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NJ Business Lobbyists Blasted For Using “Red-Lining” To Attack Environmental Justice Legislation

June 30th, 2020 No comments

NJBIA Lobbyist Ray Cantor Needs To Apologize

[Update: 7/2/20: today’s NY Times story makes exactly the point I was driving at:

““It’s especially abhorrent for the president to threaten further entrenchment of segregated communities now, during a time of reckoning on racial injustices in our country,” Ms. Yentel said. A direct line connects America’s history of racist housing policies to today’s overpolicing of Black and brown communities.” ~~~end update]

I tacked this on as an “End Note” to my earlier post about the proposed environmental justice legislation, but, upon reflection feel it is so outrageous that it needs its own post.

Ray Cantor, currently Vice-President and a lobbyist for the NJ Business and Industry Association (NJBIA), was quoted today in a NJ Spotlight story opposing the proposed environmental justice bill.

Obviously, there’s nothing unusual about that – NJBIA almost always opposes environmental laws that would restrict business profits.

But in doing so, Ray Cantor, a former Christie DEP political appointee, claimed that the bill would “red-line” business:

As drafted, the bill would essentially redline any new manufacturing facility or expansion in large parts of New Jersey, Cantor said. “There’s a better way to address this problem,’’ he added.

That claim is a gross abuse of history – i.e. “red-lining” was a systematic and blatantly racist policy deployed by financial institutions and governments to effectively racially segregate US cities and deprive black people of home ownership and business investment by denying mortgage financing and services to entire “red-lined” communities. (The flip side of “red-lining” was massive government investment in infrastructure ad services that subsidized and promoted suburban sprawl and the white people who moved there (AKA “white flight”) and were able to own their homes as a result of subsidized mortgages).

We are still suffering the racist legacy of red-lining, which continues to shape the land use patterns and economic development of entire metropolitan regions, effecting everything from segregated schools to the huge wealth and income disparities between black and white people.

To compare a bill designed to promote environmental justice by limiting pollution to already overburdened poor and/or minority communities to the historical practice of racist red-lining is deeply cynical and beyond the pale.

In the current context, it is simply unacceptable. Words matter.

That’s like a police union representative claiming that cops are being “lynched” by “mobs”.

Folks need to contact NJBIA and demand that Cantor apologize for what, at best, is a historical lie and gross insensitivity.

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NJ Spotlight Doubles Down On False Coverage Of Environmental Justice Legislation

June 30th, 2020 No comments

Bill Would NOT Give EJ Communities ANY Power

Local approval provision of original bill was deleted

I previously wrote about the sham going on with the so called “environmental justice” bill by exposing the fact that the bill would not do anything to reduce the current pollution that is now adversely effecting the health of people who live in environmental justice communities. The “environmental justice” and “cumulative impact” reviews would apply only to future “new or expanded” pollution sources, not the sources of current pollution that is causing harm to the mostly poor and black & brown people who live in overburdened communities.

[Update: the bill was amended to provide authority to DEP to impose conditions on permit renewals of some existing facilities that cause current pollution burdens. However, there are no “nexus” requirements to assure that the conditions DEP might impose actually reduce the pollution, eliminate the disproportionate EJ burden, or  protect public health. And this bill still exempts small sources of pollution and has numerous loopholes and waivers that render it useless and ineffective. ~~~ end update]

In that post, I also noted that the provision that would give EJ communities real power – effectively a veto over any DEP permit approval – was deleted from the original introduced version of the bill (see Section 3.c.) by a Senate Committee Substitute bill (S232 [SCS]). As a result, EJ communities have no real power, and can only make comments and requests to DEP.

The original bill was gutted completely.

I therefore questioned why the so called “EJ activists” supported the bill and praised the Governor given these facts.

Since then, NJ Spotlight has gone all in and sponsored a “virtual roundtable” on the bill for today (6/30/20) at 4 pm on zoom. The panelists include the so called EJ activists that supported the bill, plus a representative of corporate giant PSE&G.

