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The Right Way To Revoke The Pinelands Pipeline Approval

November 13th, 2019 No comments

Commission Wobbling On Putting The Final Nail In SJG Pipeline Coffin

Staff Incompetence or Sabotage?

Vote Postponed until a “physically present quorum”

Inability to get a quorum “Seems like a mess – which is what it is”

This is Administrative Law 101 – I can’t believe that the Commission’s Counsel and the Attorney General’s Office signed off on all this. So, is it incompetence? Or sabotage?

The Pinelands Commission is having a difficult time putting the final nail in the coffin of the South Jersey Gas pipeline they previously approved.

The pipeline is no longer consistent with the Comprehensive Management (CMP) plan due to the cancellation of the BL England re-powering, the primary purpose for the pipeline and the sole reason it was found to be consistent with the CMP and approved by the Commission.

Recently, I was advised by an official in a position to have first hand knowledge that the Commission can not reach consensus on clear language to kill the project, i.e. to determine that it is no longer consistent with the CMP and to revoke the prior approval. Worse, the leader of conservation group was OK with the compromise language the Commission negotiated (emails provided upon request and assurance of confidentiality).

But a prior April 2019 Resolution concluded that the pipeline was no longer consistent with the CMP and was revoked. That Resolution was tabled. The current version rejected that April language and does not conclude that the project is inconsistent with the CMP and revoke the prior approval.

In addition to the language of a Resolution, the issue that is not getting any attention by the Commission and public is the procedure by which the Commission should act to kill the project.

SJG has raised these procedural issues, and based on my review of their letter, I think they raise valid issues. The Commission would be highly vulnerable to legal reversal if they try to act via Resolution in the absence of formal procedures.

The Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan  (CMP) regulations appear to be silent on the procedures for revocation of an existing Commission project approval, like the South Jersey Gas pipeline.

But longstanding basic administrative law procedures on “final agency action” by the Commission under the CMP require formal procedures, i.e. a Report or statement of factual and legal basis, public notice, public comment and public hearing. These are basic and fundamental due process procedures.

The Commission was required to follow these formal procedures in issuing the original approval. Logically, they must follow the same procedures to revoke a prior approval.

Here’s one example from the CMP on revocation of prior county or municipal plan certification:

7:50-3.62  Notice and Hearing

Upon making a determination to initiate proceedings to revoke, suspend or modify Commission certification of a county or municipal master plan, regulation or land use ordinance, the Executive Director shall give notice and conduct a public hearing in accordance with the provisions of N.J.A.C. 7:50-4.

If notice and public hearing are required to revoke a local certification, then obviously killing a multi-million dollar pipeline requires formal procedures.

Here are examples from DEP’s regulations that mandate formal procedures. This is for revoking a water permit, but the procedural requirements are virtually boilerplate for revocations under all DEP permit programs:

For the suspension or revocation of an existing permit or the denial of an application for a new permit or permit renewal, issue a notice of intent to suspend, revoke or deny, as applicable, in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:14A-15.7(a) setting forth the basis for the permit action; (emphases mine)

The notice and statement of basis require public notice and comment, see:

  • 7:14A-15.10 PUBLIC NOTICE OF PERMIT ACTIONS AND PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD

So, not only must the current Resolution be tabled, but the Commission must abandon the entire Resolution based approach and instead follow formal procedures to revoke the prior approval, the same procedures they followed to issue the original approval. Anything less than that will not kill the project and instead will invite litigation by SJG.

This is Administrative Law 101 – I can’t believe that the Commission’s Counsel and the Attorney General’s Office signed off on all this. So, is it incompetence? Or sabotage?

Getting back to the Commission’s monthly meeting on November 8, 2019, where they considered a seriously flawed Resolution purported to kill the pipeline was difficult to watch – I was embarrassed for the Commissioners.

Before this meeting, I explained those flaws in this recent post:

You can watch video of the Pinelands Commission’s November 8, 2019 monthly meeting

I was not at the meeting, but after watching this video, my concerns are heightened.

The bumbling and lack of a quorum were humiliating.

