Archive for July, 2021

Corporate Power And Market Forces Must Not Be Allowed To Determine Our Future

July 30th, 2021 No comments

Warehouse Wars – Part 72

NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle wrote another awful warehouse story today, by far the absolute worst in his otherwise increasingly poor series of stories on the warehouse development issue.

There are so many aspects of this warehouse disaster the Mr. Hurdle (and his editors at NJ Spotlight) simply refuse to cover.

Instead, today he wrote a piece that belongs in the Wall Street Journal. Maybe that’s who he’s auditioning for. Jobs are becoming scarce in mainstream journalism. Hurdle writes as if corporate power and market forces, i.e. supply and demand and real estate prices, should govern growth and determine land use, without even mentioning the role of government planning and regulation and government’s legal duty to protect the natural environment and the broader public interest.

For months, I’ve written Hurdle numerous and increasing critical emails – backed up by links to the government documents – strongly urging him to abandon his Neoliberal framework and reliance on corporate development cheerleading sources like NJ Future and refocus his reporting on vitally important issues, such as:

  • failure of the toothless NJ State Development and Redevelopment Plan (State Plan) [See Update below]
  • the historic failure of DEP to integrate the NJ State Plan into DEP planning, regulation, and permit programs (see Gov. Florio’s Executive Order #114 (1994).
  • the loss of prime farmland and forests and ways to preserve what’s left by following NJ’s regional planning traditions
  • gaps and loopholes in DEP land use and water quality planning and permitting programs
  • exploration of the role of NJ’s regional planning entities: Highlands, Pinelands, Delaware River Basin Commission
  • the flaws and legal myths of “home rule”
  • the climate implications of warehouse developments
  • the social effects of warehouse developments, including labor exploitation and impacts on community character
  • local abuse of NJ redevelopment law to promote warehouse development
  • political games being played by NJ Democrats to create the false appearance of opposition to warehouse development
  • corporate power and “regulatory capture” at DEP

These stories have one thing in common: they all threaten powerful economic, corporate and political interest – as well as the elite Foundations who increasingly exert influence behind the scenes and control not only environmental groups, but media like NJ Spotlight.

He won’t write about any of these important stories or even respond to my emails. Instead, he continues to rely on NJ Future as his “expert” source and frames his stories on economic issues or limits the scope of his coverage to individual site specific challenges (i.e. lawsuits).

I can only conclude that he is not an honest journalist – he’s either a coward or a hack, or both.

I’ve reached the same conclusion with respect to NJ Spotlight, – “where [some safe] issues matter” –  an outlet who has abandoned any semblance of critical coverage or any focus whatsoever on DEP or planning or regulatory issues. The influence of donors has become transparent.

For example, NJ Spotlight has plenty of space to cover “market force” corporate oriented stories, like the drumbeat about so called “subsidies” to and high cost of renewable power, while virtually never mentioning the pervasive influence of corporate and Wall Street power, or the huge subsidies to fossil fuels, or the costs of the climate emergency (I’m no fan of CBA & ROI methods, but costs are only relevant in relation to benefits). 

The fundamental issue – and this is not limited to warehouses – is a democratic policy choice:

whether corporate power and market forces will be allowed to continue to determine our collective future; or whether democratic institutions and planning and regulatory controls will govern.

Chris Hedges is perhaps America’s best writer on these topics, but the essential conflict between private corporate power and market forces versus democratic planning and regulation goes back to the beginning of capitalism. Hedges:

Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse.

The best single work I’ve read long predates Hedges. My favorite historical book that gets these issues of political economy right is “The Great Transformation – The Political And Economic Origins Of Our Time” (1944) by Karl Polanyi, who framed the issue:

Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark Utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time with-out annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness. Inevitably, society took measures to protect itself, but whatever measures it took impaired the self-regulation of the market, disorganized industrial life, and thus endangered society in yet another way It was this dilemma which forced the development of the market system into a definite groove and finally disrupted the social organization based upon it.

There it is.

Polanyi destroyed the myth of the “self-regulating market” (see Chapter 6).

He exposed how reliance on the “self-regulating market” destroyed man and society (Chapter 14):

To separate labor from other activities of life and to subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organization, an atomistic and individualistic one.

