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Archive for May, 2020

What’s Going On

May 30th, 2020 No comments

America as a “failed social experiment”

I grow more depressed as things unravel – from what I called a “failed state” to what Dr. West more recently aptly described as a “failed social experiment“.

No one has a more profound analysis and ability to tell the truth about “what’s going on” than Dr. West.

“I think we are witnessing America as a “failed social experiment.”

“What I mean by that,” explained West, “is that the history of black people for over 200 and some years in America has been looking at America’s failure. Its capitalist economy could not generate and deliver in such a way that people could live lives of decency. The nation-state, it’s criminal justice system, it’s legal system could not generate protection of rights and liberties. And now our culture, of course is so market-driven—everything for sale, everybody for sale—it can’t  deliver the kind of nourishment for soul, for meaning, for purpose.

Amen Bro.

(and thank … for the activists, organizers and protesters!!!!!!!!)

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Eagle at Bridger-Teton National Forest

May 26th, 2020 No comments

Memorial Day

Views from the front yard

Bridger-Teton National Forest

Bridger-Teton National Forest

We pulled into BTNF on Sunday afternoon, a cloudy, windy and cold day – after 5 days & nights of the same dank weather on BLM land outside of Pinedale Wyoming (including snow and sleet and 25 degree nights).

We wound our way up the valley a couple of miles. After passing a few holiday weekend campers – with American flags flying – we found a spectacular site, wedged in a canyon (or is it a valley?) between snow-capped peaks.

_DSC6212

A ripping stream flowed maybe 50 feet away, swollen with snow melt, and all I can hear is the roar of the stream and the wind in the trees. The wilderness boundary is about 100 yards behind the site (note the prior small fire on slope to the right).

_DSC6217

This morning, shortly after the sun had risen over the mountains, we set out for our morning walk.

It was a sunny cloudless sky – cold, but no wind – and it was tremendous to feel the sun on my face, especially after a cold night, cold morning, and a prior week of cold.

Suddenly, as I looked to my right, I saw a bald eagle flying by. He was moving quickly but flying low, but in the light and with his speed, I didn’t get a good look. Damn, I missed him!

But despite the disappointing lack of a sighting, we had a fine short “hike” and eagerly returned to the bus for coffee and breakfast.

We spent a wonderful day, just puttering around, reading, eating, and taking short walks (altitude about 6,500 feet, which I felt with every step up the mountain trail).

Bouy spent the entire day obsessed by the local prairie dogs, digging frantically and trying to get his head into their burrows. After that and a few walks, he’s now exhausted and about to sleep for the night.

Later afternoon, about 4 pm, as I sat basking in and getting the last of the day’s sun as it was about to go behind the mountains, another bald eagle flew by. I think he was the same one I saw this morning, but moving in the opposite direction.

He was flying low (maybe 30-40 feet) and slow, and just about 100 feet away from me. This time I got a good, long look.

It was one of those intermittently cloudy days, with the huge billowing white clouds that block the sun for 10 minutes or more.

Just as the eagle flew by, a shaft of sunlight emerged from the clouds, and shone a brilliant light, illuminating his cordovan chocolate brown back and white tail feathers.

The contrast of the illuminated eagle against the deep green forested mountain background – which was still clouded in dark shade – was incredible.

The timing of the burst of sunlight simultaneous with the bird flying by was almost mysterious.

I’ve never seen or experienced anything remotely similar.

A memorable and Happy Memorial Day!

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“A Natural Gas Success Story”

May 21st, 2020 No comments

I Bet Your Never Even Heard Of “Project Wagon Wheel”

The nuclear roots of fracking

Orwell meets Strangelove

BLM lands outside Pinedale, Wyoming. I think that is Teton range in background

BLM lands outside Pinedale, Wyoming. I think that’s Bridger- Teton wilderness range in background

[Update: As a perfect illustration of the past as present, meanwhile High Country News reports that the BLM has suspended lease & royalty payments and is encouraging more drilling:

[BLM is] encouraging public-land drilling, despite the continued glut in the global market.

