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Cultural Politics Has Hijacked The NJ Climate And Environmental Agenda

Identity Politics Masks Economic Interests & Corporate Power, While Co-Opting Activists and Derailing Real Solutions

Major Chemical Safety Bill In Response To Passaic Fire Flies Under the EJ Radar

In response to the Liberty State Park controversy which exposed itself in Trenton last week, I criticized the Orwellian and cynical manipulation of progressive issues by billionaire Paul Fireman.

And it’s all done right out in the open.

Last year, a Star Ledger editorial quoted Fireman himself as playing the race card: (Ledger editorial, 8/25/21),

Fireman hasn’t addressed the issue since July 15, 2020, when he released a statement explaining that he is “halting any efforts to pursue a public private partnership at Caven Point” because he wanted to “force the supporters of the Protection Act to address the social justice problems. . . .without using me as an excuse to keep ignoring minority communities.”

Thankfully, the Ledger called that hypocritical BS out:

Fireman’s record on worker rights as Reebok CEO is mostly unassailable, if you can overlook that he made his first billion from Indonesian sweatshop labor, but the 600-word statement read like parody. It couched the issue as a “racial justice fight,” a remarkable lecture coming from a billionaire trying to purloin public property for a gaggle of elitists who pay $450,000 for their membership.

Many people see exactly what’s going on:

At-large councilman Rolando Lavarro called this period of desperate debate a “high-dollar attempt to hijack the issue.”

Since then, advocates say Fireman is astroturfing like a demon— supporting well-financed shadow groups that parrot his message and produce slick videos, most of them smearing opponents of the Caven Point gambit.

I noted how not only billionaire’s play this cynical cultural politics game, but how the Murphy administration and Democrats do as well:

That contrast is a classic example of what Professor Nancy Fraser calls “Progressive Neoliberalism”, where cultural issues are used to mask a pro-corporate economic agenda and divert, dupe, manipulate, and co-opt progressive activists and media alike.

But these corrupt tactics are not limited to the Liberty State Park debate.

There has been a very effective “high-dollar attempt to hijack” the entire climate, energy and environmental agenda – and it is working.

The most recent illustration is almost a parody of itself – Tri-County Sustainability:

Tri-County Sustainability (TCS) is the Sustainable Jersey regional hub for the 101 towns, 1.2 million residents, and 10 legislative districts across Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties. TCS is open to sustainability enthusiasts, green team members, environmental commissions and members of the general public looking to improve their communities and connect regionally. We frequently partner with environmentally focused organizations to achieve common goals for our municipalities and planet. ALL ARE WELCOME! 

Just coincidentally (haha!), right before the DEP’s land use Climate PACT regulations are scheduled to be proposed, they just happen to be holding an event that focuses on stormwater. And look who their sponsors are – I couldn’t make this up if I tried to illustrate the corruption:

Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 8.20.24 AM

These same groups are providing cover in support of the Liberty State Park debate.

These same groups provided cover for Gov. Murphy’s Pinelands Commission appointments.

These same groups provided cover and supported Gov. Murphy’s nomination of a former corporate lawyer as DEP Commissioner on the same identity politics grounds.

These same groups are now safely in the room negotiating with a flawed Forestry Taskforce, thereby giving DEP a pass to continue to expand plans and programs for mismanaging and logging State forests.

These same groups contracted for a consultants Report on funding state parks that promotes privatization. That Report received favorable media coverage and a parks privatization bill was rammed through a Senate committee shortly thereafter.

These same groups are also just getting involved and launching a “maintain our parks” campaign. Hypocritically, they were the same groups responsible for the “Keep It Green” Open Space theft of millions of dollars of State Parks maintenance money (i.e. Constitutionally dedicated $32 million per year was stolen and diverted to the Green Acres program).

The parks funding Report, the privatization Legislation, and a new parks maintenance campaign are no accident and no coincidence: they are the classic pattern of how a campaign is rolled out.

The big question is: Who is funding and organizing all this?

These same groups get stories and Op-Ed’s planted in media, the same media that is funded by the Foundations funding these groups.

A very similar coalition was formed to capture the lead in drinking water debate, and thereby narrowly frame issues of statewide drinking water quality and safety and mask structural defects in DEP’s regulations.

And a very similar thing happened on the climate front, just as DEP’s climate and environmental justice regulations were proposed, involving the same focus and many of the same groups. 

The coalition, planned to be publicly launched Thursday, is called the New Jersey Progressive Equitable Energy Coalition (NJPEEC) and includes over a dozen groups including the New Jersey NAACP, Latino Action Network, New Jersey League of Conservation Voters and the Atlantic Climate Justice Alliance. The coalition leaders say it plans to meet with state leaders as well as the people of New Jersey to fight for environmental justice.

Why has there been almost total radio silence on both major DEP climate and EJ regulations, which are seriously flawed? Where are the activists? Where is the media? Where is the real story, see:

[Note: from what I can tell, Marcus Sibley works for the National Wildlife Federation as the Northeast Director of Conservation Partnerships. He apparently launders that through NAACP and EJ groups. If that’s accurate, I sense the fingerprints of my old [former] friend Curtis Fisher.]

