Archive for March, 2017

From the Ocean to the Highlands, Christie DEP Mismanaging Natural Resources

March 31st, 2017 No comments

Christie DEP elevates economics over science and natural resource protections

Ignoring science, DEP Commissioner Martin doubles down on economic exploitation

Commissioner Martin’s scheme must be stopped, just like his proposed clearcut of Bulls Island State Park was.

We call on readers to contact their legislators and demand a moratorium on logging of NJ’s public lands and Highlands forests.

Two recent actions by the Christie DEP illustrate a growing crisis in the policy and mismanagement of the New Jersey’s last remaining natural resources (and I’m intentionally leaving the slaughter of black bears and lots of other examples out of this brief note).

  • Case #1 – fisheries

In 2008, I was hired by Pew Environment Group to manage their “Ending Overfishing in the Mid-Atlantic” campaign.

The justification for and focus of that Pew campaign was to defend anticipated strict new limits on the allowable catch of summer flounder, an over-fished but very popular species backed by powerful political interests centered in NJ (e.g. the lobbying group RFA and Congressman Frank Pallone).

However, shortly after I was hired, political pressure by those commercial and recreational fishing lobbyists and economic interests successfully pressured the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council to revise their “stock assessment” to avoid more restrictive catch limits. As a result, more fish were allowed to be caught, jeopardizing sustainable fisheries populations.

Also as a result of the revised stock assessment, the planned Pew campaign was aborted and I left Pew as a warrior without a war

PEW is a very rational science-based organization. We advocate conservation. I expect that to be the expectation here.

Now, 8 years later, the chickens are coming home to roost. The most recent summer flounder stock assessment found that there was overfishing: (see MAFMC release):

In August 2016, the Board and Mid‐Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved an approximate 30% reduction in catch limits for both the commercial and recreational fisheries in response to the 2016 stock assessment update, which indicated the resource is experiencing overfishing but is not overfished. In order to not exceed the reduced 2017 RHL, a 41% reduction relative to the 2016 preliminary harvest estimates is needed. To achieve the reduction, the Addendum implements a one‐inch increase in size limit from 2016 measures for all regions with the exception of North Carolina. Additionally, all regions are required to constrain their possession limits to 4 fish or less and maintain 2016 season lengths.

Despite this science and risk to the sustainability of the fishery, in another short sighted political move, the Christie DEP  attacked and appealed the MAFMC catch limits: (DEP press release)


(17/P25) TRENTON – New Jersey representatives to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have filed an appeal requesting the commission reconsider its vote significantly reducing the state’s recreational-fishing quota for summer flounder this year, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

Yesterday, DEP Commissioner Martin spun the issue in a meeting with outdoor writers: (NJ Herald)

The U.S. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has proposed a 30 percent cut in the limit of summer flounder that commercial fishermen can haul in and a 40 percent cut for recreational fishermen.

Martin said those limits would decimate the Jersey Shore’s recreational fishing business, leading to job losses. He said that the decision, which is endorsed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, is based on old and faulty data.

Shortsighted economic and political decisions must not be allowed to over-ride the science and sound management of the fisheries resource. That happened in 2007, so after the prior collapse, I assume that National Marine Fisheries will have learned the lesson uphold the MAFMC restrictions and reject the Christie DEP appeal.

2. Controversial Logging of Highlands Forrests to be Expanded Statewide

Readers here are familiar with the debate over the NJ Audubon and Christie DEP proposed logging plans for Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area and other Highlands forests.

Given that debate, one would assume that the Christie DEP would proceed slowly and deliberately, based on the best available science and meaningful opportunities for public involvement in the development of public lands forestry policy.

One would be wrong:

  • DEP chief expects more forest plans like Sparta Mountain’s

    UPPER FREEHOLD — Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said Thursday that the forestry plan for state-owned land on Sparta Mountain is the first of many similar plans for the state’s parks, forests and wildlife management areas.

    And the commissioner, who is likely to end his nearly eight years as head of the department early next year with a new governor to be elected, strongly defended the state’s adoption of the early forest initiative, also known as early successional forest, which relies on man’s efforts to create areas within forests in which new shrubs and trees can grow.

    The other side of the debate, and strongly voiced by other environmentalists, is to leave forests alone to Mother Nature’s care.

Whoa! Totally unacceptable.

Commissioner Martin’s scheme must be stopped, just like his proposed clearcut of Bulls Island State Park was.

We call on readers to contact their legislators and demand a moratorium on logging of NJ’s public lands and Highlands forests.

We call on the professionals inside DEP to push back against this reckless and irresponsible policy – if you see something, leak something!

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Hayduke Lives!