The new policies instruct state offices to let companies apply for lease suspensions and avoid royalty payments, which are the legally mandated taxes on the revenue from resources drilled or mined on public lands. ~~~ end update]

As I randomly wander, it seems I can’t help but find trouble, but this one is unusual, even for my experience.

I left the Ajo Arizona Sonoran desert back in early March, on the first day it hit 100 degrees. We can’t take that kind of heat.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, outside Ajo, Arizona

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, outside Ajo, Arizona

As I meandered up the western Rockies, despite elevation, the heat kept following me, most recently after a few days in the “North Fruita Desert” just northwest of Grand Junction Colorado.

North Fruita Desert, western Colorado

North Fruita Desert, western Colorado

So, I continued north. After a few nights in Ashley National Forest, through Utah’s magnificent Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and into Wyoming, I began to have thoughts of perhaps spending time in Montana wilderness.

Ashley National Forest, Utah

Ashley National Forest, Utah

Flaming Gorge dam

Flaming Gorge dam

But, instead of heat, I ran into cold, high winds and forecasted snow, so I hunkered down on BLM lands just outside the small town of Pinedale, Wyoming, about 75 miles southwest of the awesome Tetons.

Grand Teton National park (7/21/19)

Grand Teton National Park (7/21/19)

In a round about way, all of which brings me to that “natural gas success story” and “Project Wagon Wheel”.

This morning, after a cold and windy night (and morning), I hiked into the BLM lands. I came across a sign announcing a seasonal winter closure  to protect wildlife. I noted the name of the place and came back to the bus to find out about it

I was surprised to learn that this awesome looking place was home of one of the largest gas fields in the world, the “Pinedale AntiCline Oil and Gas Exploration Project Area”.

According to BLM

The area has one of the richest concentrations of natural gas in the United States, currently estimated at more than 14 trillion cubic feet. 

But, I was astounded by the cavalier and favorable description of the official Wyoming State history of the project – the “success story”- including this little bit of insanity, dubbed: “Project Wagon Wheel”:

Early attempts

California Oil Company, later named Chevron, first drilled on the Pinedale Anticline in 1939 using rotary tools, state-of-the-art drilling equipment at the time. Working only from the geological clues visible on the earth’s surface, these early oilmen had correctly figured out where to drill. But after drilling 10,000 feet into the earth, they found very little of what they were after — oil. They did, however, find plenty of natural gas. Unfortunately, there was no market for the gas and the company plugged and abandoned the site.

El Paso Gas Company purchased the well but with hopes to drill for gas. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the company drilled a total of seven wells in the area, all producing limited gas, making the venture an economic failure.

But El Paso made plans to return to the Pinedale Anticline in a big way in 1969, to experiment with detonating nuclear devices to assist with natural gas extraction. This attempt, Project Wagon Wheel, was designed to study the effectiveness of nuclear power to mine natural gas. El Paso geologists knew there was plenty of gas below the anticline, but it was locked tightly in sandstone rock formations that resisted conventional drilling methods. Radioactivity, according to a company report, was not expected to be a problem.

When the citizens of Sublette County learned of the planned nuclear detonation, several of them formed the Wagon Wheel Information Committee to learn more about the project. The group soon committed to educating people and stopping the project. Eventually they succeeded. Determined citizens prevented big industry and the federal government from detonating nuclear devices in their county.

I wonder if that “company report” was written by General Jack D. Ripper.

Well, I guess that makes nuclear bombs officially the precursor of today’s fracking, as documented by the “official history”:

In 1974, the test well that El Paso Natural Gas had drilled for Wagon Wheel was used instead for an attempt at what then was called massive hydraulic fracturing, to crack open the gas-bearing rock by pumping large amounts of water under pressure down the well. The procedure didn’t work and the hole was eventually plugged and never reopened.

