Archive for April, 2018

Murphy DEP Plans Some “Big News” For Earth Week

April 18th, 2018 No comments

Watershed group to host Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe announcement

Prepare yourself for the Earth Week Spin Cycle

DEP whispering in the ears of friends

[Update – 4/25/18 – Perhaps my criticism blew this up and DEP bailed, but Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe made no policy announcement at this event. She merely reaffirmed Christie DEP grants (again, its always about the money with these folks and always ineffective non-regulatory work). According to the Watershed webpage:

The commissioner (sic – McCabe is still acting) reaffirmed two pending [Christie DEP] grants that had been announced late last year. One grant will allow the Watershed to create and administer a statewide volunteer water-monitoring network. The second grant will enable Watershed staff to design and install green stormwater infrastructure within the Beden Brook Watershed.  ~~~ end update]

I hate to spill the beans, but couldn’t resist exposing what very likely will be another political game.

I’ve been a participant in (while employed as both a DEP official and leader in NJ ENGO’s) and seen this game played so many times before, it sickens me to see it happening all over again.  Please don’t think I’m cynical – as an “institutionalist””, like former FBI Director Comey, I’m just defending against erosion of basic institutional norms and values. Follow:

This morning, a NJ friend forwarded me an email announcement by the Stonybrook Millstone Watershed Association (SMWA) – titled “New DEP Commissioner, Big Reveal at Watershed Meeting” – touting upcoming “Big News” on April 23 (the day after Earth Day and start of Earth Week):

We’ve got big news to reveal at our annual meeting

Guest Speaker Catherine McCabe

Gov. Murphy’s nominee for Commissioner of th Department of Environmental Protection

Maybe Acting Commissioner McCabe will announce that Senate Judiciary Chair Scutari has defied Senate President Sweeney and posted her confirmation hearing sometime before July 1st? (so McCabe can’t be held hostage any more or played as a budget pawn).

Just joking.

But I think this could be the first time a DEP Commissioner was not confirmed before Earth Day.

But more likely, especially in light of the NJ Spotlight set up story today, McCabe will announce Gov. Murphy’s veto of the DuPont fracking wastewater bill now on his desk.  (see: WILL MURPHY LET COMPANY DUMP TREATED WASTEWATER INTO DELAWARE RIVER?)

We wrote about that fracking bill before it passed both houses, predicted its final passage, and called on Murphy to veto the bill and use the veto to criticize the sponsor, Senate President Sweeney, see: NJ Democrats Go From Banning Fracking Wastewater to Deregulating and Promoting It

Curiously the Spotlight story failed to note the bill’s history (i.e. the 2 Christie vetoes of Dem. ban bills) and that the U-turn bill was sponsored and championed by Senate President Sweeney.

In omitting all that, Spotlight ignores the larger political battle between Sweeney and Gov. Murphy. That amounts to a face saving measure for both the Democrats and Sweeney and makes it easier of the Gov. to veto the bill and not poke a finger in Sweeney’s eye. By writing an essentially misleading story, Spotlight signals that they’re in on the game (also note that the quotes by environmentalists make no demands of Gov. Murphy or criticisms of Sweeney).

The part of the game I’m most troubled by, however, is not the typical media and cynical legislative politics.

It’s the way DEP is playing the game – which amounts to making policy in the dark and communicating policy to the public for maximum PR spin benefit via whispers in the ears of the environmental friends of the administration.

It is inappropriate and just poor governing for a watershed group to have the inside track on policy development and for them to be given a  heads up on policy announcements.

How would environmental groups feel if the Petroleum Council, Chemistry Council, Builders Assc., or Chamber of Commerce put out an announcement to their members touting upcoming “Big News” from the DEP Commissioner?

(I once filed an ethics complaint for a similar DEP political “heads up” on inside information, but that was about a formal regulatory proceeding, which is very different from the “Big News” which I assume will not be regulatory, see: DEP COMMISSIONER GAVE INSIDE INFORMATION TO DEVELOPERS. The complaint was heard but dismissed.)

This is the third time I’ve learned of this DEP corrupt practice – I wrote about the first, when Sweeney mole DEP Chief of Staff Eric Wachter intervened in Pompton lakes.

The second time – which I didn’t write about but should have – was when Deputy Commissioner Deb Mans whispered in the ear of her friend, Highlands Coalition Director Julia Somers, about DEP’s so called “halt” on Sparta Mountain logging plans. That is Deb Mans’ essentially corrupt role: what I call “Keeping the Sheep In Line” via whisper campaigns.