March 31st, 2017 No comments

But he’s as Seldom Seen as the NJ Devil


Latest sightings

1) RT 528, Chesterfield NJ

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 1.01.52 PM

 2) Recently at Sparta Mountain

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3) Somewhere in The Pinelands

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Cutting Trees At Chesterfield Gas Compressor Station Site Sparks Public Outrage

March 30th, 2017 No comments

Williams Blows Off USFWS Concerns Over Breeding Migratory Birds

Christie DEP failing to enforce stream buffer, clean water, and wetlands standards

Activists present at site since Monday – “Occupy” actions on horizon

trees cut down in riparian zone - about 10 feet from stream bank

trees cut down in riparian zone – about 10 feet from stream bank

Activists have been present at the site almost continuously since Monday morning – public awareness and opposition are building. There is a piece of land adjacent to the compressor station site that is owned by Chesterfield township that would make a great place to Occupy.

Late yesterday afternoon (3/29/17) Williams began cutting trees at their Chesterfield compressor station site, over the objections of conservationists and US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists.

Despite expert sightings of breeding migratory birds, the company defied USFWS recommendations and proceeded at risk – meaning that should such habitat be discovered after the fact, they will face a slap on the risk by USFWS for “incidental take” – a minor cost of doing business.

[Update: Burlington County Times reports that FERC was involved – more FERC-ing off by the misguided Rethink NJ folks who parachuted in at the last minute and waste local resources. How many times do they have to fail before people stop listening to them?]

Or, as I suggested, a Hail Mary diversion.  Despite Williams blowing off US FWS, quietly behind the scenes, some are wasting resources seeking NJ DEP intervention on the same issue, even worse, via confidential communications with DEP Commissioner Martin. Tactically, this is just as bad as the FERC-ing off I’ve criticized.

Meanwhile, the cutting of trees is occurring within about 10 feet of a stream that its a tributary to Suckers Run – that issue is being ignored and could constitute a violation of NJ DEP riparian zone buffer and surface water quality standards. (Hint: read how NY State DEC denied a Clean Water Act certification as a result of similar adverse water quality impacts. Maybe Tom Gilbert of Rethink NJ, consultant Princeton Hydro, and local lawyers could read it and then act on it? Why are these killer regulatory issues being ignored, when they have defeated pipelines in neighboring states?)

stream is tributary to Suckers Run - DEP not enforcing Surface Water Quality Standards or riparian zone (buffer) protections

stream is tributary to Suckers Run – DEP not enforcing Surface Water Quality Standards or riparian zone (buffer) protections

I was at the site yesterday when the cutting began, and noticed that the company began to comply (but not completely) with soil erosion and sediment control requirements by installing a small section of stone and fabric, see:


I went back to the site this morning and walked along the hedgerow and it sure looked like they were cutting trees and vegetation in forested wetlands – I don’t know what disturbance the wetlands permits allowed, but that surely needs to be looked into from a compliance and enforcement perspective. Maybe these regulated features were not mapped?

ponded water and forested wetlands

ponded water and forested wetlands

I am calling DEP now about both the riparian zone and wetlands issues.

Activists have been present at the site continuously since Monday morning – opposition is building and there is a piece of land adjacent to the compressor station site that is owned by Chesterfield township that would make a great place to Occupy.

Just a suggestion.

[Update – I stopped by the site again about 4:30 pm and came upon another example that illustrates a total disregard for public safety by Williams.

A huge machine was cutting down trees in the county roadway right-of-way. Branches and chunks of trees were falling onto the shoulder and roadway. Cars were slowing down and swerving over the double line at 45+ mph speed zone.

But there were no traffic safety measures in place: no warning sign, no safety cones, no flag man, nothing.

We convinced the Chesterfield police to shut it down on that basis. ~~~ end update.]

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Take A Look At The So Called Obama “War On Coal”

March 29th, 2017 No comments

US Coal Exports Doubled Under Obama

Another Right Wing – Republican – Trump Big Lie

Source: US Energy Information A

Source: US Energy Information Administration

There many errors, omissions and distortions in the flood of news coverage of the Trump Executive Order seeking rollback of the Obama Administration’s climate change programs.

Almost all of that coverage is based on speculation by various “experts”. Very little of the coverage relies on actual data or science of any sort.

Virtually all of the coverage greatly minimizes the real world energy, environmental and climate impacts of Trump’s policy, while greatly exaggerating both the Obama climate policy and the ability of so called free market forces to reduce or even offset the damage of the Trump policy.

With all those general conclusions in mind, and because Trump appeared with coal miners, the first issue I’ll briefly mention is the false premise of an Obama “war on coal” and the issue of coal production and coal exports (see US Energy Information Administration analysis of coal export data).

About 10% of US coal production is exported.

As you can see from the above chart, from 2009 – 2012, under Obama, coal exports DOUBLED, from 60 to 120 million tons per year. Since 2012, they’ve declined to 2009 levels.