The Wyoming historians glowingly describe fracking thusly:

Natural gas in the Jonah Field is “locked” in tight rock formations. To extract the gas, first the well is drilled, and then the formations must be broken down, creating channels for gas to flow. This is accomplished by fracturing (fracking) a formation, when fluid and/or compressed gas is forced at high pressure down the well fracturing the gas-bearing rocks, creating cracks and fissures. These fissures become conduits for gas to flow out of the formation and up the steel pipe set in the well. To keep the formation from closing back on the fissures and resealing the rock, solid material is mixed in the “frack fluid” to prop the channels open. The most commonly used “propant” is sand, or “frack sand.”

No mention of the composition of that “fluid” or the effects of the gas on the climate catastrophe (the more specific and critical history of Project Wagon Wheel does mention fracking chemicals, however).

But, that’s not all. The official history touts this too:

More pipelines, more drilling, more wells

Initially hampering production, however, were limited pipelines, as well as a scarcity of compression facilities, which increase the pressure of gas in pipelines and enable the gas to flow properly. Four-inch pipelines were soon replaced with eight-inch surface pipeline. Then in 1996, a twelve-inch gas line was constructed with a capacity of 100 million cubic feet per day. The following year, a twenty-three-mile, sixteen-inch pipeline was added to connect Williams Field Services, Questar (after 2011, QEP in this area), Western Gas Resources, and FMC pipelines from the Jonah Field to processing facilities at Opal, Granger, and Black Fork, Wyoming. This line increased the daily transportation capacity to 175 million cubic feet.

Aside from a few whining NIMBY neighbors and pin headed elite Ivory Tower sociologists at the University of Wyoming, it’s all good:

Impacts

The Jonah Field rediscovery and successful extraction of natural gas initiated by McMurry Oil Company is heralded as one of the most significant natural gas developments in continental North America in the second half of the twentieth century. Jonah represents a turning point because of the enormous amount of production opened up by the new technologies. McMurry Oil Company’s technical advances in the early 1990s, coupled with higher gas prices and a quick boom in pipeline capacity, allowed it and other companies to lucratively produce gas from a previously inaccessible source. This success led to McMurry Oil Company’s expansion of the nearby Pinedale Anticline field a few years later.

Any effects on wildlife – so critical to hunters and tourism – have been mitigated:

Measures have been taken to try to reduce impacts to wildlife and the environment in the Pinedale Anticline. Gas companies are coordinating their drilling efforts into designated areas for year-round development. These Development Areas (DAs) allow the companies to concentrate their activities and timing in specified areas leaving large blocks of contiguous habitat undisturbed and available to big game and their migration corridors and sage grouse habitat. In an effort to reduce the amount of area disturbed, companies have been clustering their wells onto a single pad and then using directional drilling from the pad, resulting in fewer pads and roads needed for drilling activity. By 2010, this method had allowed 100 fewer needed well pads in the Pinedale Anticline Project Area and 70 percent fewer roads to fully develop the field, leading to less habitat disturbance.

Local air pollution was normalized as “a way of life” that has been monitored and effectively managed, and life goes on:

Sublette County citizens are concerned about the increased water and air pollution connected with the development. Long-time residents noticed a decline in year-round air quality starting in 2000. Air pollution is now a way of life. … Air quality monitoring is now required, with ongoing steps taking place to alleviate the potentially dangerous situation, though “Ozone Alerts” continue.

And there are positive economic benefits:

At the same time, positive impacts from the successful drilling in the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline were immediate and far reaching. Millions of tax dollars have been collected as a result of the natural gas production in Sublette County, which have been used for improved infrastructure and community resources. Thousands of jobs have been created for local residents and for those willing to relocate to the area. Industry has also been very generous in volunteering time and donating money to organizations that serve the community. Industry operators have also worked with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to implement innovative technologies and operational practices that lessen the effect of natural gas operations on the environment.

