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Did Senate President Sweeney and/or NJ Gov. Murphy Pressure Regulators To Keep Delaware LNG Export Terminal Under The Radar?

June 16th, 2019 No comments

Follow the money and the finance trails

Lame-duck-07-ends-076

Who were the players behind the scenes that pushed this project through DRBC and DEP reviews, without disclosing the LNG aspects?

[Update below]

This is a followup to my previous post, where I explained the attempt to stealth a controversial LNG export terminal through the DRBC and NJ DEP regulatory review process.

DRBC themselves confirmed similar flaws in the DRBC review process, rejecting claims of a coverup:

“DRBC disagrees with that statement,” it said. “The public hearing on June 6 was adequately noticed, and DRBC has shared with the public all information submitted by the applicant and/or its contractors.”:

Upon approval, the DRBC exposed its narrow scope of review and total lack of consideration of climate impacts or energy policy: (Inquirer)

The commission said its review was confined to the impact of building the wharf and of dredging the Delaware River to 43 feet deep to connect with the main channel.

But, perhaps there are other reasons that can explain this huge blunder – other than pure regulatory failure, e.g.: political pressure on regulators by high level officials.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, who exposed the story, is alleging a coverup.

In fact, it appears that this could be another example of:

Here is what a quick Google found – given all the smoke, we strongly suspect fire.

To document what would be an Encap-level blaze of corruption, some intrepid journalist out there should file OPRA requests at DRBC and NJ DEP for all the regulatory review documents, i.e. the full administrative file and all communications regarding it (where are you Jeff Pillets!).

I) Longtime Sweeney involvement

Back on July 24, 2016, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Plan to revive old South Jersey industrial site draws fans and fears

[…]

State and local leaders are confident the new port will be a positive presence in the township and county.

“This will be a big job generator,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, whose Third Legislative District includes Gibbstown, also known as Greenwich Township. “We’ve been working on this since 2005.”

Sweeney has already had his way with Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe, so he knows her number (besides, he also had his own Senate staffer, Eric Wachter installed as McCabe DEP’s first Chief of Staff. But The latest DEP org chart indicates that Wachter has departed. He’s now in private sector.)

Screen-Shot-2018-04-25-at-2.14.05-PM

Given Sweeney’s many prior interventions at DEP, it is not a stretch to speculate that he twisted DEP arms on this proposed LNG terminal that he’s supported “since 2005″.

II.  Twisted Tales Of Wall Street Finance Could Link Gov. Murphy to the Project

Before the 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer story, back on 3/20/15, NJ.Com wrote a story with Sweeney praising Fortress Investment Group:

State Sen. President Steve Sweeney led a press conference in Greenwich Township to announce the sale of the township’s former DuPont Repauno plant to Fortress Investment Group, which aims to turn the dormant 1,800-acre property into a port-related industrial park for imports and exports.

Sweeney goes out of his way to praise Fortress:

“That’s what they do, and they do it with private sector capital, not government money, which is the win-win-win for everybody,” said Sweeney, who declined to divulge the total value of the sale besides to say “It’s a lot of land.”

But Fortress did not provide a “win-win-win for everybody”. 

Fortress is a failed hedge fund – see:

  • The Fall of Fortress  – The asset manager is selling itself at a premium, but it’s still trading at a fraction of its IPO price. The big losers? Us.

Fortress Investment Group, the struggling alternative-­investment firm that went public to great fanfare ten years ago but whose shares have since lost 74 percent of their market value.

Kaplan says Fortress has been “terrible” for public investors.

They’ve ripped off public investors, including – as Sweeney might appreciate, given his political battles with NJ Teachers Unions – the Ohio Teacher’s Pension Fund:

Fortress was the first U.S. alternatives firm to go public, in 2007, starting a trend that burned red-hot, then quickly flamed out, proving over the past ten years that these deals have been a disaster for public shareholders, which include big mutual funds catering to both retail and institutional investors. Among Fortress’s shareholders: Allianz Asset Management, Fidelity Investments, Wellington Management Co., and even the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio.

Now here’s where the links between Fortress and Gov. Murphy get murky and hypothetical, but good investigative journalism could connect these dots:

1. Veteran NJ environmental reporter Kirk Moore confirmed the story on the stealth LNG aspect of this project, where he also noted:

Delaware River Partners LLC, a subsidiary of New York City-based Fortress Investment Group.