I have not seen these coal export data mentioned in any news report.

The greenhouse gas emissions from those coal exports are not considered in the US emissions inventory.

Worse, the Trump order is designed to make sure that the public’s ability to understand the impacts and climate effects of the Trump policy and fossil fuels are masked. (see especially Section 3)

Because the Trump Order will eliminate federal regulatory restrictions of coal production and export, exports are likely to increase.

The US EIA data on coal production are more complex, but despite reductions during the Obama administration, they remain huge and are projected to increase slightly (see EIA data) Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 2.38.52 PM

The chart on the left shows almost 1 for 1 replacement of coal by natural gas. The chart of the right shows the corresponding decline in US production, with an upward forecast.

Regardless, none of this data can be described as reflecting  policy of a “war on coal”.

To their credit, the media have done a good job in exposing Trump’s Big Lie that he can restore coal mining jobs, which have been declining for decades as a result of technology and lower cost natural gas.

For a superb historical and cultural analysis of the coal industry’s rape of the landscape and destruction of communities of Appalachia, read the 1963 classic “Night Comes to the Cumberlands” by Henry Caudill.

More to follow.

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Gas Pipeline Company Bosses Invade Chesterfield

March 28th, 2017 No comments

Williams/Transco Letting their FERC Flag Fly

Latest Diversion Is a Hail Mary For The Birds

Clock running on legal appeal of DEP permits

Trucks from all states named above were on site - some moved and are not included in this photo

Trucks from all states named above were on site – some moved and are not included in this photo

local governments are spending a ton of money on lawyers, so they need to make it look like they’re doing something – that’s truly a shame, especially at this critical time when they should be drafting their briefs **to challenge the DEP permits. The clock is ticking on those appeal deadlines!!!

See Correction below

Yesterday (3/27/17) Williams Transco, the Oklahoma based gas company building the Garden State Expansion Project, a compressor station and NJ Natural Gas Southern Reliability link pipeline, started off construction on the wrong foot.

They ran into aggressive residents and opponents and made huge PR gaffs and regulatory compliance mistakes.

I got a request from Agnes Marsala of People Over Pipeline to come to the site – arrived just before 10, no one was there at the time (was later told that folks were there at 6:30 am!, including bird experts.)Except 2 lame Williams security goons, who tried to run me off:


It was raining hard and muddy, so I immediately noticed lack of compliance with soil erosion and sediment control and DEP permit requirements. Spoke with Williams’ Chief Inspector on the site Roger Salmi (cell: 612-518-0983). He stonewalled and told me to call press officer Christopher Stockton (713-215-2010 (W) 713-562-2939 (cell). Salmi’s assistant later told me that he would install required stone and other soil erosion control measures before heavy equipment is brought on site.

So I contacted Burlington County SCS (609-267-7410) and the DEP Hotline (1-877-WARN DEP) to report violations. A Burclo inspector later went to the site – I was told that he warned Williams but did not issue violations. It will probably take a week for DEP to get someone off their ass and out of Trenton.

Later spoke with Williams lawyer on site (a Jersey girl, she claims) and advised her that site was not in compliance. Shorlty thereafter, Williams’ broke out a broom to sweep up the mud they were tracking off site! The man with the broom yelled at me that I didn’t have his permission to photograph! Take a look! Hahahaha!

_DSC1683 (1)

If Williams can’t comply and get the easy stuff right, that does not inspire confidence that they will do the important stuff right – the same goes for the government oversight efforts. Williams needs to be told – at the outset – that this is not Texas or Oklahoma, arrogance is not acceptable to the community, and that they will be strictly regulated and monitored.

Cars parked on site had out of state plates – except for the Jersey girl attorney.

Since no construction was going on, I guess they wanted to let their FERC flag fly and make it clear that these are the crew our local pipe fitters and NJ laborers will be working for.

Shortly after 10, a few more POP member arrived to observe – I told one woman that the parked cars and trucks were violating NJ’s idling law and she called the Chesterfield Police to report that violation – Chesterfield cops arrived and gave them a warning:

_DSC1685 (1)

Later, Chesterfield Councilwoman Rita Romeau and Patti Cronheim of Rethink Energy NJ arrived and were ebullient.

They gave conflicting stories about birds.

The initial story I got from Rita R. was that a stay was issued (presumably by a court). Then I heard that NJ DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife issued a stop work.

Then Patti Cronheim from Rethink NJ arrived and told folks that bird experts had discovered habitat for owl or raptors (unclear what species and if this was done on Friday or this morning) and conveyed that info to US Fish and Wildlife Service. According to Patti, USFWS then got Transco to agree to a voluntary stop work and agreement to conduct a bird breeding survey.

I found this all very hard to believe – and requested but was not provided any documentation so I could write about it. That failure to provide even an email about what was going on only heightened my skepticism.