After the public raised objections to Wittenberg’s actions – way to go Georgina Shanley, Agnes Marsala and Arnold Fishman ! – the Chairman defended what was egregiously improper behavior by the Executive Director Wittenberg and staff in meeting with South Jersey Gas and outlining options on how they could proceed under the CMP.

Chairman Prickett stated that the CMP encourages applicants to meet with staff and that the Commission was briefed by Wittenberg on the SJG meeting.

But Prickett failed to note that the CMP does not encourage the kind of meeting SJG was provided, under these specific and unique conditions – on remand from a court, with no formal policy position taken by the Commission. He also failed to note that being briefed AFTER a meeting occurred is not remotely equivalent to being asked permission to conduct such a meeting and receive policy guidance from the Commission BEFORE it occurs.

Wittenberg played exactly the same game in the prior dispute about a “waiver”.

During the Commission’s deliberations, Executive Director Wittenberg interjected to rebut public criticism about her role and pointed the finger at the Commissioners. She said:

“the language of Resolution was the Commissioners’ – agreed to at a meeting. It’s their language.”

Wittenberg expressed frustration about the inability of Commissioners to establish a quorum. She even implied that the technical difficulties with the phones were a sham, by claiming that the phones worked for all the other calls, except the Commissioners. Wittenberg then blurted out:

“(Lack of a quorum) seems like a mess – which is what it is”

It is remarkable – especially after the pattern of Wittenberg’s prior collaboration behind the backs of the Commissioners – that she still is allowed to get away with this crap and even bully the Commissioners.

Arnold Fishman summed it up nicely.

He criticized the Commission as being too slow and squandering a golden opportunity to “put a fork in it”.

Fishman warned that the pending Resolution was the equivalent of a “stop work order” and left the door open for SJG to proceed.

Agnes Marsalla raised an important issue. She claimed that SJG favorably advised investors of their intent to proceed AFTER the meeting with Wittenberg. That is an incredible situation that warrants investigation.

Agnes accused Wittenberg and staff of supporting the project, being captured by SJG, and of creating a backdoor for SJG to proceed.

Agnes was also the only one to raise the issue of Gov. Murphy’ pending Pinelands appointments. She advised to either table the SJG matter and wait until they are confirmed by the Senate, or kill the pending flawed Resolution.

Once again, the people are far ahead of the leaders.

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NJ Electric Vehicle Campaign Is An Astroturf Operation Driven By Corporate PR

November 12th, 2019 No comments

Hit links & note the news management and Astro-turfing at the core of lame duck campaign

I recently questioned the wisdom and criticized some members of the NJ environmental community for pushing a flawed and regressive bill through the lame duck session, see:

In that post, I cited the gas tax as an example and also criticized NJ Spotlight’s coverage for badly mis-framing the issues:

particularly given recent climate and energy controversies that are being falsely framed by media and corporate hacks as heavy new burdens on electric ratepayers.

For example, even “liberal” NJ Spotlight is falsely framing the issue that way, relying on spin and lies like this from the business community

Coincidentally? what does Spotlight do in the wake of that criticism?

Today NJ Spotlight doubles down, with a terrible story on electric vehicles, a manufactured non-problem which implies that electric vehicles are a threat with respect to funding the NJ Transportation Trust Fund.

In that twisted absurd logic, electric vehicles – less than 1% of vehicles on the road – become the focus of the problem, not the climate emergency and the carbon polluting internal combustion vehicles!

[Note For the math challenged: The NJ Transportation Trust Fund enjoys about $1.5 BILLION in annual revenues. To consider the impact of electric vehicles on the TTF revenues, assume a typical car drives 15,000 miles/year and gets 30 miles/gallon. That amounts to about 500 gallons of gas/year. At a little over $0.40 (41.5 cents)/gallon gas tax, that’s a revenue loss of about $200/year per EV. Current estimated are less than 25,000 EV’s on the road. So that means about $5 million/year revenue loss, or just 0.33% of the total TTF revenue. At the future legislative goal of 330,000 EV’s, that still just a $66 million revenue loss, about 4% of current TTF revenues (but less, as TTF revenues are projected to increase by the time there are 330,000 EV’s on the road.