2. Who is Fortress Investment GroupWikipedia reports that they have strong links to Goldman Sachs:

When Fortress launched on the NYSE on February 9, 2007 with Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers underwriting the IPO.

3. More recently, Fortress was acquired by a politically wired firm called SoftBank Group Corp, as reported by Institutional Investor:

Last December business executives from around the globe made their way to Manhattan’s Trump Tower to meet with president-­elect Donald Trump. But few made as big of a splash as Masayoshi Son, head of SoftBank Group Corp., who had Trump crowing on Twitter about the Japanese mogul’s pledge to invest $50 billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 American jobs.

… on February 14 [2017], SoftBank agreed to pay $3.3 billion to buy Fortress Investment Group, the struggling alternative-­investment firm that went public to great fanfare ten years ago but whose shares have since lost 74 percent of their market value.

4. SoftBank has some interesting relationships:

Fortress’s $3.3 billion deal with SoftBank was driven by Rajeev Misra, a former Deutsche Bank derivatives expert who is now in charge of investment strategy.

Gov. Murphy was former US Ambassador to Germany, where, particularly given his Goldman Sachs finance background, one assumes he had relationships with Deutsche Bank “experts” on investment strategy.

5. Now look who Mr. Misra, who drove the Fortress deal, formed a relationship with and where that individual previously worked:

A few years ago Misra worked briefly at Fortress, where he developed a relationship with Edens and Peter Briger Jr., who cochair the board of directors. (Briger also has ties to Japan, where he previously worked for Goldman Sachs Group.)

6. Briger and Phil Murphy are both Goldman Sachs diaspora, see NY Times.

So, a few questions emerge:

Did Phil Murphy have any involvement with the Fortress deal when he was at Goldman?

Did Phil Murphy have any relationship with SoftBank or Peter Briger?

Was Gov. Phil Murphy aware of the Fortress role?

As Gov. of NJ, Murphy sits on the DRBC Board and has executive control over DEP.

Did Murphy  in any way intervene in DRBC and/or DEP regulatory review processes?

Who were the players behind the scenes that pushed this project through DRBC and DEP reviews, without disclosing the LNG aspects?

[END NOTE:  There are many “coincidences” here.

The proposed LNG plant would be located on a former Dupont massive toxic waste site, known as “Repauno”.

Tomorrow, the Senate Environment Committee will hear a bill that directly and significant impacts the Dupont/Chemours Repauno site by prohibiting DEP assumption of direct oversight. That would put Dupont/Chemours in total control of the cleanup, with no DEP oversight, for details, see:

Check out the Dupont Repauno site on EPA RCRA list. S3682 would prohibit NJ DEP oversight of the Repauno site as under the “federal involvement” loophole in Section 26

This is not the first time a former Dupont toxic site was involved in a corrupt billion $ energy facility development, see:

Unbelievable corruption in plain sight.

[Update: 6/16/19 – Just to nail this down and remove the plausible denial factor, I just sent this note to the members of the Senate Environment Committee and Democratic Senate staff and the media:

From: Bill WOLFE <bill_wolfe@comcast.net>
To: senbsmith <SenBSmith@njleg.org>, sengreenstein <sengreenstein@njleg.org>, senbateman <senbateman@njleg.org>, kduhon@njleg.org, Tittel, Jeff, Tittel, Jeff, jonhurdle@gmail.com, Pringle, Dave, Jeff Pillets <jeffpillets@icloud.com>, tmoran@starledger.com
Date: June 16, 2019 at 10:31 PM
Subject: S3682 – Dupont Repauno & LNG terminal

Dear Chairman Smith:

Recent news reports have revealed a highly controversial plan to develop an LNG export terminal at the former Dupont Repauno toxic waste site.

The Dupont Repauno site (now Chemours) is a RCRA Corrective Action cleanup site (as well as subject to DEP oversight pursuant to NJ remedial State law). See EPA NJ Corrective Action cleanup site list:

https://www.epa.gov/hwcorrectiveactionsites/new-jersey-rcra-cleanup-facilities-contacts

Section 26 of your bill, S3682, would directly impact the cleanup and redevelopment of that site by prohibiting NJ DEP oversight.

Clearly, it is not in the interests of NJ’s environment, public health, the Delaware River, and the public interest to put Dupont/Chemours in total control of the cleanup of that massive toxic site, subject only to the Trump EPA under federal RCRA.

