Archive for July, 2023

Legislators CANCEL Controversial Climate Hearing

July 31st, 2023 No comments

Joint Hearing Of Senate And Assembly Environment Committees Cancelled

Legislators Provide No Explanation About Why The Hearing Was Cancelled

Another Missed Opportunity To Take Real Action As Climate Emergency Explodes

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Last week, I wrote a set up post about an important upcoming joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees, see:

I called it another “Dog And Pony Show To Divert From Decades Of Failure To Act On Climate Emergency”:

It looks like the combination of the world on fire, accelerating extreme weather events, and cancellation of insurance policies by the insurance industry finally have forced the hand of NJ legislators.

The agenda for the annual summer shore joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly environment committees includes serious and controversial issues on which legislators and DEP regulators have a very long history of failure to act.

I also documented a decades long failure to act on the climate emergency and provided recommendations for real action.

Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith

Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith

I guess I scared them off. I just received the above cancellation memo (with a misspelling in the subject line!).

Or perhaps the journalists I sent that post to made some phone calls and asked some critical questions.

Or maybe Governor Murphy and/or DEP Commissioner LaTourette gave Senator Smith a call and told him to cancel a hearing that would provide a huge platform for critics to expose the huge gap between his climate rhetoric and actual policies.

Something motivated Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith to Cancel the hearing – and it wasn’t the extreme weather.

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Murphy DEP “Refreshes” Critical Environmental Justice Data On Health And Environmental “Stressors”

July 30th, 2023 No comments

Unclear What The Changes Mean For NJ EJ Communities

DEP “Refresh” Practice Violates Law

Murphy DEP Governing By Tweet And Website Notice

I got this vague email from DEP last week advising of the DEP’s intention to “refresh” the underyling data on environmental and public health “stressors” to environmental communities:

On July 27th, the Department will refresh EJMAP with new stressor data made publicly available since its release on 4/11/23. Any permit application submitted on or after 7/31/23 must use the new stressor data layer for analysis. The tool will default to that revised layer. The original layer (4/11/23 – 7/30/23) will remain as an archived layer within the tool with its own button for those permit applications received within that date range. The Department will post an addendum to the EJMAP technical guidance explaining which data sets were updated on its Office of Environmental Justice website.

Say what? What the hell does that mean?

DEP can’t do that!

I previously wrote to criticize the DEP’s “Guidance”, and the “refresh” compounds these flaws, see:

I actually tried to chase the DEP’s “refresh” links to find out what it means, how it would apply, and why DEP “refreshed” the data.

I went to the DEP EJ website. I scrolled down and clicked on the “Updates to EJ Mapping”.

But what I found was gibberish and obfuscation. NJ courts previously admonished DEP for merely posting material on the website that effectively constitutes the substance of regulation. I can hardly think of anything more substantive and important than the data DEP considers a “stressor” to public health and the environment.

So I wrote the following to DEP Commissioner LaTourette and Legislators to object. Basically, DEP can’t regulate by posting material on the DEP website and then issuing Tweets and Facebook posts:

———- Original Message ———-

From: Bill WOLFE <>

To: “” <>, “” <>, senbsmith <>, sengreenstein <>, asmmckeon <>, “” <>, “” <>, “” <>, “” <>, Robert Hennelly <>

Date: 07/30/2023 7:56 AM PDT

Subject: “Refresh” of EJ Map data violates law

Dear Commissioner LaTourette:

I am writing to object to the department’s “refresh” of the EJ MAP data, which is proposed to become effective tomorrow, 7/31/23.

The Department has engaged in “rulemaking” as defined in the NJ Administrative Procedure Act (APA) without compliance with public notice and comment rulemaking procedures, in violation of the APA and NJ Supreme Court decisions.

The NJ Supreme Court specified the principles, factors, and conditions upon which agency action constitutes “rulemaking” that must follow APA formal notice and comment procedures, see: Metromedia Inc. v. Dir., Div. of Taxation, 97 N.J. 313, 331 (1984).

In addition, the NJ Appellate Division found:

“The APA defines an administrative rule as “each agency statement of general applicability and continuing effect that implements or interprets law or policy, or describes the organization, procedure or practice requirements of any agency.” N.J.S.A. 52:14B-2(e). “If an agency determination or action constitutes an ‘administrative rule,’ then its validity requires compliance with the specific procedures of the APA that control the promulgation of rules.” Airwork, supra, 97 N.J. at 300.”