In contrast, fossil fuels benefit from HUGE SUBSIDIES, conservatively estimated in US as over $20 billion/year. On top of that, internal combustion cars contribute to the climate emergency and also are subsidized far greater than any loss of TTF revenues associated with EV’s.

The price of gas also does not reflect the adverse climate and other economic impacts reflected in the “Social Cost of Carbon”. At $100/ton, gas prices would increase about $1/gallon.

The story NJ Spotlight printed is absurd on its face and the TTF EV Commission legislation is designed to derail EV’s. ~~~ End Note]

But I want to focus on a separate issue today.

In response to that EV post, a reader forwarded me an astonishing, embarrassing and smoking gun email.

The email was written by a PR flack at The MWW PR Group.

Here’s all I needed to know about the MWW PR group:

It headed up the ‘Stronger Than the Storm’ media campaign after Hurricane Sandy touched down in New Jersey in 2013 and the agency was later notated by Governor Chris Christie as having contributed to record post-storm tourism dollars in the state.

The MWW memo advises NJ’s EV “activists”, providing “social media guidance for the week”

From: Kathleen O’Brien (TNN-MWW) < kobrien@mww.com>
Date: November 11, 2019 at 11:28:25 AM EST
To: EF-NJcomms < ef-njcomms@mww.com>
Subject:Social Post Suggestions Week of 11/11

All,

Below please find social media guidance for the week. Please feel free to edit/revise as you see fit.

I would like to make special note that Environment NJ, along with Keep Middlesex Moving, is hosting a Ride and Drive event in New Brunswick on 11/14. A post to help amplify the event in included below.

Monday.@GovMurphy’s administration has set a goal of 330,000 plug-in #electricvehicles on the road by 2025. @SenatorGreenstein says: “We’re really on a path to make it happen.” #EVs4NJ https://bit.ly/36VLLUq

Tuesday.@SenatorGreenstein, @DanBensonNJ, @DeAngeloLD14 joined @EnvironmentNJ & @JerseyRenews last week to take #EVs for a test drive & call for passage of S2252/A4819, for cleaner & greener transportation throughout NJ #EVs4NJ https://bit.ly/33MBkRv

Wednesday.@SenatorGreenstein & East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen will join @EnvironmentNJ & @MiddlesexCmuter at a Ride & Drive on 11/14 to address the importance of legislation to promote #EVs & lower emissions from the transportation sector #EVs4NJ #ElectrifyNJ https://bit.ly/2Q8eTBW

Thursday– Watch Melissa Miles of the @IronboundCC discuss why Newark is adversely impacted by the effects of #climatechange #CleanEnergy4NJ https://njersy.co/2p3F69I

Friday– An average offshore wind farm with around 44 turbines is projected to add $702 million to NJ’s economy and to support 4,300 jobs- a huge win for the Garden State! #CleanEnergy4NJ #OffshoreWindNJ @DeAngeloLD14 @starledger https://bit.ly/2zsRDoR

Thank you,

Kathleen

Kathleen O’Brien |Account Director, Public Affairs | MWWPR | T: 609.503.8036 | M: 609.472.8035 | kobrien@mww.com

Hit the links and note the news management and Astro-turfing at the core of this lame duck campaign.

I was aware, only after the fact, that the Keep It Green Coalition spent $1 million on PR, including corporate PR hacks, on their open space campaign.

More recently, I became aware of the fact that the Renew NJ PennEast pipeline campaign was driven by a corporate PR firm.

Now the EV campaign. Strike three.

How pathetic the NJ environmental community has become that they now rely on corporate PR flacks to give them media and message guidance and organize events and lobby and communicate with the public.

Shame on them all.

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NJ Spotlight Relies On Climate Denier In Puff Piece Praising Murphy DEP Lighthouse Project

November 12th, 2019 No comments

Another “He said – She said” Story On Climate Chaos

Lighthouse Project Funded By Federal Sandy Disaster Recovery Funds

NJ Received Over $13 Million From This Federal Fund – No State Funding

Sometimes the ironies and contradictions pile up to the point that the situation becomes almost laughable – you can’t make this stuff up.

