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The “Crime” At Fenimore Landfill Was Lax Oversight by Christie DEP

February 3rd, 2016 No comments

DEP Commissioner Martin’s fingerprints all over Fenimore Landfill disaster

Martin Ignored Warnings From State Commission on Investigation Report

Christie Attorney General Indicts Landfill Owner & Operator

Christie DEP Commissioner Bob Martin

Christie DEP Commissioner Bob Martin

DEP emails and documents strongly suggest that it was Gov. Christie’s regulatory policy, DEP Commissioner Martin’s strong armed top down intimidating management, and politics – not staff incompetence and bungling – that pressured DEP staffers to cut corners to promote the SEP disposal and redevelopment project. […]

Email from Jane Kozinski of the DEP to Richard Bernardi of SEP discussed the viability of the Fenimore project and scheduled a meeting with the Governor’s office ~~~ Bill Wolfe (May 22, 2014)

The owner and operator of the Fenimore Landfill, Richard Bernardi, was just indicted for financial deception, according to an NJ.Com story just posted.

According to the story, Bernardi simply duped those strict DEP regulators and investigators at the AG’s Office, who now are, like Claude Rains, shocked that gambling was going on at the landfill:

Bernardi allegedly diverted more than $5 million in tipping fees — fees paid to SEP to deposit materials at the landfill  — for “personal and unauthorized uses,” in violation of a requirement that most of the funds be held in an escrow account to assure the landfill was properly closed, the Attorney General’s Office said.

The landfill closure account Bernardi allegedly raided was required by and supposedly monitored by DEP.

In addition, NJ has a law commonly referred to as “A-901″ designed to conduct background checks to assure the integrity of the solid waste industry. DEP explains:

  • Any solid waste transporter wishing to engage or continue to engage in the collection, transportation, and/or disposal of any solid waste generated by another person(s) must file a Disclosure Statement in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:26-16.3 so that the transporter may obtain a “license” as defined at N.J.A.C. 7:26-16.2. Only those solid waste transporters who have filed their Disclosure Statements, met the Solid Waste Licensing requirements, and passed an Integrity Review by the New Jersey State Police and Attorney General’s Office receive an approved “license” to transport solid waste in New Jersey.

The State Commission on Investigation (SCI) December 2011 Report titled “Industrious Subversion” issued to Gov. Christie and DEP Commissioner Martin apparently fell on deaf ears.

The SCI warned Martin about how that A901 law was being circumvented:

Over the years, lawmakers, regulators and law enforcement officials repeatedly have taken aim at organized crime and other criminal elements in New Jersey’s solid waste industry. Garbage mobsters have been prosecuted and jailed, their waste-hauling cartels have been dismantled, and special licensing requirements have been established – all in an effort to prevent convicted felons and other unscrupulous individuals from systematically infiltrating and subverting what collectively constitutes one of the State’s largest commercial enterprises impacting the health and quality of life of the citizens of New Jersey. […]

The State Commission of Investigation, which first uncovered significant criminal intrusion into solid waste as far back as the late 1960s, has found that the industry today remains open to manipulation and abuse by criminal elements that circumvent the State’s existing regulatory and oversight system.

Martin not only ignored the SCI’s warning. He actively promoted the Fenimore Landfill project.

Internal DEP emails document that Martin’s policy of slashing red tape regulations and promoting “customer service” led directly to the Fenimore Landfill disaster.

Specifically,  DEP emails show that early on, DEP’s longtime Chief of Staff, Gary Sondermeyer, reached out to the landfill owner to suggest that

he find the “Environmental Transition Team” Report prepared for Governor Christie and his Executive Order #2 (Red Tape Task Force) (sic) in order to pursue a “different way” of future permitting to provide incentives for “green projects” 

Keep in mind that this landfill owner was a convicted felon, barred by NJ law from the solid waste industry by the A901 law.

