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Senate Environment Committee Chairman Calls Critics of State Parks And Forests Privatization Bill “Paranoid Schizophrenics”

After Posting Controversial Bill Just Hours Before Today’s Hearing, Chairman Smith Rams Bill Through Committee Despite Opposition

[The bill] is a great idea and yes there can be little fixes, but I’ll say this to all my good friends out there: You’re all paranoid schizophrenics. You really are. You look at a bill that’s about getting more money, not from the taxpayers but from private sources for our parks and forest. It’s almost a no brainer.” ~~~  Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith (time 1:03:00) (6/13/22)

[Update below]

Today, the Senate Environment Committee approved Senate bill S1311 (Turner), despite strong opposition by environmentalists.

Smith amended the Committee Agenda this morning – just hours before the hearing – to add the bill. Agenda’s are posted at least a week before the hearing. A last minute change like that is highly unusual, especially on a major and controversial bill.

[The rush to ram through this bill contrasts sharply with Smith’s extended lengthy deadline for consensus recommendations by his Forestry Task Force.]

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Turner, had asked Smith to hold the bill before the prior Committee hearing last Thursday due to opposition by environmental groups.

I wrote last week to alert the public and highlight the significant flaws in the bill and explain why it represented a huge threat to State Parks and Forests. The headline pretty much sums things up, see:

A new, privately funded entity within DEP, with broad powers (including contract powers) and absolutely no safeguards, designed to form “partnerships” and receive unlimited funds from private entities – including corporate sponsors, billionaire’s, and “non-profits”- to “develop” State Parks and forests – all specifically exempt from or not subject to competitive bidding, conflict of interest, financial disclosure, transparency, public participation, planning, and Civil Service laws.

What could go wrong?

One must be a “paranoid schizophrenic” to oppose something like that, right?

[Is this scathingly critical editorial just a schizophrenic hallucination? Am I hearing editorial voices?

I mean, its not like there hasn’t been a long history of corrupt pay-to-play schemes for development, privatization, and commercialization of NJ State Parks, public lands, and forests, right?

And it’s not like NJ “non-profit” groups like NJ Audubon (Trump Golf Course and “Corporate Stewardship Council”), Sustainable NJ, NJ Future, and NJ Conservation Foundation have not taken money from corporations – from Walmart, South Jersey Gas, and PSE&G et al – and from billionaire’s like Peter Kellogg – to do all sorts of damaging projects on State lands, right?

And it’s not like major NJ newspapers haven’t been doing investigative reports and writing scathingly critical editorials about private corporate and billionaire’s corrupt pay to play schemes, including most recently at Liberty State Park and other State lands, right?

It’s not like we haven’t already seen an explosion of industrial scale solar on NJ’s farms and forests – there couldn’t possibly be a problem with bill’s provisions to allow development of “renewable energy” in State Parks and forests, right?(and “renewable energy” is broadly defined under NJ law to include, in addition to industrial scale wind and solar, all sorts of high impact schemes that are totally inappropriate for location in State Parks and Forests, including biomass (logging), hydropower, and geothermal.)

And of course DEP and non-profits like NJ Audubon and NJ Conservation Foundation would never log State forests under the guise of “stewardship”, right?

The release of the bill, which applies to all State Parks and Forests, including Liberty State Park, comes at a time when a very similar bill that would allow privatization of Liberty State Park is being rammed through, despite huge opposition. That bill will be heard on Thursday, June 16.

Discussion and testimony on the bill starts at time 55:20 (listen here).

Shamefully, the bill was supported by NJ LCV and NJ Conservation Foundation.

[Update: 6/16/22 -Emile DeVito of NJCF, in testimony opposing the Liberty State Park development bill (S2807) today, clarified NJCF’s position. He strongly opposed commercial development and privatization of LSP and all State Parks. I assume that NJCF now opposes the Statewide bill on that same basis.]

Thankfully, the bill was opposed by NJ Sierra Club.

At the end of the hearing, just before he moved to ram the bill out of the Committee, Smith even lashed out, attacking opponents’ delays to the bill.

The rush to ram through this bill contrasts sharply with Smith’s extended lengthy deadline for consensus recommendations by his Forestry Task Force.

Yup, one must be a “paranoid schizophrenic” to oppose all that. 

I mean, we all live in the Garden State, somewhere near Lake Woebegone, with a benevolent former Wall Street millionaire Governor, public interest hero as DEP Commissioner, enlightened Democratic Legislature, non-profit and conservation groups with high integrity, no legislators or local officials have ever gone to jail for corruption, and we celebrate a noble history of corruption free public interest advocacy and land and natural resource protection, right?

(If you’ve gotten this far, please excuse my snark while I now throw up)

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