Archive for February, 2021

DRBC Fracking Ban Manufactures Doubt On Climate Impacts Of Methane

February 28th, 2021 No comments

DRBC Decision Parrots Gas Industry’s False Claims

DRBC Misleads The Public and Dodges Issues Regarding DRBC Jurisdiction Over Climate

It is actually hard to manufacture this much uncertainty in just two paragraphs and to tie that uncertainty to a justification of a colossal failure to act.

Shortly after learning of the Delaware River Basis Commission’s (DRBC) decision to ban fracking – and after reading the DRBC’s findings and determinations that formed the basis for that decision – I wrote about how the DRBC’s failure to incorporate climate issues was actually good for the gas industry, by allowing them to continue to avoid regulation, see:

Because I knew that many activists and climate scientists had submitted comments to DRBC on the issues surrounding fracking and the climate emergency – and because DRBC’s own scientific studies documents climate impacts on the basin – today I review the DRBC’s “response to public comment” document to drill down on how the DRBC responded to those comments.

I particularly focused on 2 critical issues: 1) how DRBC addressed the issue of their jurisdiction over climate issues; and 2) how DRBC responded to the climate science.

Upon reading the merits of these two issues, I must revise my prior conclusions.

What DRBC did is actually worse than merely ignoring the climate issues and failing to incorporate them in their decision.

DRBC actively “manufactured doubt” about fracking, the climate emergency, and methane and they bamboozled the public by obscuring the critical issue of how, by refusing to assert jurisdiction – even in the face of compelling science and law –  they effectively denied jurisdiction over climate related impacts of fracking.

[Note on sources: Professor Michaels’ “Doubt Is Their Product” (2008) does a better job and was published 2 years before Professor Oreskes’ more popular “Merchants of Doubt”)

So, let’s drill down on those 2 crucial issues.

I) Does DRBC Have Jurisdiction Over Climate Related Impacts?

While I think the science and the law are compelling in support of that the answer is a resounding YES – and I’ve been repeatedly correct in this assessment – let me try to contextualize and summarize the contours of this critical issue.

It is a novel legal question whether DRBC has jurisdiction under their founding Compact to regulate based upon the climate impacts of fracking on the “regulated features” of basin and the delegated powers and objectives of the Compact.

Recall that the regulatory jurisdiction of the US EPA under the Clean Air Act regarding greenhouse gases was resolved by the US Supreme Court, in the landmark 2006 Massachusetts v. EPA decision.

Closer to home, back in 2013, the Pinelands Commission’s Legal Counsel Stacey Roth denied jurisdiction under the Pinelands Protection Act, but that decisions was reversed 7 years later.

NJ DEP, back in 2003 – before the US Supreme Court – asserted regulatory jurisdiction under the NJ Air Pollution Control Act, but never adopted regulations on emissions and provided a loophole from regulations. Here is evidence to support that, from DEP regulatory documents:

On January 23, 2003, the Department adopted regulations requiring large stationary sources to report emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) (DEP Docket No. 03-02-01/149).

Readers that are interested in this shameful regulatory history should visit my September 2017 post:

Currently, DEP is months behind schedule but poised to propose major climate PACT regulations, but the scope of those regulations, particularly regarding DEP water resource and land use programs, is totally unclear.

As I’ve written many times, other States – like New York – have asserted regulatory jurisdiction over not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also on water resources .. This has provided a basis for NY DEC to deny pipeline permits under the Clean Water Act’s Section 401 Water Quality Certification authority.

Instead of openly and transparently engaging and clarifying this critical jurisdictional issue, the Commission not only evaded doing so, but they misled the public and obscured the fact that they in fact denied jurisdiction.

