Archive for January, 2021

Burn, Baby, Burn!

January 9th, 2021 No comments

Another Example Of Failure To Adopt Real Climate Regulations

The NJ Forest Fire Service, the foresters (loggers) at the DEP Division of Parks and Forestry, and the Pinelands Commission repeatedly warn the public about the high risks of wildfires, especially in Pinelands forests.

As I’ve written, instead of using those risks as a basis to limit destruction of forests and development in forest fire hazard zones, perversely, those risks often are exaggerated and used as a pretext for logging NJ’s vanishing forests, particularly in north jersey’s hardwood forests, see:

So, what’s up with this?

More insanity: (Source: Pinelands Commission Management Report – December 2020)

  • Lighthouse at Barnegat (App. No. 1985-1432.010): On December 10, 2020, the staff issued a letter scheduling a public hearing for a preliminary and final major site plan approval granted by the Barnegat Township Planning Board on for the proposed development of two three-story buildings, containing 148 dwelling units. The proposed development is located within a Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) designated high forest fire hazard area. The Township land use ordinance and the CMP require that all residential development of 100 dwelling units or more in high fire hazard areas provide a 200 foot perimeter fuel break between all buildings and the forest. The concerned development proposes a forest fire fuel break consisting of a lawn area, ranging from approximately 42 to 67 feet. The Township approval granted a waiver for the reduction of the required perimeter forest fire fuel break from 200 feet to 42 feet.

I don’t know what’s crazier: building 148 new homes in a “high forest fire hazard area” or the Pinelands regulations that mandate a 200 foot  perimeter forest fire fuel break.

Both result in needless destruction of the forest. Both worsen the climate crisis.

We are in a climate emergency – there should be a moratorium on any new development or activity that destroys forests. Period.

Had the Pinelands Commission adopted real climate regulations instead of engaged in denial and delay, these kinds of insane projects would not be allowed.

Please go to the public hearing and give the Pinelands Commission hell for me, will you?

[End note: ironically, the climate land use bill now on Gov. Murphy’s desk fails to include wildfire risk!]

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Lame Climate Adaptation Land Use Bill Now On Gov. Murphy’s Desk

January 9th, 2021 No comments

Bill Purported to Address Climate Vulnerability Has No Teeth

We are in a climate emergency – these cynical toothless stunts must stop

In recent years, our politics has tended toward incremental proposals made up of small policies designed to avoid offending special interests, alternating with occasional baby steps in the right direction. Our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when these crises require boldness. ~~~ Al Gore (7/20/08), quoted here.

[Update: Gov. Murphy signed the bill into law on February 4, 2021, and got good press for it. ~~~ end  update]

On December 17, 2020, the Assembly quietly passed a bill (A2745/S2607[1R]) to amend the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) to respond to risks of climate change. The Senate version was passed back in October, so the bill is now on Gov. Murphy’s desk for his consideration.

We urge the Gov. to veto the bill outright – or at least conditionally veto the bill and send it back to the legislature and direct them to put teeth in the bill or abandon the effort in favor of upcoming statewide DEP Climate PACT regulations (despite the fact that those rules will need to be considerably strengthened).

As we explain briefly below, the bill has no teeth, ignores important issues, and could undermine or create conflicts with DEP’s upcoming statewide climate PACT land use regulations and Coastal Management Plan.

The bill would require that:

the land use plan element of a municipal master plan include a climate change-related hazard vulnerability assessment. The assessment would: (1) analyze current and future threats to, and vulnerabilities of, the municipality associated with climate change-related natural hazards; (2) include a build-out analysis of future residential, commercial, industrial, and other development in the municipality, and an assessment of the threats and vulnerabilities identified in (1) above related to that development; (3) identify critical facilities, utilities, roadways, and other infrastructure that is necessary for evacuation purposes and for sustaining quality of life during a natural disaster, to be maintained at all times in an operational state; (4) analyze the potential impact of natural hazards on relevant components and elements of the master plan; (5) provide strategies and design standards that may be implemented to reduce or avoid risks associated with natural hazards; (6) include a specific policy statement on the consistency, coordination, and integration of the climate-change related hazard vulnerability assessment with certain other plans adopted by the municipality; and (7) rely on the most recent natural hazard projections and best available science provided by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The bill would apply to any land use plan element adopted after the date the bill is enacted into law.

We urge Gov. Murphy to conditionally veto the bill for the following reasons:

1) Climate adaptation is a State responsibility – the bill inappropriately shifts that burden to local government

The concept of local “home rule” in NJ land use is widely misunderstood.

