Archive for December, 2013

A Pipeline “System Upset Condition” Is “Of Substantial Concern” to South Jersey Gas Co.

December 29th, 2013 No comments

If  risks are “of substantial concern” to SJG, they must be of even greater concern to the Pinelands Commission 

Opponents of the South Jersey Gas Co. proposed pipeline through the Pinelands National Reserve have cited data and numerous examples of pipeline safety failures that have led to explosions, fires, fatalities, and property and environmental damage.

In response, instead of addressing those issues substantively, these issues have been ignored or the opponents been accused of fear mongering and “emotional” appeals (e.g. see the AP story that went national).[or this condescending, fact free, ill informed and flat out factually incorrect (no compelling need was required or even attempted to be demonstrated – that is the waiver standard) editorial by the  Press of Atlantic City ]

However, in South Jersey Gas Co.’s (SJG) petition to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU),  the Company explains the reason they need the “Reliability” gas line.

Basically, SJG says they need the “reliability line” because the existing pipeline is vulnerable.

SJG notes that a “system upset condition” along the existing gas pipeline infrastructure is of “substantial concern” to the company.

Such a “condition” –  a vulnerability ascribed vaguely to actions by “careless third party excavators” or “external forces” – would knock out gas service to 60,000 residential and commercial users in Cape May county: (Source: SJG petition to BPU – 10/31/13)

The BPU petition does not include “system upset conditions” resulting from pipeline design, construction, or operation.

When I asked a SJG official what a “system upset condition” was defined as, he replied that those conditions could include:

seismic event (earthquake); terrorism; explosion; fire; damage by excavation along the pipeline route; leak; loss of pressure; etc

So, in translation, I guess that means that shit happens.

But what is the probability that shit might happen?  How do we reduce that probability? What would happen if shit happened? What would be the result and impacts?

Is that an acceptable risk?

So, if the existing gas line is vulnerable to a “system upset condition”, doesn’t it logically follow that the new pipeline would be vulnerable as well?

How could pipeline design and construction avoid “external forces” like earthquake, terrorism, and excavation?

SJG acknowledges that the existing gas infrastructure is vulnerable. In fact, they base the need for the project on precisely such vulnerability resulting from vague “system upset conditions”.

Curiously, while they note the vulnerability of the existing gas infrastructure to “system upset conditions”, they do no admit the existence of such vulnerabilities for the proposed new pipeline.

Nor do they describe or discuss specific kinds of “system upset conditions”; what the probability and risks of such conditions are; or what the impacts of such conditions would pose for the Pinelands forests or the people who live there.

That is a glaring defect in the rationale for this project and its review by BPU, DEP, and the Pinelands Commission.

Sorry guys, “just trust us” is not an acceptable regulatory practice.

SJG can not have it both ways – if the existing pipeline infrastrcutreu is vulnerable to “system upset conditions”, then the new pipeline is vulnerable as well.

Those vulnerabilities must be honestly and transparently characterized, quantified, analyzed, prevented, and mitigated.

And if those vulnerabilities are “of substantial concern” to SJG, they must be of even greater concern to the Pinelands Commission in reviewing the proposed pipeline.

Thus far, that has not been the case.

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Black Bodies in Propaganda – The Art of The War Poster

December 27th, 2013 No comments

I had the pleasure to visit Philadelphia today with my now young adult kids – the highlight of the day was a visit to Penn’s museum to see the amazing Exhibit “Block Bodies in Propaganda”  (see this for info, Exhibit runs through March 3, 2014.)

Highly recommended – a few of my favorites below:






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NJ Spotlight Features Christie Whitman – On Christmas Eve No Less

December 24th, 2013 No comments

What the Hell Were the Editors at NJ Spotlight Thinking?

Some prefatory quotes with which we agree . Although they pertain to photo image interpretation and criticism, we share them regarding what we see as our similar role here at Wolfenotes. We respond to our critics in a very similar way:

What is essential to understand about our role is that we are critics, not reporters.  …To that extent, what we’re concerned with at BagNews is not the integrity of a person but the integrity of the image and as well as the titles, captions and any other attendent information presented in the elaboration or justification of that imagery.

