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Archive for September, 2019

Green New Deal Visits Gov. Inslee’s Backyard

September 14th, 2019 No comments
Green New Deal visits the State Capitol, Olympia Washington

Green New Deal visits the State Capitol, Olympia Washington

Just realized I haven’t posted photos for a long time – been wonking out – so here’s a few since we last wrote.

Maybe in a post tomorrow, we’ll fill in the gap from the Tetons across the Cascades (in British Columbia) and out onto the Olympic Peninsula & Puget Sound.

With mixed feelings, we left Port Townsend this week, after a little over a month there. We departed with the Wooden Boats.

Bounced south down Puget Sound, spent a few nights in Olympic National Forest – saw some dastardly clearcuts:

so glad to see this breakdown

so glad to see this breakdown – this was a sham “thinning” operation

the slops were over 60 degrees. Clearcut went for for about a linear mile, 300 - 400 yards up the slope.

the slopes were over 60 degrees. Clearcut went for for about a linear mile, 300 – 400 yards up the slope.

Hey Gov. Inslee – WTF? Those trees sequester tons of carbon. Shut it down, dude!

_DSC5801

We then stopped in Olympia for the day, and saw the Capitol, the farmers market, downtown, and the port:

Security guards assisted our visit. No way could we pull this stunt in Trenton.

Security guards assisted our visit. No way could we pull this stunt in Trenton.

I thought I might be able to drop in and visit Gov. Inslee – years before he ran for President, back in 2014, we were highly involved in the award winning Showtime documentary on climate change “Years of Living Dangerously”.

Years of Living Dangerously is an American documentary television series focusing on global warming. The first season was broadcast in the US in 2014 on Showtime. It won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series. The second season aired on the National Geographic Channel in 2016. Executive producers included James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and series creators Joel Bach and David Gelber (formerly of 60 Minutes).[1] Joseph Romm and Heidi Cullen were the chief science advisors.[2]

We did a lot of support and were interviewed at length in Episode 5 “True Colors”, which contrasted NJ Gov. Christie’s climate denial in the wake of Sandy with Gov. Inslee’s leadership. (Watch Episode 5)

Watch a clip of my interview with NY Times reporter Mark Bittman, where we nail Christie:

Screen Shot 2019-09-14 at 8.09.17 PM

All for now – tomorrow more photos.

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Some PennEast Pipeline Opponents Want To Take Their Open Space Ball And Go Home

September 13th, 2019 No comments

The Pipeline Battle Is About Climate Chaos And Fossil Infrastructure, Not Open Space

The Battle Will Be Won By Solidarity, Activism & Holding Government Accountable

I want to make a few points of contrast to explain why the response by conservationists to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the PennEast pipeline is so wrong headed, selfish, counter-productive, diversionary, and outright dangerous. You can read that response by Michele Byers of NJCF here:

Yesterday, I wrote a post that began as a summary of my comments on fatal flaws in the PennEast pipeline permit applications, but, as I was writing it, I got interrupted by news reports of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found PennEast could not condemn State owned lands.

My original intent was to illustrate how all pipelines and fossil infrastructure could be killed by informed activists pressuring Gov. Murphy to impose a moratorium on approval of new fossil infrastrucure and then direct DEP to enforce the federal Clean Water Act by denying a Section 401 Water Quality Certificate.

As I’ve written, the precedent and model for this two step policy is Gov. Florio’s 1990 moratorium that ended construction of more garbage incinerators, statewide. Florio didn’t target or kill a single project, he killed them all.

Exactly like the Florio moratorium and Solid Waste Plan revision, the CWA 401 WQC regulatory tool can be applied to virtually all fossil infrastructure .

The strategy I laid out was a combination of activism, democratic accountability, and regulatory enforcement, with a statewide focus and objective to prevent climate chaos.

That post was intended to support the Empower NJ campaign to pressure Gov. Murphy to impose a moratorium on all new fossil infrastructure.

That pressure is building and it comes at a critical time as the Murphy BPU is seeking public input on and is about to adopt the Energy Master Plan and PennEast and other fossil permit applications are pending before the Murphy DEP .

In other words, the timing is critical because fundamental State policy decisions that effect the future of the climate chaos issue are about to be made.

We are at a critical moment when all focus and attention need to be on Gov. Murphy and the climate crisis. We need to educate and mobilize the public to act now. We need a laser beam focus on the tools to hold the Gov. accountable to. We need a unified voice and solidarity.

In contrast, Michele Byers wants opportunistically and selfishly to refocus the entire debate and take her open space ball and go home.

This is not about open space. There will be plenty of open space if the climate crisis hits irreversible tipping points and the earth becomes unable to support agriculture or rising temperatures make the earth uninhabitable.

Byers’ Op-Ed never once even mentions the climate emergency, the Empower NJ moratorium campaign, the BPU EMP, or the CWA Section 401 WQC pending before DEP.

Just the opposite, she takes the pressure off the Gov. and DEP by claims that the PennEast permits are “in limbo”, without even mentioning all the other pending fossil infrastructure permits before DEP.

If DEP permits are “in limbo” and the Court’s decision “protected open space” and “stopped PennEast in its tracks”, that provides an excuse for the elite Hunterdon County conservationists to take their open space ball and go home. No need to remain active on climate chaos. No need to lend support to state, national and global climate campaigns, from Empower NJ, to the Green New Deal, to the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion

Byers’ unconditionally praises Attorney General Grewal, when she should link the PennEast legal issues to statewide concern and be demanding that AG Grewal act to enforce laws to block all pending fossil projects, not cherry pick one.

The praise amounts to green cover for the Murphy administration.

Byers exaggerates the precedential value of the decision and falsely claims that the decision was “groundbreaking” (see my prior post for explanations).

Importantly, Byers neglects to mention the specific “workarounds” that the 3rd Circuit Court specifically identified, including land condemnation by FERC and legislation by Congress. These “workarounds” undermine the value of the decision in terms of killing the project – and protecting preserved lands, her single objective – and the public needs to understand the “workarounds” to prevent them from happening. So let me repeat what the Court actually wrote about “workarounds”:

But our holding should not be misunderstood. Interstate gas pipelines can still proceed. New Jersey is in effect asking for an accountable federal official to file the necessary condemnation actions and then transfer the property to the natural gas company.

Byers’ sole focus on lawyers and courtrooms disempowers activism and undermines democracy.

The Byers Op-Ed diverts attention from the climate issue, from the fossil moratorium campaign, from the BPU Energy Master Plan, and from the pending DEP permit reviews.

Byers writes selfishly about a single project in the backyards of her elite members and contributors.

She does not write in solidarity with activist working on a statewide moratorium.

And this selfish diversion comes at an absolutely critical time.

All this is not helpful – it is dangerous.

[End Note: I predicted and warned about exactly these kinds of problems over 4 years ago, see:

[End Note #2 – In addition to the above political scandals, I want to emphasize that the legal rounds upon which the 3rd Circuit Court ruled are essentially reactionary, not progressive. The case was decided based on the 11th amendment “sovereign immunity” principle. That’s part of the “states right’s” doctrine, and it not only denies citizens access to justice to hold state officials accountable, but it has been used historically to exploit Native Americans. I would want no part of a win on those grounds, which are analogous to winning on “separate but equal” grounds. Shame.

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Here’s How To Really Kill The PennEast Pipeline

September 11th, 2019 No comments

Demand Gov. Murphy Issue Executive Order Imposing Moratorium On State Approvals of New Fossil Infrastructure

Demand Murphy DEP Enforce Clean Water Act

A Regulatory Roadmap Is Provided Below

NJ Attorney General Grewal and opponents of the PennEast pipeline are calling the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decision a “major victory” and a “groundbreaking ruling” and that the decision “stops PennEast in their tracks”.

They are exaggerating, misleading the public, making factually false statements, and simply not telling the full story. The decision is not a “groundbreaking ruling”, not a “major victory”, and will not “stop the project in its tracks”.

By making these exaggerated and false claims, they are undermining activist efforts to block all proposed pipelines and all fossil infrastructure, to inject climate change in regulatory decisions, and to enforce the Clean Water Act.

First, with respect to the “groundbreaking” claim. A federal district court reached exactly the same conclusion on the proposed Potomac Pipeline, see:

Columbia Gas’s lawsuit was unusual in that a private company tried to use the power of eminent domain to take public land. It claimed that power by virtue of the permit granted to the project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The judge denied Columbia Gas injunctive relief because it found no substantive case, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls said in a statement delivered by live stream after the ruling. Private industry doesn’t have the right to file an eminent domain case against the state of Maryland, the judge found, because the state has sovereign immunity, he said.

[Update: Here is another precedent cited in the PennEast opinion that shows that PennEast was not a “groundbreaking” decision:

While the Supreme Court and federal Courts of Appeals have not addressed the precise issue that we have here – whether condemnation actions under the NGA are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity – the one reported district court decision to do so held that Eleventh Amendment immunity is indeed a bar. In Sabine Pipe Line, LLC v. Orange, County, Texas, the pipeline company plaintiff argued that, because the federal government could exercise its eminent domain power to condemn State property, there was “ no reason to treat a delegation of the same authority any differently.” 327 F.R.D. at 139. The court disagreed. It explained that , like PennEast’s arguments, the plaintiff’s “theory of the case erroneously assumes that by delegating one power, [that of eminent domain], the government necessarily also delegated the other, [the ability to sue the States].”

Amazing that my Googling seems to have done better legal research – in turning up the on point Potomac Pipeline District Court decision – than the 3rd Circuit. ~~~ end update]

The NJ AG’s claim is more difficult to dismiss. It requires a legal analysis of the opinion itself. I’ll hold off on that for now. (I’ve since read the opinion, see relevant updates above and below).

But I will note that the Court explicitly stated that the decision was not a barrier and identified a “workaround”. (NJ Spotlight):

“Our holding should not be misunderstood,’’ the court said in its 34-page decision. “Interstate gas pipelines can still proceed… We simply note there is a workaround.’’ It remanded the case back to the district court for dismissal of the claims against the state.

[Update: Whoaa! The Court identified  a HUGE workaround – I find it very curious and highly misleading that the full text of the opinion on that “workaround” was truncated not included in the NJ Spotlight story. So here is what the Court actually wrote regarding “workarounds”. The 3rd Circuit wrote:

But our holding should not be misunderstood. Interstate gas pipelines can still proceed. New Jersey is in effect asking for an accountable federal official to file the necessary condemnation actions and then transfer the property to the natural gas company. Cf. Kelo v. City of New London , 545 U.S. 469, 480 ( 2005) (discussing how broadly the Supreme Court has defined “public purpose” under the Takings Clause). Whether, from a policy standpoint, that is or is not the best solution to the practical problem PennEast points to is not our call to make. We simply note that there is a work-around.

This means that pro-gas Trump administration – Trump has already issued an Executive Order seeking to strip States of Clean Water Act Section 401 authority over pipelines and EPA just proposed rules to do so – and the Trump FERC could condemn the property. How likely is that? Very.

In the alternate, the Court also identified another “workaround” by Congress. How willing are the “all the above” Obama energy state Democrats likely to join Republicans to create that “workaround”?:

PennEast protests that, because the NGA does not provide for FERC or the federal government to condemn the necessary properties, the federal government cannot do so. But one has to have a power to be able to delegate it, so it seems odd to say that the federal government lacks the power to condemn state property for the construction and operation of interstate gas pipelines under the NGA. In any event, even if the federal government needs a different statutory authorization to condemn property for pipelines, that is an issue for Congress, not a reason to disregard sovereign immunity. To be sure, such a change would alter how the natural gas industry has operated for some time. But that is what the Eleventh Amendment demands.

NJ Spotlight’s failure to include the full text of the Court’s “workaround” language did 3 bad things: 1) it allowed politicians like AG Grewal and useful idiots like Tom Gilbert to grossly exaggerate the impact of the decision; 2) it deprived and misled readers about crucial information, i.e. the need to monitor Congress and oppose any efforts on their part to pass legislation to meet the Court’s “workaround”; and 3) it gave a false sense of assurance to anti-pipeline activists that the pipeline was dead, when that is not the case .  ~~~ end update]

[Update: In an incredibly cruel irony – homage to Standing Rock  the PennEast pipeline opinion turned on Supreme Court cases denying the Seminole Tribe’s lawsuit against Florida and a Native American tribe’s legal arguments seeking payment of money they were owned by the State of Alaska:

As discussed below, see infra Part I I I- B.3, Congress cannot abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Commerce Clause, Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 59, 72-73 (1996), and because Congress enacted the NGA pursuant to that Clause, the statute cannot be a valid congressional abrogation of sovereign immunity.” […]

Looking in more detail at the caselaw, it lends no credence to the notion that the United States can delegate the federal government’s exemption from state sovereign immunity. In Blatchford, the Supreme Court dealt with this issue. In that case, Native American tribes sued an Alaskan official for money allegedly owed to them under a state revenue-sharing statute. Blatchford, 501 U.S. at 77 – 78. Relevant here, the tribes argued that their suit did not offend state sovereign immunity because Congress had delegated to the tribes the federal government’s ability to sue the States. ~~~ end update]

In a serendipitous coincidence, the same day the Court decision was announced, I wrote comments to DEP on deficiencies in the PennEast pipeline permit applications.

Below is that letter, and it focuses on a sure fire mechanism to kill the PennnEast pipeline: DEP can deny the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certificate.

We’ve been writing about that and NY State and Connecticut’s 401 WQC denials, and criticizing NJ fools like Tom Gilbert for their failure to focus on it for over 4 years, see:

Media should ask AG Grewal if NJ DEP is willing to pull that legal trigger.

From: Bill WOLFE <bill_wolfe@comcast.net>
To: penneastcomment@dep.nj.gov, “Tittel, Jeff” <jeff.tittel@verizon.net>, “Tittel, Jeff” <jeff.tittel@sierraclub.org>, jonhurdle@gmail.com, domalley <domalley@environmentnewjersey.org>, bill_wolfe@comcast.net
Date: September 10, 2019 at 4:58 PM
Subject: Public comment on PennEast deficiencies

Greetings – Please accept the following comments on the PennEast pipeline applications for DEP wetlands, stream encroachment and water quality certificate approvals.

I.  Permit process – Need to clarify formal pubic notice and comment and public hearing procedures

According the the Department’s September 4, 2019 letter, the application is deficient and not administratively complete.

However, the DEP indicated it would accept public comments at this phase of the permit process.

I am confused by that and request that the DEP clarify the permit procedure for the public. I am concerned that submission of public comments at this phase would appear to assist the applicant in correcting defects that warrant permit denial by the Department.

Will the Department provide a formal public notice and comment period and public hearing between the administratively completeness phase and the technical completeness phase? Will the Department provide formal public notice and comment period and public hearing after the Department deems the application technically complete? Will the Department provide a formal public notice and comment period and public hearing in the event the Department issues a draft permit? When does the mandatory 90 day land use permit clock begin? When does the Clean Water Act’s 1 year water quality certificate clock begin? Have any of these review clocks already begun?

II. Deficiencies

1. Anti-degradation policy for C1 waters

The DEP permit regulations mandate compliance with the DEP Surface Water Quality Standards: (emphases mine)

NJAC 7:7A-10.2 Standard requirements for all individual permits

[(a)]

(b) The Department shall issue an individual freshwater wetlands or open water fill permit only if the regulated activity:

[1.4]

5. Will not cause or contribute to a violation of any applicable State water quality standard;

The proposed PennEast pipeline would disturb and cross numerous DEP designated C1 streams. I have reviewed the PennEast compliance statement: ATTACHMENT G-2 – N.J.A.C. 7:7A Compliance Statement, which provides:

  • Requirement: 5. Will not cause or contribute to a violation of any applicable State water quality standard;

Compliance: The proposed Project has been designed and will be constructed in a manner to comply with N.J.A.C. 7:9B (State Water Quality Standards) and adheres to the Statements of policy codified at N.J.A.C. 7:9B-1.5. Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:7A-2.1(d), a permit issued under the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Rules shall constitute the water quality certificate required under the Federal Act at 33 U.S.C. § 1341.

The compliance statement – and the permit applications as a whole – are deficient for the following reasons:

The regulatory standard “Will not cause or contribute to a violation of any applicable State water quality standard”  – particularly the word “contribute” – requires that the applicant demonstrate and the DEP evaluate background conditions (i.e. conditions effected by existing multiple source impacts and stresses) and the incremental impact of the regulated activity with respect to water quality standards.

Use of the term “contribute” also lowers the scientific burden regarding causation. The DEP is not required to base decisions on highly certain scientific mechanisms of causality, linking a pipeline impact with certainty to an adverse water quality impact and/or violation of water quality standards.

NJ DEP Surface Water Quality Standards include anti-degradation policies, general policies, designated uses, existing uses, numeric criteria and narrative criteria.

The applicant has not affirmatively demonstrated compliance with these standards, policies, and criteria.

The proposed pipeline crisis numerous DEP designated “Category One” (C1) waters. The anti-degradation policy for C1 waters is (NJAC 7: 9B-1.5(d)):

“Category One Waters shall be protected from any measurable changes (including calculable or predicted changes) to the existing water quality. Water quality characteristics that are generally worse than the water quality criteria, except as due to natural conditions, shall be improved to maintain or provide for the designated uses where this can be accomplished without adverse impacts on organisms, communities, or ecosystems of concern.”

Water quality is defined to include physical, chemical and biological characteristics.

The key phrase “measurable change” expressly requires quantification.

Under NJ DEP regulations, valid quantification requires sampling conducted in accordance with DEP QA/QC and sampling protocols and provision of statistically representative and scientifically valid data.

The key phrase “calculable and predicted changes” requires not only statistically representative and scientifically valid quantitative characterization of current water quality conditions, the use of the word “and” before “predicted changes” also mandates projection, or modeling, of future conditions.

Future conditions would include consideration of the potential impacts of climate change – temperature, rainfall, drought, and ecological responses.

Future conditions would include the impacts of allowable buildout under municipal zoning.

Future conditions would include the impacts of allowable buildout under DEP approved water allocation and wastewater capacity and groundwater & septic design standards regarding constraints on septic system density and locations.

The key phrase “existing water quality” requires a statistically representative and scientifically valid characterization of baseline physical, chemical and biological conditions.

Biological features of “existing water quality” and “existing uses” include all aquatic and aquatic dependent organisms, during all phases of their lifecycle, including their habitat.

The key phrase “impacts on organisms, communities, or ecosystems of concern.” requires a comprehensive ecosystem wide analysis.

The key word shall be protected makes all of the aforementioned methods, standards, policies, and criteria mandatory.

The applicant has not affirmatively demonstrated compliance with the anti-degradation policies for C1 waters.

Water quality is dynamic. Dynamic conditions are an essential feature of “existing water quality” and projected future water quality conditions. Disturbance, stream crossings, and development impact future conditions. That’s why the regulations require consideration of “predicted changes”, including whether regulated activity “contributes” to a violation of a water quality standard.

For example, a valid C1 anti degradation compliance demonstration would require at least 4 quarters of QA/QC statistically representative and scientifically  valid data to characterize baseline “existing water quality” – physical, chemical, and biological characteristics and organism, community, and ecosystem scales .

In order to determine if “existing water quality” is “protected”, the DEP must know what existing water quality is.

The DEP must know what existing water quality is at each individual point of pipeline crossing or disturbance that may impact a C1 stream.

The applicant has failed to provide 4 quarters of statistically representative and scientifically valid data that characterizes “existing water quality” at every crossing or disturbance that may impact of a C1 stream.

In addition to not characterizing “existing water quality”, the applicant has not adequately conducted an impact analysis – including projections of future conditions – that is necessary to determine if disturbance or stream crossings will protect existing water quality, on a temporary or permanent basis.

The C1 policy does not allow for even a temporary change in (lowering of) existing water quality. The rules provide no basis for DEP or the applicant to distinguish between temporary, permanent, and/or irreversible adverse impacts.

Given the above serious deficiencies, the DEP may not determine that the application is administratively or technically complete.

Given these deficiencies, the DEP must require the applicant to provide QA/QC statistically representative and scientifically valid characterization of “existing water quality” and scientifically valid analysis of potential adverse future impacts.

The Department previously applied a Guidance document regarding disturbance of C1 buffers. Perhaps that Guidance document could serve as an initial framework for designing the required characterization of “existing water quality” and analysis of maintaining an avoiding potential adverse impacts on existing water quality.

Similarly, the Department has robust regulations and Guidance on water quality sampling, QA/QC, and protocols to assure statistical validity of data collected.

The applicant has not met these DEP standards.

2. Protection of Existing uses

The SWQS mandate protection of all “existing uses” of the waterbody:

“Existing uses shall be maintained and protected.” (NJAC 7:9B-1.5(a)6.)

“Existing uses” are broadly defined:

“Existing uses” means those uses actually attained in the waterbody on or after November 28, 1975, whether or not they are included in the Surface Water Quality Standards.

Th applicant has failed to provide a statistically representative and scientifically valid inventory and characterization of baseline “existing uses”.

This demonstration would include provision of 4 quarters of data and analysis of future conditions. See above comments on deficiencies in C1 anti-degradation policy for additional flaws in the “existing use” demonstration.

Therefore it is not possible for the DEP to determine if the pipeline project and regulated activity will protect all exiting uses.

3. Water Quality Certification

The applicant is required to demonstrate and the Department is required to determine if the proposed regulated activity complies with all water quality standards surface and groundwater) and will not cause or contribute to a violation of water quality standards – on a temporary or permanent basis.