On the basis alone I again urge you to delete Section 26 and hold your bill for further consideration.

Respectfully,

Bill Wolfe

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Is Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe A Naive Deer In The Headlights or a Machiavellian Manipulator?

August 19th, 2018 No comments

McCabe Seeks To Divide and Conquer 

Isolates and Marginalizes DEP’s Dupont Critics

Manipulates Public & Provides Cover For Local Officials At Partisan Sham “Hearing”

That headline is not rhetorical – once again, Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe has revealed herself as either a totally naive fool or a malign manipulative political bureaucrat.

[A reader just shot me an email – slams me for getting it badly wrong and says: “McCabe a wealthy corporate sell out – check her record and financials”]

The most recent case of gross malpractice occurred in Pompton Lakes regarding the notoriously failed 30 year long Dupont toxic site “cleanup”. Follow the most recent developments:

Recall that, months after Gov. Murphy compared Dupont Pompton Lakes to the Love Canal disaster, McCabe was criticized for rejecting the pleas of local residents to support designation of the Dupont site as a federal Superfund site, see: Like Christie, Murphy’s DEP says no to Superfund for Pompton Lakes cleanup (June 3, 2108):

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has no plans to seek Superfund status to speed cleanup of a contaminated plume and former DuPont munitions site in Pompton Lakes, despite pleas for such action from many residents who must live with the cancer-causing pollution.

“I don’t see any advantage in Superfund,” Catherine McCabe, acting commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said last week in an interview with The Record and NorthJersey.com.

(We noted that in seeing no advantage in Superfund, McCabe contradicted her former boss, US EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, who, after leaving office, told the Record:

Six years ago, a leading EPA official told McCabe’s predecessor, then-DEP commissioner Bob Martin, how Pompton Lakes would benefit from Superfund.

Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator, pushed Martin and the Christie administration in 2012 to put Pompton Lakes into the Superfund program.

States must nominate toxic sites to begin the Superfund process, and Enck said the Christie administration was the biggest obstacle.

“I think the new administration should consider sending a letter to EPA for Superfund designation,” Enck has told The Record, referring to the new Murphy administration.

The Record also reported that McCabe’s claims of “no advantage in Superfund” were flat out contradicted by McCabe’s former agency, US EPA:

Superfund status would provide a more ironclad cleanup plan for Pompton Lakes that could not be as easily challenged by Chemours, according to U.S. Environmental Protection emails obtained by The Record and NorthJersey.com.

It would also give residents more opportunity to have their concerns heard. And it would allow them to hire independent contractors to examine mounds of scientific data.

And of course, based on McCabe’s own prior legislative testimony, I predicted exactly this would happen long before it did, see:  Murphy DEP Admits “Continuity With Christie DEP” On Dupont Toxic Fiasco (May 17, 2018).

After McCabe announced her “no Superfund” decision, local residents were especially enraged because McCabe made that decision without meeting with or even talking to them. That betrayed a promise they had received from McCabe’s Chief of Staff, Eric Wachter and thought they had received personally from Gov. Murphy himself on a WNYC radio call in show. (and we predicted that too – see Played in Pompton Lakes – Again)

To make amends for betraying local residents, McCabe agreed to a meeting with them.

On Thursday August 16, 2018, Commissioner McCabe, Chief of Staff Wachter, DEP’s Communications Director and McCabe’s “special assistants” Brendon Shank, Derek Hardy &  Chris Gough finally met with several local residents and members of local activist groups CCPL and PLREI.

McCabe brought her political team – not one DEP expert or staff familiar with the Dupont cleanup attended that meeting. I was told that McCabe apparently was not even familiar with the terms of the 1988 Administrative Consent Order (ACO) between DEP and Dupont. That ACO governs the DEP’s oversight of the cleanup and is a crucial document.

It is simply incomprehensible that a DEP Commissioner would hold a meeting with informed residents without a DEP expert and without detailed briefings on and knowledge of the regulatory oversight documents (i.e permits, ACO, etc).

But before the meeting with residents went down – a meeting which took DEP months to arrange – word of the meeting got out to local officials and others, who then demanded their own meeting with DEP.

