Archive for November, 2013

NJ Spotlight Cheerleads For Sustainable NJ – Ignores Walmart and South Jersey Gas Scandals

November 25th, 2013 No comments

Replicates Ethics of Old Media – Does the Sponsors’ Bidding, Not Real Journalism

Another Dodge & Foundation Funded Product?

[Update – Preface – Wow, guess you could say that this puts a finer point on it, h/t SO, see, w/Democracy Now! video:  Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, McDonalds spying on nonprofits — allegedly with former NSA, CIA hackers. Feel proud, SNJ “Green Teams”?

NJ Spotlight carried an embarrassing promotional puff piece on Sustainable NJ (SNJ) today, see:  BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE GARDEN STATE, ONE COMMUNITY AT A TIME

Unfortunately, the piece not only cheerleads for SNJ, it goes out of its way to mask the reality of who funds SNJ, what SNJ actually accomplishes, and the controversial and deeply flawed “alternative model of engagement” that SNJ represents. For a discussion of the latter, see:

I’ve written about these issues extensively here, issued a PEER national press release on the Walmart funding (see: Greenwashing NJ Style), and even reached out to NJ Spotlight in advance of the story, so their “reporting” on SNJ could not have been an inadvertent oversight.

While the news hook for the piece is the Nov. 19 League of Municipalities award, given my prior outreach to NJ Spotlight, and what I know about SNJ Director Solomon’s behind the scenes PR campaign to push back on that criticism, I can only assume that the origins of the story lie elsewhere, specifically in a place like the Dodge Foundation, a funder of both SNJ and NJS – a web of affiliations, personal relationships, revolving doors, funding, and conflicts of interest that is not disclosed in the story.

But I’m sure that Randall Solomon’s self serving PR efforts alone could not have produced this story.

It took a network of manipulation, promotion, and self serving motivation – and that’s the most deeply troubling aspect of this story.

NJ Spotlight’s motto is “Where issues matter”. They are supposed to be the new media with integrity and edge, an alternative to the corrupt sycophantic “journalism” driven by advertisers, corporate owners, careerist reporters, and cynical editors that is so prevalent in the old and dying media.

This story belies that mission. Doubly ironic is the fact that NJ Spoltight has reported extensively on Gov. Christie’s nearly $1 BILLION Clean Energy Fund diversions – that’s the same pot of money that fuels the chump change SNJ energy programs they cheerlead for in this story. I imagine that Tom Johnson, who wrote all those stories, is not pleased.

Equally troubling is the way Foundations mimic the same power plays, insider games, and manipulations of the corporations – Dodge leverages its money and throws its weight around far to much, and with NO ACCOUNTABILITY at all.

(and just where did Ms. Knapik work before Surdna?. How did my good friend Curtis Fisher parachute into this story from his Vermont locale? While NJS went all the way to Vermont to find a source, why were NJ State environmentalists, who have criticized the Walmart and SJG funding, ignored?)

I say fuck that shit! I’m sure the real pro’s at NJS are embarrassed: Mooney, Johnson, and O’Dea.

So, here’s the comment I posted on the story, so that NJ Spotlight’s readers would informed by criticism instead of duped:

Mr. Hurdle – you note that SNJ funders are “posted on the group’s website.”

Perhaps readers would like to know that those groups include Walmart (over $1 million); South Jersey Gas Co. ($ unknown); and the BPU ($1.4 million from the Clean Energy Fund – that’s the Fund that Gov. Christie has taken over $800 MILLION from to pay for corporate tax cuts).

Wonder why SNJ “Green Teams” never complain about the unsustainable practices of the notoriously unsustainable Walmart Corp.?

Wonder why SNJ “Green Teams” never criticize the Gov.s policies and diversion of over a $1 BILLION dedicated to exactly the purposes SNJ claims to champion: Clean Energy Fund program objectives of energy efficiency, conservation and renewables?

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that every penny of SNJ Green Team Clean Energy Fund money is highly effective and well spent. Even if that were true – which is it not – wouldn’t they been far more effective in using their time and effort to get the $800 MILLION restored so that their program efforts could have 800 TIMES more impact?

Of course, the answer to these questions is obvious: SNJ is bought and paid for won’t bite the dirty hands that feed them,.