NJ Courts have admonished DEP for merely posting what amounts to regulatory requirements on the website, without APA notice and comment rulemaking. For example, in IN RE N.J.A.C 7:1B-1.1 ET SEQ, the Appellate Division ruled:

We agree with appellants, however, that DEP has engaged in de facto rulemaking in violation of the APA’s notice and comment requirements by posting on its website, after promulgation of the waiver rules, so-called “guidance” documents and FAQs. These postings collectively detail DEP’s plans to develop internal processes and procedures to ensure consistency in its waiver decision-making, to create a priority system for its consideration of waiver requests, to expand transparency in noticing the receipt of applications for waivers, and to develop standardized submission forms. By explaining the waiver rules and describing what DEP will require applicants to submit to satisfy the waiver rules and receive a waiver grant, these postings go beyond merely facilitating administrative implementation of the rules as claimed by DEP and actually, to some extent, announce new substantive requirements, necessitating compliance with the APA.”

The Department itself acknowledges that the factors and conditions that define a regulation have been triggered. The Department’s website posting notes the “refresh” effects the scope, applicability, and substance of regulatory requirements. The DEP website states: (emphases mine):

“The Department has made several changes to EJMAP to update the tool’s underlying data and better align internal calculations and methodologies with the adopted EJ rule. While these updates change numeric outcomes from the tool, they do not impact the structure and functionality of the tool itself. The Department has documented these data updates and changes to internal calculations and methodologies in the final version of its EJMAP: Technical Guidance document.  The adopted EJ rule specifies the information that determines areas that are subject to the protections provided by the rules and provides a process for updating the extent of those areas as the information sources underlying the boundaries of the protected areas are updated. EJMAP, therefore, only reflects in map format the boundaries of the areas determined by application of the provisions contained in the final rule and is intended to provide a useful living tool that will be continually updated going forward to ease understanding of what is covered by the rule.”

Furthermore, the DEP not only violated law, the data “refresh” practice frustrates fundamental principles of transparency and accountability and science. Specifically, I am unable to find and understand the changes made to the underlying data and the underlying rationale, as those data have been “refreshed”. This would require an explicit side by side comparison of the changes made as part of the “refresh” practice.

I strongly urge you to rescind this proposed “data refresh” and comply with notice and comment procedures required by the APA and case law.

Bill Wolfe

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NJ Legislators To Hold Joint Environmental Committee Hearing On Climate Driven Extreme Storm Risks

July 27th, 2023 No comments

Testimony Limited To “Invited Speakers” – Critics Need Not Apply

A Dog And Pony Show To Divert From Decades Of Failure To Act On Climate Emergency

“It’s well past time to act boldly.”

So let us not talk falsely now

The hour’s getting late. ~~~ “All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan – Hendrix version)

[Update – they cancelled it!:

It looks like the combination of the world on fire, accelerating extreme weather events, and cancellation of insurance policies by the insurance industry finally have forced the hand of NJ legislators.

The agenda for the annual summer shore joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly environment committees includes serious and controversial issues on which legislators and DEP regulators have a very long history of failure to act.

So, it will be interesting to see how this hearing, scheduled for August 3, 2023 in Toms River, can continue the annual dog and pony summer show and likely repeat the long pattern of failure to act (even in the wake of the devastation wrought by Sandy).

The Legislators already gave the game up: The hearing is limited to politically safe “invited speakers”, so we don’t expect much. I’m guessing we’ll hear from current DEP Commissioner LaTourette, former DEP Commissioner Mark Maurielleo, and “academics” from Rutgers, Stockton and Monmouth Universities – the typical suspects I don’t even have to name for anyone paying attention.

None will self critically reflect or criticize policy, that’s almost certain. They’ll irresponsibly dodge controversies by the excuse of “sticking to the science” and not delving into policy.

Below I provide some of this failed history to the Committees for consideration – this is not the way to become an “invited speaker” (hell, I had to fight just to get back on the agenda distribution list!).

[oops! I left out the most important issue:

———- Original Message ———-

From: Bill WOLFE <b>

To: senbsmith <>, sengreenstein <>, asmmckeon <>, “” <>, “” <>, “” <>, “” <>, “” <>, “” <>, “” <>

Date: 07/27/2023 3:10 PM PDT

Subject: 8/3/23 Joint Hearing Background Info

Dear Environmental Legislator:

I note that the annual summer joint meeting of the Senate and Assembly environment Committees will consider the following agenda items:

“The committee will meet to take testimony from invited speakers on the ways in which the insurance industry and State agencies are adapting to account for increased risks associated with current and anticipated climate change impacts, particularly with respect to the coastal and back bay regions of the State.”