Not to be outdone by Gov. Murphy, NJ Senator Cory Booker jumped into the debate and will “offer opening remarks”. Booker, as a former Mayor of Newark, has political liabilities on EJ issues and a relationship with at least one panelist.

Curiously, NJ Spotlight has expanded the scope of their “roundtable” to include a second bill:

(S-2484) creates within the BPU the Office of Clean Energy Equity and seeks to ensure those living in low- and moderate-income communities share in the benefit of ratepayers’ investment in the state’s clean energy future.

This expansion in scope completely shifts the focus away from the real EJ pollution bill, no doubt to avoid a discussion of the fact that the bill is a sham.

Worse, today Spotlight wrote a set up story on the real EJ bill, and they doubled down on the false and misleading reporting on it.

Specifically, Spotlight’s story opens with this factually false statement:

For the first time, New Jersey communities could be given a powerful new tool to block projects that would add to their pollution burden under a bill approved by the Senate Monday.

That claim is not only false, it is the opposite of what the bill actually does. This is a lie and journalistic malpractice.

The bill does not give “New Jersey communities … a powerful new tool to block projects”.

As I wrote, the Senate substitute bill  stripped the provision that would have given EJ communities real power to block projects. (see Section 3.c. of the original version linked above – readers can also confirm this fact by reviewing last session’s version of the bill, S1700, section 3.c., which included the local veto. You can further confirm that by reading the bracketed (deleted) local veto provision in Section 3.c. the Senate revised bill, see S1700[1R]. The bill was gutted last session, as I wrote at the time.)

This is not a question of interpretation – it is a fact.

The NJ Spotlight story also misleads readers about the effects of the bill, given that it would only apply to the pollution from “new or expanded” projects, not current pollution.

That flaw is fatal and should be directly discussed.

Instead, Spotlight uses the word “further pollution” in the headline of the story. That insulates them from criticism on the “existing” versus future pollution flaw I’ve highlighted.

Worse, they use a so called EJ activist to reveal that fatal flaw:

“In many ways, this has been the ‘holy grail’ of the environmental-justice movement,’’ said Nicky Sheats, of the New Jersey Environmental Alliance. “We get so frustrated when they put one more polluting facility in an environmental-justice community when they already have so many. At some point, they have to say no.’

Do you see how they did that?

Tom Johnson of NJ Spotlight tucked an allusion to a fatal flaw at the tail end of an over the top praiseworthy quote of a black EJ activist (“holy grail”).

That is some deeply cynical shit.

So is the false reporting about giving EJ communities a “powerful new tool” when their power was actually stripped from the bill. DEP maintains exclusive authority, the local role is purely advisory – lipstick on a pig.

I think it is journalistic malpractice that borders on evil, because Tom Johnson knew exactly what he was doing.

I feel really bad for Nicky Sheats, who got used this way.

[End Note: Shame on Ray Cantor who, in an Orwellian move, used the term “red-lining” to criticize environmental justice legislation. He surely must know that historically, the black community was “red-lined” out of cities and into ghetto’s across the country (and on NJ Spotlight for printing that remark in a stenographic mode, with no criticism or context).

Ray Cantor, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said his organization is sympathetic and understanding of the issues in communities that suffer environmental impact from new projects.

As drafted, the bill would essentially redline any new manufacturing facility or expansion in large parts of New Jersey, Cantor said. “There’s a better way to address this problem,’’ he added.

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Copper Harbor, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

