Archive for May, 2019

Senate Environment Committee Chairman Smith Urged To Seek An Audit Of DEP Forestry Contract Program

May 21st, 2019 No comments

DEP Engaged In Financial and Environmental Mismanagement of State Forests

This letter is a followup to my recent post on DEP logging on Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area (SMWMA), where we disclosed that DEP was giving away valuable hardwood timber for free and not considering the impacts of logging on climate change and the ability of the forest to sequester carbon.

Since that post, local residents have advised that there are additional problems (see letter below):

Dear Chairman Smith and Senators Greenstein and Bateman:

I am writing to request that you formally request an OLS audit of DEP’s forestry contract program.

In addition to traditional legislative oversight and fiduciary duties to look out for the taxpayers’ interests, as a supporter of DEP’s “forest stewardship” program, you should be particularly concerned when DEP acts in ways that undermine the public’s trust and confidence in that program.

Specifically, on February 25, 2019, DEP quietly signed a “stumpage contract” for logging with Warren County Trucking, LLC.

That contract provides for logging (essentially a clearcut euphemistically called a “seed tree treatment”) of about 12.2 acres of SMWMA.

The contract gives away 31,200 board feet of valuable greater than 13 inch diameter red oak hardwood timber and 120 cords of firewood for free!

That’s right – the contractor is given that timber “in consideration of the payment of $0″. (contract provided upon request).

The contract does not mandate compliance with DEP regulations and instead defers to the voluntary “NJ Forestry and Wetlands Best Management Practices Manual” – we previously documented huge loopholes and egregious flaws in that BMP.

The contractor was only required to post a $2,500 performance bond and the DEP set fines (“liquidated damages”) of only $200 per tree for illegally cutting down trees in violation of the contract outside the designated logging zone.

Finally, there is no specified minimum amount of liability insurance, an egregious flaw in an inherently dangerous activity like logging (during bow hunting season, no less!). If someone were injured or killed, the State taxpayers would be on the hook (this truck driver is high risk)

Local residents have informed me of recent questionable environmental practices and potential regulatory violations by the DEP contractor, including road construction, excessive land disturbance for equipment storage areas,  and destruction of sensitive vegetation, soil erosion, and adverse impacts on regulated wetlands and vernal ponds.

Given these blatant examples of mismanagement – environmental and fiscal – of NJ’s magnificent public lands and forests, I  request that you request an audit of the DEP’s logging policies by the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) State agency audit program.

As you know, OLS has conducted two prior audits of related aspects of the current DEP forestry program and found problems that required corrective action.

This 2004 OLS audit found deficiencies at DEP Wildlife Management Areas, see page 8. The deficiencies also include failure to have adequate liability insurance.

This 2009 followup OLS audit is not specific to WMA’s, but issues regarding deficiencies in liability insurance, state as co-insured, and other contract stuff still is relevant, especially the serious failure of DEP to collect “fair market value”.

Finally, it is important to note that the Corzine DEP produced a report:  Valuing New Jersey’s Natural Capital: An Assessment of the Economic Value of the State’s Natural Resources. That report found that forests have far more economic value as forest than harvested as commercial logging. DEP needs to dust off that report and apply it to future management policies.

Particularly as we approach climate tipping points, we need to increase the capacity of our forests to sequester carbon and promote afforestation, not log them.

I urge your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt and favorable response.Respectfully,

Bill Wolfe

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El MalPais National Monument

May 18th, 2019 No comments


We’re in El Malpais National Monument in western New Mexico now, on the road from Flagstaff to Santa Fe.

It’s a rugged and lovely landscape, with easily climbed sandstone cliffs and ledges, so we’ve spent 4 days here.


While it’s been sunny and almost 60 degrees in the afternoon (a cold 30 at night), the wind has howled so strongly and continuously – – at least 25 mph constant with 40+ mph gusts – that we’ve been unable to spend a lot of time outdoors.


We are on the Continental Divide trail and see lots of hikers – we’ve tried to help in providing conversation, water, and snacks.

The surrounding lands are either fenced or Indian Reservation, so walks are limited.

Oh well, while the cactus love it, at least we’ve had lots of reading time.



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Jersey Girl Goes All In For Biden – Exposes Corporate Power And Revolving Door

May 17th, 2019 No comments

From NJ Sierra Club, To Obama White House, To Corporate Whoring

I was so pleased to just now read my favorite writer, Jeffrey St. Clair at CounterPunch, absolutely crush Heather Zichal, and thereby expose Joe Biden’s corporate ways:

+ Biden’s top climate advisor, Heather Zichal, left her White House job in 2013. A year later, she landed on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas, where she pocketed over a million dollars. in 2018 (sic) became the Nature Conservancy’s Vice President for “corporate engagement.”