And the gas industry is rising to the challenges, voluntarily making things better, and without all that government regulation:

Natural gas production continues in 2011, and so too, do many of the problems that came with it. Population growth has slowed somewhat since 2008, however, and the newcomers continue to be served reasonably well by private-sector housing and other services. At the same time, increased tax revenues have allowed local governments to be proactive in building infrastructure, and industry is working to alleviate the problems brought on by the drilling activity. Pipelines, for example, are being built to carry out the condensate now carried by large, dust-raising semi trucks. The BLM and Wyoming Game and Fish monitor the area, and face continued challenges.

Like they say, a real “success story”.

That’s what you get when your benchmark for measuring “success” is avoiding nuclear explosions:

Hydraulic fracturing, done now with a combination of water and other chemicals, is routine today, and has made the Pinedale Anticline and the Jonah Field near Pinedale one of the most productive gas fields in the world. And all without exploding a single atomic device.

War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

... fighting terrorism since 1492 ...

… fighting terrorism since 1492 …

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Murphy DEP “Denial” Of Raritan Bay Pipeline Permits Exposes Huge Gaps In DEP Regulations On Climate And Water Quality Impacts

May 19th, 2020 No comments

DEP Hides Behind New York DEC’s Denial

NJ Environmental Groups And Media Mistakenly Praise Murphy DEP

The public is getting the wrong facts and exactly the wrong favorable impression regarding the denial of various environmental permits for the Transcontinental Gas Co.’s proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NSE) last Friday, by both the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and NJ Department of Environmental Protect (DEP), see:

In contradiction of misleading media reports and misguided praise by environmental groups, the exact opposite is true: NJ DEP “denial” actually was a very bad decision, it set bad regulatory precedent, and it exposed longstanding huge flaws in DEP’s permit regulations.

The real story is critical, because unless those flawed DEP regulations are significantly strengthened, several pending proposed new fossil infrastructure projects will be approved by DEP.

Unless the real story is told, then current efforts allegedly intended to strengthen DEP regulations regarding climate change will fail.

The best way to explain what is a fairly complex set of science and regulatory issues is to compare the NY State DEC denial with the NJ DEP “denial”.

Here is the NYDEC denial.

Here is the NJDEP “denial”.

Under federal law, most State regulatory powers over pipelines are federally pre-empted.

However, State’s retain regulatory power under the Clean Water Act to issue or deny a “water quality certification”.

The energy industry, the Trump administration, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and Republicans in Congress aggressively have sought to strip those powers from States via an across the board attack, including litigation, Executive Orders, FERC Orders, revised EPA Guidance, and proposed new federal legislation.

The law and regulatory oversight of greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts of fossil energy infrastructure is far less settled, but equally controversial. While the Trump administration has rolled back limited federal regulations, some states, like New York and California, have passed state laws and enacted regulations that address GHG emissions and climate impacts.

So, with that context, the two most critical issues are how and why the DEC and DEP pipeline permits were denied:

1) if and how greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts were considered; and

2) if and how the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification was implemented and enforced.

The NYDEC denial considered and was based on the Clean Water Act WQC authority (emphasis mine):

Basis for Denial

The Department denies the 2019 WQC Application based on Transco’s inability to demonstrate the Project’s compliance with all applicable water quality standards. To obtain a WQC from the Department, an applicant must, among other requirements, demonstrate compliance with State water quality standards. See 6 NYCRR § 608.9. Transco has not demonstrated that construction and operation of the Project would comply with applicable water quality standards.

 The NYDEC denial then goes into detail to specify the “Statutory and Regulatory Basis” of the denial, which water quality standards are applicable, apply the relevant science, and elucidate how the project failed to demonstrate compliance.

Importantly, NYDEC then considers “qualitative assessments” – which explicitly includes climate change – and then links climate to enforceable NY State water quality standards:

As discussed further below, this includes qualitative assessments of the Project’s greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions and climate change impacts, especially given the State’s recently-enacted Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“Climate Act”),41 as well as the need for the Project in light of anticipated natural gas supply and demand in the downstate region. The assessment of these additional qualitative factors provides further supplemental support for the Department’s determination that the default 500-foot mixing zone is inappropriate for the hard clam critical resource area. […]

the Project would result in GHG emissions, which cause climate change and thus indirectly impact water and coastal resources, including from the construction and operation of the Project, and from reasonably foreseeable upstream and downstream GHG emissions.44 The Project’s climate change impacts due to GHG emissions are especially important in light of the State’s recently-enacted Climate Act.