Here’s what the DRBC wrote on the jurisdiction question. The entire public comments and DRBC responses begins on page 265:

The Commissioners and the Commission staff recognize the impacts of climate change on the water cycle and the associated water resource management challenges. In 2019 the Commission established an Advisory Committee on Climate Change (“ACCC”). The Commission along with DRBC staff and with input from the ACCC and the public, will to continue to examine policy, regulation, science, and planning direction as needed to mitigate and adapt to water resource related climate impacts. In accordance with the authority conferred on the Commission by the Delaware River Basin Compact, the final regulations on HVHF will be incorporated in and will effectuate the Comprehensive Plan for the planning, development, conservation, utilization, management and control of the water resources of the Basin to meet present and future needs. (@ p. 267)

The DRBC claims to be examining “regulation”, but then they obscure the fact that they failed to regulate in their fracking ban decision.

“The final regulations on HVHF” do not and will not incorporate climate as a regulatory basis. The DRBC findings and conclusions that formed the basis of the fracking ban decision failed to do so and failed to build a nexus between fracking, GHG emissions, and climate impacts on regulated features. The findings and conclusions also form the basis oof the “final regulations on HVHF”.

By not asserting jurisdiction, the DRBC just effectively denied it. Just what the gas industry ordered.

II) DRBC Manufactured Uncertainty About Fracking, Methane, and The Climate Emergency

How the DRBC addressed the climate science is far worse than obscuring the jurisdiction issue.

DRBC used classic “manufacturing uncertainty” tactics:

1) they falsely claimed that data are not adequate to support a decision, relied on a false equivalence on competing science,  and inverted the scientific and legal burden of proof;

2) they parroted gas industry spin and misinformation, specifically “he said – she said” tactics; and

3) they formed an “Advisory Committee” to deflect responsibility and manufacture doubt:

DRBC actually used the phrase “on the other hand” and “insufficient data” (and even provided an echo of Trump’s “very fine people on both sides”).

Here it is:(at page 265)

The Commission appreciates the comments related to climate change generally and to the potential for impacts within the Delaware River Basin in particular. Most comments received on this issue highlighted the increasing reliance on natural gas as a regional and national energy source, and on the role of natural gas, a principal component of which is methane, in contributing to global warming. Other commenters have suggested that natural gas is a “cleaner” fossil fuel source than coal and liquid petroleum products, and that wider utilization of natural gas has contributed to a reduction in certain greenhouse gases. There are data to support both perspectives.

While greenhouse gas emissions contribute to increased warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, there is insufficient data to predict the extent to which fugitive releases from future HVHF-related activities, if allowed in the Basin, would cause in temperatures, hydrologic trends, sea level rise, or other climate-related conditions within the Basin. Moreover, a prohibition on HVHF within the Delaware River Basin may create the potential for drilling activity to be more heavily concentrated in areas of the Marcellus and Utica plays in which HVHF is permitted. The outcome may simply be an altered spatial distribution rather than a net decrease in methane emissions.

Whether the growing reliance on natural gas as a fuel alternative is resulting in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is difficult to gage. On the one hand, this trend has been responsible in part for a decline since 2005 in emissions of one significant greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide (CO2). For example, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA) documented a 14 percent reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2017 (EIA, 2018). Although CO2 emissions from natural gas consumption grew, these increases were more than offset by reductions in coal- sourced electrical power generation. As the USEIA points out, “… because natural gas produces more energy for the same amount of emissions as coal, growth in natural gas consumption contributed to the overall 2017 decline in carbon intensity and emissions.” (EIA, 2018). However, data show a re- versal of the downward trend in 2018, with an increase of 2.7 percent in carbon dioxide emissions from the energy generation/use sector (EIA, 2019c; Huba, 2019). But without better data on methane emissions throughout HVHF-related activities, the net effect of HVHF on greenhouse gas emissions cannot be determined.

These are not only classic “manufacturing uncertainty” tactics to delay, narrow, weaken, and avoid regulation.

The DRBC is parroting gas industry positions and equating them with science.

For example, note the use of the words “insufficient data”, the concept of “causality”, the weasel words “certain greenhouse gases” and “may create” and “contributed” and “difficult to gauge”.

Note also the implicit twisted burden of proof – it’s placed on the Commission to predict and demonstrate causal impacts instead of the gas industry to prevent harms.

It is actually hard to manufacture this much uncertainty in just two paragraphs and to tie that uncertainty to a justification of a colossal failure to act.