In light of the restriction to “invited speakers” – a restriction I strongly object to – I thought perhaps I might provide some historical background information for your consideration regarding prior legislative and regulatory consideration of those issues.

1. Reliance on risk disclosure, voluntary market exchange, and consumer “buyer beware”

Current DEP Commissioner LaTourette has testified to the legislature, most recently during budget hearings, and made press remarks, in support of disclosure of risk information to consumers as an effective policy tool, as opposed to DEP land use regulatory restrictions. see:

“Although developers and builders fear the new rules will tighten limits on where they can build in coastal and inland areas, the regulations are unlikely to do that, LaTourette said in an interview with NJ Spotlight News. …

“We’re not at a point, nor do we think it’s our role, to tell people: ‘Don’t build here, you shouldn’t build there, you can’t do that,’” LaTourette said. “It is about making folks assess their risk and recognize the risk they are taking on. We are not saying: ‘You cannot build in a future flood-risk area.’ We’re saying that in a future flood-risk area, you need to at least do what you do now in an existing flood-risk area, which is: assess the risk, and notice that risk. It will forever live in the deed record of that property.”

I suggest that the FEMA damage claims data, particularly repeat claim data, suggests that such a policy is misguided and ineffective.

In addition to market forces and risk disclosure, we need legislative and regulatory mandates, including new policies of “managed strategic retreat”, repeal of right to rebuild, and land use restrictions based on the 1,000 year storm event (at a minimum).

Bill Wolfe, a retired DEP policy analyst and the current author of an environmental blog, said the [LaTourette] comments “reflect an astonishing abdication of DEP’s regulatory responsibilities,” particularly coming from an administration that claims to be a leader in battling climate change.

“DEP must regulate to achieve deep emissions reductions and reduce risks as clearly reflected by an overwhelming scientific consensus,” Wolfe said. “Delay only makes matters worse.”

Wolfe argued that the DEP is required to regulate development under several laws, including the Flood Hazard Area Control Act and the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act.”

As you know, DEP’s recently adopt flood rules are based on the outdated 100 year storm (adjusted upward) that fails to reflect current science and actual storm data and flood elevations.

2. Back bay flooding

A Rutgers professor once aptly called back bay flooding the “Achilles heel” of coastal risk management. We offered constructive solutions, see:

Those solutions were ignored.

3. Repeal of “Right To Rebuild”

A 2014 bill (S62 – Barnes) that would rescind the so called “right to rebuild” storm damaged property in NJ’s Coastal Zone was approved by the Senate Environment Committee, with surprisingly little debate or opposition.

The bill died.

I suggest that it be reintroduced and amended to expand its cope, see:

4. Strategic Retreat

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, there was an opportunity to adopt a new “strategic retreat” policy. The Huffington Post first wrote about the NJ history and the DEP Coastal Management Plan in their superb November 2012 investigative piece, see:

The opportunity was missed.

I suggest you reconsider in light of current science and the climate change driven increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events. No sources and links to all that required.

5. Bring Back The Buffers

In January 2016,  the Assembly approved ACR 249, to veto the Christie DEP’s proposed revisions to the Flood Hazard, Coastal Zone Management and Stormwater rules as inconsistent with legislative intent. The Senate exercised veto power as well. see:

The DEP never fully restored the buffers the Christie DEP rolled back, see:

DEP never expanded them as recommended by DEP’s own scientists, see this DEP Report (2012):

6. Insurance Issues: Some Legislative History On Catastrophic Risks

Way back in 2006, the Legislature criticized the current reactive policy and introduced a bill to address catastrophic risks. A3236 found:

The current approach to dealing with catastrophes is an after-the-fact response model that is inadequate to protect New Jersey residents from catastrophic loss. New Jersey consumers need a public-private partnership which improves the means to provide financial assistance to families that are victims of catastrophes, enhances prevention and mitigation measures, improves recovery and rebuilding processes and educates homeowners on issues surrounding catastrophe management. […]

The State of New Jersey is commonly viewed as one of the states in the region that is exposed to catastrophic events. Given the scope and magnitude of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and given that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and because of the size of New Jersey, it is likely that a Category 3 or better storm could devastate the State.  Legislative findings, A3236 (2006)”

The bill died.