The SBWSA “Big News” is strike three – and its not even May! Acting Commissioner McCabe is an experienced environmental lawyer and clearly knows better, so her tolerance of and now participation in these corrupt practices is disturbing.

Despite the DEP whisper campaign, don’t be fooled: a veto of this bill is no heavy lift, given that the Democrats twice passed and Gov. Christie twice vetoed Democratic bills to ban acceptance of fracking wastewater in NJ.

No way Gov. Murphy could sign a bill promoting fracking, which would not only contradict his campaign promises and his recent  “united front against fracking” event, but put him on the same page as Christie in supporting Dupont and fracking.

Aside from the politics, substantively, veto provides no environmental benefit either, because DuPont is not now accepting fracking wastewater and is not discharging treated fracking wastewater to the Delaware River.

If Dupont (Chemours) were to seek a DEP permit without the legislative exemption provided in the bill, it would be very unlikely for DEP to issue a permit for treating and disposing of fracking wastewater, due to the lack of available treatment technology for all the radiological and chemicals in fracking wastewater (the inability to get a DEP permit is why Dupont sought the exemption in the bill!) As I wrote:

At a minimum, the Murphy DEP would require a “treatability” study by Dupont to document all the radioactive and chemical compounds in fracking wastewater and develop protective treatment technology and enforceable NJPDES permit effluent limits. The Sweeney bill is designed to block this kind of DEP regulatory move and grandfather the existing permit from further DEP review (e.g. see this prior DEP study at Dupont for blocking discharge of VX nerve gas):

“(05/64) TRENTON — Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today released a draft surface water discharge permit for the DuPont Chambers Works plant in Salem County. The wastewater permit does not allow treatment of a neutralized VX nerve agent byproduct, which is part of a proposed plan by the U.S. Army and also under scrutiny by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC).”

So once again, Gov. Murphy will be a green hero for doing virtually nothing.

Just my guess about the “big news”.

Of course I could be wrong.

The “Big News” could be an announcement that DEP is killing the PennEast pipeline.

Now that sure would be big news and worthy of praise.

But I strongly doubt that it will be the news.

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Murphy DEP Continues Christie DEP Water Supply Advisory Council’s Practice Of Meeting Behind Closed Doors

April 17th, 2018 No comments

Once again, we see continuity, not reform. How long must we wait?

I just got another disappointing email from DEP staff which again shows continuity with bad practices begun by the Christie DEP. Here’s the story.

During the Christie administration – as well as prior administration’s – I was a regular attendee of meetings of the DEP’s Water Supply Advisory Council. These meetings are not well attended by the public or environmental groups – Rich Bizub of PPA was a regular, and various watershed groups would sporadically send a representative.

I would use those meetings in three ways: (and never paid a penny or received a Foundation grant to do so)

1) monitoring – to listen and learn what was going on;

2) advocacy – to ask tough science and regulatory policy questions during the public comment period and during technical presentations to the Council; and

3) writing and organizing – to bring the information and my assessment of what was going in DEP/WSAC on to the public via this blog and by sending various emails to reporters and environmental group leaders and citizens I was working with.

(BTW, I never saw a similar effort to inform the public by the environmental group representative of WSAC, a well paid professional with staff support and grants from major Foundations.)

My questions were rarely answered satisfactorily, but at least they usually were included in the minutes. WSAC members and DEP staffers generally perceived me as a pain in the ass.

As the controversy over the Christie DEP’s failure to update the Water Supply Master Plan intensified and critical press stories started being written, the DEP staff to the WSAC pressured the Council members to shut down the public participation opportunities to avoid continuing embarrassment of the DEP Commissioner and the Governor.

The WSAC did this by changing the process for the meetings to allow the WSAC to meet behind closed doors.

After the public comment session, the public was now asked to leave the room so the Council could deliberate, conduct business, and make their recommendations to the DEP Commissioner in private.

The meeting Agenda was revised to exclude the public and include a new item “Council Session”.

Perhaps Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe is unaware of this practice.

If so, either she has not done her homework or the DEP staff to the WSAC failed to brief her about the change in meeting practices made during the Christie/Martin DEP regime to exclude the public from the Councils’s deliberations.

Once again, we see continuity, not reform. How long must we wait?

PS – some may say that the new practice is appropriate and analogous to an “Executive Session”. But the WSAC has no formal administrative powers, all they do is make recommendations to the DEP Commissioner. The WSAC are not elected officials or government employees. They have no basis or justification for “Executive Session” confidential deliberation. 