And that’s not only a horrible decision and precedent for DRBC,  but also for the upcoming DEP PACT regulations.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Delaware River Basin Commission’s Ban On Fracking Is Actually A Win For The Gas Industry

February 25th, 2021 No comments

DRBC Decision Ignores Science On Climate Impacts of Methane On Water Resources

Commission Leaves Door Open For Future Imports & Exports Of Fracked Water

Screen Shot 2021-02-25 at 11.12.31 AM

Climate activists are celebrating a major victory on today’s decision by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin (read the DRBC decision documents here).

I realize that the headline to this post is deeply counter-intuitive. How could a fracking ban help the gas industry? We explain how below.

Before we join the chorus, we like to read the decision documents and understand the rationale and implications of the DRBC decision. These kind of regulatory decisions are scientifically and legally complex and are often spun beyond recognition, particularly by green groups desperate for a win and a media that never gets into the weeds.

As I suspected, review of the documents reveals that it’s not all good. Let’s hope this bad stuff gets reported by the media, because it is highly significant:


While the impact of the DRBC decision geographically applies broadly to the entire basin, the scientific and legal rationale for the DRBC ban is very narrow in scope and limited to traditional water resource issues under long standing notions of DRBC jurisdiction.

It completely ignores the direct and “lifecycle” impacts of fracking, fossil infrastructure, and methane emissions on the climate emergency and even DRBC regulated water resources.




IN CONTRAST, NY DEC has built scientific and legal links between GHG emissions and regulated water resources impacts:

As discussed further below, this [denial of a water quality certification] 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”)… 

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. The Project’s climate change impacts due to GHG emissions are especially important in light of the State’s recently-enacted Climate Act. (& p. 13-14)

DRBC completely ignored that (despite a NY Commissioner). This is what has allowed NY DEC to deny permits for pipelines!

Failure to build that bridge allows the gas industry to continue to exploit loopholes in regulations and avoid regulation of climate impacts.

This also sets a bad precedent for upcoming NJ DEP Climate PACT regulations.  Just what the gas industry ordered!

(DRBC has jurisdiction over a tiny land mass with small gas reserves. But the science and law applies everywhere in the US. That’s why this is a win for the gas industry.)

2) The DRBC kept the door open for future water exports and fracked wastewater imports:

The DRBC punted on critical issues:

“The topics of water exportation and wastewater importation will be addressed as appropriate through one or more separate Commission actions.”

The Commission should have settled those two issues in its fracking ban. This means that the fight is not over, by any means.

3) The DRBC deregulated regional wastewater treatment plants:

The DRBC decision eliminates DRBC’s role in reviewing regional wastewater treatment plants:

“Remove the provision for review of regional wastewater treatment plans developed pursuant to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, because the basin states have effective programs for the transparent development and implementation of such plans”

I don’t understand how elimination of the DRBC’s role in reviewing regional wastewater treatment plants has anything to do with a fracking ban.

If anything, the Commission should beef up those reviews, because of the importation of fracking wastewater issue and because State’s have not adequately enforced the Clean Water Act’s NPDES permit program.

States have done an absolutely awful job in implementing the regional water quality planning provisions of the Clean Water Act. Because DRBC is a regional planning entity, they are well suited to address these State regional planning failures. It’s a very bad policy decision for DRBC to abdicate their regional role.

4) The DRBC recent LNG export decision may result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, despite the fracking ban

The DRBC recently approved a massive LNG export plant on the Delaware River. That plant will export huge quantities of Marcellus shale gas from Pennsylvania and adjacent states. There is a huge glut in gas and huge gas reserves.

LNG export also will increase the market price of fracked gas by creating export markets, and thereby stimulate even more investment and fracking and more methane and greenhouse gas emissions.

It is very likely that the GHG emissions from this vast expansion in fracking in the huge Marcellus shale formation will greatly exceed any GHG emissions reductions associated with the fracking ban in the tiny Delaware River watershed.

New York State already banned fracking and there is no economically recoverable gas in New Jersey.

I don’t have the data, but, compared to Marcellus shale formation gas reserves that will be exported by the LNG plant, there is not a lot of recoverable fracked gas in the rest of the DRBC basin.

