 13-part 1996 series in the The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) titled “Open for Business,” reporters Dunstan McNichol and Kelly Richmond showed that “that the real boost in jobs had occurred in lower-paying occupations and temporary positions. Their number-crunching also demonstrated the ways in which policies intended to keep businesses from leaving the state, such as lower pollution fines and more lenient emission rules, caused a chain reaction adversely affecting the environment, the economy and, ultimately, citizens and consumers.” [14]

“In her first three years in office, 738 employees at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lost their jobs, and the remaining staff found themselves on a four-day week,” wroteLaura Flanders in her book “Bushwomen” (Verso, 2004, full title, “Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species”). Under Whitman, DEP also eliminated the Office of Public Advocate.

Whitman did create a few environmental positions as governor — an Office of Dispute Resolution within DEP, that “usually resolved [conflicts] business’s way”; and an Office of Business Ombudsman, “created to help businesses navigate environmental laws,” wrote Laura Flanders. “A famous survey of state workers found that Whitman’s environmental staff thought the biggest problem facing New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection was the Governor herself,” Flanders added.

In 1997, a survey was conducted of NJDEP employees to guage their views on Whitman’s environmental policies.[11]

The 1997 PEER survey registered a sharp de-emphasis on enforcement, excessive corporate influence and manipulation of scientific findings under Governor Whitman.

“According to the professional staff who worked under Governor Whitman in New Jersey, pressure to block enforcement of anti-pollution laws, back-door efforts to gut regulations and a pervasive fear of retaliation have been the hallmarks of her tenure,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Cozy accommodation of corporate violators appears to be her regulatory style.”

The PEER survey, the only survey conducted of state environmental professionals, was sent to all DEP employees. and found:

  • Nearly two out of three employees report instances where “DEP inaction or lack of enforcement has caused environmental damage.”
  • More than three out of four employees say that the “level of DEP’s environmental enforcement has decreased in the past three years.”
  • Nearly three out of four employees believe that under Gov. Whitman, the “regulated community excessively influences DEP permitting, policy and enforcement decisions.”

Whitman championed “market based” environmental policies, and derisively dismissed many environmental programs as “soviet style command and control regulation” and EPA “mandates from Washington”.

One of Whitman’s priority market based progams, the “Open Market Emissions Trading” (OMET) program came under severe criticism by national environmental groups, including NRDC and Environmental Defense, a groups that generally support market based policies. In an ironic twist, shortly after Whitman assumed the helm at EPA, in a strongly worded May 31, 2001 letter, leading national environmental groups asked Whitman to impose a moratorium on her own OMET program. The groups argued that:

“…this approach [OMET] to air pollution trading fails to protect minority and poor communities against continued degradation of air quality in their neighborhoods. Second, rather than balancing incentives with enforcement, these programs simply concede enforcement to market participants and then fail to buttress that concession with credible monitoring, audit and backstop provisions. Finally, the programs fail either to provide adequate protection against localized community-specific impacts, or to provide those communities with sufficient and timely information that they need in order to participate in these decisions. These programs disempower the communities and retreat from the rigor and enforceability of established health and environmental protections.” [15]

The approval of “open market” air pollution trading authority for states, the first initiative from Christine Todd Whitman at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), violates the Clean Air Act to the detriment of public health, according to complaints filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. Last week, EPA formally proposed open market trading for Michigan and New Hampshire. Approval of similar programs is pending for New Jersey and Illinois.

Under open market trading plans, corporations can buy credits instead of cleaning up pollution. These credits can be generated from, and exchanged between, different pollution sources (e.g., smokestacks for auto emissions) and over different periods of time (allowing industries to create credits today for past pollution reductions). Over the past five years under Whitman, New Jersey has developed a de facto trading market. EPA approval will not only sanction New Jersey’s market but endorse the spread of similar pollution credit exchanges in other states.See: NEW POLLUTION TRADING FOR FOUR STATES GUTS CLEAN AIR ACT — Whitman Trading Plans Emerge as First EPA Policies Read the Request for an IG investigationand the NJ Overfile Request here.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a confirmation hearing on Whitman on January 17, 2001. NJ based environmental groups, including Sierra Club adn Audubon Society, strongly opposed Whitman’s confirmation, and submitted extensive documentation of her record. Those submissions and Whitman’s detailed rebuttal were incporproated in the hearing record. A transcript of that hearing and the full record may be found here.

