Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Denies Request For Public Records On DEP’s Review Of “Fortress Energy” LNG Export Project In Gibbstown, NJ

Murphy DEP Denies Request For Public Records On DEP’s Review Of “Fortress Energy” LNG Export Project In Gibbstown, NJ

Current DEP Commissioner LaTourette Represented Fortress In DEP Permit Process

OPRA Records Denial Appears To Be A Cover Up Of LaTourette’s Involvement

DEP Documents Reveal A Cozy Relationship With Fortress Energy

The Murphy DEP just denied my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for public documents regarding the DEP’s review of permit applications for a massive LNG export plant in Gibbstown NJ, known as “Fortress Energy”.

I’ve responded to OPRA requests as a DEP employee and I’ve filed hundreds of OPRA requests to DEP. This was a routine and very specific request for permit records. So, the DEP’s denial is a severe abuse of OPRA and because it is so egregious it suggests DEP has bad faith or corrupt motives.

The denial comes at a time when I recently filed OPRA requests and obtained sensitive, controversial, and embarrassing documents (including DEP enforcement records on Statewide violations of DEP’s drinking water standards for “forever chemicals”).

These OPRA documents I recently received also included controversial and embarrassing documents that show that current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette was personally and directly involved in the permitting of the LNG plant  as a lawyer representing Fortress (and as Director of the environmental law Department at Gibbons law firm where he supervised other lawyers working on the LNG project).

The OPRA documents also expose that DEP knows that current DEP permit regulation do not allow DEP to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or climate impacts. Yet LaTourette has done nothing to close the loopholes he exploited in representing and securing DEP permits for Fortress Energy.

(In a post I’m still working on, I also will reveal how these OPRA response documents show a cozy and inappropriate relationship between the permit applicant Fortress and the DEP staff. DEP knows I have these documents).

[Update: 12/2/21 – Here is part 1 of that post I was working on – “cozy” is not the correct word to describe the relationship between DEP permit staffers and the LNG consultants: “corrupt” is:

LaTourette recently denied knowledge of and downplayed his role in that DEP permit process and misled the community at a recent DEP “listening session”.

LaTourette has also repeatedly gaslighted the public and media by his statements about his commitment to addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, belying that commitment, he has done nothing to close huge gaps in DEP’s regulations – regulations he exploited on behalf of Fortress Energy to secure DEP permits for the LNG plant (in record time and under the public and media radar).

So – given how badly I’ve been bludgeoning DEP and Commissioner LaTourette with documents I’ve obtained via OPRA –  DEP clearly had a corrupt motive to deny my request to obtain additional permit documents that would further embarrass Commissioner LaTourette and further expose his misleading statements about his role in the LNG DEP permit process as a lawyer for Fortress Energy.

I requested, very specifically, the communications between the consultant representing Fortress Energy (“Rambol”, the project is technically known as Delaware River Partners, DRP and Gibbstown Logistic Center)  and the DEP staffer who served as the point of contact on DEP’s land use permits.

Here is my OPRA request:

I request the following public records:

1. Communications (correspondence, emails, meeting agendas and notes, phone calls,) between Laura George of Rambol and Suzane Dietrick of DEP Land Use regarding DEP permits and approvals of the proposed DRP GIBBSTOWN LOGISTICS CENTER

2. emails, meeting agendas and notes, memoranda, application review comments and other communications between Suzane Dietrick and DEP staffers, the DEP Office of Permit Coordination, and the DEP Commissioner’s Office regard the proposed DRP GIBBSTOWN LOGISTICS CENTER.

DEP denied this request on the sham basis that it was overly broad.

Yet it was narrow and very specific: it identified 2 specific individuals, a specific permit application, and a specific project which DEP reviewed and approved during a very specific timeframe.

DEP asserted the very thin reed that my request was overly broad because it failed to specify a timeframe. But that is bogus, because the permits were already issued and DEP knows when the permit applications were initially submitted and when they were approved. That timeframe is defined already and known to DEP.

DEP permit reviews are coordinated through DEP’s Office of Permit Coordination, so that is routine standard operating procedure and an OPRA public record.

But not all individual permits are reviewed by or have involvement of the Commissioner’s Office. This review would include the Commissioner, Chief of Staff, Deputy Commissioner, possibly the press office, possibly the Governor’s Office, and the Commissioner’s legal Counsel. So, this aspect of my OPRA request raises legitimate “deliberative privilege” issues.

But DEP did not deny my OPRA request on the basis of “deliberative privilege”. (If they did invoke “deliberative privilege”, they would confirm political involvement of the Commissioner’s Office and/or Governor’s Office in DEP permit review).

All DEP permit documents are OPRA public records, by definition. All communications between a permit applicant and the DEP are public records (with the exception of very limited corporate proprietary information or domestic security exemptions, which clearly do not apply in this case). These documents form what’s known as the “administrative record” for the project and are open for public review under OPRA.

It is an outrage that DEP denied this request – this is a blatant abuse of OPRA.

I already refiled the request and will be appealing this denial to the Government Records Council or perhaps the Courts and will request Legislative oversight of DEP’s OPRA practices.

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