Well today, Dave Levinsky writes “the story” (I put “story in quotes for a reason) in the Burlington County Times:

Although Oklahoma-based utility company Williams Transco has received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to begin work at the site of the proposed compressor station off Bordentown-Chesterfield Road, the possible presence of nesting and courting Cooper’s hawks, screech owls, red-tailed hawks and other migratory songbirds may cause a delay.

Both Chesterfield and Bordentown Township have asked the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the FERC to order a stay on any work at the site, including tree clearing, until a survey is completed to determine if nesting birds are present.

Williams Transco spokesman Christopher Stockton said the company was aware of the towns’ claims and taking steps to re-survey the site before clearing any trees.

“We have not started any tree clearing yet. At this point, we are still moving construction equipment at the site,” he said in an email. “We do plan to re-survey the area prior to any tree removal.”

If birds are present, it could create more delays for the compressor station project, called the Garden State Expansion, which has dragged on for the better part of two years.

Like I said in the sub-headline: that’s a real Hail Mary. A last ditch effort to block construction based on birds also tends, politically, to undermine the credibility of the POP and other pipeline opponents who are focused on air, water and safety issues, by opening them up to longstanding stereotyped criticism of environmentalists, e.g.: that they care more for critters than people and jobs. Focus on birds also opens up legitimate criticism that they are not focused on real community safety and environmental issues.

But this is not some hopeful last minute effort – something insidious is going on.

This is just the latest episode in the pattern of tactics by Rethink Energy NJ. Rethink is heavily invested in the FERC process and they have repeatedly engaged in diversions and sought to change the issue. Their diversions have consistently undermined the efforts of the local group People Over Pipelines.

The diversions consistently seek to shift the focus from NJ DEP and water resource regulatory issues to FERC, local or county governments, and FERC issues related to economics and private property rights.

Rethink wants to change the issue and divert focus for at least three reasons:

1) they praise DEP, they keep their powder dry, and they seek to shield DEP from criticism, under the false assumption that an “inside” friendly game with DEP will result in DEP denying permits on their priority project, the PennEast pipeline. They also fear retaliation from Gov. Christie or DEP Commissioner Martin, who they need as friends to secure funding for land preservation deals (the primary organizational mission of NJCF, the parent of Rethink);

2) the don’t want their members and the public to understand that their almost exclusive FERC strategy is mis-targeted, fatally flawed, and can not win.

3) The don’t want aggressive local activist groups and radicals to control the strategy, tactics and message and thus gain political power and resources.

In fact, Rethink was created and funded by corporate and foundation money as the politically safe alternative that would not make waves or threaten powerful economic interests, or step on corporate or political toes. Rethink has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ineffective corporate PR, economic studies, and FERC NEPA intervention, while virtually ignoring NJ DEP and State regulatory issues.

In the end, from the corporate perspective, Rethink is the “reasonable” environmental group that will compromise and cut the deal in the end – all while undermining and keeping the radicals from gaining media attention or real political power. This is the way corporations like PSEG do their work in NJ.

Given prior deals, my sense is I that a deal would be likely to include: 1) small changes in the pipeline route to avoid preserved lands lands owned by NJCF or by Rethink’s wealthy elite members; 2) land donations as mitigation; and 3) “mitigation” funding to ReThink and fellow conservation groups.

Thankfully, Dave Levinsky is a very good reporter and can sense this dynamic – If not to divert attention from DEP and FERC rubber stamps, why else would Tom Gilbert of Rethink suddenly parachute into Chesterfield, just in the wake of DEP and FERC final approvals?

Here how Levinsky subtly alludes to that:

The compressor station and pipeline have received approvals from the FERC, which oversees infrastructure related to interstate pipelines, and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, which oversees intrastate pipelines. The DEP recently issued required water permits for the station and pipeline.

Having almost exclusively focused on FERC and not even tried to hold DEP accountable, of course Gilbert and the Rethink crew want to try a Hail Mary on an esoteric bird issue.

We’ll keep you posted – but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting from any bird issue to block construction.

End Note: And local governments are spending a ton of money on lawyers, so they need to make it look like they’re doing something – that’s truly a shame,  especially at this critical time when they should be drafting their briefs **to challenge the DEP permits. The clock is ticking on those appeal deadlines!!!

** Correction – There is no administrative appeal to OAL. I’ve been told that the federal Natural Gas Act Natural Gas Act, 15 U.S.C.A. Sec. 717r(d)(1)mandates that appeals of State permits be filed in federal court. This is astounding, as the DEP wetlands permits and 401 WQC are issued pursuant to State law and EPA delegated Clean Water Act powers that federal courts have found are State CWA 401 WQC and WQS are NOT preempted by the NGA.

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