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Christie DEP Commissioner Martin Personally Involved In Trump Sweetheart Enforcement Deal

DEP Assistant Commissioner Who Cut Deal Went To Work For Trump Campaign

Trump Blames “Partner” NJ Audubon for Violations

[Update below]

In a superb investigative piece – that I helped with but had little influence on – today Propublica reports on exactly how corrupt politics, lax regulation, gross revolving door abuses, and an AWOL press corps combine to undermine regulatory enforcement of environmental laws, read the whole thing:

Unfortunately, while these are difficult and complex issues to report on, the narrative focus on Trump and detailed reporting leaves out crucial environmental, natural resource, and policy context – while glossing over current controversies regarding DEP’s “Forest “Stewardship” and actively distorting the enforceability of DEP’s program- and it downplays or misses some critical implications of the facts the story documents.

First of all, while it is well known, the story fails to even mention NJ Governor Chris Christie. Christie was a close Trump advisor during the DEP enforcement sellout, and later head of Trump’s Transition Team.

Second, not only is the Trump – Christie relationship ignored, so are Gov. Christie’s “regulatory relief”, “red tape” and “voluntary compliance” enforcement policies, as well as Christie DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s “culture change” anti-regulatory agenda.

These Christie – Martin policies are what explain exactly how and why Trump succeeded in frustrating DEP enforcement and got a sweetheart deal.

Third, Propublica reports the facts, but missed (or got  spun) on the implications of DEP Commissioner Martin’s personal involvement.

Clearly unhappy about the situation, Trump got personally involved. In October 2012, he called DEP Commissioner Robert Martin to discuss the matter. What Trump said is unknown, but a letter that Martin sent him afterwards alluded to the discussion: “The location of this golf course with respect to the availability of water supply is very challenging,” Martin wrote Trump. The commissioner urged him to fulfill the conditions spelled out in the water permit. “That may be the best way for you to manage through the costs of this project,” Martin wrote.

Having seemingly not gotten what he wanted, Trump chose to ignore the restrictions. For five consecutive years starting in 2011, Trump National Colts Neck blew past its annual water limits. “Once he was caught going over, it’s not like he stopped and waited until he got more allocation,” said Timothy Anfuso, township planner for Colts Neck. “He kept using the water the whole time.”

Martin’s personal involvement in a routine wetlands violation is extremely unusual, highly improper, and devastating evidence that politics drove DEP’s lax enforcement response (as badly, or worse than the egregious revolving door abuse Propublica documents).

Fourth, Propublica downplays and buries the lead on an extraordinarily egregious example of revolving door abuse.

The DEP Assistant Commissioner for Enforcement that handled the case went to work for the Trump campaign!

On April 9, Russo, Trump’s environmental consultant, met with John Giordano, the agency’s assistant commissioner for compliance and enforcement, who had overseen both matters since his appointment two years earlier.

The logjam finally came unstuck. Russo promised to take steps to “alleviate” the agency’s “compliance concerns” at both Trump National properties, according to a “Dear Ed” letter summarizing the meeting that Giordano sent afterwards. “The Department appreciates your willingness to voluntarily undertake these actions thereby making an adversarial relationship unnecessary,” Giordano wrote. “I look forward to continuing this cooperative relationship as the most efficient and effective means to address the Department’s concerns.” …

A few months later, in August 2016, Giordano left DEP to join the Trump campaign. He then became deputy general counsel to the presidential transition committee and later joined an administration “landing team” at the U.S. Energy Department. Giordano then went to work at a Philadelphia law firm and was subsequently considered for appointment as a U.S. attorney for the region, according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Revolving door abuse doesn’t get any worse than that – and Giordano served under the Christie- Martin “regulatory relief” and “culture change” regime.

Fifth, the story fails to mention the highly sensitive environmental context.  The Bedminster wetlands and stream encroachment violations occurred in the environmentally sensitive Highlands Region. The Colts Neck water allocation violations occurred in a region with serious groundwater deficits in Monmouth County. Both these sensitivities raise the significance of Trump’s various violations of environmental regulations that protect wetlands, stream buffers and groundwater supplies and justify stiffer fines and more aggressive enforcement response by DEP.

Sixth, the Propublica reporter relied on former high level DEP sources (ironically, I recommended them). That could be what explains what amounts to uncritical acceptance of DEP claims – here’s just one of several:

The Trump Organization received annual notices of its violations, warning of “substantial monetary penalties” — up to $50,000 per day per offense. In theory, that meant the organization could’ve been fined millions (though “cooperative” violators would unlikely face fines of that magnitude, according to the DEP, since the agency’s goal is to bring violators back into compliance and restore any damage).