Finally, NYDEC’ denial then goes on to establish – independent of the CWQ WQC basis – an additional climate change basis for denying the permits: (the excerpts below begin on page 14 – please read the entire section!)

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Impacts

While the 2019 WQC Application was pending before the Department, the State enacted the Climate Act. Among other things, as described further below, the Climate Act codifies the State’s energy policy and goals, requires Statewide reductions in GHG emissions, and necessitates a transition away from the use of natural gas to produce electricity. Particularly without the identification of alternatives or GHG mitigation measures, the Project appears to be inconsistent with these requirements, as set forth below.

First, the Project will result in GHG emissions, which cause and contribute to climate change. GHG emissions associated with the Project include those from the full lifecycle of natural gas that will be transported through the Project. This includes upstream emissions, GHG emissions associated with the construction and operation of the Project, and downstream emissions. Upstream GHG emissions from the Project include those associated with the extraction and transmission of natural gas, including the extraction or production of the natural gas that is transported through the pipeline. This would include GHG emissions associated with the extraction of natural gas in Pennsylvania through high-volume hydraulic fracturing, provided such gas is ultimately transported for consumption in the State through the Project. GHG emissions associated with the operation of the Project would include leakage and other losses of gas transported through the pipeline. Downstream GHG emissions from the Project include those caused by the combustion, by end-users in the National Grid service territory in New York City and Long Island, of the natural gas that is transported through the pipeline.

Second, in order to achieve the State’s critical and ambitious climate change and clean energy policies, the State needs to continue its ongoing transition away from natural gas and other fossil fuels. While the Department recognizes that many building assets in the State currently rely on natural gas for heating and other energy uses, the continued long-term use of fossil fuels is inconsistent with the State’s laws and objectives and with the actions necessary to prevent the most severe impacts from climate change. Therefore, the State must continue to support the ongoing transition to renewable and other clean sources of energy, as it works to ultimately eliminate all fossil fuel combustion sources that cannot be counterbalanced by guaranteed permanent carbon sequestration. Without appropriate alternatives or GHG mitigation measures, the Project could extend the amount of time that natural gas may be relied upon to produce energy, which could in turn delay, frustrate, or increase the cost of the necessary transition away from natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Third, the Climate Act requires a reduction of GHG emissions, a transition to renewable and other clean sources of energy, and a pathway for the ultimate achievement of net zero GHG emissions in all sectors of the economy. The Project would be inconsistent with or interfere with the Statewide GHG emission limits and other requirements established in the Climate Act, without the identification of additional alternatives or GHG mitigation measures.

You won’t find ANY of this in the DEP “denial”.

There are reasons for that: politically powerful NJ polluters block any application of DEP regulations over greenhouse gas emissions, they don’t want DEP to enforce State water quality standards, and they don’t want any public discussion of loopholes in State water quality standards and permits, like “mixing zones”.

DEP and developers and polluters don’t want the public to know that DEP has completely ignored enforcement of Clean Water Act Section 410 WQC (by burying it in the State wetlands program) and limits actual implementation of State water quality standards to the surface water discharge permit program (NJPDES).

And they both don’t want people to know that the NJ Global Warming Response Act GHG emission reduction goals are toothless.

Repeat: The NJ DEP “denial” has none of this.

Let me be every clear. The DEP “denial” has:

1) no consideration of greenhouse gas emissions;

2) no consideration of climate impacts;

3) no consideration of compliance with NJ State Water Quality Standards;

4) no linkage between greenhouse gas emissions, climate impacts, and water quality standards; and

5) no consideration of the lifecycle emissions of greenhouse gases with State GHG emission reduction goals and energy policies.