Such a scheme of destruction was best served by the application of the principle of freedom of contract. In practice this meant that the noncontractual organizations of kinship, neighborhood, profession, and creed were to be liquidated since they claimed the allegiance of the individual and thus restrained his freedom. To represent this principle as one of noninterference, as economic liberals were wont to do, was merely the expression of an ingrained prejudice in favor of a definite kind of interference, namely, such as would destroy noncontractual relations between individuals and prevent their spontaneous reformation.

He also exposed how markets destroyed nature (Chapter 15):

What we call land is an element of nature inextricably interwoven with man’s institutions. To isolate it and form a market for it was perhaps the weirdest of all the undertakings of our ancestors. […]

The proposition is as Utopian in respect to land as in respect to labor. The economic function is but one of many vital functions of land. It invests man’s life with stability; it is the site of his habitation; it is a condition of his physical safety; it is the landscape and the seasons. We might as well imagine his being born without hands and feet as carrying on his life without land. And yet to separate land from man and to organize society in such a way as to satisfy the requirements of a real-estate market was a vital part of the Utopian concept of a market economy.

Some have much simplified the challenge into a slogan, which is even more apt given our accelerating climate catastrophe and ecological collapse that now threatens extinction of human civilization:

Socialism or barbarism.

It sure looks like we’re headed towards the latter at incredible accelerating speed.

[Update: After I posted this, I got an email from the State Planning Commission regular distribution providing the agenda for their next Aug. 4 meeting.

Wow! This could be a modern deckchairs-Titanic moment. Agenda Item #8

“8. PRESENTATION – Rutgers University Climate Resilience Corps, Jeanne Herb,Co-Director, NJ Climate Change Resource Center, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy”

I forwarded it to Jon Hurdle with a note that its now safe to write about climate and land use.

The SPC presentation gives NJ Spotlight permission to write about climate and land use. It’s now a “safe” topic.

But it will reflect Rutgers’ lame approach, which Jon Hurdle & his editors just love because it generates zero blowback from those who matter (i.e. corporate & Foundation funders).

*** Full disclosure: I worked with Ms. Herb at DEP during the McGreevey Administration (2002 – 2005) when she was head of DEP Office of Policy and Planning.  I also had interaction with Herb in the late 1980’s in her role then as the bureaucratic gatekeeper for DEP’s allocation of Spill Act money dedicated to research, while I represented (with colleague management installed to keep my advocacy in check, Mike Winka) the Division of Solid Waste Management. I could share many stories, but let’s keep it simple for now and just say we regularly disagreed. ~~~ end update]

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We All Need Someone We Can Lean On

July 30th, 2021 No comments

Screen Shot 2021-07-29 at 7.22.52 PM

Neil Young released that album back in 1969:

Side one

Cinnamon Girl” – 2:58

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – 2:26

“Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” – 5:49

Down by the River – 9:13

Side two

“The Losing End (When You’re On)” – 4:

“Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)” – 5:30

Cowgirl in the Sand” – 10:03

It got me through high school and beyond.

The photo on the right of me was published in an interview by The Philadelphia Review Of Books (next to a photo of Obama!).

Ironically it was taken in 2012 at Bulls Island State Park by Star Ledger right wing columnist Paul Mulshine, during the battle over Christie DEP’s proposed clearcut of the magnificent sycamores – “killer trees” – on the island.

Isn’t life strange? (stolen from the Moody Blues).

And I obviously stole that headline from the Rolling Stones!

(and you’ll never get to heaven if you break my heart! – and that means you “Margaret” and Lisa!)

(and you don’t know what you got till its gone).

We close with Dylan:

I’m just going down the road feelin’ bad, trying to get to heaven before they close the door.

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Mansfield NJ – Corruption In Plain Sight

July 29th, 2021 No comments

Farm Certified In Need Of Redevelopment

Huge 588,000 sq. ft. Warehouse Proposed For Site

DEP About To Rubber Stamp Water Quality Plan Amendment

Jones Farm, on Rt. 130, Mansfield NJ

Jones Farm, on Rt. 130, Mansfield NJ

This is a very quick followup to my post the other day about warehouse developments pending DEP approvals.

