An Open Letter to Bob Barr
Dear Mr. Barr:
Sometimes, a good man of conscience and integrity – which I believe you are – needs to take a step back from the daily hubbub and reflect on the essence of things.
This is one of those moments.
As a good man of conscience and integrity, I now urge you to do so, and, upon reflection, withdraw your name from Senate consideration as a Pinelands Commissioner. Here’s why:
I’ve listened closely to your good friend Senator Van Drew’s praise of you as a man and a public servant. Indeed, you have struggled and overcome obstacles and achieved many good things, both for yourself and your community.
And that is precisely why I urge you to withdraw your name from consideration.
The context for your nomination by the Governor is deeply troubling.
You personally had nothing to do with creating this context, but you are immersed in its fabric and caught in the crossfire.
You now must make a choice. Your choice will have consequences. Listen to reason and follow your conscience in doing so.
Your confirmation by the Senate would do lasting damage to individuals and institutions, including yourself.
I am certain that you would never cause this kind of damage, but your decisions now may contribute to it.
First of all, the Pinelands Commissioner you would replace, Mr. Jackson, is a man of integrity. He has served the Commission well for a decade. He wants to continue that service.
Commissioners have routinely been reappointed when their terms expire. The Governor’s proposed replacement of Mr. Jackson’s is obviously in retaliation for his NO vote on the South Jersey Gas pipeline. Whetether you agree with this or not is irrelevant – it is widely perceived to be true.
Your appointment to the Commission under these circumstances would forever taint you personally – you could not serve effectively as a Commissioner when your fellow Commissioners and the public would never forget and blame you for the Gov.’s scheme.
Second, your confirmation by the Senate would undermine the independence of all members of State and regional boards and commissions by sending a message that if you defy the will of the Governor or powerful political interests, you will be replaced.
That is redolent of the old Stalinist Soviet Union.
Do you want your name associated with that?
Third, your confirmation by the Senate would taint the Senate itself, rendering its Constitutional advise and consent role subordinate to the power politics of the Governor.
The stench of these politics would stick to your skin forever.
Do you really want to go through public life under these conditions?
Is all this damage worth a handful of very temporary jobs?
Reflect on that, then take a drive through the Pinelands forests and do the right thing.
Please withdraw. Now.
Corps Denies Public Hearing Request
Federal Agencies Ignore Obama Climate Adaptation Policy for Vulnerable Coastal Plant
The US Army Corps of Engineers, in a Friday afternoon move designed to minimize news coverage, issued a final dredging permit for the controversial BL England power plant in Upper Township, NJ.
The purpose of the permit is:
R.C. Cape May Holdings, LLC proposal [is] to perform hydraulic maintenance dredging to the B.L. England Generation Plant’s intake and outfall located in Great Egg Harbor Bay at Upper Township, Cape May County, New Jersey. The applicant’s stated purpose and need for the proposed work is to ensure an adequate supply of condenser cooling water for the intake, to avoid sediment re-suspension at the outflow and to ensure an adequate mixing regime for thermal discharge. A ten year maintenance permit is being requested for the proposed activities.
We learned of this draft permit very late in the process and were able to submit only cursory general comments, which is the main reason why we asked for an extension of the public comment period (for our comments, see):
Our requests strictly followed the criteria in NJ DEP rules to justify an extension or a request for public hearing. The Corps denied that extension request.
The Corps also denied our request to hold a public hearing, but provided no rationale for either denial. I am not familiar with the Corps rules and the basis for reviewing such requests, but the Corps seems to have just blown the requests off with no basis stated.
But none of that comes as a surprise, as the Corps is not generally perceived to be enthusiastic about dealing with environmental critics in public hearings.
But, what I was surprised by – perhaps because I have little experience in dealing with the Corps permit process – was how the Corps’ decision completely ignored President Obama’s Climate Adaptation Policy, issued on Nov. 1, 2013, so it was binding on the Corps, see:
More recently, that Nov. 1, 2013 Obama Executive Order was expanded upon by a January 30, 2015 Order, see:
- Executive Order – Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input
The new Order included a proposed new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard that would require federal agencies to select one of three approaches for establishing the flood elevation and hazard area they use in siting, design, and construction:
- Use data and methods informed by best-available, actionable climate science;
- Build two feet above the 100-year (1%-annual-chance) flood elevation for standard projects, and three feet above for critical buildings like hospitals and evacuation centers; or
- Build to the 500-year (0.2%-annual-chance) flood elevation.