When the McGreevey Administration took office in 2002, I was hired by DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell as a policy advisor.

Campbell not only killed Whitman’s OMET program.

One of Campbell’s first moves – and my first assignment – was to dismantle the Whitman environmental indicators project and the sustainability program.  Instead, we conducted a Department-wide “Vulnerability Assessment” to document the actual state of the environment and the actual performance of the DEP – both of which had been masked by the Whitman non-regulatory indicators and sustainability programs.

So, Mr. Solomon, your “sustainability” project was incubated in a very political environment and used for political cover and to mask regulatory rollbacks from the get go.

We are seeing the same thing now under the Christie Administration – instead of using NJ Future and Mike Catania Green and Gold, Christie has Sustainable NJ to provide cover and divert attention and bamboozle the press and sap activist organizing and deflect criticism and consume scarce time and resources.

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Where Have All the Recent Sandy Critics Been for the Last Year as Gov. Christie Pursued “Rebuild Madness”?

October 30th, 2013 No comments

Silence of the (well fed) Lambs

Compare the silence of the lambs with former DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello – an early, constant and highly visible critic, who has clearly articulated a vision and policy agenda. 

I don’t know about you, but in the last week, I’ve seen a huge proliferation of critical news stories about Sandy – particularly the performance of Governor Christie, especially focused on the failure to address climate change and sea level rise.

If I were Gov. Christie’s political people, given the fawning media coverage to date and “the silence of the lambs”, I might suspect it was a lame attempt at October Surprise!

It is so obvious, I won’t even take a few moments to Google and list the dozens of news stories that have appeared or single out any single one for criticism – except to say that I just threw up in my mouth after reading the one with Chris Daggett and Christie Whitman calling for strong leadership (we will do a future post on the stunning stupidity by Union of Concerned Scientists providing a platform for Whitman, one of the most flagrant abusers of scientific integrity, which is a core mission of the UCS).

None of the news outlets now seemingly on the critical bandwagon had any critical coverage when it mattered – i.e. when they could have had some influence on crucial policy decisions that were being made, when money was being appropriated by Congress, and when NJ’s response and recovery plans were being designed by the Gov. and his crony, the “Rebuild Czar”.

With the exception of Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club and myself (I’ve written dozens of posts here, issued PEER press releases, attended and spoke at events, and attended 10 legislative hearings and testified when allowed to, among many other things), there has been virtually a total silence in the environmental community.

This is an abysmal and cowardly failure of vision and leadership, especially by the groups that work on coastal issues, e.g. ALS, Clean Ocean Action, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Save Barnegat BAY, NJ Audubon.

Aside from vacuuming up all the Foundation and government grant money, I can’t point to one public event they’ve held, or one policy demand they’ve made, or one victory any of these groups has achieved  for the last year on these issues.

In the wake of Sandy, NJ’s ENGO’s made no demands from the Governor for a Coastal Policy Agenda or a climate change agenda or for an adaptation/land use planning agenda that they knew was required.

Instead, during the period when critical policy decisions were being made, they spent months contemplating their navels in internal closed door meetings to discuss general toothless “principles” under the ridiculous banner “NJ Enviro’s Together”. (Kumbaya Brother – As long as I get the Grant).

[ Of course, I’d be remiss not to note, that after a full year of this abysmal cowardly failure, the Lambs finally did muster the courage to issue a press release and make a demand of Gov. Christie! – the Lambs were so bold they demanded that the PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD OF NJ RECOVERY PLANS BE EXTENDED BY SEVEN MORE DAYS! Wow. Now that sure is setting the bar high! Way to get in the Governor’s face! (snark!)]