… our concern for the visual literacy of the media consumer and the integrity of the news image is something we don’t take lightly in practicing the art of critique and we look forward to reading the pictures along with our committed readers for many years to come. – Bagnews

This is not an argument between a photographer and a blog. We are not reporters. While it is easy for the photojournalism establishment to tag us with a requirement to give Mr. Pellegrin a chance to respond in the name of objectivity, we do believe that’s because they fundamentally misunderstand our mission: subjective analysis. Not dishonest analysis, but a subjectively analytical argument as to what is behind the photograph….

… The issues the post raised are still vital, however, and it is incumbent on publications, editors, academics, photographers, bloggers and photo contests not to be distracted from this important discussion. –Bagnotes response to controversy

I planned to take a few days away from here for the Holidays, but after reading Bill McKibben’s piece last night (“Obama and Climate Change: The Real Story” –which kept me awake half the night) and just now reading Christie Whitman in NJ Spotlight, that is impossible.

Go read the Whitman piece yourself, if you can stomach it (I couldn’t finish it).

[Readers unaware of Whitman’s environmental record, see the Sourcewatch background piece.

see also this Whitman profile at PR Watch.]

Here is my stream of consciousness reply to Whitman I posted as a comment – printed here before the NJ Spotlight censors take it down (reformatted, typos corrected, revision citing Bergen Record award winning 13 part series):

Dear Ms. Whitman –

Perhaps you’ll remember me.

I’m the guy who blew the whistle on you and DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn’s blatant attempt to cover up NJ’s problem and the public health risks associated with high levels of mercury in freshwater fish?

Do you recall that episode?

Where you not only got caught in a cover up, but then dug in and lied and defended the coverup? And with comments like (paraphrase) “We don’t want to scare the public based on flawed science like the environmentalists did with the pesticide Alar, which caused needless economic harm to the apple industry”.

Do you remember any of that?

Or how about your rollbacks of NJ regulations that protect public health, under your “Open for Business” policy? (and the Bergen Record’s award winning journalism exposing that policy. I’m proud to say that I was a major contributor to that effort).

Or what about your EPA legal Counselor, Bob Fabricant, who wrote a legal opinion that concluded that greenhouse gases were NOT regulated pollutants under the Clean Air Act? (Importantly, Fabricant’s opinion reversed the Clinton Administration’s legal opinion that had laid the groundwork for EPA regulation of GHG emissions.)

You brought Bob to Washington from your Trenton Office.

Bob’s opinion was repudiated and reversed by the US Supreme Court in the “Massachusetts” case.

The effect of Bob’s opinion, under your direction as EPA Administrator, stalled EPA action on climate change by over a decade.

Do you recall any of that? Are you proud of that?

And what about your notorious comments post 9/11 that the air in southern Manhattan was “safe”.

A federal judge found those comments “shocked the conscience”.

Emergency responders are still dying as a result of your words.

Do you recall any of that? Are you proud?

Well, think about it, and you have a Merry Little Christmas, OK?


PS – To NJ Spotlight editors: What the hell were you thinking?

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Let’s Nip Any Christie – Cuomo Spin In the Bud

December 23rd, 2013 No comments

Will Media Fall for Another Sham Christie – Cuomo Comparison on Environment?

[Update #3 below]

[Update #2: oops, looks like I was too late: Jim O’Neill’s story ran in the Sunday Bergen Record.

Meanwhile, existing regulatory and planning tools that can reduce flooding in NJ are being ignored or rolled back by Gov. Christie.

And unlike the symbolic gestures and stunts – none of that is not reported. Pathetic.-Don’t reporters ever get tired of being played? end update]

The Star Ledger just posted a blurb from a NY press report regarding NY Gov. Cuomo’s veto of a bill to establish a Hackensack – Bergen flood Commission, see: Cuomo vetoes bill to fix Hackensack River flooding in N.J. and N.Y.

The Ledger blurb closes with this sentence, which implicitly favorably compares Gov. Christie with Cuomo:

Gov. Chris Christie signed a similar measure in January 2012.