Seventh, the story ignores the green cover provided by the NJ Audubon – Trump partnership.

How is it possible – at a time when we were exposing the corrupt nature of that partnership (we broke the story in March 2016) and demanding that NJ Audubon repudiate it – that NJ media, the Clinton Democrats, NJ environmental groups, and the national political media either knew nothing about all this or said nothing publicly about it? How could no-one in DEP leak this story?

Consider that at the same time NJ Audubon was “partnering” with Donald Trump, they were involved in a DEP enforcement case for cutting down trees and destroying wetlands under a sham forest management plan. At the time, Trump was running for President. Textbook GREEN COVER

Now let’s highlight the good stuff.

1. As I’ve written many times and many subjects, the NJ press corps again was AWOL:

Both disputes were resolved during his presidential campaign and went unnoticed in the press.

2. Propublica cites my friend, recently deceased investigative reporter Wayne Barrett:

Trump deployed those tactics again and again in his titanic real estate battles in New York, and his mega-dollar fights over casinos in New Jersey, according to Wayne Barrett’s biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.”

3. Enforcement of environmental laws by DEP was weak – particularly during the Christie Administration:

In the end, Trump paid just a fraction of the penalties that state law allows [$147,000].

4. DEP regulators are frequently “captured” by regulated corporations, often with the intent of seeking high paid jobs in exchange for lax oversight and sweetheart deal:

… the key regulator, who helped negotiate the generous terms, signed on to a job in the Trump campaign.

5. DEP enforcement policy provides incentives to violate NJ’s environmental regulations and invites abuses. The so called “self disclosure immunity” policy was never intended to be used in cases of significant environmental damage of highly sensitive natural resources, as was the case here:

On May 29, 2009, Edward Russo, then Trump’s environmental consultant, “self-reported” damage to 4.34 acres of wetlands, open waters and wetland transition areas. In doing so, the Trump Organization was seeking forgiveness under a DEP policy that allows as much as a 100 percent reduction in fines for offenders who voluntarily disclose violations “in a timely manner” and correct them promptly.

6. It pays to lie and DEP fails to increase enforcement sanctions for lying to DEP regulators:

It didn’t help that Trump’s representatives sometimes dissembled. In August 2009, for example, a state inspector discovered that trees had “suspiciously” been removed from protected wooded wetland corridors near eight Bedminster golf holes — coincidentally, just where it would be necessary to allow golfers to play through.

7 Even DEP’s own scientist admit that wetlands mitigation and restoration don’t work!. For many years, DEP has failed to strengthen DEP wetlands regulations and enforcement policies to reflect this scientific fact.

8. We’ve repeatedly urged NJ Audubon too abandon their partnership with Trump and that so called DEP approved NJ Audubon “mitigation” and “restoration”, “Forest Stewardship” and creation of certain bird habitat is a sham.

Here’s another reason to do so – Trump blamed them for the violations:

Time kept slipping away and by 2013, Trump’s consultants made a new attempt to avoid responsibility, this time by shifting blame. They fingered two improbable culprits, according to a chronology later prepared by the state: the New Jersey Audubon Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Trump’s team insisted, in a May 2013 meeting, that considerable environmental damage had occurred at the direction of those institutions, which were collaborating with Trump to create grassland bird habitat on the property.

Remarkably, NJ Audubon refused to comment on the record for this story.

I told the Propublica reporter that John Parke, who was NJ Audubon’s staffer involved in the project that DEP found violations, is a forester by training who is not sensitive to environmental regulatory compliance and had abused DEP regulations in several controversial NJ Audubon logging projects.

Will NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles sit back and let a national story suggest that hi partnership with Trump contributed to environmental abuses and Trump blamed his organization for act?

[Update – here is the comment I posted in the story:

Good reporting, but the NJ specific political context and policy aspects are weak.

Readers should know that NJ Audubon formally partnered with Trump at the Bedminster Golf course, that this course is located in the water supply watershed and highly protected NJ Highlands region, this warrants far more aggressive DEP enforcement, and that Gov. Christie’s personal relationship with Trump and his anti-regulatory policies and his unqualified corporate consultant installed DEP Commissioner Bob Martin are what led to this kind of corrupt deal.

Additionally, the reporting misrepresent DEP enforcement policies (e.g. self disclosure immunity) and the severe problems with loopholes in DEP wetlands and stream buffer regulations awithbrespect to DEP approved “Forest Management Plans”. Those issues are controversial right now in NJ Audubon sponsored logging plans for forests in the Nj Highlands region (google “Sparta mountain wildlife among,metn area”).

I explained this all to the reporter, but none of it was included in the story.

Find the backstory and policy issues at my website wolfenotes.com

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