Regardless of their intent – which I strongly support and have written about and been involved with as an activist for decades – these groups have managed to divert focus from the substance of the flaws in NJ’s climate and environmental justice laws and DEP’s recently proposed regulations. That effectively provides cover for the Murphy DEP. It dupes and co-opts real activists. And it derails real solutions.

[Update: 6/23/22 – according to a NJ Spotlight teaser for a TeeVee story tonight:

  • Environmentalists, community activists and residents living in overburdened communities will march and rally in Trenton today. Environmental advocates are urging Gov. Murphy to put an end to all new fossil fuel projects.

Notice that there is no mention of the flaws in the recent DEP EJ rule proposal. I’ll try to get a hold of their March demands. ~~~ end update]

For a perfect illustration and very recent example of what I mean, consider the fact that leader of that group was able to reframe the Passaic fire as a race issue,  which completely diverted from the chemical safety regulatory failures at DEP that are statewide and longstanding (see:

While these folks are posturing about EJ, they missed the fact that a very important bill purported to address the Passaic fire loopholes was heard – with no testimony! – last week, S2739. The bill:

Requires submission to DEP of consequence analyses by employers regulated under “Worker and Community Right to Know Act”; requires municipal and county Emergency Operations Plan consider local risks and hazards.

This bill would incorporate a key provision of the NJ Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act chemical risk management requirements – basically what appears to be a watered down version of the TCPA “off-site consequence analysis”, an exercise I have described as mapping a “kill zone”. (see Section 2)

The bill also would require that (See section 3):

The State Office of Emergency Management shall develop risk and hazard assessment criteria, which shall be used by counties and municipalities in creating their Emergency Operations Plan.

The bill would even require DEP to address transportation risks – for things like bomb trains and tanker trucks and LNG ships (Gibbstown!)

the Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the dangers posed by hazardous material that may be located in each county and municipality, that may be transported through each county and municipality, or that are identified by the consequence analysis prepared pursuant to section 2

There are reasons that this bill flew under the radar of the EJ activists:

1. The bill exposes the fact that the much touted “historic” environmental justice law did not include chemical facilities regulated under NJ’ Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act. That is not the only major loophole in that law, as I’ve written numerous times.

2. “Off site consequence analysis” is a bureaucratic euphemism for mapping “kill zones” – place where people would die if there were a chemical accident.

It is obviously a highly controversial issue that legislators and the powerful chemical industry don’t want discussed publicly. In fact, the Attorney General’s Office is seeking amendments to keep that information secret, under cover of “Domestic Security” (terrorism).

3. The Democrats are afraid of the powerful chemical industry, who will strongly oppose the bill behind the scenes and very likely kill it in Senate Appropriations without any accountability for doing so.

The Democrats don’t want the public to know this and neither does the chemical industry.

4. Environmental groups and their EJ friends have largely abandoned work on science, policy, and regulatory issues. They have virtually zero expertise and as a result, industry and DEP have an open field. Foundations and private funders set the agenda, design the strategy, and message and organize the campaigns. The result is what Chris Hedges has called “boutique activism”:

The corporate state was never threatened by the liberal class’ myopic preoccupation with cultural diversity or the right wing’s championing of supposedly “Christian” values. This was anti-politics masquerading as politics. The culture wars did not challenge imperialism, neoliberalism and globalization. The dictates of the market, the primacy of corporate profit and the military-industrial complex remained sacrosanct. The mounting distress of the underclass was ignored or manipulated during the culture wars. Liberals who embraced cultural diversity did so within a neoliberalframework. Feminism, for example, became about placing individual women in positions of power—this is Hillary Clinton’s mantra—not about empowering poor, marginalized and oppressed women. Post-racial America became about a black president who, as Cornel West says, serves as “a black mascot for Wall Street.”

And do you think it’s purely a coincidence that the environmental justice issue just happens to divert activists and media on these kind of issues?

[Note: Dear reader, please don’t think me as a technocrat!

Here’s an analysis I share and I even tried to inject the Pope’s analysis into the climate debate. But you will never hear these kind oof ideas from the mouths of your EJ warriors, who are intellectually unaware of or too cowardly to be emphasizing any of that. ~~~ end note]

How much bigger can an EJ issue be than threats from chemical fires and explosions that could kill thousands of urban residents?

Paul Fireman is not the only person who spreads money around to buy political outcomes and use astro-turf tactics.

[End Note: A good friend just emailed me to defend Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA).

Here’s my reply:

PPA paid for the consultant’s study that supported privatization. That study led to the privatization legislation. PPA worked with Senator Turner sponsoring the bill and signed off on it. XXXXXXX works for PPA. I wrote XXX to ask about PPA’s position and xxx dodged the questions I asked.

PPA was also involved as a member of Keep It Green coalition that defunded State parks, thereby creating the very problem they now pretend to attempt to solve via privatization.

Absurd hypocrisy.

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