The legislation was a response to the Corzine administration’s regulatory policy development for the banking and insurance industry and DEP land use.

For example, in an April 12, 2006 memo, Corzine DEP Commissioner Jackson and Banking and Insurance Commissioner Goldman warned Governor Corzine that:

“Global climate change is predicted to have a pronounced impact on New Jersey. Changes are already occurring. Rising ambient temperatures are expected to effect the health of our citizens. …Sea level rise is expected to accelerate and threaten New Jersey’s coastline. Higher sea levels will increase the severity of storm-related flooding is coastal and bay areas. In addition to significant property losses, sea level rise will adversely affect coastal ecosystems and may threaten fresh water supplies through salt water intrusion. With climate change, storm frequency and intensity is predicted to increase.”…

These are but a few of the results we can anticipate from climate change and we can also expect the changes to have serious consequences for New Jersey’s economy. In March, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners voted unanimously to establish as task force on climate change to examine the issues bearing on the insurance industry’s long term solvency. Late last year, New York State’s largest provider of homeowners insurance, Allstate, announced that it would no longer sell new homeowners insurance in NY City, Long Island and Westchester County. According to a company spokesperson, Allstate is studying whether to stop writing new policies in other parts of the country, particularly for properties in vulnerable shorefront areas.”

In response, to address those serious threats, Corzine held a “Climate Change Summit”.

The Summit was called: “Confronting Climate Change in New Jersey”. It  was held on September 25, 2006. The Governor directed Summit participants to focus on, among other things:

  • What policy changes should the State make in response to the focus issues of floods and storms (including sea level rise)?
  • Are there current State policies and practices regarding the regulation of …land use and construction that serve as disincentives to sound practices in light of climate change?
  • What …[policies] could we modify to encourage consideration of floods and storms in development and land use practices?

As part of that effort, Assemblyman Panter (since un-elected), proposed legislation, A3236, called:

We testified and suggested amendments to strengthen that bill.

Our testimony was ignored and the bill died.

I request that you consider this troubling history in evaluating the analyses and recommendations of your “invited speakers”.

It’s well past time to act boldly.

Bill Wolfe

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Muckleshoot Canoe Journey 2023: Honoring Warriors Past & Present

July 27th, 2023 No comments

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I happened upon a tribal ceremony on the beach I walk every day – awesome photos (I requested and received permission to shoot):

Websites for information on the event:

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Look Around, Choose Your Own Ground

July 24th, 2023 No comments

Fifty Years Later: Still Looking, Still Choosing

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Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave, but don’t leave me
Look around, choose your own ground. ~~~ Pink Floyd, 1973

That Pink Floyd classic came to mind the other day, and for some reason it reminded me of Sally Cregan.

I had a crush on Sally and I guess you could say she was my “girlfriend” for a brief period during the Spring/Summer of 1975, our Senior year in High School.

Sally was a Catholic school girl before attending public High School (“hear the softly spoken magic spells”). She wore those plaid skirts – just above the knee – with a brass pin, accompanied by a white monogrammed shirt, blazer, and knee socks. She was smart, pretty, popular, liked to laugh, had a great body, and was head of the twirlers (majorette?).

Our “relationship” didn’t get very far. Although Sally was willing, it seemed that I was unable. I was afraid; of sex, of a relationship, of being vulnerable.

I still remember that Sally used a different line from that Pink Floyd song as a quote under her yearbook photo (“all you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be”), so she must have been a cool person too. But we never progressed to any kind of intellectual relationship and shared our ideas. She went to the University of New Hampshire and we wrote letters during college freshman year, but not for long. I wonder what became of her?

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Anyway, getting back to reality and the topic at hand.

Currently, in the bleak and dark reality of the accelerating climate catastrophe, I’ve been thinking of photography and writing as expressions of joy and a kind of therapeutic pursuit of truth.

In terms of activism and “work”, I threw in the towel several years ago and live as a nomad.

The “ground” or the “place” is wherever I happen to be, but I do seem to gravitate to the Salish Sea for summer and the Sonoran desert for winter, with mountain and forest travel in between.

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But throwing in the towel is not surrender –

I still keep an intellectual oar in the water and sometimes write to hold the bastards accountable in the only “place” I really have a working knowledge of – a practice an old professor of mine (Barclay Jones) once called “mapping decision space” – in NJ environmental circles.

A policy cartographer! Yes! That’s what I want to be when I grow up!

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