Today, following a pattern of Murphy DEP news management, finding another “good news” needle in the State DEP’s climate adaptation abdication haystack, NJ Spotlight ran a puff piece, praising the Murphy DEP on a project designed to defend a Delaware Bayshore lighthouse from coastal erosion, storm surge, and flooding caused by climate change, see:

And of course, the Murphy DEP was praised by the lapdog they provide state funding to – who used the opportunity to pitch for more DEP funding of his organization’s pet projects:

Tim Dillingham, executive director of the New Jersey-based American Littoral Society, welcomed the project but said it needs to be followed by a long-term solution.

“The state is to be commended for acting to protect the light, a wonderful, iconic symbol of Delaware Bay’s heritage,” he said. “This is a highly dynamic location which requires a long-term commitment to managing the shoreline changes to ensure the environmental values — horseshoe crab & shorebird habitats — are preserved.”

In addition to finding that good news needle in the Murphy DEP’s climate adaptation abdication and quoting sources with conflicts of interest (i.e. Dillingham, who is funded by DEP), Spotlight quoted a local source that flat out denied climate change and attributed the problem to “natural causes”:

Patterson rejected a suggestion that East Point’s problems are the result of sea-level rise, and argued that “natural erosion” is mainly responsible for eating away at the land surrounding the lighthouse.

“The threat facing East Point is primarily caused by natural erosion — the tide coming in and out around the land known as East Point through the decades,” she said. “Since nothing was ever done to stop the land and beach from washing away, with each tide and various storms through the many decades, the land has badly eroded, leaving the lighthouse susceptible to flooding and very little left to protect it from the waves of the bay.”

I don’t have data, but I suspect that there are a lot of climate deniers in rural Cumberland County that will be reading today’s story.

So why does Spotlight reinforce that ignorance and denial instead of educating the public?

On top of the needle in the haystack and quotes from a climate denier, Spotlight failed to provide critical details about the source of the National park Service funding.

Those details link the money directly to climate change. The damage was exacerbated by climate change. So, the local Cumberland climate denier is biting the hand that fed her (See those details below).

On top of all that, the Murphy DEP received praise, despite the fact that the funding for the project came from the National Park Service and the US Congress.

The National Park Service program that funded the project is called Disaster Recovery Grants:

On occasion, Congress appropriates Emergency Supplemental funding from the Historic Preservation Fund (ESHPF) for recovery from natural disasters, allowing State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) to work on various recovery projects, including compliance activities, survey and inventory of historic resources in areas impacted by the disaster, recovery and repair of historic properties damaged during the disaster, and other disaster recovery related activities as approved by NPS.

The Disaster Recovery Program – and it was funded by Congress in response to Hurricane Sandy:

Hurricane Sandy Recovery
Grant Total:$47,174,958
SHPOs Awarded:Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Virginia
THPOs Awarded:Narragansett Indian Tribe, Mashantucket (Western) Pequot Tribal Nation

In 2013 and 2014, the NPS awarded $47 million to 12 States and two Tribes in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions to assist in historic preservation recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy in areas where FEMA issued major disaster declarations. The program is still active and final numbers will be posted as grants close.

Sandy damage was magnified by climate change: 1) warmer ocean waters increased the size and intensity of the storm, 2) climate driven sea level rise magnified storm surge, and 3) the path of the storm – i.e. the left turn onto the NJ coast – was influenced by arctic warming.

So the Sandy disaster funds to this lighthouse project were directly related to climate change.

Spotlight also failed to mention that NJ received $13.1 million in these funds, slightly less than New York, who received $13.6 million.

Where did this money go?

How did the Lighthouse project meet this requirement of the federal program?:

  • All funded repair work must substantially mitigate the threat and include steps to mitigate future damage.

The story called the project a short term “band aid”. How does such a “band aid” “substantially mitigate the threat” and “include steps to mitigate future damage”?

And finally, the icing on the cake, is that the National Park Service funding is derived from Outer Continental Shelf oil lease revenues, the very fossil fuels that are creating the disasters and climate chaos!