It involves just one of the 6 pending warehouse developments I noted, a proposed new 588,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Mansfield, NJ. The warehouse is proposed on land called the Jones Farm.

The Jones Farm is located on Rt. 130, a busy highway corridor in south central NJ with nearby access to I-95 and I-295, rail, and Ports (Port Newark is just north and Philadelphia just south).

It is virtually surrounded by development and obviously must be considered valuable prime commercial or residential real estate.

It could also be considered: an important part of the block of nearby preserved farmland in Burlington County; important to the integrity of nearby wetlands and water quality of streams, ponds and Delaware River; space for wildlife habitat; a sink for carbon sequestration (instead of a major new source); or as a buffer to noise, light, air pollution, development and the huge traffic volumes already present on Rt. 130.

Mansfield Township NJ land use officials certified the Jones Farm in the above aerial photo as in need of redevelopment. You can read  the complete certification here.

Take a look at the photo and consider if you think this farm meets this statutory criteria for land in need of redevelopment for that certification:

unimproved vacant land by reason of its location, remoteness, lack of means of access to development, topography, or nature of the soil, is not likely to be developed through the instrumentality of private capital.

The farm is obviously not remote.

It has excellent access to nearby development, a well developed transportation network, and access to electric, internet, public sewer and water infrastructure.

It is the target of private capital investment in a multimillion dollar 588,000 square foot warehouse development.

How could Mansfield officials make that false certification and get away with it? Who are they accountable to?

DEP has already public noticed the facts, raised no objections, and said that they are OK with all this and issued a proposed approval:

This notice represents the Department’s determination that the proposed amendment is compliant with the applicable regulatory criteria at N.J.A.C. 7:15, as described below. […]

Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:15-4.4(h)1 and 2, the Department considered the land uses allowed in adopted zoning ordinances, future land uses shown in adopted municipal and county master plans, and other local land use objectives. The Burlington County Planning Board conditionally approved the project site plan on August 11, 2020, as provided in a letter dated August 19, 2020. On June 17, 2020, the Township Committee of Mansfield Township adopted Resolution 2020-7 that designated the site, known as the Jones Farm Study Area, as a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment, and adopted a redevelopment plan for the site.

It’s bad enough that the Township did that. But Burlington County and DEP reviewed it and signed off on it.

Corruption, in plain sight.

No press reporting. No opposition by environmental groups. Little if any public awareness.

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Flawed $10 Million Lake Funding Bill Now On Gov. Murphy’s Desk Diverts Money From Highlands And Pinelands

July 29th, 2021 No comments

Bill Ignores Regional Planning and DEP Regulatory Programs To Reduce Pollution

Perfect Example Of Corrupt Green Mafia Practices

Primary Beneficiary Is Private Consulting Firm That Works With Green Mafia 

On the last day of the legislative session before the summer break, the legislature quietly unanimously approved a one time $10 million supplemental appropriation to DEP (S3618) to address NJ’s persistent and proliferating episodes of “harmful algae blooms” and declining water quality. For context, see:

The bill is now on Gov. Murphy’s desk.

The bill provides a one time $10 million appropriation to DEP for: (OLS bill statement)

The bill directs the DEP to establish a program to use these funds for grants to assist qualified entities to pay certain costs associated with the management and maintenance of lakes for recreation and conservation purposes.

The bill requires the DEP to develop criteria for the evaluation and ranking of applications to provide priority to projects submitted by qualified entities responsible for a lake with public access; and projects to improve water quality and increase recreational access and use of lakes, including projects to control nutrient levels in lakes in order to prevent future harmful algal blooms. The bill provides that a grant issued pursuant to the bill may be used for stormwater and nonpoint source pollution management activities, if the DEP determines that those activities would directly enhance, improve, or protect the use of a lake for recreation and conservation purposes.

The bill is seriously flawed, for what it does and does not do:

1. The bill does not direct DEP to more aggressively enforce current DEP water quality standards, water quality planning planning, and regulatory permit programs designed to reduce nutrient pollution.

2. The bill does not authorize any new regulatory controls on the nutrient pollution that causes lake eutrophication and harmful algae blooms.