Sondermeyer went further to tout not only Gov. Christie’s new regulatory policies, but to praise Christie’s new DEP Commissioner. According to the Report, Sondermeyer wrote:

Bob Martin as the new Commissioner of the DEP is a “strong manager” supportive of renewable energy projects, “the likes of which we never had” 

One email from Martin’s Assistant Commissioner documents direct involvement by Gov. Christie’s Office:

Email from Jane Kozinski of the DEP to Richard Bernardi of SEP discussing viability of the Fenimore project and scheduled meeting with the Governor’s office 

There are other emails that show incompetence and inappropriate intervention in DEP regulatory reviews – or worse – by Martin’s unqualified  political appointee Cindy Randazzo.

After what was, at best, gross incompetence and failed policy, for the Christie AG to indict Bernardi, while ignoring the huge involvement by DEP, is the height of hypocrisy.

But more could be involved. As a friend just wrote me:

One could easily argue the DEP negligence as criminal, yes?  It’s a complete lack of oversight.

Amen, bro.

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Essential Reading For NJ Shore Dwellers – Back Bays & Barrier Islands

February 2nd, 2016 No comments

“The Siege of Miami” As Prelude

In the wake of another extreme weather event influenced by climate change, as NJ’s crackerjack investigative reporters are drilling down deep on critical issues like Gov. Christie’s Cape May mop comments and New Hampshire campaigning, one goes elsewhere for interesting reading.

The serendipity of the internet brought me to two wonderful New Yorker pieces to recommend to readers, particularly those shore dwellers short on information about sea level rise and climate change.

First up is a fine piece of writing by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Elizabeth Kolbert: The Siege of Miami

Read it very, very closely shore dwellers – and intrepid journalists too looking for story ideas.

You can be sure that the insurance, mortgage and real estate investors are reading it and making decisions accordingly, even if your local and state governments are not.

Miami is facing even more severe sea level rise issues than the NJ shore, but it’s only a question of rate – or when, not whether – NJ’s low lying coastal areas face these same issues. Inundation – soon – and retreat is the only option.

In fact, NJ’s back bay communities already are regularly experiencing high tide “nuisance flooding” and the same reverse flow of water from the bays back up the storm water infrastructure to the streets as Miami.

Also, similar to Florida, NJ is cursed by a Republican Governor who denies climate change.

While Gov. Christie has not banned the use of the term by his State Government employees like Florida Governor has, Christie has dismantled, defunded, deregulated, and/or outsourced all of NJ’s climate change programs that existed when he took office.

And Christie has failed to build sea level rise projections or extreme weather into his multi-billion dollar Sandy recovery scheme. How the federal government let him get away with that is scandalous.

The second good read also comes from The New Yorker How Zika Virus Can Spread – a piece I particularly recommend to Bergen Record reporters and editorial board, who just wrote about the same issue but somehow managed to omit the linkage to climate change:

Viral epidemics like this one are not just the result of human encroachment on the jungles of Uganda, or of teams of travelling canoeists from the South Pacific, or even, simply, of globalization. Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that is largely responsible for transmitting pathogens such as Zika and dengue, thrives in the warm, humid, increasingly dense urban centers of Latin America, and climate change has been making these places warmer and wetter. According to a report by the World Health Organization, dengue infected people thirty times more frequently in 2013 than it did in the nineteen-sixties, making it the planet’s most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus. The International Panel on Climate Change recently projected that “the area of the planet that was climatically suitable for dengue would increase under most scenarios.”

In case it’s not obvious, the common threads between these two wonderful pieces of writing is climate change and the NJ press corps’ total failure to use a little imagination and address them.

To climate activists: maybe we can do field education and media events on full moon high tides at low lying shore areas?

Shoot me an email for good locations!

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Maps, Lies, and the DEP Webpage

February 2nd, 2016 No comments

DEP links to a map the flat out contradicts the claim in text

Press office spin tactics infect clean water program

[Update 2/3/16 – 6:30 pm – DEP corrected the “inadvertent error”:

Dear Mr. Wolfe:

Thank you for bringing the inadvertent error referenced in your email below to my attention. It was certainly not the Department’s intention to mislead the public about the assessment results presented in the Draft 2014 Integrated Report. The erroneous link has been removed, as you suggested. Thank you again for your interest in the New Jersey Draft 2014 Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require additional information or assistance.