So, with these serious shortcomings in mind, the climate activists should not be spiking the football.

[End Note – I do not mean to imply that this was not a huge win for activists (I’ve been working against fracking for well over a decade, I worked on southern Tier NY groundwater quality issue 35 years ago in graduate school at Cornell (my thesis topic), and attended the first DEC DEIS fracking hearings in October 2009). Nor do I claim that there’s are not solid regulatory decisions by DRBC, especially including these findings, which destroy the gas industry’s arguments that industry practices and regulation can adequately protect the environment: (DRBC findings)

  • As the scientific and technical literature and the reports, studies, findings and conclusions of other government agencies reviewed by the Commission have documented, and as the more than a decade of experience with HVHF in regions outside the Delaware River Basin have evidenced, despite the dissemination of industry best practices and government regulation, HVHF and related activities have adversely impacted surface water and groundwater resources, including sources of drinking water, and have harmed aquatic life in some regions where these activities have been performed.
Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

NJ Gov. Murphy’s PR People Dismiss DEP Corporate Capture, Revolving Door, And Ethics Abuses As A “Cooling Off Period”

February 15th, 2021 No comments

Actual Corporate Background Of DEP Acting Commissioner Contradicts Murphy’s Appointment Press Release

Gov.’s Office Downplays Erosion of DEP Integrity And Public Trust

This Is Worse Than Bad Optics

Today, NJ Spotlight wrote the story I gave them about the corporate background – including legal work that secured critical government regulatory approvals (including DEP permits) for a controversial huge regional Delaware River fracked gas LNG export facility known ominously as “Fortress Energy” – of NJ Gov. Murphy’s recently appointed Acting DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette, see:

Aside from the awful headline (which makes it appear that Acting Commissioner LaTourette took some kind of noble action instead of the minimum in compliance with legal requirements), substantively it’s a pretty good story.

But, Spotlight left a few important stones un-turned and serious issues unclear in the story, which I feel obligated to note, as follows:

1. The timing raises significant concerns

Mr. Latourette was appointed Acting DEP Commissioner by Gov. Murphy. That appointment was announced via Murphy tweet on January 13, 2021.

That Friday, January 15, 2021, was Commissioner McCabe’s final day in Office. So, because of the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday, his first official day in office was Tuesday January 19, 2021.

I electronically filed my OPRA request for LaTourettte’s ethics documents – specifically including any recusal documents – on Saturday January 16, 2021. Curiously – despite the fact that DEP OPRA electronic filing always responds to confirm receipt within moments and start the 7 day response clock  – I didn’t receive confirmation of the OPRA filing until Tuesday Jan. 19. That could have been a result of the Saturday filing or the Monday holiday. Giving DEP the benefit of the doubt, the DEP’s OPRA reply deadlines was 7 days later, or January 26.

I filed the OPRA after reading the January 13, 2021 Insider NJ story.  That story (which has been updated since with Murphy’s Tweet) was based on Gov. Murphy’s Jan. 13 Tweet and a statement by the Murphy press office.

Mr. Latourette’s recusal memo was not submitted until January 25, 2021, almost a week after his official assumption of duties and my Jan 16 OPRA request for his recusal documents.

Is it a coincidence that LaTourette wrote that recusal memo exactly 1 day BEFORE my OPRA response was due?

So, it appears that LaTourette could have been prompted to write that recusal memo in response to my OPRA request and that DEP intentionally delayed response to my OPRA to provide time for him to write it. (On Jan. 28, DEP denied my request allegedly due to COVID. I objected, twice. DEP didn’t provide the documents until February 9.)

He should have written it well before his appointment by Gov. Murphy and before assuming  Office.

But far worse, it raises questions about what LaTourette disclosed to the Governor and the Governor’s press office, which takes me to my next point.

2. LaTourette’s recusal document grossly contradicts Gov. Murphy’s press office statement about his appointment

Was Gov. Murphy and the Murphy Press Office aware of Mr. LaTourette’s extensive corporate legal background BEFORE the Gov. made the appointment and the press office issued a statement?