Just days prior to that, even moderate Bill McKibben blasted Zichal and Biden:

A few hours after the story, as environmental activists (and primary opponents) tweeted their dismay, the Biden team seemed to blush. Biden’s energy advisor Heather Zichal said that the Reuters reports were wrong, and that instead he planned to “enact a bold policy to tackle climate change in a meaningful and lasting way.” But the fact that it was Zichal making the statement essentially confirmed the accuracy of the original story: in the early Obama years, she’d headed up an interagency working group to promote the development of domestic natural gas.

The working group had been formed after pressure from the American Petroleum Institute, the chief fossil-fuel lobbying group, and Zichal, in a talk to an API gathering, said: “It’s hard to overstate how natural gas—and our ability to access more of it than ever—has become a game changer.” Zichal left her White House job in 2013; one year later, she took a gig on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas, which has earned her over a million dollars.

(Note: Zichal is not alone in this Jersey Girl corruption – recall that Obama’s first EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, formerly head of NJ DEP and then Chef of Staff for NJ Gov. Corzine – is now a well paid corporate flack at Apple – thus ending her career where it began, at the corporate front group seeking rollbacks of the federal Superfund program,”Clean Sites, Inc”.)

I wonder how long Z will remain with the Biden campaign after that.

But the story is even worse than this.

McKibben and St. Clair left out Ms. Zichal’s history, so, given my personal witness to this, we take this opportunity to do so. Check this resume and saga of climbing careerism and unbridled ambition.

I met Zichal (Z) in the mid to late 1990’s when I served as Policy Director of the Sierra Club’s NJ Chapter.

At that time, Zichal (Z), a farmer’s jeans flannel shirt clad Iowan, was an undergrad at Rutgers and a Sierra volunteer who chose to work with the Political Committee.

Let’s just say that I was not impressed with Z’s intellectual firepower.

Z was part of a faction that managed to convince the NJ political committee to reverse longstanding policy to support incumbents and endorse Democrat challenger Rush Holt over the Republican incumbent Mike Pappas.

At that time, after the departure of Director Tim Dillingham, I was Acting Director. I announced the Holt endorsement at a Trenton press conference.

Holt won the 1998 election.

Z then managed to parley that Sierra endorsement and Holt victory into a staff position in Holt’s Congressional Office.

I suspect that Holt, a scientist, shared my assessment of Z’s intellectual firepower, because shortly thereafter Z departed Holt’s Office for a staff position with fellow NJ Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone.

After another short stint at Pallone’s office, Z climbed to Senator Kerry’s office, then the Obama campaign, then the Obama White House.

I have never seen a more egregious individual example of unbridled ambition, lack of ethics, lack of expertise, revolving door, careerism, and systemic corporate & Democratic Party corruption.

[End Note: I was sickened by the way McKibben closed his essay with his cowardly “dem-unity” spin, by essentially soft pedaling criticism of Biden and spouting delusional rhetoric about “turning his policies around”. Sorry Bill, Biden is a longtime corporate democrat who can’t change his stripes and he should not be legitimized in this way:

Obviously Biden will be better than Trump on this (and every other) issue; obviously everyone who cares about the earth should support him if he’s the nominee. (That paramount need is why I’ve been running the #DemUnityTwitterProject these past weeks). And he’s got time to turn his policies around—I remember when he gave a wink and a nod support to those fighting the Keystone pipeline, well in advance of Obama’s eventual veto of the project. His credibility with union workers is understandably high, which is why he would be the perfect person to push for large-scale retraining programs for clean energy jobs.

We’ll close by requoting Howard Zinn’s sage advice:

When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them….Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable….

Howard Zinn

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Climate Chaos – Arizona Style

May 16th, 2019 No comments

Insanity – From Coal To Deforestation


We’re finding old and new insane forms of climate chaos as we continue on our journey.

Strip mines that fill mile long coal trains that rumble on seemingly 24/7, pulled by 7 -9 huge BNSF diesel engines.


That’s the Cholla coal fired power plant in the background of our Skoolie: (Wiki)

The Cholla Power Plant is a 1.02-gigawatt (1,021 MW), coal power plant near Joseph City, Arizona. The plant is jointly owned by Arizona Public Service (APS) and PacifiCorp. The plant began operations in 1962.

The Cholla plant is also listed on EPA’s list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings.

According to recent local news reports, there are plans to covert the Cholla plant from coal to “biomass”:

Arizona Public Service Co. will try to save some jobs near Holbrook and reduce wildfire risks at the same time by testing whether pine trees can be substituted for the coal that is burned at the Cholla Power Plant.

The coal plant is scheduled to close in 2025, and while converting it to natural gas was considered, that is not being pursued, APS officials said.

About 200 people work at the plant in Joseph City, along Interstate 40 and the Little Colorado River.

A conversion at Cholla would ultimately assist in forest thinning, thereby reducing wildfire potential, ensuring forest health, and protecting our watersheds,” APS Vice President of Regulation Barbara Lockwood said in a March 20 letter to regulators.

How absurd can you get?

This one is almost as bad a Secretary of State Pompeo’s recent celebration of arctic ice melt.