June 27th, 2020 No comments

_DSC6235

I head for the sticks with my bus and friends
I follow the road though I don’t know where it ends
Get out of town, get out of town
Think I’ll get out of town.
~~~ On The Beach (Neil Young, 1974)

Copper Harbor Michigan is a gorgeous place and we’ve been here for just over a week. A peninsula on a peninsula into Lake Superior.

It’s one of the most extreme points in the lower 48 – like these northwest coast and northeast coast points. We love that! And we’re now 63 on the shores of Superior!

We have been at a pretty good site just 5 miles or so outside of town in the woods, where we could bike in to a relatively isolated small town for food and supplies. At first, we struggled with the skeeters, but I thought it might be a place we could stay for awhile, if not the whole summer.

But we’ll leave tomorrow, as today we experienced a sudden tourist boom – heavy traffic, with lots of those off road asshole vehicles and lots of luxury SUV’s with mountain bikes on the back.

It wasn’t like this last weekend. Maybe it’s a buildup to the July 4th weekend or maybe it’s a result of the COVID re-opening or maybe it’s just normal summer tourism.

But it sucks and fuck that shit, it’s one of the reasons we left the west and headed east.

Maybe we can’t get away from it, but we’ll keep trying.

Update with photos I just downloaded:

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Murphy DEP Rolled Back Toxic Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) Standards by 400%

June 24th, 2020 No comments

DEP Failing to Implement & Enforce Clean Water Programs Design To Protect Lakes

DEP grants buy watershed group support

Color coded tiered scheme masks rollback of standards

Source: NJ DEP

Source: NJ DEP (June 2020)

Just as critics predicted during last summer’s statewide proliferation of toxic Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) that closed numerous lakes across the state, including NJ’s largest recreation lake, Lake Hopatcong, HAB’s are becoming a chronic problem.

They’re already back again this year.

But instead of developing a stronger and aggressive new program over the winter to better protect NJ’s lakes from the combined impacts of climate change and excessive nutrient pollution, remarkably, the Murphy DEP actually weakened the HAB standard by 400%.

(See new DEP science and strategy – It’s complex. Let’s just say I’ve never seen DEP adopt this kind of probability based health standard before, and it’s not really even a standard, it’ a statistical exceedence of an indicator of a Guidance value. The multi-step DEP screening process is familiar, though. It serves as a multi-step way to delay, reduce, or avoid controversial or costly responses (like recreational lake closures) and provides loopholes and safe “exit ramps” along the way. DEP does something similar in the TMDL program and the NJPDES phosphorus WQBEL Guidance with chlorophyll a. In addition to the complexity and multiple steps, vague bureaucratic euphemisms and admissions like this are all you need to know (@p.21):

DEP will make every effort to respond to reported suspected HABs as soon as possible. In the event that resources are limited, the response actions will be prioritized based on potential risk to public health.[…

Situational awareness in accordance with established internal DEP protocols will be initiated.

An agreed upon surveillance frequency which will consider recreational use, HAB extent, and other factors will be employed. ….

These advisories may be modified on a site-specific basis as appropriate to reflect the nature and extent of a specific HAB occurrence.

Last year, DEP issued public health warnings that resulted in closure of lakes to direct contact recreational uses (swimming, wind surfing, etc) when bacterial levels exceeded 20,000 cells/ml.

[Update: Here is DEP HAB monitoring data from 2019 for Lake Hopatcong -note that the NJ Health Advisory Guidance Level is 20,000 cells/ml. Note that DEP applied a 2 color scheme, based on that 20,000 cells/ml Guidance Level:

NJ Health Advisory Guidance Levels include cell counts ≥ 20,000 cells/ml andmicrocystin levels ≥ 3μg/L. While many HAB cell counts in Lake Hopatcong have been above NJ HealthAdvisory Guidance Levels, measurable microcystin levels have been below the guidance. …[…]

The scale below estimates the pigment concentrations and cell counts; the bright yellow to red is estimated to be over 20,000 cells/ml or higher, light green denotes an area of concern where cell counts may be near 20,000 cells/ml and dark gray denotes low levels or non-detect. ~~~ see map below.

Source: NJ DEP Report, July 2019 (see link to Report above)

Source: NJ DEP Report, July 2019 (see link to Report above)

Another smoking gun regarding the rollback of the 2019 20,000 cell/ml Health Advisory is this bullet item from the minutes of DEP’s Water Monitoring Council January 2020 meeting on HAB’s:

  • Explore Additional Advisory Tiers for HAB Strategy based on DSR research and BFBM analyses of cell counts and toxin results.

It is shocking that the press and environmental groups are either intentionally ignoring this  rollback or they are not reading the DEP documents. ~~~ end update]

But buried in the fine print of DEP’s new “color coded” scheme, that warning and closure level was increased fourfold (400%), to 80,000 cells/ml.

Surprisingly, only former Star Ledger outdoors reporter Fred Aun caught that massive rollback.

In an online publication, Fred wrote:

The state was criticized by many last summer for warning people to stay out of the water if cell counts of cyanobacteria – the microorganisms in HABs – reached 20,000 cells/ml. Many said the level was too low to warrant concern. […]
“Based on data collected over the past three years, in particular last year, DEP scientists determined that harmful algal blooms become statistically more likely to produce toxins when cell counts exceed 80,000 per milliliter,” said the state. “Consequently, the DEP has developed this cell count level as the benchmark for posting recreational alerts where all primary recreation including swimming is not recommended and local health authorities close beaches.”

DEP caved in to the local political pressure and rolled back the standard from 20,000 to 80,000. That is outrageous.

Other press reports on the Murphy DEP’s Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) program not only failed to note that massive weakening of public health protections (cynically masked under the guise of a new color coded warning scheme), but actually quoted Bill Kibler, a NJ environmentalists, who instead of slamming DEP for this massive political concession and standards rollback, shifted the focus away from DEP and to new local “stormwater utilities”.

I reached out to NJ Spotlight Reporter Jon Hurdle and Bill, advised them both of the rollback, and asked them why that was not reported by NJ Spotlight. 

Normally, a 400% rollback in a health based water quality standard would trigger severe criticism from NJ environmental groups and garner press attention.

At least Jon Hurdle responded and said I raised a good point. Bill Kibler didn’t even respond. That ought to tell you something.

Which is why I’m not surprised that yesterday – likely in an effort to again dodge accountability for the huge rollback of the 20,000 cells/ml standard – DEP issued a press release on their new and improved HAB program. In that press release, DEP again trotted out their sycophantic fake green cheerleaders (but not Bill Kibler, who is now wise to their BS), to praise the initiative. DEP wrote:

“The Watershed Institute applauds the DEP for creating the new interactive mapping tool, and we look forward to using it in our efforts to keep water clean, safe, and healthy,” said Jim Waltman, the Watershed Institute’s Executive Director. “The DEP is taking an important step to raise awareness of the health of our waterways by making information about water pollution more accessible to the public. We hope through this tool, the public can better protect themselves and start to understand the impacts pollution has on all of us.”

But why would a watershed advocate praise a four fold rollback in a health based standard?

Here’s why so called environmentalists are praising DEP – they are being paid to do so by DEP:

Using a $240,000 [DEP] Community Water Monitoring grant, the nonprofit Watershed Institute is also training community water monitoring groups to assist with surveillance and sampling of lakes with suspected HABs.

What corrupt bastards. Have they no shame? Did they ever hear of a conflict of interest?

But in addition to weakening the bacterial standard, there are many other things DEP could be but is NOT DOING TO BETTER PROTECT LAKES UNDER CURRENT REGULATIONS AND DEP PROGRAMS.

If DEP were serious, here is a list of some of the things DEP would do under existing regulations and programs to create a new comprehensive statewide program to better protect lakes from climate and excessive nutrient loads (instead of what they are doing, which ignores prevention and is limited to response to problems, and amounts to 1) abdicating clean water and land use statutory obligations and regulatory authority; 2) outsourcing to DEP funded watershed groups; 3) delegating to local governments; 4) pointing the finger at local governments; 5) diverting attention to “stormwater utilities”; and 6) relying on NJ Department of Health and local health officials who are already over-burdened by COVID.)

DEP could and should:

1. Beef up the Clean Water Act based DEP Lakes Management Program (over the years, it has been neglected, defunded, or abandoned, e.g. see: Christie Whitman’s Executive Order #115:

WHEREAS, a large number of these lakes are exhibiting indications of stresses to water quality, including sedimentation, excess growth of nuisance and exotic plant and algal species, and other symptoms of eutrophication;

2. Strengthen the DEP “Total Maximum Daily Loads” (TMDLs) for lake nutrients. The TMDL’s are flawed and there is no implementation of enforcement.

3. DEP could adopt regulations to mandate local septic management programs in the DEP “water quality management planning” program and regulations – including more stringent siting, design, replacement, maintenance, pumpout, & pollution tracking requirements.

4. DEP Watershed Management Program – this program was supposed to address non-point pollution on a regional scale. It could become the umbrella under which DEP addressed the HAB problem.

5. DEP stormwater management program (weak technical standards and no enforcement)

6. DEP surface water quality standards (no enforceable numeric standards for eutrophication and no implementation of existing SWQS to protect lakes).

7. DEP septic design and management regulations – and lack of mandatory location, inspection, pompout, and pollutant tracing requirements

8. strengthen DEP’s Highlands Act regulations to limit the use of fertilizers (agricultural and residential), restrict development, restore riparian lands, and track and control nutrient sources.

9. DEP Wetlands Forestry BMP is voluntary and non-enforceable and lacks protections for wetlands and lake/stream vegetated buffers.

10. DEP could use all of the above programs’ science, data, staff, funding, and regulatory authority to design a comprehensive and regulatory  “Lakes Management” Program to address HAB’s. But that would take political will and creativity, things that are sorely lacking a DEP – along with a watershed and environmental community that elevated science, integrity and the public interest above securing grant funds and providing  cover and political loyalty to the Murphy administration.

When you look at all the DEP responsibility and legal authority under these programs and DEP’s failure to implement them, then maybe you can understand my frustration with DEP and sycophantic environmental groups proposing stormwater utilities and local controls as the answer.

And for so called watershed groups – who are taking money from DEP – to ignore all that, including a standards rollback – is totally corrupt.

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Remembering Peggy Synder

June 22nd, 2020 No comments

Opposing Police In Schools Before It Was Cool

My friend Peggy Synder – who died unexpectedly way too young at 54 back in May 2014 – was known locally primarily as a passionate environmental advocate and leader.

I met Peggy shortly after my family moved to Hopewell NJ in 1993.

After a massive sprawl development project was proposed for Hopewell Valley, Peggy – and MaryLou Ferrara and Leslie Kramer – created the citizen group The Coalition to Save Hopewell Valley, which rapidly attracted almost 1,000 members and became  the leading group that successfully fought and killed massive proposed corporate developments.

Peggy, after victories over proposed sewer lines and massive corporate office parks at Merrill Lynch Scotch Road and BMS sprawl expansions, was appointed to the local planning board and later formed her own environmental consulting firm.

(and it absolutely sickens me to now read that NJ Audubon is mentioned in her Obit, because NJ Audubon was NOWHERE to be seen (with the exception of Bill Neil) when Peggy was forming the Coalition to Save Hopewell Valley and leading the way in Hopewell Township in the fights against Merrill Lynch and the proposed Trenton & ELSA sewer lines).

But, the reason I am remembering Peggy right now is because the issue of police in schools is now on the radar and public agenda.

While it is not mentioned in her obit, I can tell you that Peggy was a strong opponent of police in schools.

Peggy’s kids were a few years younger than my kids. I learned from Peggy of the introduction of police in Hopewell schools, after my kids were gone. It was not easy for Peggy to oppose police in schools at that time.

Her opposition had nothing to do with race and everything to do with kids and their education and how a police presence was anathema to the values, culture and educational mission of a school and the healthy development of children.

When I lived there, Hopewell NJ was an overwhelmingly white and wealthy upscale suburban town. It had a conservative cultural orientation, which, despite certain liberal elite environmental inclinations (NIMBY), had authoritarian tendencies, especially in the schools (my kids went K – 12 there).

So, it was not easy to oppose the friendly local police.

Now, 25 years later, it is becoming clear that police have no place in schools.

My friend Peggy knew that long ago.

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