3. The bill is limited to grant incentives (all carrot, no stick). Equally bad, the one time nature of the funding makes it impossible for DEP to plan for or sustain the funding required for long term lake management programs to prevent, reduce, and respond to harmful algae blooms.

4. The bill ignores the regional planning, land use, and water quality powers of the Highlands Council, The Pinelands Commission and the Delaware River Basin Commission.

5. The bill also would divert funding from the NJ Highlands and Pinelands. The bill:

delete the provision that would have required the DEP to provide priority to projects located in the Highlands Region and pinelands area, and instead require the DEP to provide priority to projects submitted by qualified entities that are responsible for a lake with public access;

And it is a horrible legislative precedent to carve out the Highlands and the Pinelands and diminish the dedicated funding and priority for these regions.

One would think that given these flaws, particularly the diversion of funding from the Highlands and Pinelands, that the bill would be opposed by environmental groups, particularly the Highlands Coalition (HiCo) and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA).

The NJ Sierra Club opposed the bill.

But one would be wrong about the HiCo and PPA.

I was able to confirm that PPA took no position on the bill, they deferred to the HiCo. Here was their lame excuse:

We deferred to the Highlands Coalition on this bill, as it seems that algal blooms are really an issue there and not in the Pinelands.

PPA not only deferred to HiCO, but they were misinformed about the bill itself. The bill was not limited to harmful algae blooms. The bill applied broadly to lake management, water quality and stormwater management. The Pinelands has lake water quality issues that are within the scope of the bill and the bill would divert funding from them. Incredible that PPA was not aware of this.

I reached out to the HiCo but have not heard back. I strongly suspect that they supported the bill, and did so for corrupt reasons.

The bill would expand the scope of DEP’s Lakes Management Programs to fund “stormwater management” and “non point pollution” projects. Here’s what an un-named fellow environmental advocate immediately recognized that would do:

OMG. this is like a gift to aquatic management companies and folks like Princeton Hydro!!


And it just so happens that the Highlands Coalition has been working closely with Princeton Hydro in their ill advised joint “stormwater utility” promotional campaign. see:

Here’s HiCO’s Elliott Ruga Op-Ed promoting stormwater utilities as the solution to harmful algae blooms (and he doesn’t even correctly describe them as “harmful”, which downplays the problem):

The primary culprit that is causing the algae blooms in Lake Hopatcong and other recreational lakes and reservoirs in northern New Jersey is untreated stormwater, which carries a slew of toxins from hard surfaces, such as roads and parking lots, and washes contaminants directly into the lake. ..

The good news is that a bill that recently passed in Trenton allows municipalities, counties or a combination of municipalities, to form a stormwater utility, which can construct any number of “green infrastructure” projects that serve to intercept stormwater runoff, and filter out the contamination, before it enters the lake.

Here is Princeton Hydro, echoing that spin – and note how he brings in another player in NJ’s Green Mafia:

With increases in each of these occurring now, the imposition of green infrastructure and a stormwater utility fee are viable solutions to reducing their impacts. Plus, with the passing of the S-1073/A2694 bill in early 2019, the introduction of a stormwater utility became legal in New Jersey, making it the 41st state to do so.

On June 19, 2019, The Watershed Institute in Pennington, NJ held the “New Jersey Green Infrastructure & Stormwater Utilities Symposium” to address the environmental problems New Jersey faces and present solutions, including the stormwater utility.

So, the Highlands Coalition took the lead on this $10 million appropriation bill and they supported it while it diverted funds from the Highlands and eliminated a legislative funding priority for the Highlands!

The Pinelands Preservation Alliance, The Highlands Coalition, and the Watershed Institute are all funded by the $100 million Wm. Penn Foundation Delaware Watershed initiative.

The Penn Foundation money very likely included the stormwater utility campaign. The Wm. Penn Foundation does not support funding for enforcement of traditional Clean Water Act based government planning and regulatory programs. Instead, they support all kinds of voluntary initiatives and market incentives (like stormwater taxes in the stormwater utility fee and law).

