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NJ Audubon Met With Major Corporate Polluters Behind Closed Doors At Christie DEP HQ

Beyond Regulatory Capture and Green Cover

Need redraw lines between DEP regulators, corporate interests, & private conservation

Source: NJ Audubon Society

Source: NJ Audubon Society

[Update below]

On November 3, 2016, the NJ Audubon Society met with some of NJ’s largest corporate polluters and land developers behind closed doors at the Christie DEP’s Trenton Headquarters. (see this)

At the time of that meeting, NJ Audubon had controversial financial and regulatory matters pending before DEP (e.g. the Sparta Mountain logging plan which DEP was backing) and so did virtually all of the corporations on Audubon’s “Corporate Stewardship Council”.

Obviously, that meeting meets NJ’s legal definitions, standards and restrictions on “attempts to influence government processes” and constitutes lobbying.

NJ Audubon has now joined the group NJ Future in conducting important and controversial public policy work by private groups in secret (i.e the controversial proposal to develop Liberty State Park). Recalling the Liberty State Park debacle:

…to evade that controversy and public accountability [for developing Liberty State Park], the Christie DEP provided a $120,000 grant to the private planning group NJ Future to secretly develop the LSP plan and provide a veneer of legitimacy and political cover for it.

That secrecy and betrayal by NJ Future further outraged the public and Democratic legislators, as reported by The Jersey Journal:

Public outrage over NJ Future’s secret planning forced NJ Future to try to do damage control and walk it back. Check out this NJF private planning methodology

Apparently NJ Audubon and the Christie DEP learned nothing from the NJ Future Liberty State Park debacle and brazenly and with impunity defy the norms of open, transparent and accountable government.

To see who was at that NJA/DEP private corporate meeting, what was discussed, and to read the “Annual Report” please hit this link.

Here is a screen shot from the NJ Audubon’s Corporate Stewardship Council (CSC) Annual Report:

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 10.14.51 AM

I have been harshly critical of the Christie Administration’s environmental, energy and regulatory policies and I believe that my assessment is both fact based and the overwhelming consensus in the environmental community, the media, the legislature, and among the public. There is no doubt that Christie and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin will go down in history as having the worst environmental record ever, surpassing the “open for business” Whitman administration.

I also have criticized NJ Audubon Society, most recently for their role as:

a self-proclaimed “conservation” organization [that] has: 1) formed a “partnership” with Donald Trump; 2) taken money from a Wall Street billionaire to log forests to enhance opportunities for wealthy private hunters; and 3) formed a “Stewardship Council”with major corporate polluters, developers, and pipeline builders; then something apparently benign like a “buy local” sustainable forestry birdhouse program may seem like chump change, and just a short slide down the slippery slope of the Greasy Pole to Gomorrah (a process that Chris Hedges calls “our descent into corporate tyranny.”)

I am referring to NJ’s Audubon’s latest scam, run in cooperation with NJ State Departments of Environmental Protection (“Forest Stewardship”) and Agriculture (“Jersey Grown Wood“).

But the NJA corporate meeting behind closed doors at the Christie DEP Headquarters is perhaps one of the most insidious and craven moves of all.

So called “Corporate Stewardship” of the environment is a purely private matter.

NJ Audubon is a private organization that is well endowed and prone to pursue it’s own organizational interests over sound public policy and the public interest (e.g. witness the Trump partnership and the public manipulation and lies during the “Keep It Green” coalition’s $1 million open space campaign. – see the Bergen Record’s story

It is totally inappropriate for corporate officials to meet behind closed doors with DEP regulatory officials and allow that corporate conservation policy to mingle with public policy and regulatory matters.

The inside special private access provided to corporate interests has an undue influence on DEP policy and regulatory affairs, fosters personal and institutional relationships that lead to what academics call “regulatory capture”, and is inherently unfair to the public, who is shut out of these discussions.

The fact that it occurred behind closed doors with no paper trail defies all norms and laws regarding open and transparent government.

For a private “conservation” group to work this closely with private corporations inside government – while financially benefitting from both those same corporate interests and DEP grants – is totally corrupt.

Politically and from a public policy standpoint, the entire CSC program is an empty shell that amounts to nothing more than corporate public relations and green cover for a Christie DEP that has rolled back core environmental protections and ignored climate change for almost 8 years.

The next Administration in Trenton needs to redraw the lines between DEP regulators, corporate interests, and private self serving conservation groups like NJ Audubon.

[End Note: Kelly Mooij of NJ Audubon has an Op-Ed today in NJ Spotlight calling on the next Governor to expand funding for open space.

NJ Audubon did virtually nothing to pressure Gov. Christie to fund open space or criticize his opposition to new money or to continue NJ voters’ longstanding commitment to approve the issuance of bonds to fund the open space program.

Instead of battling Gov. Christie to adequately fund open space, to support new money, or back the issuance of debt, the cowards at NJ Audubon led the “Keep It Green” coalition in stealing existing money previously constitutionally dedicated to State parks maintenance, protecting water quality, and ensuring toxic site cleanup!

For NJ Audubon to now challenge the next Administration to expand the totally inadequate funding that NJ Audubon itself compromised on – and sold out & misled the public about – is obscene.

 [Update – 11/2/17 – I just filed the following OPRA public records request of DEP:
I request all public records regarding a November 3, 2016 “Annual Meeting” at DEP headquarters with NJ Audubon and the Corporate Stewardship Council, including meeting agenda, presentations, minutes, list of attendees, and communications between DEP, NJ Audubon and the Corporate Stewardship Council.  ~~~~ end update]
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