Silence of the lambs – Just what the Gov. ordered!

ENGO”s then withheld criticism as the Gov.’s “Rebuild Madness” became obvious and the dominant narrative was formed.

Just as bad, few are aware that they actually tried to sandbag Assemblyman Barnes’ Coastal Commission bill behind the scenes (I was able to attend this meeting and derail that effort, for which Barnes personally thanked me).

Then, after failing to sabotage the bill behind closed doors, they provided perfunctory tepid testimony “supporting the bill in concept – but seeking amendments to make it stronger”. But they never got behind the bill and invested an effort in supporting the bill or praising Assemblyman Barnes’ leadership.

They failed to attend most of the 10 legislative oversight hearings. And when they did testify, they either explicitly praised Gov. Christie, tap danced, or pulled punches and withheld criticism. They did virtually no press releases our public events I am aware of (other than the typical politically safe COA beach litter cleanup stuff).

The media was just as bad as the envrio’s – and in some sense worse.

The media spent months writing hundreds of stories about Gov. Christie and his fleece – pumping him so full of hot air and misleading the public.

There is no doubt in my mind that that intensive cheerleading coverage drove Christie’s huge increase in favorable poll ratings.

The only exceptions to this fawning and irresponsible media coverage were a few stories by WNYC in partnership with the Bergen Record on the NJ Transit fiasco; a brief burst of politically oriented coverage of the AshBritt scandal; an occasional story by Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight; and Tom Moran’s editorials at the Star Ledger.

[Oops, forgot to mention new coverage and editorial at Asbury Park Press – they were first NJ outlet to report on failure of FEMA maps to include climate and sea level rise.]

Meanwhile, the “leaders” at NJ Foundations (like Dodge and Duke) and the Academics (like Rutgers and Stockton) and the political class (like former Gov.’s that are now coming out of the woodwork under cover of the one year anniversary) WERE NOWHERE TO BE SEEN OR HEARD.

Compare the silence of these lambs with former DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello – who has been an early and constant and highly visible critic, who has clearly articulated a vision and policy agenda. 

Worse, over the last year, some of the Foundations have kept their powder dry, while working to secure huge pots of grant funds, and then using that money to manipulate the ENGO’s with notions of Foundation grant sugar plums dancing in their heads.

The most recent example I can point to is a perfect illustration of how dysfunctional and inept the ENGO community is. Follow tis:

Ocean County has prepared a draft Hazard Mitigation Plan. It is the first and only such plan to explicitly include an entire section on climate change, sea level rise, and related risks and vulnerabilities.

There are dramatic findings, critical policies and programs, and maps included in that plan.

There are groups in NJ that are getting funding to work on exactly these issues.

A public hearing was held on Monday night on the plan –  myself and Jeff Tittel were the ONLY PUBLIC THERE!

The place should have been packed with people and media.

But, after the Monday night absence, today I read news reports about so called “leaders” in NJ calling for “strong leadership” and the failure of NJ Hazard Mitigation Plans to address climate change and sea level rise!

So, please – give me a fucking break and excuse me while I go throw up after reading today’s additional round of media clips and quips from all those “leaders” and “experts” and “planners” and “journalists” – who have been hiding under their desks for the last year, pumping Governor Christie full of hot air, and irresponsibly failing to educate the public about the nature of the risks and the actual performance of government.

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One Year Later: Gov. Christie Has Learned Nothing, Remains in Climate Denial, Has No Vision & No Plan

October 29th, 2013 No comments

We Repost What We Wrote 1 Year Ago Today 

This is what we wrote as Sandy approached – reposted today on 1 year anniversary:

A Dirge To McHarg and Mumford – Who Are Rolling Over in Their Graves

“Ignorance is compounded with anarchy and greed to make the raddled face of the Jersey shore.”

“… there came retribution.” 