The “Green Teams” do nothing more than divert well meaning people away from effective advocacy and into meaningless trivial pursuits, also called tokenism. That function is known is historical and political science circles by the term “useful idiots”.

This is why the corrupt corporations like Walmart and the Gov. and his pro-business DEP Commission appreciate funding and using groups like SNJ – they dupe and divert real citizens and real activism.

Your readers should also know that the SJG contribution was provided as a quid pro quo for providing SJG a platform and “leadership” designation at precisely the time the Company was seeking approval from the Pinelands Commission for a highly controversial 22 mile pipeline through the forested area of the Pinelands National Reserve, in contravention of the Comprehensive Management Plan.

Now that’s some piece of work, no?

A real journalist would be interested in those issues, instead of writing this cheering promotional pap.

Perhaps readers also would be interested in knowing about the history of Sustainable NJ and the concept of “sustainability ” in NJ.

Perhaps readers might want to understand the nature of the controversy about the alternative model of activism and citizen engagement that SNJ promotes.

If so, see:

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

Curious that you relied on my good friend and former NJ environmental activist Curtis Fisher as a source now in Vermont. How did you find him? Could you not find a NJ environmental group spokesperson? Like perhaps the groups that criticized the SJG and Walmart funding?


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The Christie Administration’s “Veil of Silence”

November 24th, 2013 No comments

Today, a new era of accountability and transparency is here.” ~~~ Gov. Chris Christie, Inaugural speech, Jan. 19, 2010

As a core mission of PEER is government sunshine and accountability, I got a kick out of just reading this Star Ledger story today on a situation in a private treatment center for children:


Advocates for children’s rights are asking why the Department of Children and Families did not tell the public what it had found until the newspaper inquired eight months after inspectors visited.

“I don’t understand what the big veil of silence is, and I don’t think there’s any excuse for it,” said Peg Kinsell, policy director at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network. “Public money should not be going to abuse our kids.”

Kinsell said lawmakers should require that the department proactively make problems at these treatment centers public.

“They all need way more sunshine,” she said.

Problems with lack of transparency and accountability are not limited to the Department of Children and Families.

From Gov. Christie’s Rebuild Czar to his Red Tape Czar, to his DEP “customer friendly” negotiations, the Christie Administration is the least open, participatory, and transparent administration I can recall in my near 30 year experience with NJ state government.

The Administration has refused to appear before legislative oversight Committees, refused to meet with the Star Ledger editorial board, refused to make Lt. Gov. available to press, and they are serial abusers of the Open Public Records Act.

Most recently, I heard from multiple sources that there was a state government wide gag on public appearances in the run-up to the election.

So, I fired off this email to the Ledger reporter, Chris Baxter, in hopes of followup:

Hi Chris – Good story. I suggest you do followup on the “veil of silence’.

I have many examples and have been told by reliable sources that an edict was issued from the top, some recent high profile examples:

1) Dept. of Health and Senior Services not allowed to present findings of a health survey in Pompton Lakes regarding toxic pollution impacts on public health from Dupont site;

2) DEP and DHSS failed to meet with local government and residents in Roxbury regarding Fenimore landfill problems, including health risks;

3) Pinelands Commission scientists not able to testify on impacts of controversial $100 million gas pipeline;

4) DEP scientists gagged in responding to health risks from toxic train derailment in Pauslboro, as a result, incorrect and misleading info given to the public and emergency responders;

5) DEP scientists and NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute prohibited from even meeting, since September 2010

There are many, many more examples – this is egregiously wrong yet no news coverage at all!

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Dupont’s License To Kill

November 23rd, 2013 No comments

Court Upholds Sham Settlement – Including Waiver of Liability for Wrongful Death

Settlement Was Reached By Dupont’s Deception and Fraud

My friends in Pompton Lakes just sent me a recent Superior Court decision, granting defendant Dupont’s motion for summary judgment and dismissal of a lawsuit from residents of Pompton Lakes, who had claimed various adverse health, emotional, and economic harms from Dupont’s toxic pollution. (you can read the decision here).

The Court again ruled that the lawsuit, among other reasons, was barred by a prior Settlement agreement in which hundreds of Pompton lakes residents waived all rights to sue Dupont. I’ve written about previous Court decisions along these lines, see:  F is for Fraud – S is for Shame – and D is for Dupont

But, I was not aware, and shocked to read, for the first time, about not only the scope of the liability waiver under those prior settlements, but the specific damages waived.

