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Conservationists Duped The Public On DEP Natural Resource Damage Program

NJ Voters Approved Constitutional Amendment to Dedicate NRD Funds To Conservation

Voters Weren’t Told That Corporate Polluters Would Pay Only Pennies On The Dollar

Here’s a perfect example of the sham that parades under the banner of conservation and “green” politics in NJ.

A national scandal arose after the Christie Administration settled an $8.9 BILLION DEP natural resource damage (NRD) lawsuit against Exxon for just $225 million – less than 3 pennies on the dollar.

The NY Times covered the issue and the former DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell wrote an Op-Ed in The NY Times blasting the deal:

Prior to the Exxon deal, I had written for over a decade about why the DEP NRD program was broken, e.g.:

Ironically, as I wrote, Commissioner Campbell himself contributed to the Exxon deal as a result of his failure to adopt NRD regulations, as he pledged to do in a legally binding settlement agreement approved by NJ Courts (see NJ Law Journal story – “Some Say NJ Had Little Choice but to Settle With Exxon” (4/2/15)). That work was completely ignored.

Finally, after the Exxon fiasco, even Senate Environment Committee Chairman Sob Smith finally realized that that DEP NRD program was broken and required legislative standards to assure that polluters paid for the damage they caused to publicly owned natural resources.

As I wrote this week, Senator Smith’s lame NRD ambitions evaporated in the face of massive corporate lobbying.

But the people of NJ know nothing about this. There’s been no news coverage. There is no Smith NRD Task Force Report. There are no published meeting agenda’s or minutes of the NRD Task Force. We don’t even know who the members of the Task Force were.

But it’s worse than invisible –

On the topic of NRD, the public has been told exactly the opposite of the facts!

They’ve been duped. Just like they were on the open space ballot measure and by the same conservation groups and political officials and for the same self serving reasons. (NJ.Com:

Bill Wolfe, the head of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said voters were “actively misinformed” about the “unprecedented, deep cuts” brought about by the ballot initiative, blaming the Keep It Green coalition for overemphasizing the benefits to open space and downplaying the cuts.

“The public was duped on this,” Wolfe said.

NJ Voters were told that the NRD program was an important natural resource protection program. They were told that the NRD program was a significant source of revenue and a program to hold corporate polluters accountable.

As a result of this voter education effort, NJ voters overwhelmingly supported the NRD program and voted to amend the NJ Constitution.

I’ll let NJ Conservation Foundation explain:

On November 7, 2017, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly passed the statewide ballot measure dedicating all funds from Natural Resource Damages settlements to the protection and restoration of natural resources. These funds have historically been used in part to preserve important lands, and NJ Conservation Foundation projects have received some of those funds, but a portion of the money has repeatedly been shifted to plug holes in the State operating budget.  Passage of Question 2 this year – which had the support of nearly 70% of voters – will ensure that all funds resulting from settlements with polluters will be dedicated to environmental protection and restoration.

Did NJCF tell voters that Exxon and many other corporate polluters paid just pennies on the dollar?

Since the Constitutional amendment ballot was approved in 2017, has NJCF since told voters that:

  • polluters still pay pennies on the dollar for the damage they caused to natural resources;
  • Despite Court setbacks and a settlement agreement, DEP has still failed to adopt enforceable NRD regulations;
  • Senator Smith’s Task Force was hijacked by corporate power; 
  • Smith still has failed to sponsor and pass legislation to enact enforceable NRD standards
  • the current DEP Commissioner represented polluters in a damaging NRD case precedent?

Voters know nothing about any of this, after having expressed strong support for NRD by amending the NJ Constitution.

A Constitutional issue has been buried.

I do not mean to single out NJCF – the problem exists throughout virtually the entire NJ conservation and environmental community, who are compromised, elite Foundation funded cowards and self interested hacks that look out for their own organization’s funding and rarely if ever challenge corporate or political power.

In our next post, we will examine how the Murphy Administration has gone even one step further in duping the public and used the NRD program as a political prop to support their “environmental justice” rhetoric.

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