Sandy Destruction: “Man Made, Foreseen, Preventable”

My heart breaks.

I moved recently, so had the opportunity to revisit many important books in my library – one of which I am having the joy of re-reading and think of today: Ian McHarg’s 1967 classic: “Design with Nature” (take a look at some visuals of that work).

The introduction to McHarg’s book was written by another towering favorite of mine, Lewis Mumford, whose introduction brilliantly framed the context for the book:

There is still only a small shelf of books that deals with man’s relation to his environment as a whole: not only with the so called physical universe of the planets and the stars, the rocks and soil and the seas, but with the creatures that inhabit the earth – all the forces and animate beings that have helped to make man himself what he is. This part of man’s knowledge of himself was slow to develop; for the early Greek thinkers tended either to examine man in isolation, or to examine nature without noting the presence of man: as if any part of it could be understood except through the instruments and symbols that the human mind provided, for purposes in one way or another furthered man’s own existence.

Design With Nature is a notable addition to the handful of important texts that begin, at least in the Western tradition, with Hippocrates’ famous medical work on Airs, Waters, and Places: the first public recognition that man’s life, in sickness and in health, is bound up with the forces of nature, and that nature, so far from being opposed and conquered, must rather be treated as an ally and friend, whose ways must be understood, and whose counsel must be respected. […]

One cannot predict the fate of a book such as this. But on its intrinsic merits I would put it on the same shelf that contains as yet only a handful of works in a similar vein, beginning with Hippocrates, and including such essential classics as those of Henry Thoreau, George Perkins Marsh, Patrick Geddes, Carl Sauer, Benton MacKaye, and Rachel Carson. This is not a book to be hastily read and dropped; it is rather a book to live with, to absorb slowly, and to return to, as one’s own experience and knowledge increases. Though it is a call to action, it is not for those who believe in “crash programs” or instant solutions: rather, it lays a fresh course of stones on a ground plan already in being. Here are the foundations for a civilization that will replace the polluted, bulldozed, machine-dominated dehumanized, explosion-threatening world that is even now disintegrating and disappearing before our eyes. In presenting us with a vision of organic exuberance and human delight, which ecology and ecological design promise to open up for us, McHarg revives the hope for a better world. Without the passion and courage and confident skill of people like McHarg that hope might fade and disappear forever. [emphases mine]

McHarg begins his book with a chapter of personal biography and philosophy:

This book is a personal testament to the power and importance of sun, moon, stars, the changing seasons, seedtime and harvest, clouds, rain, rivers, the oceans and the forests, the creatures and the herbs. They are with us now, co-tenants of the phenomenal universe, participating in that timeless yearning that is evolution, vivid expression of time past, essential partners in survival and with us now evolved in the creation of the future.

Our eyes do not divide us from the world, but unite us with it. Let this be known to be true. Let us then abandon the simplicity of separation and give unity its due. Let us abandon the self-mutilation which has been our way and give expression to the potential harmony of man-nature. The world is abundant, we require only a deference born of understanding to fulfill man’s promise. Man is that uniquely conscious creature who can perceive and express. He must become the steward of the biosphere. To do this he must design with nature.

Ironically, his first substantive chapter to apply that lofty design philosophy is focused on a study of the NJ shore!

Titled “Sea and Survival“, McHarg presents fundamental dynamics and ecology of the barrier island, explaining clearly the relationships between ocean; beach; primary, secondary and back dunes; the bayshore and the bay.

McHarg concludes this presentation with planning principles and “positive recommendations” about the development and protection of the shore, a call for ecological based planning:

Sadly, in New Jersey, no such planning principles have been developed. While all the principles are familiar to botanists and ecologists,this has no effect whatsoever upon the form of development. Houses are built upon dunes, grasses destroyed, dunes breached for beach access and housing; groundwater is withdrawn with little control, areas are paved, bayshore is filled and urbanized. Ignorance is compounded with anarchy and greed to make the raddled face of the Jersey shore.