On occasion, Congress appropriates Emergency Supplemental funding from the Historic Preservation Fund (ESHPF) for recovery from natural disasters, allowing State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) to work on various recovery projects, including compliance activities, survey and inventory of historic resources in areas impacted by the disaster, recovery and repair of historic properties damaged during the disaster, and other disaster recovery related activities as approved by NPS….

The Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), derived from Outer Continental Shelf oil lease revenues, was established in 1977 as the primary source of funding to implement the Federal Preservation Partnership program.

You really can’t make this shit up.

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Electric Vehicle Advocates Risk Backlash By Ramming Through Regressive Funding Bill In Lame Duck

November 9th, 2019 No comments

Teslas For Tewksbury – Power Shutoffs For Newark

The Ends Do Not Justify The Means

Let me start by making it clear that I agree that we must radically and rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector and that electric vehicles have a role to play in doing so.

But not by sacrificing other core principles and policy objectives.

So, I must ask: Why are so-called “progressive” and “green” groups supporting ramming through controversial and deeply flawed legislation in the lame duck session?

NJ Spotlight reports:

Looking to break up a logjam, a coalition of conservation, transportation and other groups yesterday launched a campaign to push a comprehensive bill to transition the transportation sector to plug-in electric vehicles in the lame-duck Legislature.

By doing so, they risk the kind of backlash that spawned the “Yellow Vest” movement in France. That movement – mistakenly reported by US media as public opposition to a climate driven gas tax increase – was actually spawned by unfair taxes and strong opposition to neoliberal and austerity policies that benefit the wealthy while ignoring the poor.

But decades before the Yellow Vests, NJ experienced a similar political dynamic in 1992 – a formative moment in right wing reaction to what was dubbed “the runny egg rule” . That backlash essentially made Jim Florio a one term Governor, led to a Constitutional amendment that authorizes the Legislature to veto regulations, and spawned NJ’s right wing anti-government radio outlet, NJ 101.5 (and gave us “open for business” Christie Whitman and energy deregulation, the source of many of our current energy & climate challenges).

By seeking to ram the electric vehicle subsidy program through the lame duck session, the “green groups” are risking exactly that type of backlash against the entire renewable energy and climate program, particularly given recent climate and energy controversies that are being falsely framed by media and corporate hacks as heavy new burdens on electric ratepayers.

For example, even “liberal” NJ Spotlight is falsely framing the issue that way, relying on spin and lies like this from the business community:

Some groups, like the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, support the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) as an option for achieving the carbon pollution goals but have problems with putting those costs on utility customers.

“However, we can promote EVs without spending hundreds of millions of dollars for rebates on expensive cars and for an overbuilt charging system while forcing electric ratepayers to pick up the tab,’’ said Ray Cantor, a vice president of the association. “We cannot afford to pay more, and not when there are other, less expensive options.’’

It is easily demonstrated that Ray Cantor is lying again.

Contrary to Cantor’s claim about “more”, the bill [S 2252 SCS] diverts existing revenue – it does not generate new revenue or “more” money from ratepayers.

Specifically, see Section 16, which creates a new “EV Rebate Fund” and authorizes BPU to deposit BPU’s funds generated from the Societal Benefits Charge (SBC) and RGGI. Section 24 would allocate $20 million of RGGI money to the EV Fund.

The bill authorizes BPU to increase the SBC to pay for the EV rebate program, but it does not mandate that they do so or otherwise appropriate money.

But even without running the risk of a political backlash, the green support for the bill and its lame duck passage is a HUGE mistake, because the bill is seriously flawed. Let me explain.

1. Lame Duck Legislation Is An Abuse That Undermines Democracy

For many years, environmental groups have railed against lame duck legislation being rammed through after elections as a gross abuse of the legislative process and democratic accountability.

The public is shut out of the legislative process, there is virtually no legislative deliberation, dirty deals are pervasive, and legislators dodge electoral accountability for their often highly controversial votes.

Some of the worst special interest legislation gets passed in lame duck.

Now, in a hypocritical U-turn, they are engaging in the same abuse. Shame on them. The ends do not justify the means.

