Home > Uncategorized > Political Posturing and Pipeline Polling

Political Posturing and Pipeline Polling

I was planning to fix and re-write part 3 of our Pipe Dream series this morning before heading off to Trenton, but the snow has wiped out the Legislature’s hearings and my focus has been diverted by former DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell’s explosive NY Times Op-Ed, the expanding Exxon scandal, and today’s NJ Spotlight poll on the Pinelands pipeline, which I am compelled to make a few comments on.

  • Political Posturing – Democrats in High Dudgeon

Senator Sweeney has pledged to kill the Christie Exxon Dirty Deal.

While of course I am pleased by that, I have to note that there is a lot of posturing going on here. Once again, the Democrats are getting a pass and are playing environmentalists and media (praise and cover coming just at a time when Sweeney was taking a lot of heat on his Pinelands abuse, Smith on Open Space funding, Prieto on Liberty State Park development, and Campbell on the Ferriero corruption trial ).

1) Senate President Sweeney, Senate Environmental Committee Chairman Smith, & Senator Lesniak all did nothing for YEARS as some of us were warning – repeatedly – that the DEP NRD program needed to be beefed up by regulations and stronger enforcement. We even petitioned the Christie Comptroller to investigate what we correctly saw as a huge multi-million taxpayer ripoff and giveaway to polluters:

PEER is asking the Comptroller to review the performance of the NRD, determine the extent to which taxpayers are not attaining full NRD recoveries and make recommendations for putting the program back on track in a more transparent and accountable fashion.

We got crickets on all that.

In contrast, the State Chamber of Commerce as not shy about their concern in opposing NRD – so the inaction by Legislators to strengthen the NRD program effectively promoted the Chamber’s agenda to minimize NRD liability. As they framed that concern in a 2008 legislative hearing on key priorities:

We have to keep in mind, at the same time, the challenges that are before us. As we go away from the pristine parcels of land and start to develop in those areas, there are challenges of developers with regard to natural resource damages, permit delays, environmental justice, and other litany of issues.

2) They all did not block the $50 million cap in last year’s budget language;

3) Regardless, legally, the $50 million cap would have been over-ridden by the November 2014 voter approval of the Constitutional Open Space ballot, but Senator Smith amended his SCR84 to delete NRD settlements as one of the dedicated revenues sources.

As we’ve written several times now, dedication of NRD settlement revenue was included in the introduced version of the SCR84, (lines 31-35 on page 3), but that was OPPOSED by NJ Keep It Green Coalition (what we have called on of the biggest blunders of all time.

How’s that opposition to NRD dedication looking now? After the loss of $140 million on the Passaic settlement and at least $200 million in Exxon deal? That $340 million is more than 4 YEARS of funding from your paltry deal you struck on Open Space (about $80 million this year). HECKOFAJOB!

  • Former DEP Commissioner Campbell”s explosive NY Times Op-Ed
Brad Campbell, DEP Commissioner 2002 - 2006

Brad Campbell, DEP Commissioner 2002 – 2006

Brad Campbell has a killer Op-Ed running in the NY Times today. It was so strong, it has spawned a news story as well.

Of course, in his legitimate focus on the Christie corrupt political intervention, Campbell conveniently omits the policy problems we have brought to the fore, that continue to be ignored in the bright light of the growing scandal.

Ironically, even Gov. Christie’s Transition Report on DEP included the same recommendation we have advocated on the need for NRD regulations:

With respect to the State’s efforts to seek compensation for damages to natural resources (NRD), we recommend that NRD efforts fall under the jurisdiction of the Site Remediation Program, and that rules be adopted to provide transparency, certainty and consistency in the assessment of those damages.

And blowing our own horn: We were the first to report Brad Campbell’s role in expanding the NRD program and the fact that the deal was likely leaked by career professionals in DEP or the AG’s Office, a fact Campbell confirmed today in a NY Times Op-Ed.

On Monday, 3/2/15, we wrote:

The settlement was apparently leaked to the NY Times, who ran a huge story on Friday. I assume it was leaked by some one from DEP or the AG’s Office who was outraged by the sellout.

Today, confirming that, Campbell wrote:

Former colleagues of mine in state government, where I served as commissioner of environmental protection from 2002 to 2006, have told me that Mr. Christie’s chief counsel inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon.

Finally, while I’ve given him strong praise for vastly expanding a moribund NRD program that was on life support under the Whitman DEP, of course Campbell is guilty of the same kind of compromises and dirty deals he criticizes. (See: A new Green Deal for the City of Linden – where I discuss some aspects of this and how NRD settlement revenues could anchor renewal).

One NRD settlement in particular, i.e. the Dupont statewide NRD settlement, where not only did Dupont get a deal worth pennies on the dollar, they also donated contaminated land to the State: (see: Dupont Deal Gave State More tainted SoilBergen Record 12/6/10)

Bill Wolfe of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s New Jersey chapter agreed. “DuPont got a sweetheart deal and DEP didn’t do their homework,” Wolfe said. “The deal must be renegotiated and DuPont forced to pay fair compensation, especially to Pompton Lakes residents who have suffered for decades.”

Bradley M. Campbell, an environmental lawyer with offices in Trenton and Washington, was the state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner at the time of the agreement with DuPont. Asked why such a settlement included property that was polluted, Campbell said he didn’t think any of the settlement property was contaminated.

[* full disclosure: I was hired by Campbell in 2002 and worked for him from 2002-2004.

  • Spotlight Poll on Pinelands Pipeline

I see these silly reader polls in increasing frequency in the brain dead media, so I’m not exactly enthused to see them at Spotlight.

It is so obvious that they are designed to polarize and stoke debates in a desperate attempt to attract readers and clicks.

But Spotlight does those things in their own unique way, typically with a more intelligent framing of the issues and a broader range of choices.

But stil, the poll becomes a way to propagate arguments,  spin issues, and mislead readers without taking any responsibility for the argument that is framed in the polled question.

Today’s poll does that by regurgitating some pipeline industry arguments as the first two questions, while at the same time leaving out of valid anti-pipeline arguments that could be framed as poll questions.

That is unworthy of Spotlight. Those kind of games are beneath Spotlight and if Spotlight wants to make policy arguments, then they should write them down in an editorial and not hide behind them in poll questions.

Which takes me to the two best arguments for opposing gas pipelines that were not even mentioned in the poll, which I would frame thusly:

  • Pipelines and fracked natural gas provide no new manufacturing jobs and only a handful of temporary short term construction jobs. NJ already has far more gas pipeline capacity than the state consumes. The costs far exceed the benefits
  • The planet is approaching irreversible tipping points for runaway climate change that would destroy civilization as we know it. We must stop all extraction of fossil fuels and investments in fossil infrastructure and make a rapid transition to renewable energy.

Poll that!

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