I wonder if the BL England intake structures, facility, and dredging plans – or the Corps permit – consider these standards?
The Pinelands Preservation Allaince prepared an analysis of the vulnerability of the BL England plant in terms of sea level rise and storm surge. Maps that show portions of the BL England site as within the flood elevations –
In our comments, we wrote:
3) the plant is located in a coastal hazard zone and is vulnerable to climate change driven sea level rise and storm surge. The issue of coastal vulnerability and all forms of energy and critical infrastructure is a hugely controversial and significant issue to the people of NJ.
Even though the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is not legally in effect yet, the Corps had an obligation, under the prior Obama 2013 Executive Order, to consider these kind of climate change vulnerabilities and risks.
Without discussion, the Corps dismissed them, and they spread the blame and pointed fingers at their sister federal agencies for ignoring them too:
No objections to the issuance of this permit were received from other Federal resource agencies (United States Environmental Protection Agency, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Park Service) concerning the effects of the proposed work on resources within their jurisdictions.
So, the entire federal government simply ignored President Obama’s Executive Order on adaptation to climate change – an Order that they are legally bound to implement.
And they did this just at the time Obama issued another Order and proposed new Federal Flood Risk Management Standards.
This is not a minor oversight. Will they be held accountable?
$250 Million Settlement Provides Just 3 cents on the Dollar
The New York Times is reporting that the Christie Administration just reached a $250 million settlement agreement with Exxon Mobil for decades of pollution damages from the Bayway refinery, see:
The State filed the lawsuit in 2004 under the McGreevey Administration, as part of a greatly expanded “Natural Resource Damage” (NRD) program launched by DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell (see Campbell’s NRD Policy Directive). We’ve written critically about that DEP NRD program many times, e.g. see this and this and this.
[see this ABC TV investigative report on Bayway’s pattern of violations of environmental laws, where Gov. Christie denies his own Executive Order #2 on “regulatory relief”.]
There is some speculation in the NY Times story that the State’s Settlement was suspect because it was reached just before a Superior Court judge was about to issue a decision, which the Times’ sources believe would had been significantly larger than what the State settled for.
I disagree with that assessment because I’ve had limited experience with the judge, Mike Hogan, who was Whitman DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn’s legal counselor. At the time, I was a legislative analyst at DEP. Hogan and I had a dispute over a bill to extend the life of the Cape May landfill, in violation of a federally approved Settlement that required closure. I noted the conflict with federal law, and Hogan threw me out of his office in disgust, nearly shouting that the federal government could not limit a State legislature.
The Whitman DEP was strongly anti-regulatory and pro-business.
My take on Hogan was that he was legally conservative, out of the Federalist Society mold, and not likely to be the kind of judge to stretch the law to hold a major corporation accountable.
The State’s lawsuit sought $8.9 BILLION in restoration and compensation for toxic pollution of over 1,500 acres of soil, wetlands, fish & wildlife, and marshlands:
“Today, many of these dredge fill areas still look and smell like petroleum waste dumps,” the report continues. “Spilled materials from pipeline ruptures, tank failures or overflows, and explosions have resulted in widespread groundwater, soil and sediment contamination.”
The attorney general’s office said in its brief in November that the sites had been “adversely affected by or buried under the discharge of hazardous substances,” including over 600 identified chemicals.
Although the NRD settlement money is supposed to go to ecological restoration and public compensation for lost use of the natural resources, the Christie Administration is likely to divert the settlement proceeds into the General Fund to pay for Christie’s multi-billion tax cuts for corporations. That’s what they recently did in diverting $140 million of a recent $190 million settlement on the Passaic River dioxin contamination.
As we’ve written previously, remarkably, although State environmental groups have blasted that $140 million Passaic River settlement diversion, NJ’s “Keep It Green Coalition” opposed Constitutionally dedicating these NRD settlement funds to the Open Space Fund.
So the Bayway settlement, even though for just 3 cents on the dollar, shines a bright like on the bad judgement and HUGE KIG missed opportunity – one of the biggest blunders of all time.
This is a breaking story. My purpose here was merely to put the deal in some NJ context.
We will be providing additional thoughts on this matter as the Settlement documents are made public.
There will also be an opportunity for public comment.
