Archive for September, 2021

The Pelosi House

September 30th, 2021 No comments


Will someone please tell Pelosi and the media that Biff was a tragic character in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman”?

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NJ Audubon Hires Former Exxon-Mobil Hack As Head Of “Stewardship”

September 30th, 2021 No comments

A Merry-Go-Round Of Revolving Door And Corporate Abuses

Expanding Corporate Interests In DEP Climate, Energy, Land Use, & Toxics Programs

[Update: Since I wrote this, Mr. Cecil was promoted to DEP Assistant Commissioner and Mr. Ireland was promoted to NJ Audubon CEO.]

Since we last wrote about the long chain abuses by NJ Audubon in promoting logging in NJ’s few remaining mature intact Highlands hardwood forests, in another abuse of the “revolving door” phenomena, John Cecil, the head of NJ Audubon’s “corporate stewardship” and logging programs left to join – wait for it – the NJ DEP as the Director of Parks and Forestry!

Let that sink in: the man who worked with DEP and ran roughshod over local people trying to preserve Highlands forests, who spun science to manipulate the media about logging public lands, and who headed NJA’s “Corporate Stewardship” program, is now in charge of all of NJ’s State Parks and Forests.

That can only mean an expansion of logging and burning NJ’s forests – and it likely will also encroach on and undermine the historic distinctions between the management of State Parks, State Forests, and private lands in ways that weaken public protections and promote private interests.

I wanted to but never got around to writing specifically about that.

But, today I learned of more of the same – a merry-go-round of revolving door abuse, so can’t resist writing about it.

I just learned that NJ Audubon replaced Mr. Cecil with a former Exxon-Mobil hack: (hit that link – I’ve taken a screen shot, because I assume that this will be modified or taken down if it gets any traction with the public or media – emphasis is mine):

NJ Audubon is pleased to announce that Alex Ireland, Ph.D. will be joining the team on September 30, 2021 as Vice President of Stewardship.

Alex comes to NJ Audubon from ExxonMobil Biomedical Sciences, Inc. (EMBSI), where he served in a variety of roles, most recently leading a global team of environmental scientists. Throughout his time at EMBSI, he engaged in site reclamation, land management, and voluntary conservation projects in the US. He synthesized on-the-ground learnings into co-authored peer-reviewed publications presenting a new model for integrating reclamation planning into site remediation and illustrating the potential cumulative benefits of voluntary corporate conservation initiatives. Alex led wide-ranging research and development projects, collaboratively designing, and publishing innovative approaches to environmental monitoring using GIS and remote sensing technologies to improve environmental performance and meet regulatory requirements. Prior to leading the environmental sciences section, Alex also managed affiliate-level planning and budgeting, a role focused on identifying, quantifying, and driving business process improvements.

That’s some “variety of roles”, eh?

[Update: 10/1/21 – since this post, NJ Audubon apparently updated and supplemented Mr. Ireland’s bio, to stress prior academic work, see this. I anticipated some response, but was incorrect in my prediction that they’d take the bio down. They just supplemented it to make it look better.

That changes nothing – he’s still a former Exxon-Mobil hack. ~~~ end update]

This is deeply troubling for obvious reasons – and I don’t need to tell you who Exxon-Mobil is and how they operate (just listen to the recorded statements of their own chief lobbyist!)

This is particularly and uniquely troubling given NJ Audubon’ links to the NJ DEP via Eileen Murphy, former head of DEP’s Office of Science & Research and John Cecil, currently DEP’s Director Of Parks and Forestry.

(Eric Stiles, CEO of NJ Audubon is a former DEP staffer as well).

The move signals an expansion of NJ Audubon’s role and influence into DEP regulatory policy, and not just on forestry, birding and various corporate scams that parade under the banner of “stewardship”..

Their new VP of Stewardship, Mr Ireland, has backgrounds in regulatory compliance and site remediation.

NJ DEP climate, regulatory and site remediation programs allow multiple opportunities for the kind of corporate scams Mr. Ireland worked on at Exxon-Mobil.

These include DEP’s clean air, clean water, climate, land use, and site remediation program initiatives that are justified by slogans such as “mitigation”, “restoration”, “wetlands mitigation banking”, “flood credits”, “engineering and institutional controls”, “bioremediation”, “natural attenuation”, “natural resource damage compensation”, “risk assessment”, “carbon offsets”, “carbon sequestration”, “net zero carbon”, “cost benefit analysis”, etc, ….. AKA “sounds like science”.

The combination of Mr. Ireland’s corporate experience, coupled with: 1) NJ Audubon’s emphasis on the advocacy of corporate interests under the guise of “stewardship”; 2) NJ’s Audubon’s relationships with NJ DEP and elite Foundations (like Wm. Penn, Dodge, and Duke);  and 3) the DEP’s need for political cover for deals to approve corporate rollbacks to science based standards – will lead to further erosion of protections of public health and the environment and the expansion of corporate access and influence on DEP.