Additionally, we need to understand the rationale for the change made by the Christie DEP. It was done in response to and to prevent critical media coverage.

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One Year On The Road

April 16th, 2018 No comments

Lots of motion, but joy is fleeting and meaning remains elusive

Time away from Trump insanity in the desert, mountains, and woods

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado - 10,600 feet (3/27/18)

Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado – 10,600 feet (3/27/18)

Today marks one year on the road in our epic tour, so thought I’d catch up and post some more western photos of places where we wintered (I still haven’t posted on the southern states we saw last fall, hope to soon).

Our last ramble in leaving the west was through aptly named – Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado, 10,600 feet. Light snow made for spectacular short hikes in San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests, especially after 4 months in the desert.

I’m on the east coast now, but the extremes seem to follow. Last night, in Carrboro, a cool little town just outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina, we again experienced climate change charged extreme weather – strong thunderstorms, high winds, heavy rain, and a tornado killed a man in nearby Greensboro.

We’ve experienced extreme weather everywhere we’ve been – from Acadia in Maine to the deserts of Yuma. From Cape Flattery Washington to Amelia Island Florida, and all points in between.

We spent most of the winter in south-eastern Arizona, around Bisbee and the  Coronado National Forest.


Spent some time in Tucson – the book festival was superb. But is that a peace sign or a big middle finger (Saguaro National Park)


But I had an itch to see Yuma. Not sure why, maybe after Coronado and Montezuma’s pass, I was thinking of Neil Young’s best song ever “Cortez the Killler” from the Zuma album:


Hate was just a legend
And war was never known
The people worked together
And they lifted many stones.

They carried them
To the flatlands
And they died along the way
But they built up
With their bare hands
What we still can’t do today.

And I know she’s living there
And she loves me to this day
I still can’t remember when
Or how I lost my way.

So we headed west. But Yuma was nothing like Zuma. It was the worst place we experienced.

The “city” was one big RV ghetto and sprawling new construction, despite water deficits with current overpopulation and severe drought already. Local insanity. The “historic district” had an artificial feel with many retail crap joints vacant. The library was located on a nice 3 acre of so treed lot, but had a Ten Commandments tablet prominently displayed – where is the ACLU? – and a large homeless population. The library itself sucked and had unusably slow WiFi.

We headed north and camped in Kofa National Wildlife Refuge:


But even there, a short walk revealed how fracked up even remote places are:


When the Arizona deserts hit 90 degrees, we decided to move on to cooler climes. But the Rocky Mountains to the north were way too cold and there was still risks of heavy snow in the Sierra’s, so, where to go?

We headed north up along the Colorado river and almost lost Bouy to the strong river current created by Parker Dam releases:


We saw more RV ghettos and lots of desert campers, and then headed east to return to Coconino National Forest just outside Flagstaff. But we froze our butts off and moved on after a few cold nights.


The van broke down in Colorado (oxygen sensor) – which led to a wonderful experience in Alamoso, where we meet a great guy who welded – Kent’s Exhaust Shop. Kent is an artist and expert welder/mechanic and an honest man. Charged me only $30 for a job the local Chevy dealer was asking about $200 for, plus at least $100 for the sensor, which I bought at parts store for $50 (but it all ended up no charge, after 2 hours work, because they stripped the sensor’s thread, which is why I had to visit Kent the welder). Kent has an old ’41 school bus restored (his dad rode in in HS!) and lots of cool welded art in front of his shop. Great conversationist too.

As we got further east, I seemed to get sucked into and spend more time on the NJ environmental policy wars and have posted several critiques recently. Maybe because the weather was cool and I spent more time in the library instead of the woods.

We’re in a great place right now – I finally am getting a good real meal at the local food co-op, the library is spectacular, and the parks and nearby forests are great places for me and Bouy to ramble. Maybe heading north when spring arrives to the northeast.

Reflecting on the year on the road, I think I picked a good time to go, given the Trump insanity, which is crushing almost everything I believe in, care about, and have worked for. Time away from all that in the desert, mountains and woods is probably the best way for me to manage.

Peace out!


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The Christie DEP Ignored The Clean Water Enforcement Act’s Mandate To Submit Annual Report

April 15th, 2018 No comments

No Way For The Legislature and Public To Know If NJ’s Keystone Act Is Being Enforced

We need a public process regarding reforms at DEP after 8 years of Christie radical rollbacks

The Christie DEP simply ignored the legal mandates of the Clean Water Enforcement Act (CWEA) to submit an annual Report to the Legislature and the public.

