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The Credibility Of Those Who Exaggerated Costs Of Off Shore Wind Is Shot

June 26th, 2019 No comments

As a preface to this post, I must note that for philosophical and analytical reasons, I reject the dominant role of economics and reliance on markets in public policy decisions, particularly on energy and climate issues.

Morally, we have no right to threaten the future of civilization, which is where we are headed in the accelerating climate catastrophe.

The natural world has inherent values that transcend market economics and human utility.

Markets also undermine democracy and equity (and beauty, truth and meaning).

Technically, there are multiple “market failures” that destroy the foundational assumptions of the market model: – e.g. price signals ignore externalities; public goods; monopoly; corporate power; captured role of government; regulatory, technical and information barriers to effective competition; advertising and the myth of the sovereign consumer;  private property rights; et al. And on top of all that, there is a huge concentration of wealth and power that discredit market solutions:

Neoliberals want to continue with the same old policies: more fiscal austerity; more reliance on markets (carbon trading—that is, using the price system to try to resolve a problem created by the price system); more half measures;

With that said, let’s get to the topic of this post.

For months – years even – NJ Spotlight and other NJ media outlets have run countless stories about the multi-billion cost of off shore wind and how that would bankrupt the state, drive out jobs and private investment, and regressively harm poor people who can’t afford high energy costs.

We got similar exaggerations of the costs of RGGI, but far less coverage – and crocodile tears – for the ratepayer costs of the nuclear bailout, the guarantee of revenues and profits from reductions in energy demand due to energy efficiency, or the cumulative costs – including the social costs of carbon – of all the proposed and current gas pipelines and gas power plants. How much does all that cost?

Well, last Friday, BPU approved the first 1,100 MW off shore wind project and subsidies.

So, let’s check out the cost, in terms of ratepayer impacts.

NJ Spotlight reported:

For New Jersey ratepayers, however, the actual cost paid will be far less — $46.46 MWh — when the energy and capacity revenue produced by the wind farm is refunded to utility customers. It means the estimated monthly impact will be an increase of $1.46 for residential, $13.05 for commercial, and $110.10 for industrial customers, according to the state Board of Public Utilities, which approved the project on Friday.

Peanuts!

The credibility  of those who grossly exaggerated the cost of wind is shot, no?

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One Reason To Be Thankful That NJ Has No National Forests

June 25th, 2019 No comments

US Forest Service Study Led To Highlands Act, But Not National Forest Designation

US Forest Service “Forest Health” Program A Pretext For Logging

USFS and NJ DEP ignore climate change in forest management

Although the NJ Highlands were mapped by a US Forest Service Study – which provided the major justifications for the Highlands Act – NJ is one of only 10 states that have no National Forests.

Ironically, that may be a good thing, as the Trump administration’s US Forest Service becomes increasingly subservient to logging and extractive industry special interests nationally:

The new categorical exclusions in these proposed rules are huge and far from risk-free. Large logging projects, which could devastate vulnerable habitat, and road-building in pristine wildernesses would be among those escaping rigorous environmental review.

For just one recent egregious example, the NY Times reports today on a massive mining proposal that would poison the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness:

the Forest Service called off an environmental review that could have restricted mining, even though the agriculture secretary had told Congress that the review would proceed.

More specific to the logging topic of my post today, however, I just read a story about USFS plans to log national forest, under the pretext of the North Bridger Forest Health Project.

Because that USFS logging project sounded so much like the euphemisms and slogans used to support NJ DEP’s plans to log Sparta Mountain and other NJ Highlands Forests (i.e. “treatments” “forest thinning” “resilience” “forest health”, etc), I thought I’d look into the details and get an understanding of exactly how USFS justified this crap.

In reviewing the details of the USFS logging, I confirmed what I expected, based on NJ DEP’s forestry program:

1. Despite the science and urgency, USFS forest management is not subject to any laws, regulations, standards, policies, or management practices regarding climate change.

While NJ DEP denies this huge flaw via silence, the USFS admits that, directly and right up front:

Regulatory Framework

There are no applicable legal or regulatory requirements or established thresholds concerning management of forest carbon or greenhouse gas emissions. (See: NEPA Categorical Exclusion, p.2)

2.  Water Quality and stream buffer protections are even weaker then NJ DEP BMPs

USFS relies on 15-50 foot stream buffers, but based on stream classification and extremely steep slopes (>35!), buffer can be increased to 100 feet (see Appendix A of NEPA scoping document, and table below):

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 1.06.54 PM

That is weaker than DEP’s lax water quality and stream buffer BMP’s.

3. USFS Logging is based on the same “forest health” rhetoric and “science” that NJ DEP relies on

I had seen this similarity several times before, and lazily just assumed it just came from the PR people in the logging industry and the forestry bureaucrats in USFS and NJ DEP.

But today, I hit a few links to the decision documents and traced the legal and policy source of some of these Orwellian euphemisms.

(and keep in mind that the justification I discuss here came in 2014, years before the recent western and California wildfires, which focused public attention on forest management and provided their own cover stories and justification for the need for “treatments” and “fuel management” to avoid “wildfire at the urban-wildland interface”).

In the project overview in the NEPA scoping document, I found this as the source that initiated the logging project:

The North Bridgers project area was designated part of an insect and disease treatment program in accordance with Title VI, Section 602, of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA), as amended by Section 8204 of the Agriculture Act (Farm Bill) of 2014. For additional information on how the 2014 Farm Bill amended HFRA and areas designated, see Appendix C.

Buried in Appendix C, I learned the following about that 2014 Farm Bill – including a process for Governor’s to request USFS designation of forests:

Section 8204 of the Agriculture Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79) (also referred to as Farm Bill) amended Title VI of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA) (16 U.S.C. 6591 et seq.) to add Sections 602 and 603 to address qualifying insect and disease infestations on National Forest System lands. The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture delegated authority to implement the provisions of the Farm Bill to the Chief of the Forest Service on March 6, 2014.

Section 602 provides, in part, the opportunity for Governors to request designation to areas in their State that are experiencing, or at risk of, an insect or disease epidemic. The Forest Service received letters from 35 states requesting designations. These requests were reviewed to ensure they met at least one of the following eligibility criteria outlined in the Farm Bill: experiencing forest health decline based on annual forest health surveys; at risk of experiencing substantially increased tree mortality based on the most recent Forest Health Protection Insect and Disease Risk Map; or contains hazard trees that pose an imminent risk to public infrastructure, health, or safety.

Upon reviewing the States’ requests, the Chief designated approximately 45.6 million acres of National Forest System lands across 94 national forests in 35 States. Over 6.6 million acres were designated in the Northern Region (1,708,628 million acres in Idaho; 4,955,159 million acres in Montana). These areas will be further evaluated to identify potential projects that reduce the risk or extent of, or increase resilience to, insect and disease infestations. Information on the request and designation process, by state, can be found here

Here are the national Insect and Disease Designations.

I was surprised and disappointed  to learn that NJ Gov. Cuomo requested designation of 3,000 acres of the Finger Lakes national Forest and USFS did so. I wonder how that project is working out?

As NJ has no national forests, the Governor of NJ requested no designations.

Just think if the Highlands were a National Forest – then NJ DEP’s Highlands logging program would be greatly expanded, given even more resources, and subject to federal control. Guess we dodged a bullet, eh?

4. Government moves like lightning when special interests are greasing the skids

Some say that government bureaucracy moves too slowly and that NEPA review injects huge delays in development (you hear that all the time, especially from those that would exploit and extract natural resources and develop and destroy the environment).

But, check out the accelerated action timetable involved in this national forest designation process, which leads to logging:

That’s damn quick for developing a new and controversial national program.

So, government can move very quickly when special interests are pulling the strings.

Ironically – and thankfully – the project is being blocked by litigation challenging USFS NEPA “Categorical Exclusion”.

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Local Government Zoning Decisions Are Gutting Federal US EPA and NJ DEP State Toxic Site Cleanup Laws

June 19th, 2019 No comments

DEP and EPA cleanup standards are based on local land use planning and zoning

Ringwood Ford and Pompton Lakes Dupont Toxic Sites Latest Examples of Abuse

A new corrupt tactic in the chemical industry driven strategy to weaken NJ’s toxic site cleanup laws and DEP regulations and thereby save billions of dollars in cleanup costs is focused on local government.

The tactic allows local governments – who lack the scientific expertise and legal authority –  to effectively gut State DEP and federal US EPA cleanup standards.

This local tactic stands the law on its head, as both Congress and the NJ Legislature enacted laws like Superfund and NJ Spill Compensation and Control Act that set state and federal standards that put US EPA and NJ DEP in charge of cleanup decisions, not local government.

Specifically, few people realize that US EPA and DEP’s toxic site cleanup standards are based on local land use planning and zoning. Those local plans and zoning designations govern the use of a site, and thereby, influence the potential exposure of people to toxic chemical at those sites.

Follow the logic:

1. DEP sets cleanup standards based on risks to human health.

2. Risk to human health is a function of, among other things, exposure potential.

3. Exposure potential is a function of, among other things, the land use of a site.

For example, a residential site results in human exposure to any toxics on site 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

In contrast, a commercial or industrial site has far less human occupancy and far less human exposure.

4. Accordingly, DEP cleanup standards are categorized as “residential” and “non-residential” categories. (see DEP soil remediation standards for “residential” and “non-residential” land uses). The standards vary by orders of magnitude.

Which brings us to two recent examples that illustrate a disturbing development, whereby corrupt local governments conspire with polluters to revise local land use master plans and zoning ordinances in ways that subject polluters to lax DEP cleanup standards and thereby let polluters off the hook for billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Why would a legitimate local government- motivated by a desire to protect the health and welfare of their residents and environment – want to relax cleanup standards and reduce a corporation’s cleanup costs?

This corrupt abuse must stop.

The Legislature, Governor and DEP must get involved to prevent further abuses.

Let me provide 2 recent abuses of what is a statewide problem.

Ringwood – Ford

The US EPA recently let Ford off the hook for a permanent complete cleanup at their Ringwood Superfund site.

Environmental groups and the Ramapough nation are objecting to this corrupt EPA deal, and calling on NJ DEP to extend the public comment period. But they miss the underlying cause of the problem and it’s statewide nature.

In Ringwood, EPA agreed to change the original costly “preferred remedy” – the complete excavation of toxic waste – to a far cheaper, minimal, and far less protective typical “pave and wave” cap. It was  explicitly acknowledged by EPA that this deal would save Ford some $30 million in cleanup costs.

Basically, the Ringwood local government decided to locate a recycling center on a portion of the Ford toxic site, which changed the land use and risk assumptions and thereby provided cover for US EPA to gut their own “preferred remedy”.

I explained how local land use impacted US EPA’s sellout, see:

The Bergen Record reports today that EPA has “decided” to allow the Ford Motor Company to get away with a cynical scheme to avoid millions of dollars in cleanup costs and leave thousands of tons of toxic sludge in the ground, posing permanent risks instead of permanent remedies, see:

In fact, EPA’s own Superfund program manager openly admits that Ford has proposed a scheme:

Opponents of the plan, including many members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation who live next to O’Connor, say the recycling center is nothing more than a way for Ford and the borough to get out of an expensive cleanup.

Even the EPA official who is allowing the capping plan agreed. “I have no doubt that’s the motivation,” said Walter Mugdan, an EPA official in charge of cleaning up Superfund sites in New Jersey and New York. “It’s certainly a very plausible view.” …

“I was unhappy to get this plan at the 11th hour and 59th minute, but it’s not my job or the U.S. government’s job to be in the business of local land use,” Mugdan said.

This corruption is sickening – for US EPA and the Murphy DEP to go along with it adds insult to injury.

Pompton Lakes – Dupont

I’ve called the Pompton Lakes Council the most corrupt local government in NJ.

Their recent decision to rezone the Dupont toxic waste site is further evidence of that.

The Bergen Record exposed the corruption, see:

POMPTON LAKES — Zoning changes up for Borough Council approval Wednesday night would remove residential use from the list of future options for the polluted DuPont tract, raising concerns that the site may not be cleaned to stricter standards. …

But some former and current residents say that rezoning the property would allow Chemours to perform a less comprehensive cleanup.

“It’s basically saying that the property is not going to get a full cleanup,” said Helen Martens, who has lived for four decades in the neighborhood south of the plant where DuPont solvents have contaminated groundwater and vaporized into some homes. “We’re going to have to continue to live in fear that this pollution will still be up there.”

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s standards for soil cleanups are much stricter for residential development. 

For instance, cleanup standards for soil contaminated with the solvent PCE is more than 35 times as stringent if property is zoned for residential use rather than commercial. The standards for TCE and mercury are three times more stringent, and the standard for lead is two times more stringent. All of these contaminants have been found at the former DuPont campus, nestled in a valley alongside Acid Brook on the north end of town.

These abuses by corrupt local governments are happening across the state, as towns rezone land to reduce cleanup costs and put the health of their residents and local environments at risk.

These abuses must stop, which will require a change in law.

But, the NJ Legislature is beholden to protecting the polluters and promoting real estate development, not protecting the people and environment.

And the NJ ENGO’s are either AWOL or missing the target.

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Our Morning Walk – Ophir, Colorado

June 19th, 2019 No comments

_DSC5640

No words, just photos, just after sunrise on June 16, the day after an extreme hailstorm, from Ophir, Colorado (and isn’t that the coolest post office?)

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alpine climbing school, at the base of 1,000+ foot vertical cliff

alpine climbing school, at the base of 1,000+ foot vertical cliff

unfortunately, this shot was into the sun

unfortunately, this shot was into the sun

We never saw this sign before

We never saw this sign before

this avalanche was recent. Trees mowed down like toothpicks.

this avalanche was recent. Trees mowed down like toothpicks.

this avalanche was a little older and just east

this avalanche was a little older and just east

we took this photo the day before, in a severe hailstorm, at Lizard Head Pass

we took this photo the day before, in a severe hailstorm, at Lizard Head Pass

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As Trump EPA Repeals Obama Clean Power Plan, Murphy Administration Has Retained The Same Christie Legal Attack & DEP Regulatory Policy

June 19th, 2019 No comments

Murphy DEP shares same policy on regulating greenhouse gas emissions as Trump EPA

Has NJ AG Grewal Withdrawn the Christie Lawsuit Against The Obama EPA?

During the media and environmental group feeding frenzy to condemn the Trump administration, keep in mind that the Murphy administration shares exactly the same regulatory policy as the Trump EPA.

[Update below]

The Trump EPA today adopted their proposed new rule which repeals and replaces the Obama EPA’s “Clean Power Plan”, see:

Here’s the most significant implication, which I want to discuss in the context of the NJ regulatory arena:

If the Supreme Court ultimately upholds the rule’s approach to the regulation of pollution, it would be difficult or impossible for future presidents to tackle climate change through the Environmental Protection Agency. …

At issue is the meaning of the 1972 Clean Air Act. The Obama administration interpreted that law as giving the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to set national restrictions on carbon emissions. The Trump administration asserts that the law limits the agency to regulating emissions at the level of individual power plants.

But before I get to how we came to this point and what it means, let me first note that the Trump EPA shares the same fundamental policy with respect to the role of market forces versus regulation as the Murphy DEP does (as we recently criticized in the DEP RGGI rule).

The  NY Times story makes this clear, stating the key premise of the Trump EPA:

The measure, which is expected to come into effect within 30 days, assumes that the forces of the market will guide the country to a future of cleaner energy by naturally phasing out coal over time. It imposes only modest requirements on coal plants.

That is virtually identical to the Murphy DEP premises regarding market forces:

  • “The CO2 Budget Trading Program is a cap-and-trade program, which is a market-based approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in CO2 emissions from the electric generating sector. (@ page 2)
  • “Any new plants constructed that are subject to the RGGI cap will increase demand for the RGGI CO2 allowances. This is likely to result in upward price pressure on all CO2 allowances, resulting in higher costs for fossil fuel generating sources. This is the core of RGGI’s program design. RGGI is not designed to reduce carbon emissions directly, but instead to make fossil fuel generation costlier to operate. (@ page 41).

Now to our topic today and how we got to this point:

On February 9, 2016, the US Supreme Court issued a stay on the Obama Clean Power Plan.

As the NY Times reports:

The Supreme Court suspended the implementation of Mr. Obama’s plan in 2016, pending the resolution of legal challenges from 28 states and hundreds of companies. It has never come into force.

NJ was one of those 28 states that challenged the Obama EPA rules – the Christie Administration joined coal states like West Virginia (read the brief).

As the American Bar Association explained:

Shortly after the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan, a group of states and industry groups, led by West Virginia, the nation’s leading coal producer, filed a lawsuit to halt the implementation of the plan, arguing that it exceeded the EPA’s mandate under the Clean Air Act and violated states’ rights to regulate electrical power.

The scope of EPA authority under challenge is echoed in NJ law and DEP regulation, as I explained in detail in Christie DEP Approves Another Fossil Fueled Power Plant.

Here is that same legal and regulatory issue in NJ:

“State of the art” in pollution control (SOTA) far too narrow

The DEP regulations define “state of the art” in pollution control (SOTA) very narrowly. According to DEP response to public comment:

Comment: … The commenters stated that regulated GHG emissions could be reduced or eliminated by energy efficiency, reduction in energy demand, demand management, and/or renewable energy; none of these “pollution control” methods were considered. …

Response: Pursuant to N.J.A.C. 7:27-22.2, New Jersey Title V Operating Permit Requirements apply to a facility as defined in N.J.A.C 7:27-22.1. At N.J.A.C. 7:27-22.1, a facility consists of “the combination of all structures, buildings, equipment, control apparatus, storage tanks, source operations, and other operations that are located on a single site or on contiguous or adjacent sites and that are under common control of the same person or persons.” Thus, requirements for off-site measures that are not under control of the owners or operators, such as reduction in energy demand or demand management, are beyond the scope of the NJDEP’s authority to review an operating permit application. Also, the NJDEP cannot redefine a project to include renewable energy.

This DEP rule contrasts with a far broader approach under EPA federal rules. Pollution control technology is generally understood and defined by EPA regulations:

“the term “control technology” is defined broadly to be consistent with section 112(d)(2) of the Clean Air Act to include measures, processes, methods, systems or techniques which reduce the volume of, or eliminate emissions of, HAP through process changes, substitution of materials or other modifications; enclose systems or processes to eliminate emissions; collect, capture or treat HAP when released from a process, stack, storage or fugitive emissions point; are design, equipment, work practice, or operational standards; or a combination of the above.

Obviously, the NJ “State of the Art” in pollution control for greenhouse gases MUST include consideration of energy efficiency, demand management, and renewable energy.

That may require legislation or perhaps the next DEP Commissioner can issue regulations.

Let me repeat the key flaw in NJ DEP regulatory policy with respect to application, scope and content of regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

DEP wrote this, which is far narrower than the basis of the Obama EPA Clean Power Plan and virtually identical to the Trump EPA policy:

a facility consists of “the combination of all structures, buildings, equipment, control apparatus, storage tanks, source operations, and other operations that are located on a single site or on contiguous or adjacent sites and that are under common control of the same person or persons.” Thus, requirements for off-site measures that are not under control of the owners or operators, such as reduction in energy demand or demand management, are beyond the scope of the NJDEP’s authority to review an operating permit application. Also, the NJDEP cannot redefine a project to include renewable energy.

Compare NJ DEP’s narrow interpretation above with the Trump EPA’s interpretation:

In the proposed repeal, EPA asserted that the BSER in the CPP exceeded EPA’s authority because it established the BSER using measures that applied to the power sector as whole, rather than measures that apply at and to, and can be carried out at the level of, individual facilities.

We note that the Murphy administration has not publicly repudiated the Christie administration’s legal attack on the Obama EPA rule.

We ask the legal eagles out there to advise us regarding the status of the 28 State litigation and whether NJ remains a party to the lawsuit or whether the Murphy AG Grewal formally withdrew NJ’s legal challenge.

Regardless of the status of that lawsuit, we must note that the Murphy DEP continues to implement the narrow Christie DEP regulatory interpretation excerpted above regarding DEP’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

This failure to revise seriously flawed Christie DEP interpretation of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions is occurring at a time that several new major GHG emission sources are proposed.

The Murphy DEP has not promulgated regulations to reverse the Christie DEP regulatory policy regarding the scope and requirements of the NJ law of “state of the art in pollution control” (SOTA) with respect to emissions of greenhouse gases.

The NJ legislature has not introduced, never mind passed, new law to clarify these issues.

So, during the media and environmental group feeding frenzy to condemn the Trump administration, keep in mind that the Murphy administration shares exactly the same regulatory policy as the Trump EPA.

[Update: A friendly reader suggested I need to keep it simple:

to translate a bit for an interested, but general audience. The dynamics of what has been done, and what needs to be done, can get very wonky.

No doubt, that is excellent advice, but, I lack the writing skills and adequate time to do so, especially  on such a complex topic.

Come to think about it, most of my posts are wonky by design and are targeted a a policymaking audience, not a general audience.

But let me take a stab:

The larger debate is about 2 closely related but distinct big ideas:

1) the role of the federal government, versus the states; and

2) whether democratic government’s regulatory mandates (e.g. Speed Limit 55 mph) or the so called “free market” (e.g. you decide to drive safely: prices, voluntary individual consumer choices, corporate profit maximizing decisions, et al) should be used to achieve the deep and rapid reductions of greenhouse gas emissions scientists agree are necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.

Regarding #1, obviously coal, oil and gas producing States are economically and politically NOT going to choose voluntarily to abandon fossil fuels and rapidly transition to renewables. So, federal mandates are necessary.

But Trump and right wing Republicans (including Supreme Court Federalist Society members and some corporate Democrats), seek to dismantle the federal “administrative state” in favor of State’s rights. This would cripple EPA powers to regulate a host of critical GHG emission reduction measures, from energy efficiency standards for appliances and vehicles, to pollution limits on coal power plants.

Regarding #2, this is really about democracy versus corporate power.

Long experience has shown that national problems require national solutions, and that collective systemic structural reforms are far more effective, fair, and efficient (technically and economically) than voluntary individual market based choices (just think of car safety: seat belts were vehemently opposed by the auto industry and reluctantly provided as optional “extras” before they were mandated by the federal government. Similarly, fuel economy was more effective via EPA national fuel economy standards, not individual purchasing decisions. Obviously, the federal government mandates were the better approach, compared to individual consumer choice and/or corporate profit driven decisions.

Similarly the role of government and the functioning of democracy are both under attack by far right ideologues who would prefer that corporations and markets rule.

The large ideas play out in regulatory debates and have direct consequences for the health and wellbeing of everyone – and in this case of climate catastrophe, the future of the world.

The Trump EPA says they can’t legally consider whether your corporate energy producer should or could by required by EPA to reduce their GHG emissions, or reduce energy demand, promote energy efficiency or other “demand management” strategies.

The Obama EPA Clean Power Plan said exactly the opposite.

The Trump EPA rules apply only to minor combustion efficiency technological improvement at an individual power plant.

In contrast, the Obama CPP applied to the whole energy sector (“beyond the fence line”), and involved federal EPA in pushing states to implement broad energy conservation (reduce demand), energy efficiency, and demand management strategies, in addition to the narrow combustion and emissions from an individual power plant.

And, finally, few people realize that the NJ DEP regulations and how they interpret them say the same thing as the Trump EPA, despite all Gov. Murphy’s rhetoric about renewables and a transition to clean energy.

The point I’m trying to make, aside from the blatant hypocrisy, is that we will never be able to achieve Gov. Murphy’s goals under current DEP regulations, which limit the scope of DEP’s power and rely heavily on voluntary individual and corporate market decsions.

So, I tried to make this more digestible.  ~~~ end update]

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