Despite residents’ longstanding disagreements with local officials, whose negligence in protecting residents and consistently supporting Dupont, (see: Is Pompton Lakes The Most Corrupt Local Government In NJ?) DEP and EPA borders on corruption, McCabe immediately accommodated that request, which was held just one day after meeting with residents.

In this second meeting, McCabe met with an invited small group of local officials and Republican State legislators representing the District.

Republican Assemblyman Kevin Rooney falsely called that political meeting an “Environmental Hearing”.

It was not a “hearing”.

It was a divisive dog and pony show, an orchestrated and partisan sham to create the false appearance that local officials and State legislators are aggressively holding DEP and Dupont accountable and looking out for residents.

Here’s a screen shot from Assemblyman Rooney’s Twitter feed:

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 9.55.55 AM

Here’s how former local official and CCPL leader Lisa Riggiola felt about that “hearing”, calling out Rooney in this comment on Rooney’s Facebook page:

A hearing and many of the residents of the plume that have been fighting for their lives for a decade are not invited to a hearing?   You sure this wasn’t a political event for the Republican Party?  Are these some of the same people that have shunned the plume residents, showing them not an ounce of care or respect let alone do anything positive to fight for the right clean up?  You have a hard time after a decade for them to believe that some of them are changed after all these years?

Right on, Lisa! You got it exactly right.

But, of course local and State politicians are going to play these bullshit games.

A DEP Commissioner is NOT supposed to do so and should have the political chops to understand these games and avoid getting manipulated by them (see:  The Murphy DEP Is Out of Control In Politicizing Dupont Pompton Lakes Permit Review).

By holding 2 meetings – both private, by invitation only, and political – McCabe has sown further mistrust and division among the people of Pompton Lakes, while also undermining trust in DEP.

McCabe is playing the same manipulative game as local officials have in trying to isolate and marginalize the residents who criticize Dupont and DEP. She has shown disrespect to them.

But instead of avoiding these games and manipulation, McCabe – just like she did on that wetlands “tour” with Senate President Sweeney – completely caved in and willingly participated in gross political manipulation.

That’s why there were no DEP scientists or experts in the meeting with residents, just McCabe sycophants and political hacks.

Shame on her – again.

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Memo To Gov. Murphy – The “Green” Honeymoon Is Over

June 18th, 2018 No comments

A First Step on A Path Forward To Implement Your Climate Promises

Gov. Florio’s Executive Order No. 8 Provides A Model

Not 6 months into his tenure, Gov. Murphy’s energy, climate and environmental policy agenda he campaigned on is in disarray and the Legislature has seized control.

I won’t rehash all the details in this post, but the Bergen Record’s recent scathing editorial “A string of losses for the environment” pretty much summed things up:

Big Corporate Polluters 2 — New Jersey, its people and its environment 0.

This is the score we might have expected were Gov. Chris Christie still in office.

On the environmental front, Gov. Murphy has yet to revoke Gov. Christie’s rollback Executive Orders #1 – 4 and Christie appointments still serve as Executive Directors of the Pinelands Commission and Highlands Council.

Murphy’s DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe took 6 months to get confirmed. As we’ve been noting here, McCabe retained many Christie DEP managers and continuity with Christie DEP policies, and has done virtually nothing during her tenuous tenure other than issue press releases and PR stunts that echo Gov. Christie’s initiatives.

On energy policy, Senator Sweeney rammed a nuclear bailout bill through the legislature that seriously compromised the Gov.’s commitment to a 100% renewable energy pledge.

On climate policy, the Gov.’s policy agenda is limited to rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (more on that soon) and directing BPU to revise the Christie Energy Master Plan to promote 3,500 MW of off shore wind.

Murphy has no governing experience and has surrounded himself with either recycled Corzine hacks or young staffers with no Trenton or regulatory experience. Instituitionalizing legislative control over Murphy’s DEP, Senate President Sweeney’s Legislative aide Eric Wachter was installed as DEP Chief Of Staff and Assemblyman McKeon’s legislative aide was installed as Director of DEP’s Office of Government Relations. (see DEP Org Chart)

In that leadership vacuum, the Pinelands pipeline is seeking DEP permit extensions, DEP decisions on controversial pipelines under Raritan Bay (Williams) and the Delaware watershed (PennEast) are pending, and a proposed new fossil fueled power plant on the banks of NJ’s finest trout stream in the heart of the NJ Highlands has emerged.