That smells very much like another highly misleading Christie-Cuomo comparison on the environment,  that portrays Christie in a favorable light and makes him look good in comparison to Cuomo.

So, to avoid another disaster like that, I thought I’d provide a quick note on context in order to nip that gestating spin in the bud.

First of all, the NY bill Cuomo vetoed was not significant. According to the NY news report, Cuomo vetoed it because it was not funded:

“This bill provides no funding to support the Commission’s operations, which the Division of the Budget estimates would be approximately $600,000 annually shared between New York and New Jersey,” Cuomo wrote in his veto statement. “Given the fiscal impact of this bill, it would be better dealt with in the more comprehensive and vigorous review of the budgetary process.”

Not only was the NY bill Cuomo vetoed not funded, but the Commission it would have created had no formal power and the flood management program it would have created was toothless, voluntary, and local.

There were no local land use controls or state regulatory controls triggered by the bill.

So, a bill with no funding, no regulations, and no local land use controls is not a serious attempt to control flooding.

The NY bill would have “fixed” nothing.

I need to do some research to find what Gov. Christie was said to have signed in 2012, I must have missed it. But I suspect it was the same toothless stunt that NY passed.

[Update #1: I found it: P.L. 2011, c. 177  the “Rockland-Bergen Watershed Flood Prevention and Protection Act.”  It was sponsored by that well known environmental champion, Senator Cardinale (that’s snark, folks, Cardinale is a notorious anti-environmental right winger).

As suspected, like the NY bill, the NJ versions toothless, unfunded, no planning or regulatory linkages, and ignored existing state and local planning and regulatory tools that do have teeth. Another symbolic gesture.

No wonder I was not aware of it – it was not controversial because it was meaningless.  – end update]

Meanwhile, on the planning and regulatory side of the NJ side of the border,  the NJ river/stream portions of the watershed were designated by NJ DEP as “Category One” waters (C1) –

[Take a look at the Christie DEP scientists report – it finds that the McGreevey DEP C1 program is scientifically justified and recommends additional C1 designations. Those DEP recommendations have been ignored.]

Those waters get 300 foot wide protected vegetated buffers where no new development can occur. (Full disclosure: I was involved in the C1 designation while at DEP during the McGreevey Administration).

Development limitations and buffers protect water quality and can reduce flooding (see: The Power of a Category One Designation).

The Christie DEP has dismantled the McGreevey DEP C1 program and not designated ANY new C1 waters, despite candidate Christie’s promise to do so in 2009 campaign.

So, note to reporters: before you create the misleading impression that Gov. Christie is good on the environment, tell the whole story.

[Update #3 – a reporter just asked for examples of how existing DEP planning and regulatory tools are being ignored or rolled back – here is my off the cuff response:

1. Check DEP website – DEP has adopted NO NEW C1’s for 4 years now, despite a report by DEP scientists recommending that they do so;

2. DEP revised the “water quality management planning rules” (WQMP) to add 40,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land in sewer service areas – some of these were in flood prone basins;

3. Bergen County’s Senator Robert Gordon sponsored a bill – prior to Sandy – to require that DEP update inland river flood maps – part of DEP’s Flood Hazard Area Control Rules (aka “stream encroachment”). (see this for links to and analysis of Gordon’s bill, S2208).

Those maps are ancient, and date to the Carter Administration. There have been 3 legislative hearings on the bill, none of them were covered by media. DEP Commissioner Martin testified to OPPOSE the bill allegedly due to cost. DEP greatly inflated those costs.

4. DEP has done little or nothing with the existing watershed management program, Former Director Larry Bair was banished to Siberia by Martin. He was replaced by a woman with no water resource experience or training – Jill Lipoti, who ran DEP Radiation Protection programs for 20 years and has a PhD in nuclear science, and now runs DEP Water resource programs.

5. Christie has abandoned the State Plan, which would have guided local and county planning efforts to limit development in environmentally sensitive lands, which include flood plains and sensitive headwaters;

6. Gov. Christie and DEP have ignored numerous scientific warnings that climate change will bring more frequent and intense storms that worse flooding.