Note: And it’s not just those transactional “greens” who completely miss the fundamentals of democratic politics.

Check out how those paragons of “issue journalism” over at NJ Spotlight describe the upcoming lame duck session. NJ Spotlight co-founder John Mooney writes:

… the next few weeks should prove to be a busy time for the Legislature, as a lame-duck session opens the way for yes-no votes on a host of controversial measures that may have been tough sells for legislators on the campaign trail but not so much anymore.

And with a truncated window to act, the time between Election Day and the day the next Legislature is sworn in January is when legislative leaders traditionally push their agendas fiercest — and often quickest.

Lah de dah!  “tough sells for legislators on the campaign trail”  you say?

No sense in burdening an electoral campaign with pesky trivialities like issues and talking with voters about the bills you will vote on.

This is what passes for politics and journalism these days in The Corrupt Garden State.

2. The Bill Diverts Existing Revenue – There Is No New Money, Despite Need for $ Billions

As I noted above, the bill would divert existing revenue from three sources:

1) the BPU Societal Benefits Charge.; 2) the BPU’s allocation of RGGI funds; and 3) the statewide RGGI fund, which is divided among EDA (60%), BPU (20%) and DEP (20%) – see this table for allowable uses of the money:

There is no revenue in the bill, despite the fact that transition and conversion to an electric transportation sector will cost billions (EV’s are one component of electrification of the entire sector). There is a mere authorization for BPU to increase the SBC. With all the political pressure on BPU and the business community’s efforts to kill the current SBC, it is far more likely that BPU will divert existing SBC revenues than to increase the SBC charge to generate new revenues to pay for the program.

The bill is not a serious commitment to the level of investment that will be required to achieve Gov. Murphy’s stated renewable energy goals –  it’s not even a down payment or deposit on the small piece of the program contributed by electric vehicles.

Gov. Christie’s public finance austerity slogan was “no new taxes – no new debt” (which is just a nicer way to implement Grover Norquist’s “starve the beast” – “small enough to drown in the bathtub” strategy to dismantling government).

The EV subsidy bill reflects exactly that same policy (coupled with the cap on ratepayer increases to pay for renewables). 

I would have thought the “green” groups and Senator Smith would have learned from their disastrous diversion of existing State Parks and DEP funds to pay for their open space program.

Shame on them for again robbing Peter to pay Paul.

3. Diversion of Existing Funds and EV Subsidies Are Deeply Regressive

The BPU SBC (about $300 million/year) and RGGI money (about $20 million) is primarily distributed to energy and social programs that assist low income residents. BPU webpage says:

Historically New Jersey utilities included funding for programs in their rates that provide societal benefits such as low income programs, nuclear decommissioning, and funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

Many of those low income residents that will suffer from reduced funding don’t own cars, and are dependent on public transit, which has seen disinvestment and been starved for money for many years.

Electric vehicles tend to be expensive. Those that drive them and will benefit from EV subsidies do not to rely on public transit and tend to have higher incomes.

The bill would subsidize the wealthy’s discretionary purchases (new cars) from poor people’s essential services (energy and public transit). That’s exactly backwards and a classic example of a regressive policy.

So, as suggested by Ray Cantor’s spin about “expensive cars”, opponents will be able to argue credibly that poor people in Newark – who benefit from BPU SBC and RGGI funds – are subsidizing the purchase of Teslas for people in Tewksbury.

Don’t think they won’t do just that.

And don’t think those kind of politics are not toxic to renewable energy and the climate fight

4. The Bill Let’s The Private Sector Off The Hook For Necessary Massive New Funding 

Finally, the bill relies exclusively on public sector revenues, thereby letting the private sector off the hook for funding the huge investments necessary to finance the transition to renewable energy.

We can not possibly get to those goals with existing public sector funds, regressive incentives, corporate subsidies and tax breaks, which is the current approach.

5. Lack of Integration With Local Distributed Energy and Micro-Grids

Electric vehicles will need to be technically integrated with radical changes to the current electric grid and a fundamental restructuring of the private electric utility model and regulatory framework.

