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Murphy DEP Ramping Up Destruction Of NJ Forests

February 27th, 2024 No comments

DEP Uses Twisted Climate Logic To Justify Burning And Logging NJ Forests

DEP Has Declared PreEmptive War On NJ Forests

turtle

Despite a failed legislative initiative by Senate Environment Committee Chairman Smith to reform NJ DEP’s flawed forest management policies and practices based on credible forest ecological and climate science, DEP is plowing ahead with an expanded program to burn and log NJ’s forests and is using sham climate justifications, scare tactics, and slogans to do so: (NJ DEP press release today):

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Forest Fire Service’s annual prescribed burning program is ramping up as part of a proactive strategy to mitigate the risk of more frequent and intense wildfires in a changing climate…

“Prescribed fire not only fosters resilience and diversity in the landscape, but also helps to safeguard our communities,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “By executing planned prescribed fires throughout New Jersey’s wooded areas, we are limiting the risk of a catastrophic release of carbon during a wildfire.”

In addition, DEP is launching an expanded public relations and propaganda effort to “educate” the public who oppose these destructive DEP projects – the arrogance is stunning:

As part of that plan, a new online information portal is designed to help the public understand and reduce fire risk, Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced today.

This garbage comes from an Agency who has refused to act to truly prevent damaging wildfires by restricting new development and retrofitting existing development in DEP mapped high wildfire hazard areas, see:

DEP has produced no NJ based peer reviewed studies and data to support DEP’s alleged justification to “limiting the risk of a catastrophic release of carbon during a wildfire”.

DEP has no forest carbon storage and sequestration monitoring data or methodology to quantify carbon implications of either controlled burns or wildfires. Their analysis are purely theoretical and lack science and data support, see:

DEP fails to consider the environmental impacts – including on air quality and accidental wildfires caused by – of their “prescribed burn” program. There is no environmental impact statement that analyzes the program or unintended ecological impacts, see:

Its all speculative bullshit, see:

The DEP can act with impunity, because: 1) the Legislature eliminated liability for damages caused by a prescribed burn; 2) DEP does not have to comply with any permit requirements or environmental standards, including public participation (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts don’t cut legal mustard); and 3) the DEP has co-opted and has the support of some conservation groups, see:

I again demand that Legislators conduct oversight, but given Senator Smith’s failed forestry reform effort, I don’t expect even the courtesy of a reply:

Dear Legislators – Please conduct oversight hearings on these DEP plans. Allow the public to participate in DEP decisions that are destroying our forest resources. Force DEP to justify their “management” with site specific (NJ) science, conduct an open planning process with formal public participation and judicial review, and respond to public comments.

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Time For NJ To Exit The PJM Regional Grid And Create An Independent Public Power Authority

February 27th, 2024 No comments

Study Documents Extensive Backlog And Long Delays In Connecting Renewable Energy Sources To The Grid

Climate Emergency, High Costs, And Dysfunctional PJM Control Of Grid Demand PJM-EXIT

NJ Spotlight today reports on an important energy industry study of the PJM regional grid – the findings include outrageous backlogs in connecting renewable energy sources to the PJM grid, including years of delay, read the whole thing:

Spotlight didn’t provide a link, and a Google couldn’t find it, so it may not be posted yet but I did find this summary: 

Currently, the interconnection process in many regions is broken and complex, leading to lengthy wait times which causes renewable energy developers to withdraw projects. The country is split into many interconnection regions. The electric grid across the mid-Atlantic and rust belt regions is run by an independent entity called PJM. In the PJM region alone, there are currently 2,700 projects stuck in the interconnection process. 95% of these projects are clean wind, solar, and storage projects that are essential to meet states’ clean energy laws.  

And here is a link to a similar 2022 Report.

This is intolerable, given the climate emergency.

It is impossible for NJ to meet its climate, energy, environmental justice, clean air and economic goals under PJM grid control

NJ must control its own destiny – the case for a PJM-EXIT is compelling.

I fired off this letter to Legislators and climate and environmental leaders – I urge readers to make similar demands:

Dear Chairman Smith:

Today’s reporting by NJ Spotlight on a study of PJM performance, particularly with respect to grid connection for renewable energy sources, by Advanced Energy United is deeply troubling, see:

https://www.njspotlightnews.org/2024/02/pjm-interconnection-power-grid-operator-scores-worst-struggling-to-connect-new-electricity-projects/

The AEU Report provides a strong and credible technical basis for NJ legislators to revive the proposal to leave PJM and establish an independent NJ grid.

An independent NJ grid would enable NJ to control and realize its energy policy, particularly with respect to carbon, climate, air quality, environmental justice, and aggressive renewable energy goals and to do so much more efficiently, more expeditiously, and at much lower costs than under PJM control.

Such NJ climate and energy goals and policies can not be realized under the current PJM controlled grid.

PJM is a private corporate entity with its own agenda, its own objectives and its own expertise. PJM decision-making is not transparent and it does not allow for effective public participation. PJM is not accountable to NJ residents or policymakers (i.e. the NJ legislature, NJ BPU, or NJ DEP). The PJM’s objectives often conflict with and undermine NJ’s climate and energy policies.

At the same time, it would reduce costs to NJ consumers, particularly given numerous excessive PJM related charges such as “capacity payments” and cost allocations of regional transmission infrastructure.

NJ can no longer tolerate the delays and high costs of the PJM grid, particularly given the climate emergency.

I strongly urge you to hold legislative hearings on crafting legislation to terminate NJ’s participation in PJM and establish its own public independent energy agency.

Sincerely,

Bill Wolfe

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Did Murphy DEP Abandon Plans To Delist Bald Eagle? Or Is NJ Conservation Foundation Corrupt?

February 26th, 2024 No comments

NJCF Article Ignores The Bald Eagle Delisting Issue

Should I Declare Victory Or Denounce NJCF?

[Update: We have a quick response from Alison Mitchell of NJCF:

I wasn’t aware of this – thanks for letting me know.

That’s her full response. No regrets for getting played by DEP PR scheme. Wow. ~~~ end update]

Just 6 days ago (Feb. 20), based on a quote from DEP buried in what appeared to be a NJ Spotlight cover story, we warned that DEP was planning to delist the bald eagle from the DEP’s endangered species program, and urged people to get the word out and nip this bad idea in the bud, see:

So, I was shocked to read a February 15 piece by Alison Mitchell of NJ Conservation Foundation (NJCF) this morning that did exactly the opposite.

NJCF touted bald eagle recovery, but failed to mention  anything about DEP’s delisting plans, see:

So, logically, this egregious omission of DEP’s delisting plans could mean only one of 2 things:

1. NJCF is running cover for the DEP delisting plan by laying the same “good news” on recovery groundwork as NJ Spotlight did, to justify the DEP’s delisting.

There are two possible variants of this option:

a) they could be running this cover intentionally, (this total corruption is unlikely); or

b) they could be unaware of the DEP delisting plans and are being used by DEP to provide cover for it (this less corrupt option is likely).

OR

2. NJCF somehow knows that DEP has abandoned the delisting plan.

This is unlikely given the timing, i.e. NJCF published on February 15, five days before the delisting plans were first reported by NJ Spotlight.

I sent Alison Mitchell, NJCF Co-Director and author of the piece an email to ask her why she failed to report the DEP delisting plans and if she somehow knows that DEP abandoned it.

We’ll let you know if she replies (doubtful) and what she had to say.

I urge readers to reach out to Alison and ask the same question – here:  alison@njconservation.org

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Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette Is Misleading The Public About The Environmental Justice Law And PVSC Fossil Power Plant

February 23rd, 2024 No comments

DEP Falsely Implies Environmental Justice Law Applies To The Power Plant

DEP Falsely Claims The Power Plant Project Is A Local Issue

During a very friendly NJ Spotlight TeeVee news interview (David Cruz’s “Chat Box”),Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette misled the public about two key issues regarding the proposed Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s back-up fossil power plant (the discussion on PVSC starts at time 9:20).

In fact, the interview was so friendly and pro-DEP, that at one point Cruz interjected to “disclose” his personal interest and make a disclaimer that he was “not speaking for DEP”.

Let me highlight just 2 issues where Commissioner LaTourette misled people and effectively lied (by omission)

1) The PVSC Proposed Back Up Power Plant Is NOT a “Local Issue”

First of all, in a blatant attempt to evade his responsibility, Commissioner LaTourette pointed the finger at PVSC and falsely claimed that the project was a local issue: (time 10:25)

There is only one entity that will decide if that project moves forward – that entity is the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission. … The 48 municipalities that make up PVSC, they’ll decide whether or not they wish for the DEP to continue to evaluating the permit that has been put before the Department. ….. What is important is that we understand that this is a decision that is locally made.

I call complete Bullshit on that.

DEP has direct and comprehensive statutory and regulatory supervision, oversight, and final binding legal power over virtually all facets of the PVSC’s operations.

In fact, the PVSC proposed back up power plant is designed to comply with DEP’s own regulatory mandates under the Clean Water Act’s NPDES permit program.

Specifically, NJ DEP regulations require that PVSC have and Operations and Maintenance Plan, an Emergency Plan, a “vulnerability analysis”, and a backup power source to respond to emergencies, including storms and floods: (see: NJAC 7:14A-6.12  Operation, Maintenance and Emergency Conditions)

The DEP also has additional broad statutory and regulatory authority over the design, construction, and operation of the proposed power plant under DEP’s clean air act permitting program. (see NJAC 7: 27)

The PVSC power plant can not be planned, financed, engineered, built, or operated without multiple DEP explicit approvals.

This is NOT a local issue and Commissioner LaTourette, as a licensed lawyer, know that and so should be ashamed of his gaslighting.

2) The “Historic” Environmental Justice Law Does NOT Even Apply To The PVSC Proposed Power Plant

Commissioner LaTourette made this highly misleading and partially false statement  (time 11:30)

There is one thing that you can be absolutely certain of, is that I will apply …. the spirit and intent of the environmental justice law. That means that any environmental permit can not allow any disproportionate impacts upon this already overburdened community.

LaTourette is a lawyer so he knows there is a huge difference between the “spirit and intent” of a law and whether the law actually applies to an activity, sets standards, and authorizes DEP to regulate that activity.

Notice that he did not say he would apply or enforce “the letter of the law”.

The “spirit and intent” of the EJ law does not give DEP authority to regulate the PVSC power plant under that EJ law.

The “spirit and intent” of the EJ law does not give DEP authority to regulate to prevent “disproportionate impacts” – and LaTourette knows that.

As I’ve written here many times, for several reasons, the Environmental Justice law does not apply to the PVSC permit applications now before DEP, see:

As I more recently wrote, DEP just issued major amendments to the current PVSC air pollution permits and did not apply the environmental justice law to those permits. In fact, DEP took steps to cover up those loopholes and prevent the people of Newark from knowing that, see:

The Associated Press reported on how DEP is evading this issue:

Proposals to build backup power plants for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s treatment plant in Newark and for NJ Transit, the state transportation agency in nearby Kearny, are also still pending. Both have been hotly opposed by residents of neighboring communities.

The DEP did not respond to questions Monday on whether the environmental justice law will apply to those projects.

Murphy signed the law in September 2020, saying it would give the state the ability to deny permits for polluting projects in communities that already have more than their share.

But the bureaucratic process of writing the actual regulations and conferring with interested parties delayed full implementation of the law until Monday — a fact that has angered residents living nearby.

Who will force DEP to make a statement on the record to clarify this issue?

Commissioner LaTourette should be ashamed – especially as a lawyer – for gaslighting the public on these issues.

[End Notes:

1. This is not the first time DEP misled the people of Newark on the review of this permit or the enforcement of the EJ law, see:

2. In terms of DEP’ power under existing law that does apply (other than the EJ law, which does not apply) the scope of DEP’s power with respect to “disproportionate impacts” under the Clean Air Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights haw has been adjudicated by the federal Circuit Court of Appeals in a Camden case, a decision that reversed a favorable decision by District Court Judge Orlofsky.  DEP must show more than “disproportionate impact” – they must prove discriminatory intent. A federal District Court Judge just made the same decision with respect to Title VI (prove discrimination, not just “disparate impact”) and went further to rule that EPA lacked authority from Congress toe even regulate environmental justice:

The Court ruled that EPA’s “disparate impact” and “cumulative impact” regulatory review requirements – the scientific foundations of the EPA’s environmental justice program – were not specifically authorized by Congress. The Court invoked the “Major Questions” doctrine to block EPA’s enforcement of its Environmental Justice program.

3. In terms of DEP’s legal power to apply and enforce a “disproportionate impact” standard, I am not aware of any environmental law, other than the EJ law which does not apply, that authorizes DEP to regulate “disproportionate impacts”.

As I wrote, over 20 years ago, US District Court Judge Orlofsky wrote a scathing opinion that criticized the DEP air permit process and found that it violated the civil rights of the people of Camden, see: South Camden Citizens v. NJ Dept. of Environ., 145 F. Supp. 2d 446 (D.N.J. 2001) (emphases mine):

As described in greater detail in this Court’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law set forth below, the NJDEP granted the necessary air permits to SLC to allow its proposed facility to begin operations. In doing so, the NJDEP considered only whether the facility’s emissions would exceed technical emissions standards for specific pollutants, especially dust. Indeed, much of what this case is about is what the NJDEP failed to consider. It did not consider the level of ozone generated by the truck traffic to and from the SLC facility, notwithstanding the fact that the Waterfront South community is not currently in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (“NAAQS”) established by the EPA for ozone levels, nor did it consider the presence of many other pollutants in Waterfront South. It did not consider the pre-existing poor health of the residents of Waterfront South, nor did it consider the cumulative environmental burden already borne by this impoverished community. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the NJDEP failed to consider the racial and ethnic composition of the population of Waterfront South.

ALL THOSE FAILURES REMAIN.

Nothing has changed in the DEP air permit process since Judge Orlofsky wrote that.

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Christie Whitman Using The Climate Issue In A Blatant Attempt To Rehabilitate Her Awful Environmental And Climate Record

February 21st, 2024 No comments

Memory Hole: Whitman’s Horrible Environmental Record As NJ Governor Was Exposed But Is Now Forgotten

Whitman As Head Of Bush EPA Injected Over A Decade Of Delay In Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A friend sent me Christie Whitman’s disgusting Op-Ed at the Star Ledger last night and I lost a night’s sleep over it, see:.

Whitman’s opening first two paragraphs are transparently self promotional attempts at rehabilitation. They are outrageous misrepresentations of her environmental record as NJ Governor and EPA Administrator in the Bush administration.

This claim is perhaps the most egregious lie, because Whitman issued an Executive Order (EO #27) that explicitly reversed NJ’s longstanding policy of adopting stricter State DEP standards than the federal EPA counterparts:

States have long been the laboratories of democracy, and New Jersey has a long history of working to protect our environment.

NJ media knowingly provided a platform for Whitman’s lies. Unforgivable, and I let my old friend and Star Ledger editor Tom Moran know that and demanded that he give me an opportunity to set the record straight. No way he’ll do that.

I also reached out to Bergen Record editor Jim O’Neill to demand that he defend the Record’s award winning series “Open For Business” and the work of Record reporters Dusty McNichol and Kelly Richmond, both of whom are dead and can’t defend their work and set the record straight.

I won’t waste my time today on the substance of that remarkable cynical and self promotional Op-Ed, but instead drill down on one egregious lie that belies the core premise of the piece: Whitman’s own failed record of delay, inaction, and deregulation on the climate issue.

For those interested in the totality of Whitman’s environmental record – which I closely followed, strenuously opposed for 8 years, and have documented extensively with receipts  –  a good starting point would be to read the Bergen Record’s national award winning series on Whitman’s environmental record aptly titled “Open For Business” (as an intro, read this American Journalism Review article:

Other good accountability stories include two from The Nation:

Thanks to Whitman’s evisceration of state enviro regs as well as a raft of subsidies and tax cuts to developers, suburban sprawl gobbled up more open space and verdant land during her tenure than at any other period in New Jersey’s history. Moreover, she decapitated the state Department of Environmental Protection staff by 738 employees in her first three years in office, cut the remaining staff’s workweek by five hours, eliminated fines of polluters as a source of DEP revenue and made large cuts in the DEP’s budget. That’s why the New Jersey Sierra Club’s Bill Wolfe has warned that Whitman might “dismantle [federal] EPA and take it out of the enforcement business. I believe that this is precisely the policy Whitman has presided over and legitimized in New Jersey.” One mechanism was the Office of Dispute Resolution, which she established to mediate conflicts over environmental issues (usually resolved in favor of business). She also installed an Office of Business Ombudsman under the Secretary of State (the Star-Ledger labeled it “essentially a business lobby”) to further grease the wheels of the bureaucracy for polluters and developers, and to act as a counterweight to the DEP.

Whitman’s environmental record is in sharp contrast to Florio’s. As a Congressman, Florio wrote and passed the toxic cleanup Superfund program, and as governor he passed two major state laws–the New Jersey Pollution Prevention Act and the Clean Water Enforcement Act–that were among the toughest in the nation. Whitman, however, downsized the state Department of Environmental Protection by one-third, and under her administration, enforcement fines and penalties are down a whopping 80 percent. Any state limits on pollution that exceed federal standards are now subject to a cost-benefit analysis, an antiregulatory approach. Whitman has favored a “voluntary compliance” program, under which polluters are allowed a “grace period” to negotiate with state agencies before fines and penalties are imposed. “I call it ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’” says the Sierra Club’s Wolfe. “Whitman is no moderate on the environment. This administration has done nothing on environmental quality–air, water and waste issues–but starve the bureaucracy and put enforcement on a short leash.

Whitman was so bad, the New York Times even weighed in:

A coalition of environmental and public-policy groups yesterday gave Governor Whitman a grade of C- on how she has handled environmental issues. The biggest problem, according to Bill Wolfe, a policy specialist with the New Jersey Environmental Federation, is cuts she has made in the budget of the Department of Environmental Protection.

For the fact checkers and policy wonks, I also provide a detailed analysis of Whitman’s record, with links to source documents and mainstream media, in this post.

Whitman also brought energy deregulation to NJ in 1999, initiated the right wing attack on, rollback and politicization of regulations (see Ex. Order #27 and Ex. Order #15) and abolished the Office of Environmental Prosecutor (see Ex. Order #9) There are numerous similarities between Whitman and Trump policies.

She was playing to the same corporate interests that brought the Gingrich right wing “Contract On America”.

But Whitman’s record on climate is the worst. Let me tell two inside baseball stories that perfectly illustrate that.

1. When Whitman went to EPA, she brought a lawyer from her Governor’s Office named Bob Fabricant along with her as EPA’s General Counsel.

Fabricant subsequently wrote a legal memorandum which reversed the Clinton Administration’s legal position on the crucial issue of whether greenhouse gas emissions were regulated “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act.

Clinton EPA’s legal position was that yes, they were. Fabricant reversed that and concluded that greenhouse gas emissions were NOT regulated air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

The US Supreme Court cited Fabricant’s legal memo in the groundbreaking case of Massachusetts v. EPA, which mandated that EPA make a finding regarding the regulatory status of GHG missions with respect to the Clean Air Act. The Obama EPA subsequently made that finding and GHG emissions are now regulated (I think EPA regs are far too lax, but that a different issue).

The Supreme Court cites Fabricant’s legal opinion in the text of the opinion, (@ p.8) citing EPA Federal Register notice 68 Fed. Reg. 52924 – . 52925–52929 (2003 ):

On September 8, 2003, EPA entered an order denying the rulemaking petition. 68 Fed. Reg. 52922. The agency gave two reasons for its decision: (1) that contrary to the opinions of its former general counsels, the Clean Air Act does not authorize EPA to issue mandatory regulations to address global climate change, see id., at 52925–52929; and (2) that even if the agency had the authority to set greenhouse gas emission standards, it would be unwise to do so at this time, id., at 52929–52931.

Whitman’s own EPA Legal Counsel injected over a decade of delay in EPA action of controlling GHG emissions – and she now claims that the window to act is rapidly closing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2. When Whitman was NJ Governor, her environmental policy was that NJ was “Open For Business” – and she backed that slogan up with Executive Orders rolling back NJ’s more stringent State standards, slashing DEP budgets and staff by 30%, eliminating the Environmental Prosecutor, gutting NJ’s toxic site cleanup law by allowing partial cleanups (caps and deed notices, known legally was “engineering and institutional controls”) and vesting cleanup decisions in the hands of polluters (i.e. Brownfields Act of 1997), enforcement grace periods, voluntary compliance, self disclosure immunity, and a failed attempts to gut NJ’s clean water laws (eliminate the Clean Water Enforcement Act and the propose the “Mega-Rule” to gut DEP clean water regulations). I could add more.

On climate, to her credit, while DEP Commissioner Shinn was the first to establish an emissions inventory, he made any emissions reductions totally VOLUNTARY, thus setting back efforts to force emissions reductions by a decade.

These are facts in the public record.

Either NJ media editors have very poor memories or they are just as corrupted as Whitman.

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