I have first hand knowledge of the vetting process by the Gov.’s Office for political appointees at DEP. After 10 years in an open competitive civil service professional environmental planner’s position at DEP (1985 – 1995), I once served as a DEP political appointee (2002 – 2004 “confidential assistant” and policy advisor to Commissioner Campbell). My prior professional career and political background had to be reviewed by the Gov.’s office and my appointment had to be approved by Gov. McGreevey. So I have personal knowledge of how DEP political appointments are vetted by the Gov.’s Office.

Was Gov. Murphy aware of LaTourette’s corporate legal background – including work on permitting the controversial Delaware River LNG plant championed by NJ Senate President Sweeney BEFORE he appointed him Acting DEP Commissioner?  Is that WHY the Gov. appointed him?

If so, Murphy made a serious mistake.

Is Gov. Murphy now having buyer’s remorse and trying to back away from the LNG project? (Spotlight)

Despite New Jersey’s vote in favor of the project at the DRBC meeting, Murphy said in late December he would try to “prevent” the transportation of LNG at the port.

Documenting Senator Sweeney’s long time 15 year support of that LNG port, as I wrote, back on July 24, 2016, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Plan to revive old South Jersey industrial site draws fans and fears


State and local leaders are confident the new port will be a positive presence in the township and county.

“This will be a big job generator,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, whose Third Legislative District includes Gibbstown, also known as Greenwich Township. “We’ve been working on this since 2005.”

Mr. LaTourette’s ethics documents and his recusal memo reveal an extensive corporate legal background, including representing the highly controversial Delaware LNG export plant. There is just one example of pro-bono legal work, and that work appears to be a challenge to DEP restrictions imposed after Sandy – hardly work in the public interest.

Given LaTourette’s extensive corporate career and pitiful pro-bono public interest work, how could Gov. Murphy’s press office possibly issue a statement that not only failed to mention this corporate work, but created the impression of significant public interest work?

How could they think that LaTourette’s background would remain secret?

Let’s repeat that Gov. Office press statement.

The Gov. press release claimed (emphases mine):

With twenty years of environmental experience, LaTourette began his career partnering with the Erin Brockovich law firm to organize and defend New Jersey communities whose drinking water was contaminated by petrochemicals. … . Before entering public service, LaTourette specialized in protecting the rights of victims of toxic injuries while also advising infrastructure, transportation, energy, and other industries on compliance with state and federal environmental laws and policies.

How can you square LaTourette’s corporate background with that press statement? It doesn’t pass the straight face test.

3. Gov. Press Office downplays revolving door, corporate capture, & public trust in DEP 

Given these facts – and prior concerns by environmental groups that there was a coverup on the LNG plant permit process at DEP – one would think the Gov. press office would want to tread lightly and be sensitive to legitimate  public concerns with DEP’s independence and  integrity once this cat is out of the bag. One would be wrong.

The Gov.’s Office is quoted in the NJ Spotlight story:

Acting Commissioner LaTourette was required to observe a one-year cooling off period related to his former employer,” Alfaro said in a statement. “In addition, he was required to permanently recuse from client matters, which he effectuated and has maintained since September 2018 when he joined the DEP.”

“Cooling off period”? What?

Delaware Riverkeeper gets it right:

Critics said the disclosure that LaTourette previously worked for clients that are now seeking permits from the agency he heads may raise questions in the public mind about the integrity of the DEP’s decisions.

“There certainly should never be any appearance of a tainted review of a project due to a conflict of interest within the permitting agency,” said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group that has led opposition to the LNG project. “It leads to the questioning of the agency’s decision-making process. In this case, the leader of NJDEP needs to be head and shoulders above any whisper of impropriety — if there is any question at all, the public’s trust is eroded and that is unforgiveable.”

Spotlight should have mentioned the fact that the NJ ethics laws are based on and include a public appearance standard for triggering an ethics violation. Clearly, LaTourette may have violated that standard.