Given these awful developments, we thought this brief note on the mechanics of exercising Gubernatorial leadership might help.

Gov. Murphy probably does not know – and lame NJ environmental groups are certainly not letting him know – that former Gov. Florio, among others, provides stunning parallels and a directly relevant model to address the situation he faces right now.

Politically, like Gov. Murphy now faces on pipelines, energy, and climate, upon assuming office in 1990, Florio was faced with stiff environmental and public opposition to garbage incinerators.

On reversing prior policy, like Murphy inherited bad policies from Gov. Christie, Florio’s predecessor, the Kean Administration had promoted a pro-incineration policy. To implement that Kean policy,  DEP approved 21 County Solid Waste plans and incinerator permits for more than $3 billion of new incineration projects. These were all bond financed and/or approved by DEP and/or BPU. Worse, the legislature had effectively deregulated BPU economic review of incinerator procurement contracts to promote the industry (i.e the “McEnroe” law).

In terms of commitments, like Murphy, Florio had made promises to environmental groups – who had endorsed him in the campaign – to develop an aggressive solid waste policy that promoted recycling and discouraged incineration.

Florio not only had to reverse the Kean policy and use DEP power to over-rule and embarrass 21 County Freeholder boards, he had to claw back prior DEP planning, permitting and financing approvals – for $3 BILLION in investment.

This is actually MORE difficult to do than for Murphy to kill pending fossil infrastructure projects.

Here’s how Florio did that – and how Murphy can tackle very similar problems on energy infrastructure and climate policy.

On April 6, 1990 (well before Earth Day and in his administration’s “first 100 days”), Gov. Florio issued Executive Order #8, which established a “Emergency Solid Waste Task Force” and laid out a public planning process going forward. PLEASE READ THE WHOLE THING!

Here’s the core provision that put teeth in the policy:

4. During the Task Force’s deliberations over the next 120 days, the following shall apply:

a. The Department of Environmental Protection shall not issue a final approval of any solid waste management plan that sites increases the capacity of or approves financing for waste-to-energy resource recovery facilities;

b. The Department of Environmental Protection shall not issue a approval of Preliminary or Final Environmental and Health Impact Statements for any waste-to-energy resource recovery site or facility;

c. The Department of Environmental Protection shall not issue tentative or final approval of any solid waste facility engineering design now pending or hereafter submitted for any waste-to-energy resource recovery facilities;

d. The Department of Environmental Protection, the Board of Public Utilities and the Division of Local Government Services within the Department of Community Affairs shall not, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 13:1E-136 et seq., issue any approval or conditional approval of any previously submitted proposed contract for the design, financing, construction, operation or maintenance of a waste-to-energy resource recovery facility; and

e. No State agency, commission or organization shall approve the issuance of debt or extend financing to any person or entity for use in planning, designing, acquiring, constructing, operating or maintaining a waste-to-energy resource recovery facility.

Gov. Murphy could issue a similar Executive Order establishing an Emergency Climate Change and Energy Task Force tied to the BPU Energy Master Plan revision process and the DEP Climate mitigation and adaptation planning & regulatory process (including RGGI).

The Order could impose a moratorium on any DEP and BPU approvals of any fossil  energy infrastructure approvals, such as the Pinelands, PennEast and Williams pipeline and the recently proposed new gas plant in the Highlands.

Problem solved.

So why aren’t NJ’e environmental groups advocating this aggressive approach?

That is more than ironic, as they celebrate Gov. Byrne’s Pinelands legacy. Byrne used Executive power to force the Legislature to pass the Pinelands Act. Similarly, Gov. Kean used Exetuvie power to force passage of the Freshwater Wetlands Act. And Gov. McGreevey created a Highlands Task Force that was used to forge the Highlands Act.

The climate crisis if far more serious than the solid waste crisis that Florio inherited.

We call  on Gov. Murphy to step up and follow the path of his predecessors.

[Full disclosure: as a disloyal whistleblowing DEP bureaucrat, I was directly involved in the development of the Floio EO #8. Despite being requested to staff the Taskforce effort by the Gov.’s Office, I was blocked from participating by my DEP managers. Regardless, I was insubordinate and provided much of the technical analysis and backup data the Taskforce relied on and that formed future DEP Solid Waste Plan. As they say that all good deeds go unpunished, I receive formal discipline by DEP managers (a 1 week suspension) for that work.]

