Home > Uncategorized > The Fine Art of Pipeline Kabuki On Display Today in Trenton

The Fine Art of Pipeline Kabuki On Display Today in Trenton

FERC isn’t the only government agency “rubber stamping” pipeline approvals

Democrats run away from their own Global Warming Response Act & NJ DEP powers

For whom the (2 minute) bell tolls

The Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee heard a Resolution today that urged the President and Congress to reform the Natural Gas Act and the environmental review practices of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The Resolution calls FERC a

“rubber stamp for the natural gas industry” that has “devolved to an automatic approval process,  aggrandizing the wealth of those who wish to pump natural gas from the earth before environmental costs are fully understood, and proper controls put into place, and contrary to good public policy of federal, state, and local entities, as well as those of private property owners.

Wow – workers of the world unite! I can almost feel the Bern! Not!

Assemblywoman and sponsor Muoio introduced the Resolution and said the intent was to:

ensure that FERC provides a comprehensive consideration of cumulative impacts, and gives deference to competing state policy determinations, especially open space and farmland preservation.

[Notice that she didn’t mention clean water and the State’s Clean Water Act power in “state policy determinations” – that was no accidental omission.]

Assemblywoman Muoi then whined about NJ’s powerlessness:

… there is little we can do as a State to stop them.

Really? There is little the State of NJ can do to block pipelines? That’s a Big lie.

On top of that lie, somehow the competing State policies Muoio wants FERC to properly consider did not include climate change (NJ’s Global Warming Response Act goals) and the ability of the State DEP to stop pipelines by denying clean water approvals (i.e. Clean Water Act’s Section 401 Water Quality Certificate).

I wrote about the substance of all that yesterday, so today we talk about the politics and what went on at today’s hearing.

It’s bad enough that this was a meaningless advisory Resolution – a pure symbolic gesture with no teeth.

But for the Resolution to exclude the two most salient State policy and legal powers – while stressing powerlessness and the importance of FERC considering State open space preservation policies and private property – is “mind numbing” and it reveals the Kabuki.

The other fact that exposes the Kabuki was the absence – total absence – of all the oil and gas industry lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce and Business and Industry Association lobbyists, and the contruction and trade unions. They all fiercely support gas pipelines and turn out in droves when there’s meaningful shit on the line.

They didn’t even show up. Not a one of them. Why was that?

It was because they all knew it was symbolic Kabuki and didn’t even waste time showing up. It was safe, no threat.

The only ones duped were the environmentalists, who not only were the only ones who showed up but – in an embarrassing moment – actually applauded when the Resolution was released. Yay!!!

Committee Chairman Gusciora (D-Mercer) had to be careful in his Kabuki.

He had to walk a fine line by giving just enough of a platform to the environmentalists to earn their praise, but not too much leeway to give the gas and oil lobbyists a scare or expose the fact that the Democratic leadership – in both the Senate and Assembly – SUPPORT pipelines and natural gas.

That’s a difficult Kabuki dance step!

Senate President Sweeney – a big Pinelands pipeline supporter – might just kick Chairman Gusciora’s ass if he stepped too far out of line.

Of course, in my testimony, I called Bullshit on all this, and said that if legislators are serious about stopping pipelines, then they needed to focus right here in our own backyard and on DEP powers to kill pipelines. Like New York and Connecticut recently did in killing pipelines. [Gee, Delaware Riverkeeper just filed a CWA Section 401 lawsuit – in Pennsylvania.]

Chairman Gusciora began the hearing on the wrong foot. Citing a “plethora” of witnesses signed up to testify (only 10 people), Chairman Gusciora set a 2 minute time limit – was he competing with the Christie DEP traffic signal clock? Or the Pinelands Commission’s restrictions? He’d never have done that to the Petroleum Council, or Chamber of Commerce, or BIA or union lobbyists.

Gusciora did not enforce that 2 minute limit on the first 7 witnesses who testified, despite the fact that there was an obnoxious bell that rung at the 2 minute mark. Most witnesses testified for well over 2 minutes, with 1 exception (I just listened to the recording and used a stopwatch to time each one).

When my name was called to testify – #8, following the fist 7 who blew through the 2 minute bell without objection from the Chairman – Gusciora went out of his way to mock me. Listen to the tape yourself and note the pause and inflection in his voice as as he introduces me as – slight pause –  “a citizen”. That’s how one would voice would pause for a term “in quotes”. Subtle way to diss someone (like lilting one’s voice).