As I wrote:

The State Uniform Ethics Code has a very broad standard regarding potential conflicting interests:

interest might reasonably be expected to impair a State official’s objectivity and independence of judgment in the exercise of his/her official duties or might reasonably be expected to create an impression or suspicion among the public having knowledge of his or her acts that he/she may be engaged in conduct violative of his/her trust as a State official.

So, this is far more than an “optics” issue.

4. Will Gov. Murphy submit LaTourette’s appointment for Senate Confirmation?

The DEP Commissioner must be reviewed and confirmed by the NJ Senate. The Senate’s confirmation review includes a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

NJ Senate President Sweeney – by his own words – has championed and secured millions of dollars in State subsidy funding for the Delaware River LNG project.

In addition to Senate President Sweeney’s support for Fortress LNG, Gov. Murphy might have prior links to Fortress, while he was at Goldman Sachs and Ambassador to Germany.

Does Gov. Murphy want to open this can of worms in a public hearing before the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee?

As I wrote:

II.  Twisted Tales Of Wall Street Finance Could Link Gov. Murphy to the Project

Before the 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer story, back on 3/20/15, NJ.Com wrote a story with Sweeney praising Fortress Investment Group:

State Sen. President Steve Sweeney led a press conference in Greenwich Township to announce the sale of the township’s former DuPont Repauno plant to Fortress Investment Group, which aims to turn the dormant 1,800-acre property into a port-related industrial park for imports and exports.


Now here’s where the links between Fortress and Gov. Murphy get murky and hypothetical, but good investigative journalism could connect these dots:

1. Veteran NJ environmental reporter Kirk Moore confirmed the story on the stealth LNG aspect of this project, where he also noted:

Delaware River Partners LLC, a subsidiary of New York City-based Fortress Investment Group.

2. Who is Fortress Investment GroupWikipedia reports that they have strong links to Goldman Sachs:

When Fortress launched on the NYSE on February 9, 2007 with Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers underwriting the IPO.

3. More recently, Fortress was acquired by a politically wired firm called SoftBank Group Corp, as reported by Institutional Investor:

Last December business executives from around the globe made their way to Manhattan’s Trump Tower to meet with president-­elect Donald Trump. But few made as big of a splash as Masayoshi Son, head of SoftBank Group Corp., who had Trump crowing on Twitter about the Japanese mogul’s pledge to invest $50 billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 American jobs.

… on February 14 [2017], SoftBank agreed to pay $3.3 billion to buy Fortress Investment Group, the struggling alternative-­investment firm that went public to great fanfare ten years ago but whose shares have since lost 74 percent of their market value.

4. SoftBank has some interesting relationships:

Fortress’s $3.3 billion deal with SoftBank was driven by Rajeev Misra, a former Deutsche Bank derivatives expert who is now in charge of investment strategy.

Gov. Murphy was former US Ambassador to Germany, where, particularly given his Goldman Sachs finance background, one assumes he had relationships with Deutsche Bank “experts” on investment strategy.

5. Now look who Mr. Misra, who drove the Fortress deal, formed a relationship with and where that individual previously worked:

A few years ago Misra worked briefly at Fortress, where he developed a relationship with Edens and Peter Briger Jr., who cochair the board of directors. (Briger also has ties to Japan, where he previously worked for Goldman Sachs Group.)

6. Briger and Phil Murphy are both Goldman Sachs diaspora, see NY Times.

So, a few questions emerge:

  • Did Phil Murphy have any involvement with the Fortress deal when he was at Goldman?
  • Did Phil Murphy have any relationship with SoftBank or Peter Briger?
  • Was Gov. Phil Murphy aware of the Fortress role?
  • As Gov. of NJ, Murphy sits on the DRBC Board and has executive control over DEP.
  • Did Murphy  in any way intervene in DRBC and/or DEP regulatory review processes?
  • Who were the players behind the scenes that pushed this project through DRBC and DEP reviews, without disclosing the LNG aspects?

Paraphrasing recently deceased journalist Bill Greider, Who will tell the people about all this?

[End Note: Mr. Latourette’s delegation to Sean Moriarty also raises revolving door, regulatory capture, corporate influence, and conflict of interest ethics concerns.