The NJ Constitution vests police power, the foundation of land use law, with State government. The legislature may delegate some of this power to local government and has done so via the Municipal Land Use Law. But the primary responsibility lies with State government. And anything the legislature has delegated to local government can be taken back by subsequent legislation.

Similarly, federal and counterpart NJ State laws governing the environment, land use planning, and infrastructure that relate to climate mitigation and adaptation – such as the Coastal Zone Management Act, CAFRA, State Plan, Flood Hazard Act, Wetlands Act, stormwater management, watershed planning, infrastructure finance and permitting, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, transportation, and energy, etc – vest exclusive or primary authority with State government, not local government.

DEP then controls via regulations what local governments are capable of doing – not NJ Legislators.

Gov. Murphy himself has acknowledged this State responsibility via several Executive Orders that address the various scientific and policy dimensions of climate change – both adaptation and emissions mitigation.

In recognition of this State responsibility, the BPU adopted the Energy Master Plan and the DEP is developing a regional coastal management plan and statewide climate related land use regulations under the PACT initiative.

Local government also lacks the scientific and technical capacity and financial resources to properly address climate adaption issues. The bill allows for DEP technical assistance, but this is just a band aid.

The proposed legislation is – at best – inconsistent with all this.

2) The bill is toothless and the only requirement to mitigate risks was deleted by Senate Committee amendment

The bill would not require local governments to do anything more than amend their local land use Master Plan.

In NJ, zoning ordinances are not required to be consistent with master plans. There is no, what is called “mandatory conformity” requirement.

So, for example, what that means is that lands that were highly vulnerable to climate impacts (flooding, storm surge, sea level risk, etc) that were identified in the local land use Master Plan could continue to be zoned for development. 

This makes no sense.

Even worse, he introduced version of the bill included a provision that would have mandated that local governments mitigate risks. The original bill would have required that local plans:

contain measures to mitigate reasonably anticipated natural hazards, including, but not limited to, coastal storms, shoreline erosion, flooding, storm surge, and wind, following best management practices recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency;

That provision was stripped by Senate Committee amendments adopted on July 30, 2020 (see the 1R version of the bill)

So, a weak bill was gutted entirely.

We are in a climate emergency – these cynical toothless stunts must stop.

3) The bill has the potential to conflict with or undermine upcoming DEP climate PACT land use regulations

If for no other reason, the Gov. should veto the bill as inconsistent with State policies.

4) The bill ignores important climate adaptation and renewable energy issues

The bill ignores the risks of wildfire. (see this post). 

The bill ignores the deadly risks of urban heat island effects and prolonged extreme heat waves. This conflicts with Gov. Murphy’s climate and environmental justice policy commitments. (*** Yes, the bill includes “temperature“, but urban heat island effects deserve their own specific provision, because they relate to non-temperature factors, including not only the physical human built landscape and ground and tree cover, but social, economic and health factors related to environmental justice communities. Local governments will avoid these controversies unless they are directed to consider them.).

There are many things local governments could be doing to address climate change that are ignored by the bill.

For example, towns could be required to modify zoning based on climate vulnerability.

Towns could be required to adopt building codes and other ordinances to promote energy efficiency, renewable energy, urban forestry, bicycles, public transit, ride share program, educate and help residents transition to zero carbon, etc.

The bill ignores all those things that are suitable to local government, while imposing toothless planning requirements that are poorly suited to local authority and the local role.

Veto the bill.

Time to get serious.

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Biden – In Search of The Head Of The Table – Reaches Across The Aisle For Unity

January 9th, 2021 No comments

Wrong Man, Wrong Metaphors, Wrong Ideas, Wrong Policy, Wrong Time

Moran Point, Grand Canyon

Moran Point, Grand Canyon

The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters. ~~~ Antonio Gramsci 

Joe Biden is completely out of touch with the political moment and the momentum of history and the urgency of the climate emergency, domestically as well as internationally.

Weimar reprise.

Internationally, Biden thinks the American people and the world are ready for the US to resume “leadership” of the world and that the US is “back at the head of the table”.

This is  rank “American Exceptionalism” and a perverse echo of “Make America Great Again”. Nostalgia for what never was.

The US was never exceptional (except for building an exceptional global military and economic empire and the Neoliberal framework to legitimize and sustain it).

There is no “table” – and if there were, it would be round and a space for partners to dialogue democratically as equals, not rectangular and a forum of hierarchy and domination – and certainly no place for an individual or a country to sit at the “head of the table”. (Joe sounds like Grandpa at Thanksgiving dinner).