NJ Audubon is becoming a monster by exploiting revolving door and regulatory capture dynamics, and is further corrupting the already broken regulatory institution and processes at DEP.

They need to be called on it by all people of good faith, fellow conservation groups, and NJ’s press corps.

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Murphy DEP Commissioner Claims NJ Residents Not “Culturally” Aware Of How To Manage Flood Risks

September 27th, 2021 No comments

DEP Has Recognized And Supported A “Strategic Adjustment” Policy For Over 15 Years

DEP Has Failed To Plan For, Regulate And Implement This Policy

DEP Now Blames The Public And “Culture” For Those Failures

Just a quick note to: 1) clarify the important but wonky issue of “strategic adjustment”; and 2) document what is perhaps the most absurd, irresponsible, and revealing statement by a DEP Commissioner, ever.

Last week, Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette said this about the longstanding DEP policy of “managed retreat“: (NJ Spoltight)

One strategy, known as “managed retreat,” is premised on buying out properties in flood zones and preserving the area as open space. LaTourette announced Tuesday he wants the state to seek additional funding for its Blue Acres program, which provides buyouts for flood victims in flood zones so they can move to higher ground and their property become open space. The program is voluntary.

“I don’t believe we have begun the mission of managed retreat. I don’t know that we are at a point culturally to know what it means,” LaTourette said, though he does want more funding for the Blue Acres program.

Just for the record, for over 15 years, DEP has supported (rhetorically, but not in regulations) the policy of “strategic adjustment”.

As I wrote almost 9 years ago, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, here is the DEP’s description and formal inclusion of that “strategic adjustment” policy in the federally approved NJ Coastal Zone Management Program:

Titus demonstrates (link) that in certain instances, structural engineering solutions will not be practical or economically feasible. In these cases future public and private development and redevelopment must be directed away from the hazardous areas. While some derogatorily refer to this option as “retreat,” from the perspective of sound planning based on the best available science, the concept actually involves “strategic adjustment.” Prudent planning requires that we expand upon the existing studies of the societal, economic, and environmental costs of possible mitigative actions while the greatest number of alternatives exist. [Source: Read full 2006 DEP 309 Report]

For a DEP Commissioner not to be aware of this important policy history is remarkable.

DEP rhetorically “began the mission” of “managed retreat” (a pejorative term – it’s actually called “strategic adjustment”) decades ago, but never followed through.

NJ Spotlight and Commissioner LaTourette define “managed retreat” far too narrowly and limit it to the piecemeal DEP voluntary Blue Acres program.

A “Strategic adjustment” policy logically would lead to statewide DEP planning and regulation – not just rhetoric – and not just scattershot voluntary, ineffective, and costly Blue Acres buyouts.

It would include reforms like “one and done”, i.e. elimination of the current NJ law establishing a “right to rebuild”.

It would include: 1) statewide DEP planning (not a patchwork of 520 local government efforts); 2) statewide flood map updates,; 3) bans on new development and retrofits of existing development in high hazard locations; and 4) stricter DEP flood zone standards.

So, LaTourette is not only dangerously ignorant, he actually disparaged and dismissed the most critical “Strategic adjustment” policy by using a pejorative term to describe a policy that he doesn’t know anything about and has failed to implement.

But equally remarkable – and revealing – is LaTourette’s emphasis on “culture”.

Why would a DEP Commissioner talk about “culture”?

That revealing remark exposes LaTourette’s personal experience and ideology of government’s role and his emphasis on cultural issues over traditional public policy discourse and practice.

That’s exactly what practitioners of what Professor Nancy Fraser calls “Progressive Neoliberalism” do –  they use culture (identity politics) to mask economic and political power.

In fact, Gov. Murphy has taken the same approach and played the identity politics card – for example, by emphasizing that LaTourette is the first gay DEP Commissioner.

As I’ve written, that has nothing to do with the job, but it does provide political cover.

And now, that identity politics focus is being used to not only divert from DEP’s failures, but to actually blame the public and victims of flooding for those failures.

The man is a dangerous gaslighting fool and should be fired.

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Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette Gaslights On Environmental Justice

September 25th, 2021 No comments

DEP Delays Adopting Enforceable EJ Regulations

DEP Administrative Order Is Pure Window Dressing

Like the long delayed DEP “climate PACT” regulations, the DEP regulations to implement the seriously flawed NJ environmental justice law are similarly delayed.

Ironically, the issues are inter-related. Among many other major flaws in the EJ law, as I wrote:

Obviously, the Murphy administration is highly vulnerable to valid criticism for their failure to adopt those critical regulations, after almost 4 years in power.