The bill fails to even address those issues – it actually makes them worse by reinforcing the power of PSE&G and monopoly private corporate “utilities”.

This is a complex set of issues beyond the scope of this post.

For those interested, please read this superb overview article by Dave Roberts at Vox:

For all these reasons, the current version of the EV bill should be abandoned and completely re-written to generate new revenues that are proportionate to the scale and timing of the climate emergency, to assess and distribute those revenues equitably based on wealth and income, to allocate far more burden to the private sector via mandates, and to integrate EV’s with publicly owned, renewable, distributed energy and micro-grids (and a public transit component would help ease the fairness issues).

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NJ Gov. Murphy’s “Climate Resilience” Initiative Falls Short – Lacks Policy, Planning, Regulatory Teeth, Funding, and Staffing

November 7th, 2019 No comments

Don’t Be Fooled – NJ Has No “Managed Retreat” Program

Before We Can Talk About Equity, We Must Have A Conceptual Proposal

Attempt to shift the focus to “equity” glosses over major flaws in Gov. Murphy’s Climate Resilience initiative

Source: NJ DEP: "Section 309 Coastal Assessment and Strategy: 2016 - 2020"

Source: NJ DEP: “Section 309 Coastal Assessment and Strategy: 2016 – 2020″

Today, I started to write Part II of my assessment of Gov. Murphy’s recently announced “Climate Resilience” initiative.

In Part I, I outlined what the initiative lacked and a long list of missed opportunities, i.e. what the Gov. could have done but didn’t.

But before I could get to writing Part II, I was diverted by today’s NJ Spotlight Op-Ed on the need for “equity” in what the author imagines is NJ’s “managed retreat” program. Say what?

First of all, I find the timing of the Op-Ed – which focuses on “retreat” – more than curious. That came out of nowhere. There has been a virtual news blackout on the entire concept of “retreat” (strategic or managed). But the Op-Ed appears to respond to criticism we wrote just 8 days ago. I concluded Part I with this:

But, most importantly, the Gov. could have established a policy of “Strategic Retreat” – which DEP’s Coastal Zone Strategy has recommended for 20 years – but he didn’t.

Instead, Murphy’s EO89 is all process and no policy or legal substance and no resources (financial or human).

I also must note that the Op-Ed author did not use the more meaningful policy of “justice”. While “equity” is an important consideration in resilience policy and planning, it often conflicts with “justice”.

But, more importantly, the Op-Ed is factually in error regarding it’s major premise and therefore highly misleading.

The author – a fabulist who confuses a pot of money with an actual program – claims that NJ has a “managed retreat” program, and has had one since 1995:

New Jersey’s managed retreat program, Blue Acres, offers a glimpse of that “who.” The voluntary program began in 1995, under Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, as a taxpayer-approved and -funded initiative to acquire lands in the state’s coastal areas, where the risk of storm damage and flooding is high.

That claim is factually false.

NJ does not have a “managed retreat” program.

NJ’s Blue Ares program is not a “managed retreat” program.

But, you don’t have to take my word for it.

NJ DEP explicitly states the NJ does not have a “managed retreat” program in the federally mandated “Section 309 Coastal Assessment Strategy – 2016-2020″ . 

The NJ DEP recently informed the federal government that NJ does not have a “managed retreat plan” at any level of government: local, county, or state.

See the Table on Page IV-92: – see the N for “NO” in the row for “managed retreat plans”:

Source: NJ DEP "Section 309 Coastal Assessment and Strategy: 2016-20220"

Source: NJ DEP “Section 309 Coastal Assessment and Strategy: 2016-20220″

NJ also lacks any “Special Area Management Plan” to address climate risks and vulnerabilities.

With respect to Hazard Mitigation Plans, the N in the middle column means that the DEP provides no assistance to local governments (scroll up to page IV-95 to see the 3 column headers in this Y & N table).

The Blue Acres voluntary acquisition from willing sellers’ property is not a policy or a program or a plan.

That approach results in scattershot Blue Acres acquisitions that lack any underlying policy or planning rationale. All holes, no doughnut.