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What Explains NJ Senate Delay In Confirming Murphy’s Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe?

June 5th, 2018 No comments

Senate President Sweeney has yet to release the hostage

Sweeney “squeezes the juice” out of Murphy and McCabe

Is he still holding McCabe hostage in exchange for his wetlands enforcement intervention?

(L-R) Senate President Sweeney; Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe; Assemblyman Burzichelli (Source: YouTube)

(L-R) Senate President Sweeney; Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe; Assemblyman Burzichelli (Source: YouTube)

[Update: 2 days after this post, McCabe was confirmed by the full Senate on June 7, 2018.]

It is June 5 and Acting Commissioner McCabe STILL has not been confirmed by the full NJ Senate.

McCabe testified before and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee almost a mont ago (May 14).

This is the longest Senate hold on a DEP Commissioner in my 33 year experience with NJ DEP.

It could be the longest ever.

What does Sweeney want? What’s the holdup?

He already got Murphy to sign his PSEG nuke bailout and limit the expansion of renewables.

He already got Murphy to sign his Dupont fracking wastewater OK. Gov. Murphy answered NJ Spotlight’s question with a big wet kiss.

He already got Murphy to sign a cover bill that appears to promote wind, but retains the poison pill “cost test” that authorized BPU to kill wind based on a fatally flawed cost – benefit methodology.

That law derailed a prior bill that would have repealed the OWEDA “cost test” that was the poison pill Sweeney got duped on by Gov. Christie in the Off Shore Wind Act (OWEDA).

Likely due to Sweeney pressure, McCabe’s DEP folded and walked away from assuming control on the long delayed and partial Dupont “cleanup” of their Pompton Lakes site.

Likely due to Sweeney pressure, Murphy did not support calls for a Coastal Commission Sweeney opposed.

Murphy has done nothing at the Pinelands Commission, likely to appease Sweeney who worked with Gov. Christie to corrupt the Commission and ram new gas pipelines and power plants through the regulatory process.

Remarkably, McCabe testified that she was “unfamiliar” with the DEP’s “Category One” (C1) program that Sweeney opposed when DEP originally adopted regulations and Sweeney cut a deal with Christie/Martin to avoid a legislative veto of DEP rules that rolled back C1 buffer protections.

Likely due to Sweeney pressure, Murphy and McCabe folded on stopping the bear hunt.

Murphy appointed Bob Gordon, a moderate former Senate Democrat to the BPU, likely as a result of Sweeney lobbying. Gordon is smart, but he failed to follow through on many things, including BPU implementation of flawed cost – benefit methodology to kill wind.

Sweeney got his former Senate aid, Eric Wacther, installed as McCabe’s Chief of Staff.

Is he still holding McCabe hostage in exchange for his wetlands enforcement intervention?

What else does Sweeney want? He’s already got a LOT of concessions.

Maybe even more concessions, perhaps on an MCL or for Dupont liability for PFOA, PFOS, PFC’s?

Is Sweeney seeking a weak RGGI cap? in RGGI negotiations?

Is Sweeney seeking continuance of NJ law’s RGGI loopholes to protect Big Oil and the carbon polluters in his District?

Approval of the Pinelands and PennEast gas pipelines?

Is Sweeney pressuring Murphy to retain Gov. Christie’s regulatory policy expressed in Christie executive orders that benefit the big polluters in his District?

Does Sweeney want Murphy to help accelerate privatization of public water and sewer systems? (see: 

Sweeney is acting like Gov. Christie’s  – “squeezing the juice” out of a weak DEP Commissioner and a spineless Governor.

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Murphy DEP Refuses To Disclose Who Acting Commissioner McCabe Is Meeting With And What They’re Talking About

May 30th, 2018 No comments

DEP Denies OPRA Public Records Request

Secret meetings with powerful interests are anathema to transparency & accountability

The Murphy DEP denied an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the calendars of private sector meetings held by Acting DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe and her chief policy advisors, Deputy Commissioner Mans and Chief of Staff Wachter.

The DEP invoked Executive Privilege and claimed that these meetings are secret.