Among many other things, remarkably, residents of Pompton Lakes even waived their right to sue Dupont for wrongful death! (see the opinion on page 16)

Dupont lawyers must be proud of the fact that they’ve created a liability free zone – a proverbial license to kill, with impunity.

Dupont already seems to have Government regulators at DEP and EPA on a short leash, and have blocked regulatory enforcement fines and penalties and strict cleanup accountability for the toxic mess they’ve made

Now, they now have civil immunity in the courts as well.

But, one issue seems to trouble me about the Settlement agreements and I can’t figure out why the lawyers for residents don’t take the issue head on.

The Court noted that

“NJ courts favor the enforcement of settlement agreements as a matter of public policy” (decision, @p.15)

The Court went on to write that Settlement agreements are contracts that are upheld by the courts, except in limited circumstances, which include deception and fraud: (opinion on page 17):

The court concluded that

In general, settlement agreements will be honored “absent a demonstration of faux or compelling circumstances”.

But the plaintiff’s attorneys and the Court apparently did not brief or probe the issues of fraud, deception, and compelling circumstances.

As I have written, in my opinion the Dupont Pompton Lakes case involved years of deception, fraud, and compelling circumstance, amounting to a massive coverup of an imminent and substantial public health emergency (see: The Great Dupont Train RCRA).

Basically, in my opinion Dupont engaged in “unseemly behavior” and knowingly withheld critically important information about the presence of and the health risk of vapor intrusion.

People can not knowingly consent and waive liability when they are not aware of material facts that have been withheld from them. They literally could not comprehend the settlement they signed and could not have knowingly entered into that settlement or been competent to sign it.

In my opinion Dupont did so in bad faith, because those facts, if known at the time, would directly impact any settlement agreement and create huge new liabilities for Dupont.

No way would residents have signed away their ability to sue Dupont for vapor intrusion had they known about the problem to the extent Dupont did.

The plaintiff relied on the facts available to them in entering the settlement.

Dupont’s failure to disclose material facts about vapor intrusion constituted a massive deception and fraud upon which the plaintiff’s relied.

So why haven’t these issues been litigated?

So, legal eagles out there, tell me why? What exactly am I missing here?

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Pinelands Commission Readies Approval of Controversial Pipeline Deal

November 22nd, 2013 No comments

As predicted, Commission will push Memorandum of Agreement in December 

Final Vote Scheduled For January 10

Merry Christmas – Happy New Year! 

We just have to keep saying over and over again “It is not a done deal”  Pinelands Commissioner Ashmum, 9/13/13 (listen, at time 5:35)

Dorothy, just click your heels 3 times and repeat after me: "It's NOT a done deal - It's NOT a done deal - It's NOT a done deal"

[Update: 11/23/13 – Kirk Moore’s story:  Tentative pact reached for controversial Pinelands pipeline

PEMBERTON TWP. — The public will get its first look at a proposed agreement to allow a big natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands early next week when it will be posted on the Pinelands Commission website.

Commission Executive Director Nancy Wittenberg indicated Friday she will push to get a public hearing on the measure and ask the 15-member panel to vote on it Jan. 10.

Opponents of the gas line plan, who have packed commission meetings since June, groaned at the news.

“The deal is in,” laughed Bill Wolfe of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Today, the Pinelands Commission announced that they would hold a highly unusual special public hearing in December on a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) regarding the South Jersey Gas Co. pipeline. The Commission would then vote on the MOA at the January 10, 2014 Commission meeting.

I don’t think that the public understands that approval of a MOA, which would circumvent the requirements of the Comprehensive Master Plan (CMP), amounts to approval of the project.

I also don’t think many understand how cynical the Commission’s announcement today was, especially the attempt by Director Wittenberg to create an impression that they were holding “special” meetings as a way of accommodating public input – instead of what it is: a sham effort to ram approvals through over the holidays to meet SJG and BL England financial and legal deadlines.

Now that the Commission has announced formal public hearings on the MOA, the terms of the MOA effectively become the basis of the Commission’s review.