So, we have a case where so called environmental groups are working with a private consulting firm to the detriment of their missions, while they undermine far more effective regional planning and DEP water quality regulatory programs.

But those more effective DEP water quality programs don’t provide any funding to the Green Mafia and their consultant friends.

The private consulting firm and the private Foundation are directing those groups, to the detriment of their mission and protection of water quality and the broader public interest, see:

And that is exactly how the Green Mafia rolls – money drives them to do anything.

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NJ DEP Commissioner Misleads The Public About The DEP Role In Hackensack River Superfund Designation

July 27th, 2021 No comments

Legal and Fact Errors

Fact Free Speculative Partisan Propaganda

Cover For Fact That DEP Commissioner Was A Lawyer For Corporate Polluters Fighting Cleanup Requirements

NJ Spotlight’s story today on the proposed designation of the Hackensack River as a federal Superfund site contains egregious errors that completely mislead readers about the Superfund designation process and the State DEP’s role in that process.

The errors are not minor and are in the lead of the story:

Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said Friday he will apply for Superfund status, which would, if granted, add federal money and expertise to the badly needed cleanup of a toxic stew of chemicals that lie in the riverbed as a result of more than a century of unregulated industrial discharges.

The river would be the first in New Jersey to be placed on the National Priorities List for cleanup of severely polluted sites even though some parts of the nearby Passaic River are being remediated under the program.

I)  First, a State environmental agency does not “apply for Superfund status.”

Superfund is a national program. The decision on whether to designate a site on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) is exclusively and solely EPA’s decision.

EPA has complete control (legally and technically) of every single step in the Superfund process.

The State role its purely advisory and has zero legal effect. EPA “consults” with States and seeks their “concurrence” in proposed Superfund NPL listing and cleanup decisions that are made exclusively by EPA. The State’s input is not binding on EPA in any way. EPA can act to list a site on the NPL with or without the State’s support.

The EPA NPL listing decision is supposed to be driven by science and risk to human health and the environment, as measured by a scoring system known as the “HRS”, for “Hazard Ranking System”. Sites with greater than an HRS of 28.5 qualify for listing. The Hackensack River scored an HRS of 50 (over 5 YEARS ago). EPA should have listed it on the NPL long ago.

Here is the EPA policy for consultation with States in the Superfund NPL listing process:

In an effort to maintain close coordination with the States in the NPL listing decision process, the Regions should determine the position of the State on sites that EPA is considering for NPL listing. The Regional Administrator should direct the written inquiry to the governor, with a copy to the State environmental commissioner. The inquiry should specify that a written response from the State is requested.

This is not a trivial issue, because exaggeration of the State role contradicts the fundamental Congressional structure of Superfund as a National program, it creates major problems in accountability, and it produces two very negative results:

1) the cowardly bureaucrats at EPA, including former EPA Region 2 Administrator Judy Enck and then head of R2 Superfund Mr. Walter Mudgan (now acting RA), hide behind a lack of “State concurrence” as an excuse not to make a decision to list a site on Superfund NPL. This gives knuckle dragging Gov.’s a veto power that was never authorized by Congress. We had enormous battles with EPA on this issue at the Dupont site in Pompton Lakes.

2) exaggeration of the State role allows State and local political influences to intervene at EPA on behalf of polluters to block Superfund NPL listing. EPA even has gutted Superfund cleanups based on local zoning. I wrote about exactly these political problems at the Troy Chemicals site in Newark (which subsequently was ultimately listed by EPA).

It also makes this appear to the public like the Murphy administration is doing some heavy lifting when in fact it means very little (despite EPA Mudgan’s claim that DEP support is “significant”. All it does is provide political cover for him and divert from his historical failures to act. Mudgan is engaged in pure political spin, not statements of law and policy).

II)  Second, despite what NJDEP falsely claims, the Hackensack River would NOT “be the first River in New Jersey to be placed on the National Priorities List”.

The EPA designated the Passaic River a Superfund site a long time ago. How can DEP Commissioner LaTourette and NJ Spotlight spin that?

[Update – a reader just sent me a curt note to indicate that the designation of a river as a Superfund site is really no big deal and has been done before across the country:

Willamette, Duwamish, Saginaw, Carson, St Louis, Hudson etc

III)  Third, Perhaps even worse, the partisan nature of the story is overt – not even disguised. And it too is factually in error and based on pure speculation, not facts.