The last annual Report was submitted 8 years ago, back in 2010.

DEP’s own words: (boldface mine)

In 1990, the Legislature enacted substantial amendments to the Water Pollution Control Act (WPCA), commonly known as the Clean Water Enforcement Act, P.L. 1990, c. 28 (CWEA). The CWEA requires the department to inspect permitted facilities and municipal treatment works at least annually. Additional inspections are required when the permittee is identified as a significant noncomplier. The CWEA also requires the assessment of mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the WPCA that are considered serious violations and for violations by permittees designated as significant noncompliers.

The CWEA requires the department to submit a report on the implementation of the CWEA’s requirements to the Governor and the Legislature by March 31 of each year.The statute also specifies the items that the department must include in the report. The department has organized the required information into several categories, including Permitting, Enforcement, Delegated Local Agencies, Criminal Actions, Fiscal, and Water Quality Assessment.

Take a look at DEP’s CWEA webpage to see that last annual Report was submitted in 2010.

Apparently, instead of a detailed and comprehensive annual report mandated by the Legislature, DEP seems to have shifted the burden to the public to use their cumbersome and technically limited “data miner” to extract the information previously provided by DEP in disaggregated and summary form via an Annual Report.

This is totally unacceptable.

DEP must consolidate the data and report the results. Requiring that the public use Data miner and somehow locate on-line data or Reports can not replace public documents and public access to those documents.

NJ environmental groups should call on legislators to conduct oversight hearings of DEP’s implementation of CWEA (and a host of other programs established by the Legislature, particularly the Global Warming Response Act).

A good first step in that direction would be upcoming Senate Confirmation hearings – once Senate President Sweeney lifts his hold on McCabe – of Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe.

Of course, NJ ENGO’s should also be publicly calling on the Murphy DEP and Commissioner McCabe to initiate a public process regarding needed reforms at DEP after 8 years of Gov. Christie’s radical rollbacks.

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Murphy DEP Again Maintains Continuity With Christie DEP Policy

April 11th, 2018 No comments

Flexibility and service to regulated community, while ignoring public concerns

Acting Commissioner McCabe must not be running her own Department

Public health risks and climate change impacts not on the table

“the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy.  Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups – especially business corporations – have had much more political clout.  When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless…The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves…  Democracy in America?

I just received the following announcement via email from the Murphy DEP Office responsible for issuing air pollution control permits: (my boldface)

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) will be presenting a two-day workshop at Rutgers University on June 5 & 6, 2018. The targeted audience for the workshop is the regulated community including industry, consultants and other government entitles (sic) regulated by the NJDEP.

This workshop will inform attendees of the latest processes and procedures that will result in the most timely and flexible permits. In addition, NJDEP staff will help attendees understand what permits are needed, how to get them, and what to do after they obtain them. The NJDEP website will be highlighted and staff will explain how the permit application process can be streamlined by applying online. (here is the registration form) (here is the Rutgers announcement)

Let me break this down and explain what it means. This is not a minor technical issue about “continuing professional education” workshops.

First of all, it illustrates a policy of continuity by the Murphy administration with the Christie DEP “regulatory relief” policies.

Those policies emphasized running the DEP air pollution permit program like a business, designed to service the regulated community (literally as a “customer”) and make it quicker and easier to obtain permits (and reduce the “regulatory risk” of stricter and more costly permit limits).

But a lot more than the process is involved.

The Christie policies were designed to avoid not only public review, but the “ratchet down” effects of “advances in the art” of air pollution control and new knowledge produced by science regarding air pollution, climate change, and public health.

Those Christie policies effectively excluded the public from informed participation in the air pollution permit process. This exclusion resulted from multiple layers and multiple barriers: streamlined permit procedures, no public outreach, complex technocratic permit regulations, complex science and engineering issues, and no structured process to inform the public or solicit their informed concerns.

The public was not only effectively eliminated from the air pollution control permit process.

By a sole focus on “customer service” in streamlining and expediting DEP’s rubber stamp approval of permits, those policies completely ignored public concerns about the public health risks and environmental impacts of air pollution.

We see all of that in today’s Murphy DEP announcement of the 2 day workshop at Rutgers:

1. the target audience is the regulated community and their paid consultants. The public was not invited. It is not even clear if the public may attend and there is no public comment provided.

2. The DEP’s technical resources are being provided to assist the regulated community and to train their paid consultants. Meanwhile, DEP provides nothing remotely similar to the public and their representatives in various environmental organizations.