McHarg then presents the predictable outcome of this ignorance and greed:

From the fifth to the eighth of March 1962 , there came retribution. A violent storm lashed the entire northeast coast from Georgia to Long Island. For three days sixty-mile-an-hour winds whipped the high spring tides across a thousand miles of ocean. Forty-foot waves  pounded the shore, breached the dunes and filled the bay, which spilled across the islands back to the ocean. When the storm subsided, the extent of the disaster was clear. Three days of storm had produced eighty million dollrs worth of damage, twenty-four hundred houses destroyed or damaged beyond repair, eighty-three hundred houses partially damaged, several people killed and many injured in NJ alone. Fires subsequently added to this destruction; roads were destroyed, as were utilities.

Fast forward 50 years – welcome Hurricane Sandy and the know-nothings running corporate America. (XPN is playing Allman’s “Stormy Monday” as I write this – chills all up and down my spine!)

So, in a dirge to McHarg and Mumford (and as the media again swings and misses at the real story), today we repost this July 2012 post, which was done in the wake of the Monmouth water line collapse. The circumstances clearly differ, but the underlying message is the same.

For NJ American Water, DEP, BPU, and Sustainable Jersey

July 6th, 2012 

Man Made, Foreseen, Preventable

“Rosebud”

Only driver left out was Heat, which increases water demand, evaporation, and PET

 

Inundation of Treatment Plants and Pump Stations/Damage to Drinking Water Treatment Infrastructure

Regional Level Action ~ Update 100‐year and 500‐year Floodplain Maps

Regardless of the quality of science available to determine the impacts of climate change on physical conditions in the Basin, specific inundation risks can only be effectively evaluated with updated shoreline topographical information.

Utility Level Action ~ Evaluate Placement of New Construction and Materials Resiliency

Drinking water utilities should evaluate the placement of new construction, monitoring equipment, and other infrastructure to avoid low‐lying areas or locations vulnerable to storms and other harsh weather  conditions. Ranges of potential flooding should be evaluated using the best available science. Adaptations can be refined as more information becomes available about specific impacts of sea level rise, potential increases in streamflow and other changes in the basin that pose a risk to drinking water utilities. Utilities should also evaluate and incorporate use of more resilient construction materials during day‐to‐day upgrades.

Increased Spills and Accidents/Power Outages and Customer Supply Issues

Regional Level Action ~ Support the XXXXXXXX Regional Early Warning System

The XXXXXXX Regional Early Warning System notifies drinking water utilities in the event of accidental contamination in certain areas of the XXXXXXX Basin. The system provides critical information to utilities so they can respond swiftly and appropriately to unexpected threats. Efforts to expand and improve this system must be supported to ensure the continued protection of drinking water supplies in the Basin.

Addresses: Increased Spills and Accidents
Involves: EPA,XXXX, state government, USCG, municipal government, Offices of Emergency Management

Utility Level Action ~ Evaluate Emergency Response Protocols

At the same time that regional emergency response protocols are being evaluated, water suppliers should conduct assessments of their individual utility emergency response protocols to identify vulnerabilities, fill gaps and develop needed contingency and customer communication plans. Revisiting emergency response plans can help protect utilities in the event of unexpected accidents or spills which may become even more prevalent with changing physical conditions in the Basin.

Addresses: Increased Spills and Accidents, Power Outages & Customer Supply Issues

Utility Level Action ~ Evaluate Customer Notification Needs and Protocols

Analyses show that XXXXXX and XXXXXX  are steadily increasing in the main stem XXXXXXX most likely because of increased development, road salts application, and inputs from wastewater and drinking water treatment. These parameters are not removed during conventional drinking water treatment and could pose problems for special needs customers such as dialysis patients and certain industries. Impacts of climate change on conditions in the Basin may exacerbate rising salinity. Water utilities should evaluate current salinity levels to determine if more frequent notification to special needs customers is required.

Rosebud: name that Report

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