Moriarty began his legal career at a private law firm Archer & Greiner, P.C. in 2010 and worked for over 5 years for corporate clients. He was hired into the AG’s Office in 2011 during the Christie Administration and worked on regulatory affairs. Christie Administration and DEP were extremely hostile to regulations. He then went to DEP under Commissioner Bob Martin, who was hostile to regulations and pro-business.

A lawyer’s first job out of law school is revealing on important things, including expertise, values, ethics, ideology and priorities.


Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

The City Beautiful Movement In The Remote Arizona Desert

February 10th, 2021 No comments

A Capitalist & Racist Company Mining Town – But Designed In Style

Places To Live, Places To Thrive


About 42 miles south of Interstate 8 in western Arizona – down Arizona Rt 85 through the US Air Force’s Barry Goldwater Bombing Range – one comes across a tiny oasis in the vast desert.

After miles of driving through desolate desert, one comes across a green Oasis, with splendid Spanish revival architecture, a green palm tree lined grassy square, and magnificent churches.


The place is called Ajo – a superb example of the City Beautiful Movement and the only one in Arizona (curious that I was taught about this movement at Cornell Graduate School 40 years ago as basically an historical artifact of some ludicrously naive and misguided aesthetic design attempt at social improvement).

We’ve previously written about and posted several photographs of Ajo (i.e. see this on murals and this on indigenous protest on Trump Border Wall desecration of scared sites and this on local politics).

But we remain enchanted with the place and want to present more.

The town was designed and built by a capitalist copper mine owner named John Greenway, who brought in a Minnesota planning firm that designed the place based on City Beautiful Movement principles.

According to the National Historical designation:

In contrast to the haphazard construction of early mining towns across the American west, Ajo was built from a formal master plan vision. The plan created elegant public spaces where the community could come together, but at the same time enforced the physical segregation of people in the community….

Not everyone benefited equally from Ajo’s grand design. Housing was segregated by ethnicity and status. Anglos who oversaw mine operations were offered numerous styles and locations of homes, while Mexican laborers were offered a single choice within the “Mexican Townsite”. Native American mine workers were left to find their own housing outside the town center.

Here’s what the “Mexican Townsite”, located on the edge of the mine, now looks like – family homes demolished and only the slabs remain:


Here’s what a white mine manager’s home looked like – still standing in the historic district (I almost bought the lovely place):8H1A0144 (1)


And here’s what the school looks like (now an artist’s colony): (clarification: I’m not sure if the public schools were segregated like the neighborhoods were)


The capitalist exploitation of labor and the racist segregation policies were practiced right out in the open, for all to see.

But it is the enduring rich visual beauty that explodes these multiple historic, economic, and cultural contradictions.

I’m sure you”ll agree that this is one of the most delicious places to have one’s morning coffee:


Ajo is a superb and enduring example of City Beautiful design:



And there is a wonderful local media and bookstore as well:


We sorely miss the morning routine of coffee and good conversation – especially with our Canadian friends – at the Oasis Coffee Shop.

COVID has us isolated out in the Sonoran desert.

Surely, we can recreate a 21st Century City Beautiful Movement as the design and functional aesthetic for a new post climate catastrophe community (without the capitalist exploitation of labor, the racist segregation, and the extractive ecologically insane economy – and military madness and border wall construction).

[End Note: (Historic District designation)

There is no doubt that mining built this town, once the nation’s third largest producer of copper. There is the inescapable presence of the pit, slag heaps, smelter, tailing ponds and cluster of aluminum-corrugated buildings as a reminder of the mining operation. There is also the inescapable reminder that the support settlement, with its ample streets radiating out from its town center – a verdant, palm-lined plaza surrounded by a colonnaded business block in the Spanish Colonial Revival style – was a deliberately planned community based on strong principles of beautification and social responsibility. With the closure of the New Cornelia mining operation by the Phelps Dodge Corporation in 1984, the drone of trains, smoking of the smelter stacks, rumblings of heavy equipment, and frequent dynamite blasts ceased. At that time, the population of the town of Ajo, which has fluctuated greatly over the years owing to its direct relationship to the copper industry, dropped from 6,000 to less than half that number. No longer significantly in the “business” of copper mining except for recent, minor bursts of activity, Ajo has been jolted into facing a very uncertain future, hoping to survive as a retirement and tourist center.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