The Op-Ed diverts attention from important flaws and critical data that is essential to a real “managed retreat” program. For example, as I wrote:

The Gov. could have announced a “one and done” policy and that he was seeking legislation to repeal the “right to rebuild” provisions under NJ coastal CAFRA and Flood Hazard Acts,which lead to filing multiple damage claims on the same property and rebuilding in high hazard areas, an abuse that NJ leads the nation on.such as DEP’s Section 309 Report on this issue: (see p. IV-28)

Repetitive Loss

According to the National Flood Insurance Program’s Claim Information by State report (http://bsa.nfipstat.fema.gov/reports/1040.htm) of November 30, 2014, New Jersey recently passed Texas as the second highest ranked state in FEMA total loss payments with $5,622,667,976.21 in losses. New Jersey is the fourth highest ranked state in the total number of losses at over 188,000.While these losses are not limited to New Jersey’s coastal zone, the statistics are indicative of the increasing risks to natural hazards.

Furthermore, the Christie DEP eliminated a discussion of the concept of “Strategic retreat”, including findings and recommendations, from the DEP’s Section 309 Coastal Assessment & Strategy Report, where it had been included for over a decade.

I’ve been writing about those failure for years now, e.g. see:

The author of the NJ Spotlight Op-Ed is clueless as to what is really going on in NJ state government.

The Op-Ed author is worse than clueless.

He misleads NJ residents.

And by trying to shift the focus to “equity”, he glosses over and diverts attention from major flaws in current NJ programs and weaknesses in Gov. Murphy’s Climate Resilience initiative.

Professor Nancy Fraser explains the implications of such a diversionary approach, which some disparage as “identity politics”, in her superb essay: The End of Progressive Neoliberalism:

Progressive neoliberalism developed in the United States over the last three decades and was ratified with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. Clinton was the principal engineer and standard-bearer of the “New Democrats,” the U.S. equivalent of Tony Blair’s “New Labor.” In place of the New Deal coalition of unionized manufacturing workers, African Americans, and the urban middle classes, he forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, suburbanites, new social movements, and youth, all proclaiming their modern, progressive bona fides by embracing diversity, multiculturalism, and women’s rights. Even as it endorsed such progressive notions, the Clinton administration courted Wall Street. Turning the economy over to Goldman Sachs, it deregulated the banking system and negotiated the free-trade agreements that accelerated deindustrialization. What fell by the wayside was the Rust Belt—once the stronghold of New Deal social democracy, and now the region that delivered the electoral college to Donald Trump. That region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit as runaway financialization unfolded over the course of the last two decades. Continued by his successors, including Barack Obama, Clinton’s policies degraded the living conditions of all working people, but especially those employed in industrial production. In short, Clintonism bears a heavy share of responsibility for the weakening of unions, the decline of real wages, the increasing precarity of work, and the rise of the two–earner family in place of the defunct family wage. (read the whole essay!)

Under Fraser’s framework, the Op-Ed author and Governor Murphy are “progressive Neoliberals”.

And, once again, shame on NJ Spotlight for such shoddy journalism and lack of basic fact checking. They do a deep disservice to their readers by misinforming them on crucial issues.

Finally, the Op-Ed author’s call for “equity” is valid. But, the concept of “equity” is NOT the same as “justice”.

Equity is a weaker policy – it means treating people equally. Equal treatment is not always just treatment.

Justice requires that people be treated according to circumstance – which are often unequal – and be provided fairness and substantive justice in the outcome, not just the process or access to resources. Very Big difference.

Before people write Op-Ed about public policy, they need to understand the fundamentals and facts.

Sorry for the diversion. We’ll get to part II soon.

[Post Note: I sent an email to the author of the Op-Ed to advise him of a serious fact error, with links to the DEP documents and this explanatory post.

You would think the an author would care about his credibility or have an urge to engage dialogue with critics. Nope. The author did not have the dignity to reply.

And that says it all – these assholes write about policy and regulatory issues they don’t have a clue about – while self interestedly promoting a book no less – and simply avoid dialogue. I have zero respect to this crap. NONE. ~~~ end note] 

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