Instead, the DEP “denial” is based exclusively on failure to demonstrate a “compelling public need”.

The “compelling public need” demonstration is limited to failure to receive NY DEC approval. 

The NJ State “compelling public need” demonstration is highly legally vulnerable and virtually certain to be found by federal courts to be pre-empted by FERC and federal law.

Here is the relevant language from the DEP “denial” (at page 15)

Accordingly, in evaluating compliance with N.J.A.C. 7:7A-10.4, which requires that Transco demonstrate a compelling public need for the Project, the Department must conclude that, under these circumstances, public need has not been demonstrated. Furthermore, as there would be no endpoint for the Project absent NYSDEC’s approval, Transco’s application has been rendered effectively moot and any grant of its permit applications by the Department would be futile.

Under these circumstances, the Department need not resolve any further issues presented by the subject applications.

Did you get that?

DEP need not “resolve” such issues as greenhouse gas emissions, climate change impacts, and water quality impacts from a massive fossil infrastructure project.

This statement is an admission that DEP lacks the legal and regulatory power to consider and deny a fossil infrastructure project on the basis of GHG emissions, climate impacts, or the aspirational GHG emission reduction goals of the NJ Global Warming Response Act.

This statement is an admission that DEP has totally failed to implement the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification provisions.

And to add insult to injury, the DEP’s exclusive basis – the “compelling public need” standard – was used as a sop to clueless NJ environmental groups. It was designed by Christie DEP Deputy Commissioner Ray Cantor as a fig leaf to cover the dirty deal to avoid a legislative veto of the Christie DEP rollback of the Category One straw buffer regulations.

Those same dangerous fools now embrace a vague and unenforceable standard that was part of a dirty Christie DEP deal to praise an empty cynical gesture by the Murphy administration.

And the manipulative fingerprints of DEP Deputy Commissioner Deb Mans – formerly with NY/NJ Baykeeper – are all over this, witness the recent NY/NJ Baykeeper perfectly timed set up on-line “protest” against NSE.

[Full disclosure: I’ve been in a similar position with Mans, but  handled the matter very differently. In 2002, I went from the Policy Director for the NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club back to the DEP as a policy advisor to Commissioner Campbell. I frequently found myself in the perceived role as both a token and expected by Campbell to serve as a liaison to the environmental community. However, unlike Deb Mans, I was qualified for my position, I never misled or manipulated the environmental community, and I frequently provided an inside source of information to environmentalists and the media of many bad things the Campbell did.]

You can’t make this stuff up,

I’ve given up on Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight, but here’s my note to Jon Hurdle:

———- Original Message ———-
From: Bill WOLFE <bill_wolfe@comcast.net>
To: jonhurdle@gmail.com, “Tittel, Jeff” <jeff.tittel@verizon.net>, “Tittel, Jeff” <jeff.tittel@sierraclub.org>
Date: May 18, 2020 at 12:42 PM
Subject: NY DEC denial of NSE – climate & water quality

Jon – please read the NY DEC denial of the NSE pipeline:
NY DEC considered climate impacts and directly linked greenhouse gas emissions with water quality (as I’ve been urging for many years now, most recently on the Delaware LNG plant).
In contrast, NJ DEP did not and can not consider GHG emissions, climate impacts, or water quality certificate denial.
Your readers and NJ environmental activists need to know this – unfortunately, Tom Johnson’s story today obfuscates those regulatory defects in NJ DEP rules.
If DEP is going to correct these flaws, they must first admit them. Same thing for NJ ENGO, climate and energy activists, who continue to miss the issues and fail to pressure NJ DEP and Gov. Murphy.
Wolfe
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Murphy Administration Uses Emergency Health Law To Block Public And Media Access To Public Records On COVID Preparation And Response

May 18th, 2020 No comments

Gov. Claims Lack of “Manpower” to provide documents

Yet DEP has sufficient “manpower” to seek collection of $2.07 bill

Over 2 months ago, I cited a 2005 law known as the Emergency Health Powers Act (EHPA), and blasted the Murphy Administration’s failure to implement that law to prepare for and respond to the COVID pandemic:

NJ State officials have independent State legal authority and responsibility to plan for, respond to and otherwise manage pandemics that has gotten little if any scrutiny.