NJ Gov. Murphy’s Acting DEP Commissioner Worked For Fortress Energy On LNG Export Project

February 9th, 2021 No comments

Acting DEP Commissioner LaTourette’s Recusal Shows He Worked For Corporate Interests

Egregious Revolving Door And “Regulatory Capture” Abuse

This Is What “Progressive Neoliberalism” Looks Like

NJ Gov. Murphy’s appointed Acting DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette was a corporate lawyer for Fortress Energy, the corporate interest behind the controversial LNG export facility recently approved by the DRBC amid the opposition of a 4 state climate activist campaign and thousands of public opponents.

According to DEP documents, Mr. LaTourette legally (and politically?) represented the Fortress Energy LNG project on successful regulatory approvals before the DEP, DRBC, USACOE, and NMFS/NOAA. (DEP documents provided upon request).

Masking the relationship, LaTourette claims that he worked for Delaware River Partners, LLC, a firm he claims is an “affiliate” of Fortress Energy. So let me put a finer point on the real relationship: (source: US DOE energy export application)

The Gibbstown [LNG] Facility is being developed by Delaware River Partners LLC (“DRP”). DRP is majority owned by Fortress Transportation and Infrastructure Investors LLC (“FTAI”)

Importantly, prior to the DRBC controversy, the DEP quietly approved Fortress land use permits, Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act, and Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification – with virtually no public awareness – including during LaTourette’s tenure at DEP as Deputy Commissioner and Chief Of Staff.

Additionally, on top of representing Fortress Energy on the LNG plant, Mr. LaTourette’s ethics disclosure forms reveal that he previously represented numerous other corporate clients.

LaTourette’s own ethics disclosure forms blatantly contradict claims in Gov. Murphy’s press release issued upon appointing LaTourette Acting DEP Commissioner.

In that press release, Gov. Murphy failed to mention ANY prior specific corporate clients and instead created a false impression that Mr. LaTourette worked on behalf of community groups and in the public interest.

The Gov. press release claimed (emphases mine):

With twenty years of environmental experience, LaTourette began his career partnering with the Erin Brockovich law firm to organize and defend New Jersey communities whose drinking water was contaminated by petrochemicals. … . Before entering public service, LaTourette specialized in protecting the rights of victims of toxic injuries while also advising infrastructure, transportation, energy, and other industries on compliance with state and federal environmental laws and policies.

But here are the corporate clients Mr. LaTourette actually represented: (These documents were obtained via an OPRA request, which DEP dragged its feet for weeks in responding to. Source: Attachment A from LaTourette’s own DEP ethics recusal forms. Note that there is only ONE pro bono client, and it looks like LaTourette was helping them rebuild where they should not have rebuilt post Sandy):

Screen Shot 2021-02-09 at 5.39.36 PM

This is a classic example of both the revolving door and corporate capture of government regulatory agencies.

No wonder Gov. Murphy touted the identity politics supporting LaTourette.

Check out this diversion (a casebook example of “Progressive Neoliberalism”) from Gov. Murphy’s press release:

A devoted advocate for equality of all people, LaTourette was elected to serve as Chair of the LGBTQ Rights Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association, completing his term in 2020, and will be the first openly gay Commissioner of Environmental Protection in the nation. A Middlesex County native, he resides in Highland Park with his partner and twin daughters.

Gay men can be corporate whores too.

We are not aware of whether or when the Senate will take up confirmation of LaTourette’s temporary appointment.

But we will be sure to make Senate President Sweeney (who OBVIOUSLY knew and has worked with LaTourette on Fortress LNG) and Senate Environment (Smith) and Judiciary (Scutari) Committee Chairmen aware of these facts.

We gave a heads up to NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle – who has done a lot of work on the Fortress LNG project. Let’s hope this outrage gets the media attention it deserves.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: