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NJ Gov. Murphy’s Portrayal Of DEP Commissioner LaTourette As A Public Interest Lawyer Is A Fraud

January 27th, 2022 No comments

DEP’s Failure To Adopt Natural Resource Damage Regulations Means NJ Loses Billions Of Dollars

LaTourette Gaslights The Public About Holding Corporate Polluters Accountable

Creepiest Zoom background, ever (Source: NJ Spotlight TV)

Creepiest Zoom background, ever (Source: NJ Spotlight TV)

On Tuesday night (Jan. 25), NJ Spotlight news provided a platform for Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette – without qualification or challenge by facts or expert sources – to gaslight the people of NJ.

In this Spotlight interview, former corporate lawyer LaTourette emphasized the need to hold corporate polluters accountable and make them pay to cleanup NJ’s drinking water (starting at time 2:33 – emphasis mine):

[treatment technology] has a cost, a cost that the water systems and the residents of NJ should not pay. Because the cost of curing what has befallen our water in NJ should be borne by those who caused it. The companies that put this material into the stream of commerce in the first place.

LaTourette is a lawyer, so he uses words carefully. So keep in mind his “material into the stream of commerce” theory as we expose this fraud.

The LaTourette gaslighting forces me to expose the total fraud being perpetrated on the people of NJ.

It’s complicated, but yet very simple. Here it is.

Basically, a “material into the stream of commerce” legal theory is at best a novel approach. DEP’s attempts to make corporations pay under that theory is highly uncertain – even unlikely – to prevail. Here it is (joint AG & DEP press release): (my emphasis)

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner (DEP) Catherine R. McCabe, and Acting Division of Consumer Affairs Director Paul Rodríguez announced today that the State has filed a lawsuit against companies for manufacturing and selling firefighting foam products in New Jersey for decades despite knowing those products released toxic and harmful chemicals into the environment.

The lawsuit, which includes both environmental and consumer fraud claims, seeks natural resource damages (NRD) along with other damages and penalties. It represents the tenth NRD lawsuit brought by the State since the beginning of the Murphy Administration in January 2018.

In contrast to a consumer fraud theory that is based on putting “materials” “into the stream of commerce“, DEP has clear regulatory authority and a strong legal tradition and court precedents to force corporate polluters to pay for the “release or discharge of hazardous substances” or “pollutants or “wastes into NJ’s land and water, including drinking water.

Polluters are not only required to cleanup their pollution, but must also compensate the public for natural resource damages” when those pollution releases or discharges cause “injuries” or damages which include, among other things, the “lost use” of drinking water (DEP ONRR):

The Office of Natural Resource Restoration has the primary responsibility within the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for responding to discharges and other sources of pollution that trigger the DEP’s obligations as the trustee for all of New Jersey’s natural resources for the benefit of all of its citizens, now and in the future.  This effort includes working with the persons responsible for conducting the remediation to return such natural resources to their pre-discharge quality, quantity, function, and value, and to implement restoration projects to compensate New Jersey citizens for the lost interim value or for the permanent loss of their natural resources.

To force corporate polluters to compensate the public for pollution and “lost use” of drinking water, the DEP used to rely primarily on a “formula” for estimating the value of polluted groundwater.

NJ Courts have ruled that in order to force corporate polluters to pay for NRD – including drinking water – the DEP must adopt that groundwater formula as a regulation, in accordance with rulemaking requirements.

But DEP has abandoned the groundwater formula that they know is not enforceable unless it is adopted as a regulation.

I previously wrote about and linked to the DEP NRD groundwater formula, but DEP has not only abandoned it, but taken down any trace that it even existed:

Habitat Equivalence Assessment (HEA) is complex, but it is used under federal Superfund and Oil Spill laws, as discussed by EPA and the Science Advisory BoardHabitat equivalence is approved and used by NOAA.

Habitat equivalence is approved and used by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

The DEP’s Office of Natural Resource Restoration  even has their own natural resource injury methods documents – one for calculating groundwater injury and one for identifying ecological injury, which defaults to the site remediation program’s “Baseline Ecological Assessment” conducted as part of the cleanup process at contaminated sites.

(we even petitioned the NJ Comptroller to intervene due to the huge fiscal impacts of DEP’s NRD failures).

DEP has failed to adopt Court directed NRD regulations and therefore is letting corporate polluters off the hook for billions of dollars of damages – a policy and practice that directly contradicts LaTourette’s TV claims. See:

This is why, among many others, the DEP will very likely settle the NRD aspects in the recent PFAS lawsuit against Solvay  – and the consumer fraud and NRD aspects of the Dupont, Chemours, Exxon-Mobil, and 3M lawsuit – for pennies on the dollar.

[Note: The State of Delaware recently settled a statewide PFAS NRD lawsuit with Dupont et al for a paltry $50 million – pennies on the dollar.]

(Side note: in another severe collateral damage caused by the Green Mafia’s “Keep It Green” campaign, in 2017, corporate polluters got a huge bailout by a Constitutional amendment that, under the Murphy DEP’s interpretation, makes it very difficult for DEP to recover financial compensation for natural resource damages caused by pollution. Just like the theft of State Parks maintenance money and other DEP funding, the public was duped by this too.)

I) The Gaslighting Begins With The Governor

When NJ Gov. Murphy nominated Shawn LaTourette as DEP Commissioner, he issued a press release that portrayed LaTourette as a public interest lawyer, who fought corporate polluters on behalf of the communities they polluted:

With twenty years of environmental experience, LaTourette began his career partnering with the Erin Brockovich law firm to organize and defend New Jersey communities whose drinking water was contaminated by petrochemicals. Born and raised in New Jersey, LaTourette graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University and earned his law degree summa cum laude from Rutgers Law School, where he was the class salutatorian and the recipient of multiple environmental and governance awards, and published scholarship on environmental law, natural resource damage,and climate issues. Before entering public service, LaTourette specialized in protecting the rights of victims of toxic injuries while also advising infrastructure, transportation, energy, and other industries on compliance with state and federal environmental laws and policies. Prior to joining the Murphy Administration, he was most recently a Director of the Environmental Law Department at Gibbons PC, where he focused on brownfields redevelopment projects and litigated environmental cases in state and federal court.

That portrait was false and misleading.

In fact, as I’ve written, at the time, LaTourette had recently served as lead lawyer for securing DEP permits for the Fortress Energy LNG export project.

But his corporate polluter lawyer record is far more extensive than that, as I revealed by releasing LaTourette’s ethics disclosures which showed that he had represented numerous corporate polluters and developers for many years. (hit this link, scroll down to read list of corporate clients in LaTourette’s recusal disclosure)

II)  LaTourette’s DEP Failure To Adopt NRD Regulations To Force Corporate Compensation Is No Accident

LaTourette Litigated A Leading NRD Court Decision That Struck Down DEP’s NRD Claims

One case LaTourette litigated, however, stands out for its harm to the environment, DEP, and the public interest. And that case is:

Alan E. Kraus argued the cause for respondent (Latham & Watkins, L.L.P., attorneys; Mr. Kraus, Kira S. Dabby, Kegan A. Brown, and Shawn M. LaTourette, on the brief).

LaTourette Essex Chemical victory case was one of three major inter-related court cases involving DEP’s attempts to collect what are known as natural resource damages (NRD). See:

Corporations won all three DEP NRD cases, victories, which led directly to the HUGE loss of the DEP’s $8.9 billion NRD damage claim against Exxon in the Christie DEP’s dirty settlement deal.

The Christie Exxon was exposed as a corrupt sellout, by none other than former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell in a NY Times Op-Ed:

THE decision by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to settle an environmental lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for roughly three cents on the dollar after more than a decade of litigation is an embarrassment to law enforcement and good government.

Ironically, Campbell’s failure to adopt DEP NRD regulations – which enabled LaTourette’s legal victory – was what contributed to the Christie DEP’s corrupt Exxon settlement.

[Full disclosure: I worked for Campbell at DEP from 2002 -2005, but never on NRD issues.]

This all came out later, in a forensic analysis of the huge $8.9 billion Exxon NRD sellout by the Christie administration by NJ Law Journal (NJLJ).

In that NJLJ story, we were cited as an expert source:

“There’s this wink and a nod going on where the DEP is saying, ‘We won’t squeeze you too hard if you just come to the table and settle,’” Wolfe said.

It’s been “a quiet little dance for 10 years,” with the state knowing it can’t get more than pennies on the dollar”, Wolfe said. ~~~ NJ Law Journal (4/3/15)

As the NJLJ story documented, exactly as we’ve written, DEP lost 3 NRD cases it litigated, going back over a decade to 2004.

  • New Jersey Society of Environmental & Economic Development (SEED) v. Campbell (N.J. Super. Law Div., Mercer County, 2004)
  • N.J. Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Docket No. MER-L-2933-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007
  • New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, et al. v. Essex Chemical Corporation (Appellate Division, 2012)

As the NJLJ documented, the underlying legal reason DEP lost all 3 NRD cases it litigated was due to a lack of enforceable NRD regulations to define and quantify natural resource injuries and compensation/restoration requirements.

As the NJLJ story exposed, the DEP entered into a legal settlement agreement in the 2004 SEED case that obligated DEP to adopt NRD regulations, a commitment backed up by a letter from the Attorney General’s Office.

Here is the legal community’s contemporaneous September 2007 celebration of that August 2007 decision, a huge win for corporate polluters:

On August 24, 2007, the Superior Court of New Jersey issued an important bench ruling regarding the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (“NJDEP” or “Department”) natural resource damage (“NRD”) claim calculation. N.J. Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Docket No. MER-L-2933-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007).  …

the Court awarded partial summary judgment to Exxon Mobil, dismissing the NJDEP’s claim with prejudice, because the Department had not provided sufficient expert support to uphold the assumptions utilized in the natural resource damages formula.

The Court noted that, in the context of litigation, NJDEP could have relied upon the formula to meet its burden or proof in either of two ways, by promulgating the formula as a rule, or by presenting expert proof supporting each of the elements of the formula, but NJDEP did neither.

In fact, the Court further stressed the appropriateness of rule making by alluding to the New Jersey Society of Environmental & Economic Development v. Campbell (“NJSEED”) case (Docket No. MER-L-343-04 (N.J. Super. Law Div., Mercer County) (Sabatino, J.)), reminding the NJDEP that it settled that particular case by agreeing to subject the ground water formula utilized in natural resource damages to administrative rule making. Although no such proposed rule has been published, there seem to be clear indications that rule making is appropriate and should be forthcoming. In the interim, companies involved in cases or settlement discussions wherein the NJDEP has calculated natural resource damages using this formula may have the benefit, even if temporary, of relying upon the Exxon Mobil decision to improve their bargaining positions since the NJDEP clearly cannot rely upon the formula in future litigation proceedings, without first developing further scientific justification in each case’s record for the assumptions used in the formula.

We, while at NJ PEER, explained the implications back in October 1, 2007 as well, see:

Trenton — In a stunning legal setback, the State of New Jersey cannot recover damages from polluters in what may be thousands of contaminated groundwater cases, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The problem stems from the state’s failure to adopt regulations governing how to calculate “natural resources damages” (NRD) for polluted drinking water. As a result, polluters can avoid compensating the public for treatment of tainted groundwater, replacement water supply lines, drilling new wells and associated damages — leaving taxpayers with uncalculated costs.

Here’s a more recent 2018 law firms retrospective analysis:

The last major attempt by NJDEP to litigate certain NRD claims occurred back in 2007but resulted in a major loss when a Mercer County Court rejected NJDEP’s settlement formula, finding that its use was too speculative to support NJDEP’s calculations of NRD. NJDEP v. Exxon Mobil Corp. et al, Docket No. MER-L-2933-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007).

Here is another 2018 legal analysis that confirms PEER’s assessment and highlights the damaging precedent that case set:

Although NJDEP has not adopted regulations to calculate NRD, with respect to its earlier NRD claims, NJDEP did develop a formula to calculate damages for injury to groundwater.  The formula was used primarily as a basis for settlement discussions with potentially responsible parties.  In NJDEP v. Exxon, Mer-L-2933-02 (Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007), when NJDEP attempted to use the formula in litigation, the court rejected it.  The court held that because NJDEP did not adopt rules setting forth how to calculate NRD, it was required to prove each element of any calculation used to determine its damages.  After reviewing NJDEP’s groundwater formula,  the court found that the formula did not support NJDEP’s claimed damages.  This case, however, did not prompt NJDEP to promulgate NRD rules and, as such, NJDEP will continue to face challenges on each aspect of its NRD calculation.

Despite this deeply troubling history of DEP failure that relieves corporations of billions of dollars of liability for their pollution and shifts the cleanup  cost burden to the public, DEP still has not adopted NRD regulations and still is forced to settle NRD claims – including those involving the NRD damage of lost use of NJ drinking water – for just pennies on the dollar.

As the legal history shows, current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette was involved in creating the legal vulnerabilities they caused this debacle and now he knowingly refuses to correct the problem by adopting NRD regulations.

So, for him now to spew righteous drivel on NJ Spotlight TeeVee about holding polluters accountable and making them pay is beyond Orwell – it is a scandal and sickens me.

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It Is Unconscionable To Cover Up Contaminated Drinking Water In Schools

January 26th, 2022 No comments

Murphy DEP and NJ Spotlight Have Known For Months That At Least 18 Schools Have Unsafe Water

Allow me to preface this post with a relevant and brief personal anecdote.

Over 30 years ago, I was a member of the North Hanover Township school board. It was a K-6 district with 5 elementary schools, 4 of them on McGuire Air Force Base. The Air Force was represented on the Board Ex Officio by a full Colonel. The Air Force’s “military impact aid” paid for almost the entire school budget, giving North Hanover about the lowest property taxes in the State.

During the Executive Session of one Board meeting, the Superintendent distributed data showing very high levels of lead in several schools’ drinking water. This information had not been provided in the meeting Agenda and information packet Board members received a few days before the Board meetings. The Superintendent urged the Board to follow Executive Session rules and keep this information confidential until he could come up with some kind of remedial plan.

I immediately objected strenuously to both discussing this issue in executive session (the law limits issues that can be discussed) and for keeping it secret, but got no support from any Board members. But I did get an intimidating glare from the Air Force Colonel and was directed by the Superintendent to keep the information confidential in accordance with Executive Session requirements.

Regardless, as soon as we went back into public session, I immediately announced the problem to the public and later at the end of the meeting provided the data to the local PTA and teachers representatives.

To put it mildly, my Board colleagues and school administrators were pissed off.

It was not my intention to scare anyone. But I knew I was morally obligated to release this information that involved children’s health and by doing so, I would create sufficient public pressure to expedite a solution.

The parents and teachers were alarmed but very glad I gave them the information, which later led to closure and removal of the drinking water fountains and interim bottled water.

But the Air Force Colonel approached me after the meeting, got in my face, chest to chest, poked his index finger in my chest, and with a beet red face about to explode said: “We take care of our own – we don’t need your DEP telling us what to do.”

Fulfilling the saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” the next day, at 9 am I found a memo on my desk at DEP.

The memo was from the DEP Ethics Officer and it claimed I violated DEP ethics rules. It mandated that I read a statement publicly into the record at the next Board meeting to the effect that nothing I said represented DEP.

I’ve always wondered: How the hell could the Air Force get to the DEP Ethics Officer in less than 12 hours and force that memo to be written?

So much for DEP ethics, eh?

I guess that was all a prequel to the Kiddie College scandal 15 years later, see this remarkable NY Times story

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection knew in 1994 that a building that later housed a Gloucester County day care center was so dangerous that state inspectors were instructed to use respirators when entering the building, according to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times yesterday.

But the site remained contaminated, and as far as the department knew, unoccupied, until inspectors visited it in April and found that Kiddie Kollege, a day care center serving children as young as 8 months old, was operating in the building. Yet the center, which is in Franklin Township, was allowed to remain open for more than three months, until state environmental investigators determined in late July that the site was still contaminated. […]

The internal memo, dated Oct. 12, 1994, said “Level C at a minimum is required for entry into the building,” meaning respirators were required, said Bill Wolfe, a former department employee who is the director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group that provided a copy of the memo.

No one at DEP was ever held accountable for that – even by the DEP ethics officer. In fact, the manager involved at the time, Irene Kropp, later was promoted to Deputy Commissioner in the Christie DEP.

Which brings me to the topic of this post, because it looks like nothing has changed over my 30 years of violating DEP ethics rules.

Back on November 11, 2021, I disclosed DEP enforcement documents that showed that, among other things, at least 11 schools had unsafe levels of toxic chemicals PFAS, known as forever chemicals.

Those schools included the elementary (Bear Tavern) and middle schools (Timberlane) in Hopewell, NJ my own kids had attended and graduated from years ago, see:

The number of schools with unsafe water has increased to 18 since the 11 I listed in November.

The DEP, after covering up this data for several months, was forced to release this data. They finally did so yesterday – see the DEP list here.

Again, like DEP, after months, NJ Spotlight was forced to finally write the story today on Statewide drinking water contamination.

But they failed to report the contamination DEP disclosed in those 18 schools.

Even worse, the folks at NJ Spotlight tried to mask the school contamination issue by describing the DEP data a “list of utilities”

And that is unforgivable.

Just what does it take to get fired at DEP and NJ Spotlight?

[Update: According to the NJ AG’s PFAS lawsuit:

in 2014, PFNA was detected at 150 ppt in the public water system of Paulsboro, New Jersey, prompting the New Jersey Department of Health to recommend that residents use bottled water for infant formula and other drinking uses for children up to the age of one year.

What a long strange trip its been! (hit link and listen!)

[Update: Wow. Speaking of the Air Force, I wonder what the levels are at McGuire?

The worst PFAS contamination site is in Dover, in and around Dover Air Force Base, where hundreds of gallons of aqueous film-forming foam were used to prevent a devastating fire from spreading after a 735,000-pound C-5 military aircraft bound for Kuwait came crashing down in Delaware in 2006.

The Air Force has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to keep the contamination from spreading to neighbors’ drinking water sources. As of last year, five deep municipal wells on and near the base that provide drinking water have been found to be safe from contamination, officials said. Only six private wells out of dozens tested were found to be contaminated.

Air Force officials last year declined to provide the exact level of contamination found in the six private wells in Dover, but Joseph Kowalski, a remedial program manager at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, said they each had concentrations in the range of 3,000 ppt to 170,000 ppt – which would be 42 to 2,428 times the health advisory limit.

[End Note: Anyone who thinks I’m playing games should know that I tried to prevent this. I reached out to Dr. Keith Cooper, head of the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute and a professor at Rutgers, to urge him to talk to DEP, see:

From: Bill WOLFE <bill_wolfe@comcast.net>
Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 2021 5:27:21 PM
To: Keith Cooper <keith.cooper@rutgers.edu>
Subject: Q’s on PFOA/PFOS NONC data

Dr. Cooper – I don’t want to be a fear monger, but, having been through this drill before (Toms River childhood cancer, Kiddie Kollege Daycare, et al) I thought I reach out – I have no contacts at DEP, no one would listen to me there, and I’m actually trying to give them a heads up and chance to respond, before I have to do what I do.

Parents dealing with masks and vaccines, now they have to worry about drinking water in school? See where this could go?

Treatment on these noncompliant systems is like wearing a mask.

Can you reach out to DEP and get them focused on this?

Jon Hurdle at NJ Spotlight recently wrote a story, but he focused on just one water system. There are at least 20 more, several of which are schools, including where my kids went to elementary and middle school. That’s more than a brushfire.

Respectfully,

Bill Wolfe

(see below email tom DEP, I BCC’d Jeff Hoffman)

Demanding that Gov. Corzine stop building schools on toxic waste sites, especially in Abbott poor and minor districts (2008, Trenton State House)

Demanding that Gov. Corzine stop building schools on toxic waste sites, especially in Abbott poor and minor districts (2008, Trenton State House)

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Murphy DEP Commissioner Was Victorious Lawyer For Essex Chemical Company In Precedent Setting Case That Gutted DEP Natural Resource Damage Program

January 26th, 2022 No comments

Precedent Led to Huge $8.9 Billion Exxon Sellout By Christie Administration

LaTourette’s Victory For Chemical Corporations Shifted Costs Of Cleanup To The Public

Despite Legal Losses, DEP Still has Not Adopted NRD Regulations To Repair Legal Flaws

Gov. Murphy’s Portrait Of LaTourette As Public Interest Lawyer Is A Lie

Despite this troubling history of DEP failure that relieves corporations of billions of dollars of liability for their pollution and shifts the cleanup  cost burden to the public, DEP still has not adopted NRD regulations and still is forced to settle NRD claims including those involving the NRD damage of lost use of NJ drinking water – for just pennies on the dollar.

As the legal history shows, current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette was deeply involved in the legal vulnerabilities that caused this debacle and he refuses to correct the problem by adopting NRD regulations.

So, for him now to spew righteous drivel about holding polluters accountable and making them pay is beyond Orwell – and it absolutely sickens me.

Since last November, I have been criticizing NJ Spotlight’s narrow coverage of violations of drinking water standards in just a single drinking water system in Middlesex County. I obtained DEP enforcement documents and exposed the fact that the problem is statewide. I even listed the specific systems, based on DEP enforcement documents, see:

Ironically, in a December 22, 2021 story on federal funding for NJ infrastructure, NJ Spotlight TeeVee unknowingly finally exposed this statewide problem. After talking for 2 minutes like a Wall Street finance guy, DEP Commissioner LaTourette casually noted that “over 10% of drinking water systems in NJ violate DEP’s PFAS MCL (@time 3:00).

Up until that point, DEP had not publicly revealed such statewide data and NJ Spotlight had been reporting on just one system in Middlesex County. So this was news.

I Tweeted at NJ Spotlight reporter Joanna Gagis to alert her to the fact that LaTourette just made big news during her interview with his casual “10%” remark. I tweeted twice, on December 24, and again on December 27, see:

Screen Shot 2022-01-26 at 11.10.04 AM

She replied on December 29, advising me that they were working on the Statewide story:

Screen Shot 2022-01-26 at 11.18.40 AM

Last night, NJ Spotlight finally reported some of that Statewide story.

They interviewed Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette in a NJ Spotlight TeeVee piece. LaTourette claimed that drinking water systems must “institute technology” (@time: 2:24), be held accountable, and pay for the pollution they caused in NJ drinking water (@ 2:35 – 2:50) (“cost should be borne by those who caused it”).

I almost puked – (no wonder NJ Spotlight reporter Melissa R. Cooper has blocked my Tweets!)

Notice that LaTourette did NOT us the word “treatment”, because DEP regulations do not mandate treatment to remove chemicals that exceed DEP’s drinking water standards, known as “MCLs”.

The DEP PFAS enforcement documents do not mandate treatment to remove chemicals.

DEP merely provides that the drinking water system “take any action” to comply with the MCL, and the DEP gives the drinking water system many alternatives to treatment and a year to submit that plan.

Here’s the boilerplate applicable language from the DEP PFAS enforcement documents: (emphases mine)

In response to this Notice of Non-Compliance, the following corrective actions must be undertaken to achieve compliance: […]

5. Pursuant to the State Primary Drinking Water Regulations at NJAC 7:10-5.7(a), you are required to take any action necessary to bring the water into compliance with the MCL within one year after receipt of the results that demonstrate an exceedance that constitutes a violation (due July 29, 2022). Remedial actions may include, but are not limited to, providing treatment to remove the levels detected, removing the contaminated source from service, demonstrating with analytical results that the current source of water no longer exceeds the MCL, and/or using an alternate source(s) of water supply, such as connecting to another public water system or replacing the existing well with a new well which meets all drinking water standards.

Worse, had LaTourette used the work “treatment”, he also would have opened up Pandora’s box: DEP knows that there are over 500 unregulated toxic chemicals that pollute NJ drinking water across the entire state, including pharmaceuticals and endocrine disruptors.

DEP does not have adequate data or science to assess the risks and harms to human health caused  by these chemicals or the ability to set individual drinking water standards for each chemical, as is done under current DEP regulations.

In response to that set of serious problems, over 15 years ago. DEP recommended what was called a “Treatment Based Approach”, whereby DEP would require drinking water systems to install available “treatment”, activated carbon, to remove all these chemicals, instead of continuing with the complex, slow, ineffective and costly single chemical by chemical MCL approach. Here is DEP’s 2010 policy paper:

The DEP initially solicited formal public comments on this new regulatory strategy and “treatment based approach” way back in 2004 (see NJ Register Public Notice), but never followed through on it. DEP wrote:

Human health information is lacking for many of the contaminants, so it is difficult to assess whether they pose a threat to human health either on an individual basis or as contaminant mixtures. Given the uncertainty, the Department is considering several options to address the occurrence of these contaminants in the State’s drinking water. (My note: see option #5)

That DEP 2010 “treatment based approach” policy paper is based on several prior and ongoing DEP research projects, most of which focused on important questions, including:

The overall objective of this project is to investigate the effectiveness of conventional and advanced water treatment processes for the removal of unregulated organic chemicals (UOCs) such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products and industrial and household use organic chemicals from surface water systems. Specifically, this research is designed to answer several questions including: 1) What UOCs are removed by conventional water treatment processes? 2) What additional UOCs are removed with advanced processes such as GAC and ozone? 3) What per cent removal can be achieved with conventional and conventional plus advanced processes? 4) What process design parameters and operating conditions are associated with these removals? 5) How effective are current analytical methods in quantifying low levels of UOCs? 6) Is it plausible for NJ to consider a “treatment-based” regulatory approach for managing UOCs in drinking water in the state?

DEP found that there are over 500 unregulated toxic chemicals in NJ drinking water and “little if any toxicity information is available for most of them.”

I’ve released the DEP’s document and written about this many times for over a decade.

As Director of NJ PEER, in 2010 I filed a petition for rulemaking, urging DEP to implement the “treatment based approach”. The Christie DEP denied the petition, see: 

Trenton — The State of New Jersey has rejected a rulemaking petition to require systematic monitoring and filtering of drinking water. As a result, state residents will continue to ingest hundreds of unregulated chemicals daily as New Jersey steps back from its leadership role on the issue.

The petition filed in early September by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) was based upon a plan developed by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) back in 2004 that was never implemented. That plan and the PEER petition called for monitoring water supplies for the growing presence of unregulated chemicals from pharmaceuticals, consumer products and industry and using treatment systems, such as granular activated carbon filtration, to remove most chemicals.

Here are a few more recent posts from Wolfenotes:

NJ Spotlight reporters KNOW this but they refuse to report the story, and instead are stenographers for LaTourette’s gaslighting.

Which forces me to expose the total fraud being perpetrated on the people of NJ. It’s complicated, but yet very simple. Here it is.

When NJ Gov. Murphy nominated Shawn LaTourette as DEP Commissioner, he issued a press release that portrayed LaTourette as a public interest lawyer, who fought corporate polluters on behalf of the communities they polluted:

With twenty years of environmental experience, LaTourette began his career partnering with the Erin Brockovich law firm to organize and defend New Jersey communities whose drinking water was contaminated by petrochemicals. Born and raised in New Jersey, LaTourette graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers University and earned his law degree summa cum laude from Rutgers Law School, where he was the class salutatorian and the recipient of multiple environmental and governance awards, and published scholarship on environmental law, natural resource damage, and climate issues. Before entering public service, LaTourette specialized in protecting the rights of victims of toxic injuries while also advising infrastructure, transportation, energy, and other industries on compliance with state and federal environmental laws and policies. Prior to joining the Murphy Administration, he was most recently a Director of the Environmental Law Department at Gibbons PC, where he focused on brownfields redevelopment projects and litigated environmental cases in state and federal court.

That portrait was false and misleading.

In fact, as I’ve written, at the time, LaTourette had recently served as lead lawyer for securing DEP permits for the Fortress Energy LNG export project.

But his corporate polluter lawyer record is far more extensive than that, as I revealed by releasing LaTourette’s ethics disclosures which showed that he had represented numerous corporate polluters and developers for many years.

One case LaTourette litigated, however, stands out for its harm to the environment, DEP, and the public interest. And that case is:

Alan E. Kraus argued the cause for respondent (Latham & Watkins, L.L.P., attorneys; Mr. Kraus, Kira S. Dabby, Kegan A. Brown, and Shawn M. LaTourette, on the brief).

LaTourette Essex Chemical victory case was one of three major inter-related court cases involving DEP’s attempts to collect what are known as natural resource damages (NRD). See:

Corporations won all three DEP NRD cases, victories, which led directly to the HUGE loss of the DEP’s $8.9 billion NRD damage claim against Exxon in the Christie DEP’s dirty settlement deal.

The Christie Exxon was exposed as a corrupt sellout, by none other than former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell in a NY Times Op-Ed:

THE decision by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to settle an environmental lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for roughly three cents on the dollar after more than a decade of litigation is an embarrassment to law enforcement and good government.

Ironically, Campbell’s failure to adopt DEP NRD regulations – which enabled LaTourette’s legal victory – was what caused. Christie DEP’s corrupt settlement.

[Full disclosure: I worked for Campbell at DEP from 2002 -2005, but never on NRD issues.]

This all came out later, in a forensic analysis of the huge $8.9 billion Exxon NRD sellout by the Christie administration. In that story, we were cited as an expert source:

“There’s this wink and a nod going on where the DEP is saying, ‘We won’t squeeze you too hard if you just come to the table and settle,’” Wolfe said.

It’s been “a quiet little dance for 10 years,” with the state knowing it can’t get more than pennies on the dollar”, Wolfe said. ~~~ NJ Law Journal (4/3/15)

As the NJLJ story documented, exactly as we’ve written, DEP lost 3 NRD cases it litigated, going back over a decade to 2004.

  • New Jersey Society of Environmental & Economic Development (SEED) v. Campbell (N.J. Super. Law Div., Mercer County, 2004)
  • N.J. Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Docket No. MER-L-2933-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007
  • New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, et al. v. Essex Chemical Corporation (Appellate Division, 2012)

As the NJLJ documented, the underlying legal reason DEP lost all 3 NRD cases it litigated was due to a lack of enforceable NRD regulations to define and quantify natural resource injuries and compensation/restoration requirements.

As the NJLJ story exposed, the DEP entered into a legal settlement agreement in the 2004 SEED case that obligated DEP to adopt NRD regulations, a commitment backed up by a letter from the Attorney General’s Office.

Here is the legal community’s contemporaneous September 2007 celebration of that August 2007 decision, a huge win for corporate polluters:

On August 24, 2007, the Superior Court of New Jersey issued an important bench ruling regarding the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (“NJDEP” or “Department”) natural resource damage (“NRD”) claim calculation. N.J. Dept. of Envtl. Prot. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., Docket No. MER-L-2933-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007).  …

the Court awarded partial summary judgment to Exxon Mobil, dismissing the NJDEP’s claim with prejudice, because the Department had not provided sufficient expert support to uphold the assumptions utilized in the natural resource damages formula.

The Court noted that, in the context of litigation, NJDEP could have relied upon the formula to meet its burden or proof in either of two ways, by promulgating the formula as a rule, or by presenting expert proof supporting each of the elements of the formula, but NJDEP did neither.

In fact, the Court further stressed the appropriateness of rule making by alluding to the New Jersey Society of Environmental & Economic Development v. Campbell (“NJSEED”) case (Docket No. MER-L-343-04 (N.J. Super. Law Div., Mercer County) (Sabatino, J.)), reminding the NJDEP that it settled that particular case by agreeing to subject the ground water formula utilized in natural resource damages to administrative rule making. Although no such proposed rule has been published, there seem to be clear indications that rule making is appropriate and should be forthcoming. In the interim, companies involved in cases or settlement discussions wherein the NJDEP has calculated natural resource damages using this formula may have the benefit, even if temporary, of relying upon the Exxon Mobil decision to improve their bargaining positions since the NJDEP clearly cannot rely upon the formula in future litigation proceedings, without first developing further scientific justification in each case’s record for the assumptions used in the formula.

We, while at NJ PEER, explained the implications back in October 1, 2007 as well, see:

Trenton — In a stunning legal setback, the State of New Jersey cannot recover damages from polluters in what may be thousands of contaminated groundwater cases, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The problem stems from the state’s failure to adopt regulations governing how to calculate “natural resources damages” (NRD) for polluted drinking water. As a result, polluters can avoid compensating the public for treatment of tainted groundwater, replacement water supply lines, drilling new wells and associated damages — leaving taxpayers with uncalculated costs.

Here’s a more recent 2018 law firms retrospective analysis:

The last major attempt by NJDEP to litigate certain NRD claims occurred back in 2007 but resulted in a major loss when a Mercer County Court rejected NJDEP’s settlement formula, finding that its use was too speculative to support NJDEP’s calculations of NRD. NJDEP v. Exxon Mobil Corp. et al, Docket No. MER-L-2933-02 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007).

Here is another 2018 legal analysis that confirms PEER’s assessment and highlights the damaging precedent that case set:

Although NJDEP has not adopted regulations to calculate NRD, with respect to its earlier NRD claims, NJDEP did develop a formula to calculate damages for injury to groundwater.  The formula was used primarily as a basis for settlement discussions with potentially responsible parties.  In NJDEP v. Exxon, Mer-L-2933-02 (Law Div. Aug. 24, 2007), when NJDEP attempted to use the formula in litigation, the court rejected it.  The court held that because NJDEP did not adopt rules setting forth how to calculate NRD, it was required to prove each element of any calculation used to determine its damages.  After reviewing NJDEP’s groundwater formula,  the court found that the formula did not support NJDEP’s claimed damages.  This case, however, did not prompt NJDEP to promulgate NRD rules and, as such, NJDEP will continue to face challenges on each aspect of its NRD calculation.

Despite this deeply troubling history of DEP failure that relieves corporations of billions of dollars of liability for their pollution and shifts the cleanup  cost burden to the public, DEP still has not adopted NRD regulations and still is forced to settle NRD claims – including those involving the NRD damage of lost use of NJ drinking water – for just pennies on the dollar.

As the legal history shows, current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette was involved in the legal vulnerabilities they caused this debacle and he refuses to correct the problem by adopting NRD regulations.

So, for him now to spew righteous drivel on NJ Spotlight TeeVee about holding polluters accountable and making them pay is beyond Orwell – and sickens me.

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Pinelands Commission Lawyer Obstructing Public Ethics Review Of Murphy’s Corporate Commissioners

January 25th, 2022 No comments

No Ethics Disclosure, Review, And Recusal Conducted Prior To Swearing In Ceremony

Unclear Whether the Commission Will Require Ethics Disclosures and Mandate Recusal

Issues involving actual, potential, or the appearance of conflicts of interest by Gov. Murphy’s corporate nominees to the Pinelands Commission, Ms. Matos and Mr. McCurry, were raised by many immediately after their nominations were announced in December.

On December 3, 2021, Carleton Montgomery, Director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance wrote:

In a truly shocking move, Governor Murphy today nominated three corporate lobbyists for the Pinelands Commission. They would replace three seasoned environmental leaders with years of service for the Pinelands.

All three of the new nominees appear to have fundamental conflicts of interest due to their employment as lobbyists for industry.  Only one of the three appears to have any prior interest at all in environmental protection.

A scathing Star Ledger editorial also raised concerns regarding the corporate backgrounds and conflicts of interest of these nominees. The Star Ledger editorial board excoriated the Gov.’s move as “a craven power play”, a “brazen” attempt to “gut the Commission during lame duck”, and a “scheme” that was similar to the “bullying” by Gov. Christie.

Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early January by David Pringle of Clean Water Action specifically raised concerns about conflicts of interest of the nominees.

I specifically flagged and anticipated ethics reviews:

a) the personal background and conflicting corporate economic interests of Laura Matos and Kivvit; (we can’t wait to see her ethics disclosure and recusal forms – identifying all Kivvit’s clients and all her prior corporate work)

b) the corporate conflicts of interest of McCurry and Orsted, (he’ll be forced to recuse as well, including on matters related to PSE&G, who owns a 25% interest in Orsted)

I was just seeking “the highest ethical standards” and attempting to hold Gov. Murphy to his own standards and rhetoric, in his Executive Order #2:

Screen Shot 2022-01-25 at 10.29.05 AM

I had a heated debate with Senator Gopal regarding, among other things, conflicts of interest raised by the corporate backgrounds of these nominees.

So, there was plenty of writing on the wall.

Given the extent of this public debate focused on ethics issues, one would expect that the responsible State ethics officials and the Pinelands Commission ethics officer – as well as the nominees themselves – would want to be fully prepared and do everything in their power to respond to and assuage public concerns about ethics.

Moreover, given these unusual and troubling circumstances, it seems obvious that the nominees themselves would proactively take steps to respond to be sure to avoid any conflicts of interest and assure compliance with State ethics laws – and do so BEFORE their official swearing in ceremony at the Pinelands Commission.

Gov. Christie sure proved he could take preemptive ethics action, just the wrong kind, see:

These steps before swearing in (or a maximum of 120 days later for some financial documents) would include, at a minimum: 

1) compliance consultation with State Ethics officials and the Pinelands Commission’s ethics officer;

2) submission of ethics disclosure documents regarding their prior and current corporate work;

3) an explicit offer to recuse to prevent the appearance of any conflicts.

Additionally, if I were under this kind of dark cloud, I would prepare and present a public statement to be read into the record at my swearing in ceremony expressing my commitment to the public interest and promise to give ethical service on the Commission. I would then release my ethics disclosure documents and promise to recuse categorically from any potential conflicts that may arise as a condition of my swearing in, BEFORE THE FACT, not on a case by case basis after the public raises concerns.

Proceeding under these common sense assumptions, on January 14, 2022, I wrote Pinelands Commission ethics officer Stacey Roth a letter. My letter reiterated the previously publicly expressed ethics concerns, and requested that Ms. Roth take the following steps BEFORE the swearing in ceremony: (emphasis added)

1) Consult with your ethics liaison in the Attorney General’s Office regarding the procedure, scope, and content of the ethics review for these Commissioners and secure a formal written opinion providing legal guidance;

2) Consult with your ethics liaison at the State Ethics Commission regarding the procedure, scope, and content of the ethics review for these Commissioners and secure a formal written opinion providing ethics guidance;

3) require that both Commissioners file ethics disclosure and recusal request documents, prior to the AG and Ethics Commission consultations suggested above and incorporate those documents in the AG and Ethics Commission reviews.

I was not aware that the Commissioners were sworn in earlier that same day, Jan. 14, 2022.

Apparently, none of the common sense ethics disclosures, consultations and recusal work was conducted – not by the Commissioners, not by the Pinelands Commission, not by the Attorney General’s Office and not by the State Ethics Commission.

This lack of ethics review reveals a stunning degree of arrogance and obliviousness to OBVIOUS and SERIOUS ethics issues by all involved, including the Governor’s Office, who one would think would not want his nominees to be under a dark ethics cloud.

As I wrote: The State Uniform Ethics Code has a very broad standard regarding potential conflicting interests:

interest might reasonably be expected to impair a State official’s objectivity and independence of judgment in the exercise of his/her official duties or might reasonably be expected to create an impression or suspicion among the public having knowledge of his or her acts that he/she may be engaged in conduct violative of his/her trust as a State official.

So, this is far more than an “optics” issue.

Let’s repeat that standard: impair a “State official’s objectivity and independence of judgment”.

Does anyone seriously believe that Ms. Matos can be “independent and objective” given -in addition to her many prior corporate and political commitments – that she so obviously is a Murphy crony and foot soldier installed at the Pinelands Commission to do Murphy’s bidding?

Laura also served on numerous boards for Governor Phil Murphy, including the 2017 Transportation and Infrastructure Transition Advisory Committee, the New Jersey Complete Count Commission and currently the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Advisory Council.

Does anyone seriously believe that Mr. McCurry – who served in Gov. Murphy’s Office and was installed at DEP by the Gov.’s Office in a position he clearly was unqualified for, and then used that “experience” to leverage a revolving door job with off shore wind developer and friend of Gov. Murphy Orsted – can exercise “objective and independent judgement”, especially when he’s a Murphy’ hack and paid to serve corporate interests?. Here’s what Orsted hired him to do:

McCurry will help develop and implement strategies to ensure the successful advancement of existing projects, Ocean Wind 1 and 2, inform efforts to secure additional business and shape Ørsted’s position and standing in the state. 

Getting back on the topic of this post, yesterday, Ms. Roth responded to my Jan. 14 letter – to put it mildly, Roth’s response was non-responsive and dismissive.

Roth observed that my request that ethics review be conducted BEFORE swearing in was impossible, as they were sworn in BEFORE my letter was received.

Roth used that timing as an excuse to misrepresent and avoid responding to my ethics review requests. She wrote:

Please be advised that Laura Matos and Davon McCurry were sworn in as members of the Pinelands Commission at the January 14, 2022, Pinelands Commission meeting, following the reading of the Open Public Meetings Act statement. Pinelands Commission meetings normally occur on the second Friday of the month and start at 9:30 am. I received your email requesting the Commission to delay administering the oath to Ms. Matos and Mr. McCurry at 2:57 pm, long after the Commission meeting had concluded.

I didn’t ask the Commission to “delay administering the oath“. I requested that she and the Commission and the AG’s Office and the State Ethics Commission conduct an ethics review BEFORE the Commissioners were sworn in.

Worse, she then again intentionally misconstrued and misrepresented my request:

The Pinelands Protection Act, at N.J.S.A.13:18A-5(a)1, authorizes the Governor to appoint seven members to the Commission with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Senate approved Ms. Matos’ and Mr. McCurry’s appointments to the Pinelands Commission on January 10, 2022. The Act does not provide a mechanism for the Commission itself or the Commission staff to appoint, vet or challenge Commissioner appointments.

I didn’t ask Roth or the Commission to “appoint, vet or challenge Commissioner appointments.”

I requested that Roth and the Commission comply with their ethics responsibilities pursuant to State Ethics laws.

Roth then closes her letter by failing to respond to my ethics review request. In doing so, she failed to state exactly when and if the ethics disclosure and review process would be conducted categorically and BEFORE potential conflicts emerge, or on a case by case basis AFTER conflicts are raised publicly:

With regard to potential conflicts of interest and participation in official Commission matters, please be advised that all Pinelands Commissioners, as Special State Officers, are subject to the requirements of the New Jersey Conflicts of Interest Law, N.J.S.A. 52:13D-12 et seq., the regulations of the State Ethics Commission at N.J.A.C. 19:61 implementing same, the Uniform Code of Ethics and other ethics requirements pursuant to other statutes and gubernatorial Executive Orders.

Accordingly, Commissioners are required to recuse themselves from any official matter in which s/he has a direct or indirect financial or personal interest that is incompatible with the proper discharge of his/her public duties. N.J.S.A. 52:13D -23(e)2 and Uniform Code of Ethics, last revised July 2021, Paragraph IX Recusal on Official Matters. Commissioners are also required to recuse themselves from any official matter if s/he had any involvement in that matter, other than on behalf of the State, prior to commencement of his/her State service. Thus, the concerns raised in your letter regarding potential conflicts of interest, should such arise, would be addressed by the recusal process.

That’s it.

No mention of just when that “recusal process” will occur. No mention of disclosure documents. No mention of AG or State Ethics Commission consultation.

Hello!

All that should have occurred already!

I now must file OPRA requests for the ethics disclosure documents and write to the State Ethics Commission to request intervention to force public disclosure and a categorical recusal before the fact.

Ms. Roth is a lousy lawyer – as I exposed twice now, first during the Pinelands SJG pipeline debate and then by disclosing her false legal advice that the Commission had no authority to address climate change in the CMP, a legal opinion that the Commission itself has rejected 7 years later, see:

But this “legal opinion” shows her not only to be a lousy lawyer, but a disingenuous one as well that intentionally misconstrued my request, and I believe it was done in bad faith, as I previously [correction] wrote about an ethics complaint against her:

It also reveals Ms. Roth to be arrogant and totally insensitive to legitimate public concerns.

[End Note: Regardless of minimum legal requirements and the policy of Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order #2, financial and ethics disclosure documents should have already been filed with the Gov. appointments office prior to nomination, so that they could determine the qualifications of the nominees, and if they had fatal conflicts that could not be remedied.

Similarly, the Senate Judiciary Committee should have reviewed ethics disclosure documents prior to confirmation as part of the Senate’s “advise and consent” role.

Of course, the Pinelands Commission should have reviewed ethics disclosure documents and prepared recusal agreements BEFORE the Commissioners were sworn in, making them a condition of se4rvice on the Commission.

But none of this happened.

I did more rigorous due diligence before voting on minor matters before the North Hanover school board I served on.

And that does not reflect the “highest ethical standards and conduct” promised by Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order #2. So we have another example of hypocrisy. ~~~ end]

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The Future of NJ’s Forests – At Risk From Climate, Logging, Development, & DEP MisManagement

January 24th, 2022 No comments

Murphy DEP Promoting Logging Under Various “Active Management” & “Stewardship” Schemes

Has NJ Senator Smith Abandoned His Flawed Legislative Package?

Promoter Of “Young Forests” Logging Scheme Now Heads DEP Parks and Forestry

coming to NJ?

coming to NJ?

For over a decade, NJ Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith has tried – thankfully unsuccessfully – to pass seriously flawed “Forest Stewardship” bills through the legislature.

The one that did pass was so bad it was vetoed by Gov. Christie.

Those bills would promote logging under various slogans and guises, including “stewardship”, “young forests”, “healthy forests”, “active management”, “habitat creation” and “wildfire prevention”.

Smith held a hearing on his 4 bill package on Earth Day last year, which prompted this critical post and letter to Smith, see:

As I noted:

tomorrow (Earth Day) the NJ Senate Environment Committee will hear a package of bills to promote logging. Even the bill descriptions are Orwellian:

  • S2001 – Forest stewardship program-establishes for State-owned lands
  • S3547 – Forest stewardship, pinelands,
  • S3548 – Prescribed burns-set min. acreage goal & schedule in pinelands area & Statewide
  • S3549 – Forest stewardship plan-required for lands acquired
  • S3550 – Forest stewardship plans-provide that municipal approval is not required

Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith has been pushing this ill advised legislation for over a decade. He is responding to the sham and misleading self interested lobbying of the NJ Audubon Society, the NJ Farm Bureau, the forest products industry, and professional forestry consultants. 

Smith’s legislation is strongly supported and provided environmental cover by NJ Audubon Society.

So, given Smith’s long time campaign to pass these horrible logging bills, I was shocked to see that Smith will be provided a platform by the NJ Highlands Coalition “Forest Forum” tomorrow on the future of NJ’s Forests.

I was also shocked to see that Elliott Ruga of the Highlands Coalition wrote a recent Op-Ed that closed by appearing to not oppose – or even tacitly support – Smith’s logging bills:

Senator Bob Smith (D-17 Middlesex), chair of the Senate Environment & Energy Committee intends to propose legislation this year to address forest stewardship standards for public lands. In order to educate the public and other interested stakeholders on the issues concerning forest stewardship on public lands, the New Jersey Highlands Coalition is presenting a virtual New Jersey Forests Forum on January 25, 1:00PM- 4:00PM. Information about the Forum and free registration is at njhighlandscoalition.org/protectourforests.

Here is the NJ Highlands Coalition promotion video setting up tomorrow’s event.

Has Smith abandoned his flawed and controversial legislative logging package?

Yesterday, I checked the NJ Legislature’s website, and Senator Smith had not yet reintroduced the package of logging bills he has pushed for over a decade, which I and many others have strongly opposed – amazingly, in light of tomorrow’s Smith platform, including the Highlands Coalition).

But Smith may no longer have a reason to pass legislation.

One would think that failure to pass legislation to authorize a controversial “forest stewardship” program that threatens NJ’s publicly owned forests would mean that DEP could not implement that program unilaterally in the absence of enabling legislation.

One would be wrong. Let me briefly explain why:

First of all, the key logging advocate who developed the “active forests management” scheme, imposed it on Sparta Mt. Wildlife Management Area in joint project with the Christie DEP (and he lied to the public about it), and worked with Smith in drafting his flawed legislation – John Cecil, formerly with NJ Audubon – is now the Murphy DEP’s Director of Parks and Forestry, where he can impose his flawed ideas on NJ’s forests unilaterally in the absence of legislation and with very little if any public oversight or regulatory restrictions.

Second, a few months prior to Smith’s Earth Day hearing on his 4 bill logging package, DEP released a draft “Forest Action Plan” that promoted the same flawed management programs and masked the implications of “forest stewardship”, see:

My criticism of that Forest Action Plan for failure to address climate provides a classic lesson in “be careful what you ask for”, because the latest threatening slogan being deployed by the Murphy DEP is “carbon sequestration”.

Which leads me to my third and final point:

Third, the Murphy DEP just released another flawed initiative to address the climate issues, called “NJ Natural Lands Initiative”.

I haven’t had a chance to write about that initiative yet – the public comment period expires on February 11.

That initiative has serious implications for NJ forests and farmlands – I fear DEP will use it, in combination with 10% of the RGGI money dedicated to carbon sequestration – to promote logging under the guise of carbon sequestration.

There is also the DEP Climate PACT REAL rule proposal coming soon which will revise the DEP’s land use regulations. I only assume that they will provide new “flexibility” and “incentives” for carbon sequestration that results in even more threats to forests.

So let’s summarize the dangers:

  • the lead promoter of “active management” and sham “forest stewardship” now heads DEP Parks and Forests
  • DEP Forest Action Plan promotes active management” (logging) under numerous guises
  • DEP Natural Lands Initiative promotes “active management” (logging) as “carbon sequestration”
  • RGGI provides plenty of money to fund these schemes
  • there is virtually no public participation in DEP management of public forests
  • there are virtually no regulations that apply to DEP management of public forests

This is a formula for disaster.

No wonder Senator Smith appears to have abandoned his “Forest Stewardship” legislation – John Cecil can impose that unilaterally at DEP.

Will people at the Highlands Coalition event ask about any of that?

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