Coal burning power plants have created climate chaos and extreme weather, which have driven wildfire and devastated forest health. So now, fossil plants are to covert to “biomass” – by burning the trees cut down in a scientifically flawed logging industry scam to “thin forests” to reduce wildfire risk? WTF!

We’ve been warning about the abuses of “biomass” and “forest thinning” – and, of course, the abuse of “jobs versus environment” is a longstanding Big Lie.

The hacks at APS have hit the propaganda trifecta, combining abuses of biomass and forest thinning and wildfires with a jobs justification.

We’ve engaged the forest health scam by DEP and NJ Audubon in the battle over logging on Sparta Mountain – but the “protecting watershed” claim is too absurd to even comment on.

And, to top it all off, the Cholla plant co-owner, Pacificorp – like our friends at NJ Audubon – has the best green cover money can buy.

(For example, here’s a new Orwell for me: “THERMAL” – that’s the term Pacificorp uses to describe their FOSSIL power plants, which make up more than 70% of their power production. The hide while downplaying the Cholla coal plant in their “less than 500 MW” category, because they own only 1 of 4 coal units there).

(On second thought, maybe “THERMAL” isn’t so bad, because it suggests what they are doing: warming the planet.)

We must reject insane corporate schemes and slogans and work toward a Green New Deal.


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Aqua NJ Has Over 1,500 Violations Of Federal Safe Drinking Water Act

May 15th, 2019 No comments

[Update below]

According to US EPA data, the private water company Aqua NJ has over 1,500 violations at its NJ public community drinking water systems.

According to Aqua’s BPU Annual Report, the private corporation Aqua has grown significantly by acquiring 37 smaller NJ public and community drinking water and wastewater systems.

I urge readers to check out that EPA data and see how your system is doing, especially when you read news reports about what a great job DEP is doing in protecting drinking water, or when Legislators, DEP and water industry corporate hacks tout the benefits of privatization. Private companies were supposed to bring greater resources, technical expertise, and management skills to all those small public systems.

Violations include failure to monitor and/or report for and exceedences of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MLC’s) for a host of toxic and cancer causing chemicals including volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s),  radiologicals, inorganic chemicals, lead, nitrates, fecal coliform and disinfection by-products.

The top drinking water systems total violations were as follows:

  • Bunnvale – 556
  • Byram – 238
  • Lawrence – 180
  • Wallkill – 178
  • Spartan Village – 171
  • Cliffside Park – 79

Regardless of the time period, that data shows repeat violations and suggests systemic problems.

In contrast, Warren Glen only had 2 violations.

So we wonder what the hell is going on in Bunnvale (Lebanon Township) and Byram! (Calling Scott Olson!) Are the people who live there and drink that water aware of these violations?

I have not reviewed the entire EPA data in detail to determine important facts like the time period for these violations, whether EPA or DEP took enforcement action for the violations, how serious the violations were from a public health perspective, whether they were minor paperwork violations, or how Aqua’s violations compare to other NJ public water utilities and private corporations.

There were 3,643 records in the EPA database for NJ violations – each violation is documented, but that would take a lot of work to figure out what is going on in an individual system, never mind statewide. I’d also wonder how NJ compared to other states. The EPA national data is presented by State, so that analysis also can be conducted.

There were other community drinking water systems numerous violations. For example, the Alpha system had 321, Hopewell Boro had 318, Flemington had 271, and Allendale had 267.

I selected Aqua because the EPA data are listen alphabetically, and the number and significance of the Aqua violations jumped off the page.

I urge readers and the NJ media to look into those issues.

This post is just a teaser, encouraging more in depth investigation. Let me know what you find out.

[Update: We got an amazingly quick and important clarification about what is happening in Byram, from friend and Byram Councilperson Scott Olson. These are Scott’s personal opinions, not the view of the Township or Council. Byram’s situation could be typical, but I just don’t know:

Formerly private system, poorly run (in my opinion) by volunteers of a small homeowners association. System acquired by Aqua June 2016. After a quick look at the EPA site, there only appears to be one non-health violation since Aqua’s acquisition, “Total Haloacetic Acids” which may have been shortly after they acquired the system and flushed it with chlorine after doing some pipe repairs? Not sure. And one ‘Consumer Confidence Report” report Due 7/1/18 and not filed until 8/16/18.

The numbers on the EPA site are not for 2018 only, they are totals for an extended period of time. ALL the 236 other violations date as far back as 1997 and were from private ownership doing a half-assed job. Aqua provides the 148 homeowners a much safer, better quality drinking water than they had been provided by the private, owner run system. A system, by the way, which also had numerous DEP violations in that time period for exceeding their withdrawal allocations (purportedly due to leaks in pipes). The Highlands Council (at the urging of the township) provided assistance to the homeowner run company to get financing to fix the system during the Eileen Swan era there.

Hate to disappoint you, but Aqua is doing right by these 400 consumers here in Byram. Can’t speak to the rest of the state though.

end update]


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