Those warnings require that current regulations (technical things like the methods for calculating and projecting rainfall and storm water volumes) be strengthened.

7. There were budget cuts as well.

8. Rules have been delayed and blocked by Executive Order #2. and #4.

A whole bunch of stuff, if you’d look!  – end update #3]

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Obama’s “Shit List”

December 23rd, 2013 1 comment

 Political loyalty and corporate interests above law, science, and the public interest

Book confirms EPA’s Lisa Jackson as loyal soldier and pliant bureaucrat

It is widely known that President Obama has a “kill list”  (see NY Times: Secret “Kill List” Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.)

But only a handful of beltway insiders and corporate lobbyists seem to know that Obama also has a “Shit List”.

And that former Corzine DEP Commissioner and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson avoided Obama’s “Shit List” and did what she had to do once she was on the “Shit List”.

The existence of the Obama “Shit List” was disclosed in a new book by Obama’s “Regulatory Czar” Cass Sunstein, perhaps the most powerful player in the Obama White House.

According to Sunstein, he had the power to put issues on Obama’s “Shit List”:

In his revealing book, Sunstein tells us why: It is because he, Sunstein, had the authority to “say no to members of the president’s Cabinet”; to deposit “highly touted rules, beloved by regulators, onto the shit list“; to ensure that some rules  “never saw the light of day”;  to impose cost-benefit analysis “wherever the law allowed”; and to “transform cost-benefit analysis from an analytical tool into a “rule of decision,” meaning that “[a]gencies could not go forward” if their rules flunked OIRA’s cost-benefit test. 

(see: Sunstein’s ‘Simpler Government’ Is Legally Suspect, Overly Secretive And Politically Unaccountable

Just think for a moment how arrogant and outrageous Sunstein’s admissions of his role in contributing to the “Shit List” are.

He effectively had -and routinely exercised – the power to gut environmental laws passed by Congress.

He abused an economic tool – cost-benefit analysis – to over-ride protections of public health and the environment that were legally authorized and scientifically justified.

He over-rode the recommendations of the President’s Cabinet, who had been confirmed by the US Senate.

He provided back door access to and elevated corporate interests over the public interest, based on largely secret industry meetings.

And this was all done with virtually no knowledge of the American people, Congress, or the media.

Sunstein, now a professor at Harvard Law School, even had the balls to BRAG in a book about how he acted – at times beyond his legal authority –  to undermine science, democracy and Constitutional government – and all to promote corporate economic interests.

(BTW, Sunstein didn’t leave the Administration under a dark cloud, but on good terms with Obama, who recently appointed Sunstein to the important NSA Oversight panel. So one could argue that Sunstein never really left!)

And now we get to the NJ dimensions of this story.

Sunstein could not have acted with arrogance and impunity to block EPA regulations if the EPA Administrator had strength, integrity, and independence.

No EPA Administrator with a spine would have tolerated Sunstein’s illegal and ill advised interventions to over-ride her recommendations based on law and science. She would have taken Sunstein on 1 on 1 with the President.

And if she lost those internal debates, she would have leaked the story to Congress, the media, and environmental groups to push back and prevail.

Or resigned in protest.

The EPA Adminsitrator at the time was former Corzine DEP Commisisoner Lisa Jackson.

We were not impressed with Jackson’s tenure at EPA and explained why when she resigned.

But well before that, we opposed Jackson’s candidacy, with objections that are now clearly validated by Sunstein’s book.

In opposing Jackson’s confirmation by the US Senate, we wrote that Jackson would put political loyalty above the law, science, and the public interest:  (see WHY LISA JACKSON SHOULD NOT RUN EPA – Disastrous Record in New Jersey Bodes Ill for Reforming EPA):

In our experience, Lisa Jackson is cut out of the same professional cloth as the current administrator, Stephen Johnson – a pliant technocrat who will follow orders. If past is prologue, one cannot reasonably expect meaningful change if she is appointed to lead EPA.

Well, this looks ilk another case of “I told you so”.

But you don’t have to take my word for it – read Sunstein’s book.

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