3. the DEP is continuing to emphasize “timely and flexible permits”.

The “timeliness” objective effectively excludes the public, while the “flexible” objective weakens technical permit conditions that protect public health and the environment and undermines the DEP’s ability to monitor and enforce them. The Rutgers announcement spills the beans on the enforcement issue, parenthetically stating that one objective is not only compliance, but:

(not to mention avoiding fines, penalties, and pollution problems)

4. As far as I’m concerned, the following DEP rhetoric is basically a signal to the regulated community: “don’t worry, the Murphy Administration is not going to crack down on you”. 

This workshop will inform attendees of the latest processes and procedures that will result in the most timely and flexible permits. In addition, NJDEP staff will help attendees understand what permits are needed, how to get them, and what to do after they obtain them.

It is also a huge signal to Senate President Sweeney that DEP will not be:

  • tightening air pollution permit limits,
  • more strictly regulating hazardous air pollution risks,
  • considering greenhouse gas emissions in air permits,
  • increasing monitoring or enforcement efforts
  • expanding the air permit program to address toxic catastrophic risks
  • environmental justice – disproportionate urban impacts

Sweeney wants to block any of the above, given the major polluting industries in his District that he protects.

The DEP air pollution permit program needs a complete overall. Since the Whitman administration, it has be captured by polluters and essentially privatized. Stuff like this:

As the culmination of a year-long study, in July 1995, Governor Whitman issued the Strategy to Advance Regulatory Reform report (or the “STARR report”) in an effort to present the Governor’s general guiding principles and priorities for “increasing efficiency of the regulatory process.” The STARR report was prepared under the auspices of the Department of State, Office of the Business Ombudsman. The Executive Order creating the Office of the Business Ombudsman charges it to direct a comprehensive effort to assist businesses in dealing efficiently with regulations and to make the regulatory climate more supportive and open towards business. Executive Order No. 15 (1994).

One priority addressed in the STARR report is the need to streamline the permit application and review process. …

Governor Whitman has signed a law that allows a business that has applied for a permit to install and operate pollution prevention equipment, at its own risk, prior to NJDEP’s approval. (P.L. 19945, c. 101). This law allows businesses to commence operating without the lengthy delays associated with NJDEP’s permit review process, thereby actually encouraging the timely installation and operation of pollution prevention equipment while removing costly delays associated with the permit review process. …

In order to promote timely environmental compliance, the STARR report highlights the Governor’s goal of establishing regulatory “safe-harbors” for businesses. One such safe-harbor focuses on protecting companies who voluntarily self-audit their environmental procedures. [This is what Donald  Trump exploited] Another safe harbor would grant to smaller companies “grace periods” to correct certain environmental violations. …

Under Governor Whitman, the NJDEP also has established amnesty and mediation programs that seek to increase compliance while offering businesses some reduction in punitive fines. In October 1994, for example, the agency established an air permit amnesty program that offered forgiveness of penalties to those who pledge prompt compliance. …

Apart from the STARR Report, on August 2, 1995, the Governor enacted a revision to New Jersey’s Air Pollution Control Act that is designed, in part, to simplify the air pollution control program by concentrating NJDEP’s oversight on the small number of facilities that are responsible for the majority of the emissions. (P.L. 1995, c.188.) This law and related regulations were crafted with the input of a number of industry groups, including the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

The pro-regulatory McGreevey administration made minor reforms at the margins, but the Whitman core anti-regulatory policy framework remained, and was further rolled back by 8 years of the Christie administration.

The Murphy administration reforms must inform and involve the public, ratchet down on greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce public health risks of hazardous air pollutants and catastrophic chemical risks (and what ever happened to toxics use reduction through the Pollution Prevention Act? Teaser: post forthcoming on that.)

Note the topics to be discussed at the two day workshop, which instead of maintaining continuity could be used as a platform to reject Christie policies, educate the public, and address the longstanding lax DEP air permit program, include the following (from the Rutgers announcement):

Program Topics

  • Operating Permits
  • Preconstruction Permits
  • Air Permit Application
  • Online Applications and Compliance Reports
  • Compliance and Enforcement
  • Stack Testing and Continuous Emission Monitoring (CEM)
  • Advances in the Art of Air Pollution Control (SOTA)
  • Air Quality Modeling and Health Risk Assessment
  • Emission Statements
  • Rule Updates
  • And Other Topics!

Representatives from the NJDEP will teach the seminar and be available throughout the program to answer related questions.

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