Open Space, Farmland & Historic Preservation, State Parks, & Urban Advocates at Each Other’s Throats
Competition and Conflict Replace Mutual Support and Cooperation
Divide and Conquer: In politics and sociology, divide and rule (or divide and conquer) (derived from Greek: διαίρει καὶ βασίλευε, diaírei kaì basíleue) is gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy. The concept refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures and prevents smaller power groups from linking up. ~~~ Wiki
Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight reports today on the latest development in the open space funding clusterfuck, the release of Governor Christie’s budget message:
- ADMINISTRATION, LAWMAKERS COULD CLASH OVER WHO GETS OPEN-SPACE FUNDING – As predicted by some environmentalists and legislators, various potential recipients are getting testy about how much money they’ll receive
… The budget proposal also allocates $32.7 million to programs previously funded by corporate business taxes — cleanup of toxic sites and underground storage tanks, as well as an assortment of water-related programs. The administration’s figure is down from $103 million in the current budget, which led some to oppose the ballot question.
“As we expected, there were deep cuts in water resources, site remediation, and land-use regulations,’’ said Bill Wolfe, director of the New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Wolfe was one of the biggest critics of the ballot question for precisely those reasons.
Given that we made the prediction, I need to update my own most recent engagement in this snake pit:
Think about it:
What better way to divide a community than to engage a $1 million PR campaign to mislead people, inflate expectations of future funding, prohibit discussion of any negative consequences, and then dramatically slash historic resource levels and force each member group to compete with each other for very scarce resources?
Is there a more destructive dynamic possible?
It didn’t used to be this way: planning and regulation complemented open space acquisition. But how Smith and KIG have chosen to finance open space has forced competition and conflict, creating collateral damage instead of mutual support. ~~~ “Open Space Funding: Holy Grail – or White Whale?
A Koch Brothers strategist could not have done a better job.
[Actually, there are other Neoliberal features of KIG’s initiative, see: “Stewardship” Becomes The Charter School of the Environmental Movement]
Well, that’s exactly what the Keep It Green Open Space campaign has done – and the disappointment, irreversible bad blood, and damage now underway from that campaign was predicted.
Before the ballot measure was voted on, virtually the only public interest group in NJ, we opposed it. On October 6, 2014, we warned voters:
Trenton — A November ballot measure would amend the New Jersey constitution to siphon $10 billion out of park facilities maintenance as well as toxic site cleanup and state water infrastructure over the next 30 years solely to finance real estate purchases for open space. Billed as a “green” proposition, it would devastate bread and butter environmental programs while lining the pockets of some key proponents, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
“This is utterly irresponsible eco-policy cynically masquerading as an investment in our future,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing out that it will likely trigger layoffs of state Department of Environmental Protection staff working in both waste and water programs. “Green Acres and open space preservation are good ideas but not to the exclusion of everything else.”
Well, here we are now, after the tremendous (Pyrrhic – or “White Whale“) “victory” on a dedicated source of open space funding – listen to the angry voices now:
- “The bottom line is that this would basically mean an end to serious [historic] preservation in New Jersey.” ~~~ Albert B. Kelly, Mayor of Bridgeton, NJ
- “The imminent disappearance of the NJ Historic Trust and its funding for historic preservation capital projects is not what I voted for in November, and I don’t think it’s what you thought you voted for either.” ~~~ Cate Litvak, President, Advocate for New Jersey History
- “It’s not because I don’t support open space,” Gaddy said. “It’s because of the fact that I also support funding for environmental programs that this ballot question cuts.” ~~~ Kim Gaddy, Environmental Justice Coordinator, NJEF
- Robert Swanekamp, vice president of the State Board of Agriculture, agreed. “Why should the farming community receive short shrift now?’’ he asked the committee. ~~~ Open Space Fight Pits Farmland Preservation Against Environmentalists
I could provide many more such angry quotes from people who are shocked by the cuts to various programs that were traditionally funded at much higher levels from open space funds.
And people still have yet to figure out what the devastating impacts will be to core DEP programs, who have suffered over $80 million in cuts to CBT funded programs – a topic I will write about as FY’16 budget details emerge.
Unfortunately, a lot of angry people are mis-focused and blaming the wrong people.
They are all saying “I didn’t vote for these cuts in the November ballot” and are attacking the implementation legislation.
But they DID vote for these cuts.
They were duped, misled, and/or lied to by the Keep It Green Coalition.
Those, like myself and others, who tried to bring the facts to public light were shouted down, attacked, and or marginalized and ignored.
The KIG Coalition should be the target of people’s wrath.
All these cuts and the bad blood they have created was predicted. We predicted it. We tried to stop it.
We were ignored. We were called “enemies”. We won’t forget.