Here it is:

Sheehan based his hopes on pro-environment policies by Democratic administrations in both Trenton and Washington, and on the long experience of Walter Mugdan, acting administrator of the EPA’s Region 2, who he said is well-placed to push for Superfund status for the river.

The Biden factor

“Now that Biden is in, and Mugdan is acting administrator, I wouldn’t be surprised if they accepted the petition and started working on the rulemaking,” Sheehan said in an interview with NJ Spotlight News. […]

Blocked by Christie

In 2016, EPA contractors took 400 samples from the riverbed, and found what Sheehan described as a “toxic stew” of contaminants. That should have prompted the DEP to seek Superfund designation at the time but that was blocked by Gov. Chris Christie who may not have wanted a new Superfund site in New Jersey during his presidential campaign, Sheehan said.

IV) Here are The Facts

Look, I was one of NJ Gov. Christie’s harshest, credible, and most visible environmental critics, if not the harshest. Ditto the Trump EPA.

But I can not let that obscure the facts of the matter or provide excuse for EPA inaction or DEP over the top spin. The facts are thus:

1. Regardless of what Gov. Christie did or didn’t do (and I do not doubt that he and DEP Commissioner Martin may have opposed Superfund designation, but I base my views on evidence, not speculation), it is flat out false to claim that DEP should have sought Superfund designation based on sediment sampling.

Again, this is a false statement of the State DEP’s role. Superfund designation is an EPA responsibility.

EPA should have pursued Superfund designation after they conducted a Preliminary Investigation (PA) and Site Assessment (SI) that yielded a “Hazard Ranking Score” (HRS) of 50, almost twice the listing score threshold of 28.5.

EPA completed the PA/SI over 5 YEARS ago and long BEFORE the sediment sampling documented that “toxic stew” of contaminants. The PA alone is an adequate basis for NPL listing, even without the confirmatory sediment sampling.

Walter Mugdan, US EPA Region 2 Actign Director

Walter Mugdan, US EPA Region 2 Acting Administrator

2. Walter Mudgan is no hero. I will note that Walter Mudgan, portrayed by NJ Spotlight as a hero, was the EPA R2 Manager in charge of this decision. He failed to act – he failed  do the right thing. That is not leadership, that is cowardice.

And Mr. Mugdan failed to do the right thing in Pompton Lakes. He failed the people of Ringwood too. And he’s dragging his feet on the Curtis Paper Site in Milford. We don’t forget.

3. There is no evidence that the Murphy NJ DEP is “pro-environment” in terms of aggressive cleanup of toxic sites. The NJ DEP toxic site cleanup program was privatized – by NJ Democrats in the Legislature and Corzine Gov.’s Office, supported by then DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson. I see no evidence that Murphy wants to reverse that ultimate rollback.

In fact, available evidence points to exactly the opposite conclusion, because NJ DEP Commissioner LaTourette was a legal hired gun for major corporate polluters fighting DEP and EPA toxic site cleanup requirements. (Look at his former corporate clients here).

Commissioner LaTourette is using this issue very cynically to create a misleading impression and to provide cover for his prior corporate legal work on behalf of polluters.

He is a slippery, dangerous, and dishonest hack. This episode absolutely validates my prior assessments of the man.

[End Note: I also haven’t seen any evidence that Biden is pro-environment on cleanup requirements. Again, the available evidence suggests just the opposite: The Associated Press has documented that Biden is a fraud on climate. And his EPA Administrator is known as a consensus builder and compromiser and he won the support of industry during the confirmation process. (Washington Post):

As North Carolina’s top environmental official, he has generally won praise from members of both parties, as well as from many environmental groups and industry representatives, for his willingness to hear all sides of an issue. But even Republicans who have spoken highly of Regan personally remained skeptical about the Biden administration’s plans to aggressively limit emissions from the nation’s automotive and fossil fuel sectors, insisting that moving too fast could inflict further damage on the battered economy.

How could NJ Spotlight speculate with no facts and in such a blatantly partisan way?]

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