Archive for January, 2020

Energy Privatization Legislation Is An Egregious Example Of A “Rigged System”

January 15th, 2020 No comments

Gov. Murphy Urged To Veto Corrupt Lame Duck Special Interest Bill

Tax breaks, eminent domain, fossil subsidies, exempt from bidding & OPRA

We are not just dealing with a broken system; this is a rigged system,” Murphy, a Democrat, said at a Trenton news conference. “This was designed by special interests to benefit special interests.” ~~~ Gov. Murphy decries ‘rigged system’, pledges to veto legislation extending controversial tax programs (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Just months after Gov. Murphy issued Executive Order #52 to conduct an in-depth examination of the deficiencies in NJ’s tax incentive programs” and the Gov.’s Task Force on EDA Tax Incentives issued its scathingly critical Report on what Gov. Murphy has called a “rigged system”, the NJ Legislature has poked a finger in the Gov.’s eye and passed a bill [A4535 [2R]S2958[2R] that is an egregious example of exactly what the Gov. called a “rigged system”.

Before I get to the numerous major flaws in the bill – which is now on the Governor’s desk – let’s first hit the highlights of the Gov.’s Executive Order and Task Force Report.

I will then show how the energy privatization bill repeats exactly the same abuses that the Governor lambasted, e.g. a “rigged system” designed by and for the economic benefit of special interests.

EO#52 harshly criticized NJ tax incentive programs (plural):

the State Comptroller has completed this audit, which has revealed grossly inadequate compliance and enforcement efforts by the EDA that failed to ensure that the tax incentive programs operated to the benefit of the State’s economy…

… it is plainly unacceptable that billions of dollars in taxpayer money were awarded to companies based on promises of job creation and retention that often did not materialize

The Gov.’s Task Force Report further documented these abuses, concluding:

  • Special interests, which prioritized benefits to private parties rather than the State, had a significant impact on the design of statutes and regulations;

  • The EDA did not have adequate procedures in place to ensure that it discovered relevant information, including applicant misstatements the would have led to rejection of some applications or a significant reduction in the amount of awards;

The corrupt “rigged system” promotes corporate profits over the public interest by ceding control of drafting tax incentive policy (AKA corporate subsidies), legislation, regulations and EDA oversight to private corporate interests, who literally write their own ticket.

This is not just about one or two tax incentive programs administered by EDA – the EDA has been discredited as an institution and the entire concept of tax incentives and corporate subsidies has been exposed as a fraud.

NJ Policy Perspective’s Report expands on these corrupt flaws and recommends reforms:

Reining in Corporate Tax Subsidies: A Better Economic Development Playbook for New Jersey

… by removing oversight safeguards and caps on awards, the economic development legislation enabled an unprecedented spike in corporate tax breaks with questionable benefits, depressing future tax revenue for years to come. Today, New Jersey is a national outlier in both the size of its corporate subsidy awards and how little the state receives as a return on its investments.

Now with this context of extreme abuse in mind, how is it even possible that the NJ Legislature just passed a bill – [A4535 [2R]S2958[2R] – that would create another new huge corporate subsidy program, via tax breaks, and administered by the EDA?

Never mind the fact that the energy bill gives short shrift to climate change and would subsidize fossil energy production.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill ignores Gov. Murphy’s soon to be released Energy Master Plan and is “policy neutral” with respect to fossil versus renewable energy.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill is based on model legislation drafted by the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council and has floundered in the legislature for at least 6 years.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill would authorize private corporations to *benefit from the exercise of eminent domain authority, similar to the issue Gov. Murphy’s Attorney General Grewal has litigated in the PennEast pipeline case.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill would exempt the program from the Open Public Record Act, thereby destroying transparency and accountability and frustrating the ability of the public and media to oversee the program.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill would exempt private corporations and government from complying with open competitive public bidding laws, likely leading to gross financial ripoffs and other pay to play corruption.

Never mind that the energy bill could exempt billion dollar energy projects from local property taxes and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS). (I wonder if local governments are aware of this? Or NJ’s local taxpayers – who pay the highest property taxes in the country – are aware of this?

Never mind the fact that the energy bill, by classifying these projects as an “essential government function”, would over-ride NJ’s local home rule land use traditions and restrict local governments’ ability to protect local public health, safety and welfare.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill would divert millions of dollars from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Climate Solutions Fund, revenues that are targeted at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill would create all the problems associated with privatization of critical public infrastructure, including putting private profits over the public interest, consumer ripoffs and expanding corporate control.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill lacks any cost containment policies or mechanisms, like caps on energy capacity, economic costs, limits on total subsidies or corporate CEO or executive compensation, or requires that projects pass a cost-benefit tests.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill’s privatization of energy infrastructure conflicts with Gov. Murphy’s “community solar” program and would undermine the emergence of public power and preclude democratic community control of a critical public utility.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill repeats all the same mistakes of NJ’s deregulation of the solid waste industry (i.e. the 1985 “McEnroe” “negotiated procurement” law that eliminated BPU public utility regulation of garbage incineration) and NJ’s 1999 Energy deregulation law.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill lacks effective regulatory oversight and enforcement mechanisms.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill relies on a slogan and makes a sham argument about “resilience”.

Never mind the fact that the energy bill was rammed though, without debate, on the last day of the Lame Duck session.

We can ignore ALL THAT ABUSE.

The mere fact that the Legislature passed another corporate tax break program and housed it in EDA just months after EDA’s corporate tax break subsidy programs were exposed as a massive fraud, is sufficient basis for Governor Murphy to veto the bill.

This is the worst bill I can recall over a 35 year career in Trenton.

If Governor Murphy can’t veto this bill, then he is either part of the corruption or completely politically powerless.

[End Note: Does NJ Gov. Phil “Rigged System” Murphy even know that his own greenhouse gas plan allocates 60% of total funds (about $60 million/year) to EDA for grants, the same policy he has lambasted? See:

NJ Gov. Murphy’s RGGI Funding Plan Will Subsidize Fossil

Of course, perhaps the Gov. supports his Democratic Party’s prior legislation to privatize NJ’s toxic site cleanup program and more recently promote privatization of local water and sewer infrastructure.

In that case, he may have green lighted this bill and will sign it. Time will tell. We are watching.

* revised – clarification of original

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Pinelands Commission Fails To Marshall Sufficient Votes To Kill South Jersey Gas Pipeline

January 14th, 2020 No comments

Six Years After Historic Tie Vote, Zombie Pipeline Is Still Alive

South Jersey Political Machine Refuses To Abandon Pipeline

The Commission’s failure to act makes a mockery of Governor Murphy’s energy and climate policies and invites litigation as well.

The bizarre saga of the proposed South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands continues.

The latest debacle was as if pipeline champion Senate President Sweeney – Boss George Norcross’ puppet – was in the shadows twisting arms and lawyers from South Jersey Gas were whispering in the ears of certain Commissioners.

It was equally obvious that Governor Murphy lacks the political will and/or the political power to implement his so called climate policies and transition to renewable energy.

In contrast to Gov. Christie, who aggressively strong armed this pipeline through BPU, DEP and the Pinelands Commission approvals, Gov. Murphy is a eunuch. Here’s what went down:

Exactly 6 years to the day after the infamous deadlocked 7-7 vote that rejected a proposed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to approve the pipeline, at their Friday (1/10/20) meeting to kick off a new decade, the Commission failed to muster the votes to put the final nail in the coffin of that pipeline.

After extracting concessions that neutered a prior strongly worded April 2019 draft Resolution that explicitly deemed the pipeline inconsistent with the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) and “invalid”, pipeline supporters on the Commission betrayed their prior compromise and shifted gears to instead oppose the compromise Resolution.

You can watch the latest embarrassment – public testimony starts at time 41:30 and the Commission’s deliberations start at time 50:00.

Commissioner Lohbauer, who opposed the pipeline, was unable to secure votes to pass the stronger April version of the Resolution. He then negotiated what he, Executive Director Wittenberg, and Commissioner Avery described as a “consensus” compromise Resolution.

But the so called “consensus” resolution only secured 3 votes in favor and was defeated (3 YES, 6 NO). [Correction: The Vote was 4 YES, 5 NO. Sorry about that!]

It was an egregious example of bad faith by the pro-pipeline faction.

Commissioners hid behind all kinds of smoke screens to rationalize and mask their support of the pipeline, as they voted to oppose a compromise, watered down, and vague Resolution.

But Commissioner Earlen, former Chairman appointed by Gov. Christie who aggressively championed the pipeline, was more honest. He said:

This Resolution does nothing. It does not rescind the application It does not revoke it. It does not terminate it.

Commissioner Earlen opposed the Resolution, stating he opposed any Resolution because it was not the role of the Commission, but rather the Executive Director. But he tipped his hand when he said it did a “disservice” – obviously he meant to South Jersey Gas.

Commissioner Christy was equally disingenuous. He spewed drivel that he had never seen a Resolution that rescinded a prior Resolution. He fails to understand that a “Resolution” is the Commission’s procedure for issuing what legally are regulatory approvals.

Of course a regulatory approval can be revoked, but must be revoked via formal procedures, the same that were used to issue the approval, in order to satisfy basic due process concerns. This is why the Commission can not rely on Executive Director Wittenberg’s April 2019 letter to SJG.

Executive Director Wittenberg obfuscated and manipulated again, by conflating the requirement to submit a completely new application and conduct a de novo review by the Commission and public, versus an amendment to the existing approval where the Commission and public have very little effective power. She said:

No way they (SJG) can do this without coming back in (before the Commission).

Wittenberg obviously knows that the real issue is under what regulations, standards, and procedures they come in under.

Chairman Pricket let the cat out of the bag and stated that the Attorney General’s Office, in anticipation of litigation, advised him that Commissioners should make a public statement on the intent of their vote in order to create a public record, because of flaws and lack of clarity in the Resolution itself.

The Court remanded the SJG prior Commission approval back to the Commission.

The Commission has failed to act, thus the prior Commission approval stands, as well as prior DEP and BPU approvals.

The failure to act keeps the door open for SJG to amend the application to provide a different rationale, to sell the approval, or to secure another owner or otherwise revise the BL England re-powering plan. And keep in mind that service to the BL England plant and capacity was not the sole or exclusive basis upon which the Commission approved the pipeline: there were the Cape May redundancy, “resilience”, and capacity to serve new growth in gas demand rationales.

Plus, natural gas exports are now expanding, and an approved pipeline connecting the fracked wells of Pennsylvania and an Atlantic Ocean port is an extremely valuable asset.

That’s why South Jersey Gas is still bullish on the project and misleading shareholders and investors about it.

Failure to act makes a mockery of Governor Murphy’s energy and climate policies and invites litigation as well.

What an awful start to a new decade.

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Pinelands Commission Doing Nothing To Address Climate Risks and Impacts

January 9th, 2020 No comments

No Action 5 Years After Commission’s Workplan First Included Climate Policy

The Pinelands Commission Is Collapsing

The following is the US Military’s caption: Controlled burns help prevent wildfires, which reduce visibility for air exercises. Photo credit: Dr. Walter Bien, Laboratory of Pinelands Research

The following is the US Military’s caption:
Controlled burns help prevent wildfires, which reduce visibility for air exercises. Photo credit: Dr. Walter Bien, Laboratory of Pinelands Research

The Pinelands National reserve is under attack from many quarters. And as these attacks escalate and proliferate, the Pinelands Commission is literally collapsing.

Most recently, Gov. Murphy failed to secure Senate confirmation of his Pinelands Commission nominees and tomorrow the Commission again will consider a fatally flawed Trojan horse Resolution on the South Jersey Gas pipeline (see also:

Even worse, although you wouldn’t know it from reading today’s NJ Spotlight story on climate risks and impacts in the Pinelands – including wildfire risks – aside from two briefings by climate scientists, the Pinelands Commission is doing virtually nothing to amend the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) to adopt enforceable polices and plans to address climate change.

Once again, NJ Spotlight’s coverage got spun by the “experts”, who – in the wake of California and Australia wildfire disasters – opportunistically are promoting a narrative that generates public support and funding for highly questionable policies, such as “controlled burns”, while masking major failure to address serious climate concerns.

Here’s what the “experts” don’t want you to know and that NJ Spotlight again failed to report.

Over 5 years ago, the Pinelands Commission, in The Fourth Progress Report on Plan Implementation (September 2014), first directed staff to develop climate policies and amend the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) to address climate risks and impacts. (see Action Plan Table on p. 166):

The Commission will evaluate what options are available to address climate change through the CMP and in cooperation with other agencies.

Since then, aside from 2 scientific briefings on climate science, the Commission  has done nothing to amend the CMP to provide enforceable policies and plans that reflect climate science and address climate impacts and risks to the precious natural resources of the Pinelands.

In fact, there is evidence that Executive Director Wittenberg is dragging her feet, if not outright derailing such developments, see:

There are many things the Pinelands Commission could do to address climate change, including:

1) establish and fund phenology, forest management, climate impact science, and monitoring programs, including incorporating climate driven rainfall/drought into their similarly long delayed and seemingly stalled “Kirkwood-Cohansey” project on restricting water allocation to protect ecological functions and ecosystems;

2) mandate and promote energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewables (including installation of EV charging stations, public transport, bicycles, and zero carbon development), and distributed publicly owned local power, micro-grids, etc – including requirements for new development applications and to retrofit of existing development;

3) prohibit new fossil infrastructure, like pipelines and power plants, and phase out existing fossil infrastructure, including ecological restoration of disturbance associated with that infrastructure;

4) regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including mandatory offset and mitigation requirements and net zero development;

5) establish a pro-active adaptation program (not just reactive fire suppression).

Call it a Green New Deal for the Pinelands!

Because Spotlight reported so favorably on how the “experts” spin their wildfire suppression efforts, readers also should know that the military starts forest fires (in their own words: “one fire every 10 – 14 days”) during training exercises.

As we recently wrote, via the REPI program, the Pentagon is funding the NJ “controlled burn” program. For documentation of all that, see:

We wrote to Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle to provide all these facts that expose serious gaps in his reporting.

Spotlight needs to up their game – they are seriously misleading readers and routinely providing only part of the story.

PS – Virtually the same criticism, failure and missed opportunities apply to the work of the Highlands Council and the Regional Master Plan (RMP). In fact, the problems are even worse in the Highlands, as NJ DEP and NJ Audubon team up to log Highlands forests, under the sham pretext of healthy forests and habitat creation.

These problems will get much worse as about $10 million/year in RGGI “carbon sequestration” funding drives even more destructive logging projects, see:

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NJ Spotlight Is Becoming The Fox News Of Energy & Climate Reporting

January 7th, 2020 No comments

Consistent Pattern of Bias And Providing A Platform For Energy Industry Talking Points

Major Relevant Concerns Ignored

Reality is the OPPOSITE of What Is Reported

“drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now look remarkably easy to achieve, from an economic point of view. Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner in economics (1/3/20)

After the extensive media coverage of the Exxon climate fraud lawsuit, it is now well understood that the fossil energy industry waged a propaganda war to manufacture doubt, deny, and undermine the credibility of climate science and that they used the media to deploy that propaganda.

So, based on this history, one would assume that the media and professional journalists would be cognizant of their role in deceiving the American public and be highly skeptical of energy industry climate and energy claims. One would assume that they would resent being used as a tool to lie to their readers and manipulate public opinion.

One also would assume that the media would feel  some sense of shame and take responsibility for their role in this deception and try to correct the historical wrongs that they participated in and make things right.

One would think that they would reject and correct the current framing and narrative, which is upside down and exactly backwards.

But these assumptions are the ramblings of a naive fool.

I’ll use just the recent nuclear industry talking points Op-Ed by Carol Browner – which lacked adequate disclosure of Browner’s industry funded front group, Nuclear Matters – and quick excerpts from today’s NJ Spotlight story on electric vehicles to illustrate my conclusion that NJ Spotlight’s climate and energy coverage remains hopelessly mired in falsehoods, ideology, and consistently reflects fossil fuel bias, both in the content of the coverage and the facts that are ignored.

First, let’s slog through some theory to point out relevant economic theory and consensus facts that are rarely – if ever – reported (interested readers can hit the links for further details):

1. Fossil fuels, the fossil (and nuclear) energy industry, and the internal combustion engine receive BILLIONS of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

The subsidies are so huge that even capitalist tool Forbes reports on that, see:

Spotlight coverage is obsessed with so called subsidies to renewables, when the opposite is true. It is fossil that gets all the subsidies and they go unreported.

2. Fossil fuels, the fossil energy industry, and the internal combustion engine “externalize” huge costs of their operations, costs which fall under the concept of “the social cost of carbon”.

Spotlight coverage is obsessed with the so called imposition of costs on ratepayers by renewables, when the opposite is true. Fossil imposes huge and unreported costs on us all.

3. Economic theory elucidates a concept that is known as “market failure”.

For our purposes, prime examples of “market failure” include “externalities” and “public goods“.

Fossil energy markets are rife with structural “market failure”. Countless studies describe and quantify such market failure (do the Google).

But Spotlight is obsessed with reporting on so called “cheap” gas and never mentions the reality of market failure in their coverage. Again, the reality is the opposite of what is reported.

Additionally, economic concepts seek to examine the equitable dimensions of markets, in terms of the distribution of costs and benefits.

One key measure of distributional equity is known as the “Gini co-efficient”.

One key indictor and a remedy to inequitable distribution of economic resources and inequitable concentration of benefits is known as the Hicks-Kaldor criterion, which basically says that economic winners have a moral obligation and mechanism to compensate economic losers.

Another key concept in economic policy is what as known as “inter-generational equity”. In this regard, a key assumption in the economic calculus to public policy and planning for the future that incorporates inter-generational equity is known as “social discount rate”.

These fundamental economic concepts never get incorporated in Spotlight coverage – which omissions mislead readers.

4. Other states, including New York and California, have taken more aggressive steps than NJ to address market failure via regulatory mandates and surcharges to incorporate the external cost of carbon.

NY’s proposal is pending, but California recently adopted:

The GHG adder used in the TRC, RIM, and PAC tests is a modeled price meant to achieve an aggressive GHG reduction target. The new values start at $73.24/metric ton of CO2 in 2019, escalating to $150/metric ton of CO2 in 2030.

Compare California’s program with RGGI. RGGI only covers 15% of total GHG emissions and the allowance price is in the paltry range of $5/ton.

But readers of NJ Spotlight virtually never are told about any of these theories or facts.

But, NJ Spotlight has provided a platform and published numerous stories (too numerous to mention here) that not only ignore all the above, but flat out contradict it with industry lies.

Without addressing the recent pro-nuclear Op-Ed by Carol Browner (more on that in a future post), today’s NJ Spotlight story on electric vehicle provides glaring examples:

A. What does “competitive” mean?

NJ Spotlight focuses on “competitive” aspects.

“This isn’t going to do anything to help the competitiveness of New Jersey businesses,’’ said Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey, referring to the high costs manufacturers already face because of steep energy bills. He urged state revenue be used instead of relying on ratepayers to fund the program.

First of all, there is a dangerous hidden premise: the Legislature has no obligation to “help” NJ businesses.

But, with respect to alleged “steep energy bills”, as we highlight above, energy bills are rife with externalities and do not reflect the social cost of carbon or the equitable aspects of climate chaos or energy market prices, costs and benefits.

NJ Spotlight then reports this as a fact, not an ideological claim:

The rebates under the proposed bill will finally make electric vehicles competitive with conventional internal-combustion engines.

The internal combustion engine benefits from HUGE subsidies, externalizes its costs, and exacerbates an already grossly inequitable distribution of economic resources and costs (economic, social, environmental and public health costs).

Accordingly, if these costs were included in the price of gasoline and incorporated in the purchase price of the internal combustion engine vehicle, electric vehicles would be economically superior.

Spotlight’s failure to report facts on fossil subsidies and market failure leads readers to exactly the opposite and wrong conclusion.

B. The role of regulation is to remedy market failure

As noted above, NJ Spotlight fails to mention market failure or the policies of other States to remedy various market failures.

But they have no problem reporting assumptions that markets are superior to regulation. Check this out:

Advocates view the legislation as crucial to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the transportation sector, the single largest source of pollution contributing to climate change. It also aims to comply with California’s clean-car program, which seeks to convince motorists to switch to electric cars, or zero-emission vehicles.

Not only is that an ideological claim about the superiority of markets (i.e. the program is about “convincing consumers”), but it is factually false.

The California clean car ZEV program is a regulatory program that targets the automobile industry: (not the education of consumers)

In 2012, CARB adopted a set of regulations to control emissions from passenger vehicles, collectively called Advanced Clean Cars. Advanced Clean Cars, developed in coordination with the United States (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), combined the control of smog-causing (criteria) pollutants and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into a single coordinated package of regulations: the Low-Emission Vehicle III regulation for criteria (LEV III Criteria) and GHG (LEV III GHG) emissions, and a technology forcing mandate for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV).

Regulatory mandates are not being enforced. But Spotlight readers don’t know that.

Worse, Spotlight instead provided a platform for the auto industry – which is not in compliance with regulatory mandates – to criticize the state:

To some, however, New Jersey has fallen behind other states, especially those that followed the Garden State in trying to implement the California clean-car program.

“New Jersey has literally done nothing to advance the goals of this program,’’ said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

Chutzpah, no?

C. Costs for Whom? What about equity?

NJ Spotlight regularly reports aggressively about the so called called high costs of renewable energy and economic impacts on ratepayers, while ignoring ALL of the above economic theory and facts that would pout those alleged high costs in context.

Today, they correctly reported the amount of funding for the EV rebate program, but not the implications of it is where coming from:

The bill proposes to siphon off $30 million a year from a ratepayer-funded program over the next decade to provide rebates to consumers to buy the more expensive electric vehicles.

The bill would “siphon” that money away from low income energy assistance programs that benefit low income people who are desperately trying to keep the lights on and stay warm in the winter and transfer it to rebates to wealthy people buying new cars.

That is a moral outrage.

Spotlight then reports a correction to prior reporting – without noting that it is a correction – by carefully noting that the bill does NOT provide new money or increase ratepayer surcharges, but, as we previously correctly pointed out, merely authorized BPU to increase those surcharges in the future:

It also opens the way for the state to raise additional funds to finance expansion of the charging infrastructure to reduce range anxiety of motorists, who fear they’ll be left stranded with no place to recharge their vehicles.

This completely undermines Spotlight’s prior and consistent reporting about so called rate increases to pay for the program and exposes industry opposition as based on exaggerations (which Spotlight continues to print, despite the fact that they know these claims are false).

And, of course, Spotlight closes the story with the (unqualified) perspective of climate criminal Jim Benton of the NJ Petroleum Council.

All this amounts – at best – to serious bias.

More on the fact free Browner nuclear Op-Ed in a future post.

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Murphy DEP Rules Exclude Climate Change In Infrastructure Planning

January 6th, 2020 No comments

Murphy DEP Dodge On The PennEast Pipeline Masks Major Regulatory Flaws

Widely Denounced Trump NEPA Rollback Actually Reflects Current NJ Regulatory Policy

Last week, the NY Times reported that the Trump administration was rolling back environmental impact statement review requirements for infrastructure regarding climate change impacts:

Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning

WASHINGTON — Federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines and other major infrastructure projects, according to a Trump administration plan that would weaken the nation’s benchmark environmental law.

The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects.

According to the NY Times, the Trump move was condemned by environmental activists and Democrats:

Environmental activists and legal experts said the proposed changes would weaken critical safeguards for air, water and wildlife. The move, if it survives the expected court challenges, also could eliminate a powerful tool that climate change activists have used to stop or slow Mr. Trump’s encouragement of coal and oil development as part of its “energy dominance” policy.

The Trump rollback – initiated by Executive Order – has been closely followed by media and when finalized got negative press across the county and was widely denounced as reckless and irresponsible (it is ironic that Phil Murphy is affiliated with CAP, who issued that criticism).

Yet, here in NJ, under Democratic Gov. Murphy – who claims to be a national leader in climate policy – current DEP regulations do not consider climate change.

Let me repeat: current NJ DEP regulations do not consider greenhouse gas emissions or climate change. Period.

While I have not been able to review the final Trump CEQ NEPA rule –  based on press reports, the Trump rollback appears to eliminate only the “cumulative impact” climate reviews under NEPA, not climate impacts entirely.

So, let’s examine the Trump NEPA rollback in light of current NJ law and DEP regulation.

First of all, NJ does not have a “State NEPA” that mandates environmental impact statements, like NY State’s SEQRA law. Secondly, NJ DEP regulations ignore climate change entirely.

That means that the current NJ DEP regulations are actually even weaker than the Trump NEPA rollback, because DEP does not consider climate change at all (direct, indirect, secondary, or cumulative impacts).

Which brings us to the recent PennEast pipeline DEP permit controversy.

Gov. Murphy has Tweeted and the NJ press dutifully has reported that NJ DEP denied the PennEast pipeline permits.

I have explained why that is false – DEP did not deny the PennEast pipeline permits.

(for those who like to verify claims based on evidence and get into the weeds, see the PennEast permit application documents, including DEP’s deficiency letter at the very end. I challenge anyone to find the climate impact review documents that regard greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed pipeline (and lifecycle upstream fracking and downstream combustion).

Clarity on this issue is absolutely essential, because, under current seriously flawed NJ DEP regulations, DEP would be unable to deny the PennEast pipeline.

This is true for 2 reasons:

1) current DEP permit regulations and permit review policies do not mandate review of climate impacts or establish any standards upon which to deny a permit based on greenhouse gas emissions or climate impacts; and

2) current DEP water quality certification regulations and permit review policies lack adequate science based technical criteria and standards upon which to deny a water quality certificate for a pipeline. For example, the recent DEP Raritan Bay Williams pipeline permits and WQC denial will be challenged and very likely overturned by the Courts. First of all, the NJ State permits that were denied are pre-empted by federal law and secondly, the denial of the WQC was based on DEP’s enforcement of a Guidance document. Williams’ lawyers are smart enough to know that – as I’ve written many times – in  Metromedia decision, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that Guidance documents are not enforceable.

NJ DEP has relied on the inability for PennEast to condemn State owned lands. That inability has made it impossible for PennEast to submit a complete permit application.

Rejection of that “incomplete” permit application allows DEP to dodge these fatal flaws in current DEP regulations – the same flaws for which the Trump administration was widely condemned. 

In addition to DEP dodging regulatory flaws, Gov. Murphy is able to dodge the fossil infrastructure moratorium issues and get false praise for having “killed” a pipeline.

The reason why a clear understanding of the basis for the PennEast permit status is important is because DEP has set no regulatory precedent, while avoiding any focus on loopholes in DEP regulations regarding water quality certification and lack of greenhouse gas emission standards. That means OTHER pipelines and fossil infrastructure can be approved under DEP’s flawed regulations.

If DEP were forced to make a regulatory decision on the merits, that would trigger the obvious need for a Gubernatorial moratorium and reforms to DEP regulations regarding pipeline reviews.

This moratorium and regulatory ratchet down would apply to ALL fossil infrastructure, not just PennEast.  

NJ Spotlight can’t seem to understand these issues and is listening to the selfish perspective of Tom Gilbert, who only cares about the PennEast pipeline.

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