Of course I fired back at that disrespect before I even sat down by saying that yes, I was a citizen, and in short pants no less! (maybe next time I’ll wear a toga):


Guscior’a disrespect was in stark contrast to the respect I got from Assemblywoman Muoio’s Chief of staff, who immediately responded to my request for amendments with this note of thanks:

Hello Bill,

Thank you for the following information and suggestions. I would be happy to discuss in more detail the genesis of ACR53; the amendments we are already planning to adopt, and the inclusion of the items below in this, or perhaps another resolution that we have in the works that is specific to the NJDEP.

We appreciate your expertise and look forward to continuing our discussion.

Her response was based solely on the content of my recommendations, which she obviously recognized as valid and reflecting expertise.

Anyway, sure enough, just after the 2 minute bell tolled on my testimony, the Chairman interrupted me (something he did not do with any other witness who exceeded 2 minutes).

I took exception to that, and, at the conclusion of my testimony, after he rejected my request for more time and shut me down, I  totally lost my cool and told him to “stick it” – here’s the verbatim transcript:

Thank you Mr. Chairman, my name is Bill Wolfe, I live in Bordentown.

I conveyed a written request for amendments to the sponsors.

The sponsor, Assemblywoman Muoio, correctly identified the intent of the Resolution, which is to make FERC and Congress aware of competing – of harmonizing federal energy and pipeline policy under FERC review with competing state policies. That’s a quote from her remarks which I completely agree with.

So what I want to focus on are the competing state policies in NJ that are key, because I don’t think that it is properly and fully understood that under the Natural Gas Act, state and local laws, policies, and standards are pre-empted, with 2 exceptions.

And that’s State powers under the Clean Water Act and State powers under the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Both those powers were recently used in the State of Connecticut to deny a pipeline permit and in the State of New York to deny a pipeline permit.

Those should be the leading cases that we should focus on as a State, because we currently have that authority at the Department of Environmental Protection – right now – to deny permits for these pipelines.

This Administration is not utilizing those powers.

So if the Legislature wants to express a progressive state policy to FERC AND to the Administration and to the people of the State, there has to be inclusion in this  Resolution of the powers of the State under the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act. That’s point #1.

The second point – (digressing) – it would be as if it were 1955 and we are talking about integrating schools schools and we didn’t talk about the Brown v. Board decision.

That’s literally how big this 800 pound gorilla is hitting us in the face – that’s how big it is.

It’s exclusion from  this Resolution is mind numbing to me. I don’t understand it.

Second point (the obnoxious 2 minute Bell rings) – Global Warming Response Act – I hear the bell.(time 2:10) I spent 31 years working on environmental policy in the State of NJ and I worked for 3 administrations at the Governor’s level and I don’t think I deserve 2 minutes.

[Chairman Gusciora interrupts] – Well Bill, I’ve got to correct you on that. I’ve given 2 minutes to everybody [Note: factually not true]. I can give you a little leeway but…

[Wolfe interrupts – There was more than a 2 minute response to a question from a colleague. I understand …

[Chairrman interrupts – Bill, now that’s it. You’re being disrespectful.

[Wolfe interrupts – Yeah, I got it. It’s disrespectful to me professionally. You can take your chairmanship and stick it.

Chairman – Thank you.

As Dorothy said: “There’s no place like home”.

The NJ Legislature doesn’t need to send flares across FERC’s bow – they can start right in their own backyard with oversight of Christie’s BPU and DEP -who rubber stamp everything – and strengthening and enforcing NJ laws.

[End note: One witness proudly testified that she had gone to Washington with a group of NJ Mayors yesterday and met with the Obama White House’s Council on Environmental Quality and with US EPA.

I’d hate to burst her bubble, but the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy policy has promoted gas and pipeline expansion – Obama himself bragged about his record miles of pipelines installed. Secretary of State Clinton promoted US gas exports and fracking around the world:

Under my administration, America is producing more oil than at any time in the last eight years. We’ve opened up new areas for exploration. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some,” Obama said (source)

obama pipes

(Yes, sadly, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the man with a kill list who bragged hat he’s “really good at killing people” and has waged more war that George Bush, also brags about torching the planet.)

EPA has rolled over on strictly regulating fracking and has done nothing to claw back the 2005 Cheney Energy Policy Act exemptions for fracking.

Do these folks not know when they are getting played?]


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