DEP explained the basis for their denial decision, as follows:

Your request for all meeting schedules (for meetings with other than governmental officials) and associated detailed information for Commissioner (sic) McCabe, Deputy Commissioner Mans, and Chief of Staff Eric Wachter for the period of February 1, 2008 to the present is denied on the basis that those records are considered deliberative pursuant to  N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 et seq., and the non-public calendars and itineraries of  public officials are exempt from public disclosure. Public officials must be permitted to schedule private meetings and have confidential discussions about important decisions without the fact of that communication being subject to disclosure. See Gannett N.J. Partners, LP v. County of Middlesex, 379 N.J. Super. 205, 217 (App. Div. 2005) Furthermore, the New Jersey Supreme Court has acknowledged there is a legitimate public interest in keeping confidential the identity of persons consulted  by executive branch officials. North Jersey Newspapers v. Passaic County, 127 N.J. 9 (1992).

The people of NJ have a right to know who their DEP Commissioner is meeting with and what they are talking about.

The Commissioner is a public servant, paid by the people’s taxes, and works exclusively on important public matters of public health and environment. Therefore, public disclosure of her meetings with private sector individuals is essential to the public interest – such meetings never can be “private” or “secret”.

DEP meetings with private individuals also never can be “deliberative” because private sector individuals serve purely an advisory role, and are not involved in actual government decision-making and so are never engaged in actual policy deliberations.

Private individuals who meet with DEP policymakers do not have any “privacy” interests or reasonable expectations of privacy.

Under ELEC rules (see definition of “lobbyist”), anyone who meets with a policymaker is presumed to be seeking to “influence government processes” and must publicly disclose and report that meeting to ELEC. (see ELEC White Paper:

It will build upon earlier attempts by the Commission and the Attorney General to reform the lobbying law by calling for one agency, ELEC, to administer it and by arguing that comprehensive lobbying disclosure must also include the reporting of “grassroots” and “executive branch” lobbying activities.

How can DEP claim these meetings are secret and deny OPRA requests when ELEC rules require disclosure and reporting?

We were led to believe that the Murphy administration was progressive and supportive of good government, and agreed that open government, transparency and accountability are foundational principles and prerequisites of democracy.

But that’s enough of the wonk stuff.

Obviously, who the DEP Commissioner meets with is a very strong indicator of not only what interests have power and influence, but what policy deliverables are offered up to “friends” of the Administration.

I’ve been around long enough to recall that the Bergen Record won a national journalistic award for their “Open For Business” series, that documented, among other things, the Whitman administration’s DEP meetings with regulated industries and tied those meetings to campaign contributions and DEP regulatory favors. (see:  “A New Genre of Environmental Reporting “).

But this issue cuts both ways.

Transparency is especially important at a time when friends of the administration are buying billboard ads praising a “New Day” at DEP (sycophants at PPA and the Highlands Coalition) and – perversely – are openly bragging about endorsing and spending “over $400,000″ to elect Governor Murphy, while praising and providing cover for Murphy’s flawed “deliverable” deal (see this from NJ LCV).

Who the DEP Commissioner is meeting with and what they are talking about are important indicators of not only who has access and influence on policy, but in documenting what the policy priorities of the Administration are.

I filed the McCabe calendar OPRA request at the same time I filed another OPRA request for various public documents regarding the current ongoing negotiations to re-join the northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), as directed by Governor Murphy’s Executive Order #7.

The public should know not only the factual technical basis for those RGGI negotiations (e.g. the current greenhouse gas emissions inventory and derivation of the emissions cap), but who the DEP is meeting with to discuss these issues, especially if regulated corporations are involved (as they certainly are).

Of course, disclosure of meeting calendars is important information as well to determine whether the Murphy DEP is “balanced” (a word McCabe herself claimed was her “mantra”) in meeting with public interest groups and corporations and regulated interests.

Finally, that information can show who has access to DEP policymakers and followup investigations can look at critical issues like: whether those same meeting participants have regulatory decisions pending before DEP or have made political donations to Gov. Murphy.

The NY Times sees a LOT of news value in these issues as well, see:

Why is US EPA Scott Pruitt’s calendar published – and widely reported by media and criticized – but NJ DEP Catherine McCabe can dodge all accountability and conduct her affairs in secret?

So, will NJ’s depleted but intrepid press corp report this new and get their lawyers involved in challenging DEP’s sweeping secrecy claims?

Or do they only investigate and report on Republican Administrations?

And if in fact NJ Courts have ruled as DEP interprets them, will the Legislature close those loopholes and amend OPRA to stop these abuses?

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