The applicable regulations do not allow consideration of offsets, averaging or mitigation in making this demonstration an determination.

For the above reasons – and others I yet to comment on – the applicant has not met his burden and has failed to make a valid compliance demonstration and therefore the Department may not make a compliance determination and issue a water quality certificate.

I will be submitting additional comments regarding deficiencies in the application with respect to demonstration of compliance with water quality standards.

Respectfully,

Bill Wolfe

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Murphy Administration Spins Regulatory Failure In Drinking Water Crisis Into A Pathway For Privatization

September 11th, 2019 No comments

No DEP Oversight – No DEP Enforcement Contribute To Crisis

Republicans Manufacture A “Fire Hydrant” Diversion

“The DEP does not currently have staff with the skill sets needed to conduct detailed reviews of Asset Management Plans and programs.” ~~~ NJ DEP testimony to legislature (link below)

I recently had an exchange with a reporter for a major news outlet working on a story about DEP’s oversight of the Newark lead crisis.

He was shocked to come across recent DEP testimony to the legislature that admitted a lack of data on the number and location of lead service lines. He directed me to see page 10, question 8, paragraph 3 of the exchange between DEP & the Office of Legislative Services (OLS).

He asked for some context and DEP and regulatory background for this stunning admission.

I suggested that he report the story from a broader perspective, and focus on the far more egregious admission in that same DEP – OLS exchange, regarding “asset management” (see DEP replies to question #6. on page 7), especially these points:

OLS Q: Will the department review each water system’s asset management plan?

DEP reply: No. Asset Management Plans are primarily meant to assist the water systems. Asset Management Plans and programs are complicated and system-specific.

But this DEP admission is even more jaw dropping:

The DEP does not currently have staff with the skill sets needed to conduct detailed reviews of Asset Management Plans and programs. The DEP is developing a program that relies primarily on the certification of Asset Management Plans by responsible entities, annual reporting of routine metrics and inspections.

Get that? DEP does not have staff “with the skill sets needed to conduct detailed review of Asset management plans and programs”.

That results in no DEP oversight:

OLS Q: Does the department have sufficient staff and resources to implement the WQAA effectively?

DEP reply: Currently, the DEP is relying on the certification required in the Act.

DEP is flying blind, trusting the kindness of strangers.

Reliance on “certifications” is sham. The sham is the result of: 1) lack of reliable data; 2) regulatory loopholes; 3) discretion of professional engineering judgment; and 4) the lack of effective DEP oversight and enforcement. These facts make a certification virtually meaningless.

But the failures involved more than just DEP lack of oversight.

I also suggested that the reporter look into DEP enforcement data, because DEP does little to no enforcement against local governments and the public sector as a whole. This lack of enforcement was made much worse by Gov. Christie’s Executive Order #4 regarding “unfunded state mandates”. DEP has a very hands off approach.

In Newark, DEP had issued numerous “Notices of Violation” (NOV’s) to the Newark water system for violation of MCL’s (see this and this), without taking enforcement action (i.e. fines and Orders that mandate corrective actions).

In fact, Newark’s attempts to correct the DEP NOV’s regarding violation of the MCL’s for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) or Haloacetic Acids (HAA5) led directly to Newark making changes in water chemistry that then caused lead to leach from pipes and expose people to extremely high lead levels. 

So, DEP’s lack of enforcement and effective oversight directly caused and contributed to the Newark crisis.

I didn’t write about all this because I didn’t want to steal his story – and it was a very good one.

Well, the reporter – or his editors – never seem to have gotten around to publishing those bombshells.

So, today I was disgusted to read that the Legislature held hearings on asset management plans. Instead of focusing on the facts I documented above, the DEP’s regulatory failures, and loopholes in laws and regulations, the focus of the story was diverted and turned into a pathway to privatization: (NJTV News/NJ Spotlight story)

The act applies to public water systems with as few as 500 service connections, and one expert who analyzed the state’s data said the compliance rate may be a function of the small size of some of the systems.

“There’s a positive relationship between size and likelihood of compliance,” said Manuel Teodoro, an associate professor of political science at Texas A&M University. “Smaller systems that are owned by larger corporate utilities were significantly more likely to comply than the small systems that were either independent, private or municipal systems.

Should systems be consolidated?

“Yes,” said Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the state Board of Public Utilities. “I don’t want to put anybody out of business, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. But I think the customer would be served better if a lot of these smaller companies — these ma and pop ones, in particular — could be absorbed by the larger companies.”

One apparently retarded Republican legislator, apparently unaware of DEP’s admission of lack of effective oversight, complained that there was too much oversight:

Another lawmaker suggested that the level of inspections required under the act is daunting. Even signing off on the forms presents problems.

“Better not to sign a certification, than to sign one that’s not correct,” said Ocean County Republican Sen. Chris Connors. “Requiring every fire hydrant to be inspected, every valve to be inspected, some of which, we don’t even know where the locations are.”

Absurd. Now, to build on the “rain tax” slogan, we might see the “fire hydrant” excuse. Where do these assholes get his crap from?

While the Murphy BPU pushes privatization, the Murphy DEP is in no hurry and in complete denial:

Other lawmakers pushed for tougher fines and for a single, transparent clearinghouse for the compiled data.

The effort is still a work in progress, according to the DEP.

“We’re looking at those water quality rules to see if we can make them stronger,” said Deputy Commissioner Debbie Mans. “Because that is the standard, the criteria that we’re looking for, that reaches someone’s house.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given reporters great stories and they not only fail to write them, but that failure allows the entire story to be twisted, away from real solutions and towards things that will make current problems even worse, like privatization.

In fact, when I was a policy advisory to DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell (2002-2005), this was a conscious media manipulation strategy. Campbell directed the press office to advise him whenever a reporter was researching a story. He would then personally call this reporter to either spin the story to make DEP look good (instead of bad), or to divert the reporter to another story. Often he would pre-empt the bad news coverage by issuing a press release that made DEP look like a leader instead of a laggard, e.g. “DEP moves to…”.  It worked 95% of the time. Reporters are so easy to dupe, they are so eager for access and so lazy and flat out ignorant of science and regulatory reality.

Shame on all involved.

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PennEast Pipeline Owns NJ DEP

September 9th, 2019 No comments

This Is What Regulatory Capture Looks Like

PennEast had 31 DEP meetings, 30 conference calls, & 65 letters over 5 years

 Christie DEP Weakened Regulations To Promote Expansion of Gas Infrastructure

[See End Note]

I write a lot about political influence on DEP, industry lobbying, government ethics, the public interest, scientific integrity, corruption, and the revolving door.

I’ve found another case that illustrates them all.

Incredibly, back in the day, this stuff used to be kept quiet. It was considered unseemly to reveal how much access and influence and assistance and cooperation a polluting industry had on and extracted from DEP. The public posture was of a frequently adversarial and minimally arms length relationship between DEP and permit applicants (AKA the “regulated community”).

But now, they not only openly admit it, they brag about it and institutionalize what used to be considered, at best, compromised if not outright corrupt practice.

To start, consider a common definition of “regulatory capture” – (boldface mine, to emphasize criteria of relevance)

What Is Regulatory Capture?

Regulatory capture is an economic theory that says regulatory agencies may come to be dominated by the industries or interests they are charged with regulating. The result is that the agency, which is charged with acting in the public’s interest, instead acts in ways that benefit the industry it is supposed to be regulating.

Understanding Regulatory Capture

Regulatory capture, also known as the economic theory of regulation, became known in the 1970s due to the late George Stigler, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago, who first defined the term. Stigler noted that regulated industries maintain a keen and immediate interest in influencing regulators, whereas ordinary citizens are less motivated. As a result even though the rules in question, such as pollution standards, often affect citizens in the aggregate, individuals are unlikely to lobby regulators to the degree of regulated industries.

Moreover, regulated industries devote large budgets to influencing regulators at federal, state and local levels. By contrast, individual citizens spend only limited resources to advocate for their rights.

In many cases, the regulators themselves come from the pool of industry experts and employees, who then return to work in the industry after their government service. This is a version of the system known as the revolving door between public and private interests. In some cases, industry leaders trade the promise of future jobs for regulatory consideration, making revolving doors criminally corrupt.

Regulatory agencies that come to be controlled by the industries they are charged with regulating are known as captured agencies. Eventually, a captured public-interest agency operates essentially as an advocate for the industries it regulates. Such cases may not be directly corrupt, as there is no quid pro quo; rather, the regulators simply begin thinking like the industries they regulate, due to heavy lobbying.

After reading this, please read the material below from the PennEast pipeline permit application – particularly the boldface criteria – and consider whether this constitutes – or is compelling evidence of – regulatory capture.

1. Industry lobbying and access to DEP dwarfs citizens access

PennEast’s permit application states:

To further identify opportunities to avoid and minimize impacts to regulated resources, PennEast engaged in a robust pre-application process with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), specifically the Office of Permit Coordination and Environmental Review. This process included 31 in-person meetings, 30 conference calls, and 65 pieces of correspondence over a period of 5 years. These numerous interactions provided NJDEP with the opportunity to examine the route and provide feedback and guidance based upon their expertise. Consistent with NJDEP’s long-standing policy, articulated in NJDEP’s December 2011 Large Linear Infrastructure Project Guidance Document, NJDEP’s primary suggestion for pipeline routing focused on collocation with overhead electric ROW and collocation within roadways to avoid and minimize impacts to regulated resources.

(Source: PennEast Pipeline Permit Application – Compliance Statement, page 5)

Repeat: there were “numerous interactions” between PennEast lawyers, lobbyists and consultants and NJ DEP of a period of 5 years. This includes, at least 31 meetings, 30 conference calls, and 65 pieces of correspondence.

Some couples don’t have sex that often.

DEP has not resisted or tried to minimize the harm and corruption of the “agency capture” model. Rather, they have legitimized and institutionalized it. The stated mission of the DEP Office of Permit Coordination is as follows:

The mission of the Permit Coordination Unit is to insure that complex multi-media, high value projects receive proactive and facilitated communication and coordination in support of timely, predictable, and positive permit decisions.

What is a “positive permit decision”? Sure sounds like “YES!” to me.

The DEP permit process is rigged.

Things to consider:

  • How many times did you or your organization meet with DEP over the last 5 years?
  • How much feedback and help in advancing your concerns did the DEP provide?
  • How extensively did DEP explains their policies and regulatory requirements?
  • When did you even learn of the DEP’s consideration of this project? Was it 5 years ago, when the PennEast meetings began?
  • Were you kept apprised of each and every meeting, email, letter, and phone call between DEP and PennEast?
  • Were you provided an opportunity to observe or participate in these important meetings?
  • Is there a detailed paper trail that is publicly available that documents these “numerous interactions” between PennnEast and DEP?

2. Changes in State Policy and DEP Regulation To Promote Gas Infrastructure

Additionally – a critical fact not mentioned by PennEast – is the fact that the Christie DEP made specific regulatory changes to the freshwater wetlands regulations, stream encroachment regulations, and water quality certificate regulations that specifically apply to this proposed pipeline project and in a favorable way.

Also, during the period of these interactions with the DEP, the Christie Board of Public Utilities (BPU) adopted an Energy Master Plan and economic regulatory policies that promoted expansion of gas markets, provided subsidies to natural gas, and expanded the capacity of natural gas infrastructure (gas plants, pipelines, compressor stations) in NJ.

Based on this history, are you confident that DEP can be an independent, neutral, and objective review agency in serving the public interest?

 3. PennEast Benefits From Revolving door

PennEast brags about using the revolving door:

As a result of the [public] concerns raised, PennEast completed studies of potential arsenic mobilization resulting from pipeline construction and operation. These studies included arsenic leach testing of bedrock samples using an EPA approved guidance procedure (Serfes, 2016). Dr. Michael Serfes, Ph.D., conducted and oversaw these studies.

Dr. Serfes is a former NJDEP Research Scientist who spent 23 years managing the Ambient Groundwater Quality Network and investigated the sources, mobilization and transport of arsenic, lead, and other trace elements and contaminants in groundwater. In addition to his doctorate dissertation on arsenic mobilization, he authored the NJDEP’s original 2004 arsenic mobilization (release) study of representative red and black rock materials from the Lockatong and Passaic Formations from Hunterdon and Mercer Counties.

Were you provided 24/7 access to a DEP expert with 23 years of relevant experience?

I have not reviewed the entire permit application.

But the above alone is deeply disturbing.

[End Note: – I just filed the below OPRA request for the following public documents:

According to the August 2019 wetlands, stream encroachment and water qualify certificate permit applications filed by PennEast Pipeline Inc,:

“PennEast engaged in a robust pre-application process with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), specifically the Office of Permit Coordination and Environmental Review. This process included 31 in-person meetings, 30 conference calls, and 65 pieces of correspondence over a period of 5 years.”

Accordingly, I request the following public records, including: 1) meeting agendas, attendees, minutes, and DEP staff notes; 2) agendas, participants, DEP staff notes and documents from conference calls; and 3) the 65 pieces of correspondence over the last 5 years, as cited by the PennEast permit application.

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