Domestically, there is no “aisle” to reach across, there’s a Canyon.

Like the Grand Canyon, the only way across is down and through and up again (rim to rim).

Politically, that means policy choices that Biden is simply incapable of making.

No doubt, Biden will “look forward, not backward” instead of prosecuting Trump administration crimes, just like Obama let war criminals and Wall Street looters off the hook.

We’ll again see Neoliberal policy back in the saddle, with a bipartisan unity slogan backing more “public-private partnerships” on infrastructure and “incentives” (both slogans for more corporate subsidies, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation, and failed market based tools like carbon taxes and pollution trading schemes).

It’s going to get a lot worse, before it gets better (if it gets better).

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The People’s House

January 8th, 2021 No comments

Screen Shot 2021-01-08 at 12.54.58 PM

The recent images of the Trump insurrection – while not surprising – are deeply disturbing, so I thought I’d share a more positive frame and memory.

The photo above was taken during a spring 2009 tour of the Capitol for “NJ Environmental Leaders” sponsored by my friend NJ Congressman Rush Holt.

As I recall, we toured the Capitol and attended a luncheon with Holt and recently installed Obama administration officials involved with environmental and climate policy. Expectations for the Obama administration were very high, but soon to be dashed.

The event was coordinated by Obama White House Climate and Energy staffer Heather Zichal. For Zichal’s full bio, see:

I met Zichal when, as a Rutgers student, she worked as a volunteer with the Political Committee of Sierra Club’ NJ Chapter, and then for NJ Congressmen Holt and Pallone, Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign and then the Obama 2008 campaign.

The NJ Chapter endorsed Holt in the 1998 race for NJ’s 12th Congressional District. Zichal played a role in that decision, which was unusual because it departed from Sierra Club’s national policy, which strongly favored endorsement of incumbents, especially pro-environment moderate Republicans. Holt was running against one term moderate pro-environment Republican Frank Pappas.

I was Acting Director of NJ Sierra Chapter at that time and led the Trenton press conference (in Senate annex) when Sierra announced the Holt endorsement. Holt thanked the Club and made brief remarks.

I first met Holt – who lived in Hopewell Valley and was involved with the local watershed group – during the mid 1990’s controversial land use debates in Hopewell Valley involving the 3.5 million square foot Merrill Lynch Scotch Road project,  the Trenton-ELSA-Hopewell sewer line, and the expansion of the Bristol Myers Squibb facility, which was located just south of Holt’s house. I also lived in Hopewell at the time.

Sierra volunteers convinced Holt – our Holt convinced them – that the politics of fighting sprawl development and advocating the protection of water resources were very politically popular.

Holt’s leadership on those issues played a huge role in his Sierra endorsement and later may have been the deciding factor in his upset win in a Republican leaning suburban swing district.

I think the 2009 luncheon address was by a US Navy official, who spoke about climate as a national security threat.

The one thing I distinctly recall from that luncheon was a question I asked during Q&A.

At the time, the Obama campaign was widely praised for its savvy use of Digital organizing and social media as an organizing tool. They had assembled large lists, including environmental activists.

Probing that success, I specifically asked Ms. Zichal if the Obama White House would continue to use those lists to cultivate grassroots support for their climate policies, which were expected to face strong opposition in Congress.

Zichal’s reply was stunning: she flat out told me and the crowd that there were no plans to conduct that kind of political operation and that as far as she knew, the entire social media campaign infrastructure had been abandoned.

I was – to put it mildly – shocked.

That was when I first knew for sure – long before it became obvious with the selection of Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator, the “all of the above” energy policy, and the half assed effort to pass a cap and trade bill – that Obama was not serious and his rhetoric was nowhere near his actual policy.

At the time, my negative assessment was very poorly received in virtually all quarters.

Sadly, even now, some of my fellow “NJ environmental leaders” never came to share that assessment.

[End notes:

1. As a Sierra professional, I was not involved in Sierra endorsement decisions (they are made by the volunteers). In hindsight, it would have been much better for Sierra to support Holt’s prior 1996 Democratic Primary challenger Carl Meyer of nearby Princeton, who was far more progressive.

I also knew Carl Meyer, who I met before I came to Sierra during the victorious debates over the proposed Mercer County garbage incinerator. I think Carl later was part of the legal team with Chris Hedges in challenging the NDA.

2. Of course, with respect toThe People’s House and speaking of Princeton, there is this political fact:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

~~~ end]

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Me And My Shadow

January 5th, 2021 No comments

Sunset In The Sonoran


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