This is criticism they are desperate to avoid, due to Gov. Murphy’s many exaggerated commitments on both climate and EJ policies, especially in the run-up to an election.

In response to these failures and delays, Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette issued ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER NO. 2021-25 on September 20, 2021 regarding implementation of the NJ environmental justice law.

Revealingly, that DEP Order is being spun by many, including one of NJ’s largest corporate law firms, as significant, e.g. this Orwellian titled piece:

EJ comes early? Are you kidding me?

The fact is that DEP has long delayed adopting EJ regulations, and this is by design, not just bureaucratic inertia.

Gee, I wonder why a corporate law firm would be spinning a story in favor of the Murphy DEP?

The corporate community (polluters & developers) –  who this law firm represents – know they have dodged a bullet with this sham Order and their lawyers are essentially pissing on our legs and telling us it’s raining.

The Order by DEP Commissioner LaTourette – a former corporate lawyer – is a gaslighting joke.

The EJ bill signed by the Gov. was amended to eliminate any deadline on DEP adoption of regulations. The original version of the bill had a 180 day effective date. That deadline was eliminated and replaced by this open ended mandate (note there is no enforceable legal (statutory) deadline for DEP to act to adopt regulations). Section 5 of the law provides:

The department shall adopt, pursuant to the “Administrative Procedure Act,” P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B  1 et seq.) rules and regulations to implement the provisions of this act.

In addition to delay, we need to highlight a fundamental of administrative law.

Just like an Executive Order issued by the Governor, an Administrative Order of the DEP Commissioner does not have the force and effect of law and can not establish binding requirements on the private sector.  

That legal reality is the result of a concept called “due process”, where administrative agencies like DEP are required to go through formal procedures before imposing requirements on people and corporations. That process is called “public notice and comment rule-making” under the NJ Administrative Procedure Act.

An administrative Order is more like a press release or aspirational statement, than a binding regulation.

The DEP Administrative Order admits that:

WHEREAS, the Department cannot exercise the full extent of its authority under the Environmental Justice Law until these implementing regulations are duly promulgated;

Let that sink it – the DEP Order openly states that it can not be enforced until DEP adopts regulations.

As I previously noted, adoption of enforceable regulations is the core of the matter – and that the flaws in the legislation regarding those regulations destroyed any ability to actually achieve any real environmental justice benefits:

II)  EJ Bill Fails To Change The Rules of the Regulatory Game

As I previously wrote, that bill completely fails to address DEP’s regulatory algorithms – things like how DEP conducts “risk assessment” and local air quality impacts. […]

In order to provide environmental justice, environmental laws, DEP regulations, Technical Manuals, Guidance Documents, permit review methods, public participation processes, and permit decision criteria and standards must be changed.

Again, the pending EJ bill fails to do this, thereby giving DEP a pass to continue the status quo business as usual.

Virtually everything in the DEP Order is allowed under current law – almost all of the elements are procedural in nature.

For example, the DEP Commissioner already has the authority  and sometimes obligation (prior to the EJ law) to extend public comment periods, hold public hearings, respond to public comments, require permit applicants to respond to public comments, encourage informal engagement, etcetera.


No new standards or requirements are established and the Order is not enforceable. Nothing will change as a result of this Order.

Don’t be fooled by gaslighting window dressing.

[End Note: DEP Commissioner LaTourette is a lawyer – who previously represented major corporate polluters – so he knows exactly what he is doing.

If he pulled a disingenuous, ineffective PR stunt like this while representing a corporate client, the partners in the firm would fire him.

It is conceivable that he could be subject to an unprofessional practice or ethics complaint before the NJ Bar Association for misleading legal statements and unprofessional and ethically suspect practice.

In my 35 years of DEP experience, on a legal matter of this policy significance, high public profile, and political sensitivity, there is no way that LaTourette issued that Order without prior consultation and approval of the Governor’s Office.

Which leads me to one of two conclusions, either:

a) the Gov. and his staff are incompetent and trust LaTourette, who duped them (this is highly unlikely, because the Attorney General’s Office’s sign-off is required on this);  or

b) there are some very cynical, manipulative and dishonest people in this Administration, including the Governor.

It is also likely that LaTourette at least gave a heads up to the business community (NJ BIA, NJ CIC, Chamber of Commerce, NJ Builders Assc. NAIOP, etc) if not consulted with the on the Order.

I wonder if the environmental justice community got similar consultation, or whether LaTourette just bamboozled them knowing (based on years of prior experience) that they would fall in line and not criticize it, if not salute it.

I expect the press corps to be bamboozled by all this inside baseball – they  never get in the weeds and take government officials statements at face value.  ~~~ end] 

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Adirondack Pond – Sunrise Dissent

September 24th, 2021 No comments


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