The NJ Emergency Health Powers Act (EHPA), signed into law September 14, 2005 (P.L. 2005, c.222), grants certain powers to state and local public health authorities to ensure effective planning and response to public health emergencies.

Since then, I’ve been extremely frustrated by the NJ media’s failure to use that law (and NJ’s pandemic and emergency response plans) to investigate the State’s performance and hold the Murphy Administration accountable.

But I now suspect that that post may have educated the NJ Press corps, because today the NJ media reports that the Murphy administration is using that law to block press and public access to public documents regarding the COVID crisis.

in an unexpected development, some government agencies in Murphy’s administration have also cited the law [EHPA] to reject requests from media outlets seeking public records related to how the state has responded to an outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 residents and caused widespread unemployment.

That is an incredible abuse that amounts to a blanket blackout on critical information regarding the COVID pandemic and how the NJ State government planned, prepared for, and performed in responding to the crisis. 

[Note: I’ll pledge $100 to any reader who can find any media report on the EHPA before my 3/17/20 post on it. Lacking that, I’ll take credit for breaking the story. Of course, NJ press corps would never admit that or recognize the contribution of a “dirty hippie blogger”.]

The Governor and legislators claim that lack of “manpower” is why they must impose blanket secrecy. The media quote Gov. Murphy himself:

We just have to deal with the reality of manpower, the ability to turn things around. … There’s no thematic association with that other than we’re at war with a virus.”

That is a sham excuse.

After I wrote that critical March 17 post about EHPA and NJ pandemic and emergency plans, the DEP had enough OPRA “manpower” to write to notify me that I was “delinquent” and to restrict my OPRA privilege for failure to pay a prior charge of $2.07. 

I can only suspect that the DEP’s unprecedented delinquency notice was retaliatory and designed to prevent my use of OPRA to document DEP failures.

Here is the DEP email (as written, with obvious fact errors):

On April 29, 2020 at 3:17 PM “Ortiz, Alex” <Alex.Ortiz@dep.nj.gov> wrote:

Good Afternoon Mr. Wolfe,

The intent of this email is to address your delinquency in make restitution of your copy service invoice issued on May 10, 2019in the amount of $2.07.

On May 10, 2019, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Office of Record Access received OPRA request #249792.  The Department responded to your request on May 21, 2019.  You requested copies on May 21, 2018.  The Department acquired the responsive records and provided you a Printing Agreement Authorization request, which was received back signed by you on May 21, 2019.  The copying job was completed entailing 1 CD.

Regardless if your records needs changed since you submitted the OPRA request and requested copies, you authorized the copying job agreeing to pay the exact amount of the copies.  Please send payment against the attached invoice.

Failure to make payment may result in the requirement of a deposit payment prior to making any copies on future requests, which will delay the production of copies.  Attached is the billing summary with the VCL ID# (Invoice#).  You can either pay online https://www.nj.gov/dep/online/or you can schedule a pickup and provide the payment up front.

Regards,

Alex Ortiz

Agency Services Representative 2

ORA/DEP/OPRA

End Note: For many years, I’ve urged NJ journalists to write stories about how DEP and State official were stonewalling them or denying OPRA requests, especially on the basis of “deliberative privilege”.

As far as I can recall, today’s story about Murphy Administration’s denial of OPRA’s is the first that has ever focused exclusively on the many OPRA abuses.

I’ve also repeatedly reached out to Senator Weinberg to request that she amend her OPRA reform bill to restrict DEP abuses of the bi-partisan “deliberative privilege” loophole.

So, I get totally disgusted by news coverage that presents these as novel issues, and provides Senator Weinberg with cover and praise for her longstanding failure to act.

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