The Commission has no regulatory standards, criteria, factors, or science based methodology to guide their review of a MOA. The sole requirement is that the MOA demonstrate an “equivalent level of protection” to that provided under the CMP.

The negotiations on the SJG MOA were focused on a cash payment by SJG to the Commission, similar to the previous MOA with BPU on the Atlantic Electric power lines along the Garden State Parkway. In that case, the Commission negotiated a $13 million payment to preserve land, and otherwise “mitigate” the environmental impacts of the power line.

But that BPU – Atlantic Electric MOA can not be used as precedent for three reasons.

First, the terms of the MOA itself stated that it was unique, sui generis. Second, even if it were a precedent, the SJG pipeline can not meet the standards of that MOA. Third, the Commission corrected the error of the MOA and subsequently amended the CMP for the Parkway, which effectively indirectly determined that a MOA was not an appropriate mechanism. The Commission realized that instead of a MOA, the CMP must be amended. The CMP amendment process provides a science based planning approach that avoids the “death of a thousand MOA” precedent problem.

Because the Commission lacks any standards to review a MOA, they are on very vulnerable legal ground. Basically, the Commission lacks a defensible scientific and enforceable regulatory basis to deny the MOA. Long story short: the law requires that government decisions must be based on duly promulgated regulations grounded in science – they can’t make stuff up as they go along and negotiate deals.

The Commission is not only on weak ground, but are even more vulnerable because the negotiations can easily be portrayed by SJG lawyers – correctly – as an illegitimate shakedown – what is sometimes referred to as an extraction. Judges don’t look favorably on regulatory agencies using their powers – in the absence of promulgated regulatory standards that are backed by a valid scientific methodology – to force corporations to pony up money.

SJG knows this.

So, today’s announcement amounts to a huge Christmas present to SJG and BL England.

The announcement today provides sufficient regulatory certainty” for the BL England plant to meet their December 31, 2013 “go/no go” decision and notification requirement under the DEP Administrative Consent Order.

The Commission would have been on much firmer ground if they concluded that the BPU is not a “public development agency” and therefore not eligible for a MOA and simply enforced the requirements of the CMP and killed the pipeline long ago. But, there was never any interest in enforcing the requirements of the CMP and killing the pipeline.

Today’s announcement also confirms exactly what I have predicted would happen since July – what I’ve called Chinatown.

Since July, I have been arguing that the South Jersey Gas pipeline – and the BL England repowering – is a done deal.

The project is strongly backed by Governor Christie. The Pinelands Commission review has been a total sham.

As evidence that the deal was in and the Pinelands Commission review process has been a sham, I cited the project’s history and chronology, based on three sources of information:

First, the deadlines under the May 18, 2012 DEP Administrative Consent Order. That Order requires that BL England repower the plant with natural gas by May 1, 2016  (see paragraph 20), unless they decide not to do so, a decision they must make by December 31, 2103 (see paragraph #23). If BL England decides NOT to repower the plan with natural gas, they must shut down by May 2014.

Second, evidence from the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) review shows that SJG, BPU, DEP, and the Pinelands Commission staff were colluding behind the scenes and prior to public awareness to coordinate their approvals of the project.

The South Jersey Gas Company petition to BPU seeking approval of the pipeline – read petition to BPU – was certified back on March 4, 2013. In that petition, SJG states that the Pinelands Commission staff reviewed the “selected” pipeline route:

In addition, the SJG petition to DEP invokes Governor Christie’s Energy Master Plan – similarly, the BPU testimony to the Pinelands Commission also repeatedly cited Governor Christie’s Energy Master Plan to support the pipeline and BL England repowering project.

Third, I’ve also cited evidence from the Pinelands Commission meetings – including their remarks captured on tape –  that show that Executive Director Wittenberg, Counselor Roth, and Planner Larry Liggett were working on a Memorandum of Agreement in support of the project since at least April 2013.

So, Pinelands Commission Chairman’s back on October 24, 2013 directive to staff to “begin” drafting a MOA for the Commission’s review was a deeply cynical and offensive lie.

At that meeting, I warned the Commission about the December DEP ACO “go/no go” deadline and  told them that they would permanently destroy their credibility if they rammed through a MOA in December.

And today, the Commission confirmed the lie – and will soon officially destroy their personal and institutional integrity – either that, or walk the plank and deny the MOA and kill the project.

And today, Chairman Lohbauer and Ms. Wittenberg even had the chutzpa to create the false appearance that the Commission was going out of their way to accommodate public hearings, by scheduling 2 sessions not on the current schedule, one on a Saturday.

But the truth is that these new December meetings are extraordinary efforts to ram the project through and provide sufficient regulatory certainty to BL England such that they can provide the “go” notification to DEP by December 31, as required under the ACO..

In other words, it was a done deal – done at least since May 2012 when DEP amended the prior 2006 enforcement ACO to support repowering.

And here’s the ultimate irony: even if the Commission stands up, shows integrity, asserts its independence from the Governor ,and a majority decide to walk the plank, SJG would be on strong legal ground to appeal and win.

Please, Commissioners, prove me wrong – I’d gladly eat all my words on this.

[End notes:

1) The State Park Police presence – with bullet proof vests no less – was the first time ever that police have been at a Commission meeting. It was offensive and a ridiculous over-reaction, spawned by Counsleor Roth’s poor judgement during the prior meeting, when she called police.

2) I will put the Commission on notice about legal obligations under the Open Public Meetings Act. –

Much more to follow. – end

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November 21st, 2013 No comments

New Federal Rules Stress Climate Change Adaptation Missing from Jersey Policies

The conflicts between the new HUD rules and the Christie Administration policy set up a showdown: I doubt Christie will make the substantial changes required to comply with the HUD rules.

For example, how can DEP deregulation of rebuild of public infrastructure possibly comply with HUD’s new science based risk approach, in consideration of climate change?

Gov. Christie repeatedly has said that climate change is an “esoteric” issue that he has no time to consider in Sandy recovery.

Will Christie eat crow on climate and bow to HUD regulators? Doubt it.

Will HUD withold $1.4 billion from NJ when Christie fails to submit a plan that complies?

Read more, from our friends at PEER:

Posted on Nov 21, 2013  | Tags: New Jersey

Trenton — New federal rules for allocating the second half of the $10.5 billion Sandy reconstruction effort require that infrastructure projects increase “resilience” to the effects of climate change, elements utterly absent from the New Jersey post-storm strategy, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the rules, states “must revise their plans” to meet the specified “criteria” before funding for “unmet infrastructure needs” may be approved.

The new rules issued by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development govern the distribution of $5.1 billion in the second phase (“Round 2”) of federal reconstruction aid of which $1.4 billion has been allocated to New Jersey. To qualify, however, all recipients must detail –

  • A “science-based risk analysis” addressing sea level rise and other effects of climate change;
  • How projects match President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, unveiled last August; and
  • The “transparent and inclusive process” leading to project selection.

“These funding standards clash with the political landscape of New Jersey,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that Governor Chris Christie has dismissed climate change as “an esoteric concern” in his post-Sandy plans. “The Christie administration would not recognize a ‘science-based risk analysis’ if it tripped over it.”

By contrast to the federal approach, New Jersey is one of the few states without a climate adaptation plan. It has even gone so far as to censor discussion of climate-related hazards from state coastal management reports. New Jersey has also taken specific actions that appear to fly in the face of the new federal rules, such as –

  • An Administrative Order that deregulates public infrastructure rebuilding projects by waiving all standards and safeguards – an approach embodying the antithesis of risk-based planning;
  • Anchoring vulnerable infrastructure in place, including in areas sea level rise is expected to inundate. These projects would reduce, not increase resilience; and
  • Rather than a “transparent and inclusive” approval process, Gov. Christie has empowered a “Sandy Recovery Czar” to make unilateral decisions that are not even reviewed by the Legislature. The only public involvement New Jersey allows is a seven-day written comment period.

“Unless these federal rules are window dressing, New Jersey infrastructure projects could be held up for many months by inter-governmental wrangling,” Wolfe added. “More importantly, Christie’s approach puts New Jersey at greater risk for the next storm. The next time, U.S. taxpayers may not be so generous.”


View the new HUD rules for Round 2 Sandy recovery funding

Look at gap between New Jersey and the White House Climate Action Plan

Examine deep vulnerability of state infrastructure to climate change

Read New Jersey post-Sandy Administrative Order

See latest example of Christie climate denial

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

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