Sincerely, ~~~ end update]

To many, this may seem like nitpicking, an inadvertent minor error, or no big deal.

But it clearly is not.

If a scientist or writer did this, he/she would be denounced as sloppy or unethical in sourcing or interpreting or presenting data or maps illustrating the data. Here’s why.

Yesterday, DEP released the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) report (see this).

In a webpage that summarizes and presents the data from various documents, there are many examples of where DEP tried to spin what could credibly support the most favorable interpretations, while omitting or downplaying negative conclusions.

But in one case, DEP either made a significant mistake or they intentionally misled readers.

Specifically, read this text and then hit the link embedded in the text:

“Statewide, 205 miles of rivers and streams, and 2,197 acres of lakes located within 14 of New Jersey’s 958 sub watersheds fully supporting all designated uses (except for fish consumption)”

Clearly, that statement pertains to waterbodies that “fully support all designated uses” (underline in original).

To emphasize this point, the DEP even underlines the word “all” (put the cursor over the linked text before accessing and you can see the word “all” stand out as underlined for special emphasis).

However, when the reader clicks on the link embedded in the text fully support all designated uses”the reader is taken to a map that illustrates waterbodies that “fully support at least one designated use”.

There is a huge difference between supporting all designated uses and supporting just one designated use.

Linking to a map that contradicts the text you embed the link in is a very misleading practice.

I’ve brought this issue to the attention of the DEP manager responsible for it and demanded that it be corrected immediately. Let’s see how they respond.

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A Key Lesson of the Victory That Forced Cancellation of the Amwell Power Plant In Hillsborough

February 2nd, 2016 No comments

Public disclosure of DEP “pre-application meetings” can put community on an equal footing

By now, it’s old news that a proposed new gas power plant – The Amwell Energy Center–  in Hillsborough NJ was cancelled by the developer, Genesis Power, LLC. Read he NJ Spotlight story:

I want to touch briefly on a key point that made the victory possible.

This is a victory for all the people – in Hillsborough and elsewhere – who cared, spoke out, and organized opposition.

It shows that we can win fights against giant corporations.

Of course, the victory also was made possible by local leadership and press coverage.

But a less obvious key part of the lesson learned is the strategic value of early and reliable information on DEP regulatory approvals. Access to information is power.

Keep in mind that this project came to the attention of local officials, the public, and the press as a result of an application to DEP for a wetlands delineation. That is an initial requirement for a DEP wetlands permit.

Large, complex projects typically require multiple permits from the DEP. Lawyers, engineers, and lobbyists developing those project conduct meetings with the DEP to discuss all the permit requirements and schedules for DEP reviews long before permit applications are submitted. These are called “pre-application meetings”. They are critically important, but secret and not disclosed to the public. (DEP has an Office o Permit Coordination just to provide this “customer service” – that Office is a good target for filing OPRA’s to keep track of big projects like pipelines and power plants).

The public needs to know when big projects: 1) apply for permits and 2) when project developers conduct “pre-application meetings” with the DEP.

With this information, we can be put on an equal footing with project developers and organize to block the projects before they are done deals.

As I’ve written many times, once DEP issues draft permits – which is the point in time when the public typically learns about a proposed project – it is too late.

There are several ways to make this kind of information publicly available, but the most effective would be via new legislation to require that the DEP disclose this information in some fashion – a website posting would be very easy to do.

I urge people to learn this lesson and to work for legislative reforms that can put local residents on the same footing as the developers and the DEP regulators.

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Christie DEP Clean Water Act Report Shows That 99% of NJ Watersheds Fail to Meet Fishable and Swimmable Standards

February 1st, 2016 No comments
Aquatic Life Support -color red  shows failure t protect aquatic life. Source: NJ DEP - 2014 draft Impaired Waters Report

Aquatic Life Support -color red shows failure to  protect aquatic life. Source: NJ DEP – 2014 draft Impaired Waters Report

Just one day after the Bergen Record published a controversial story about a USGS study that found dual sexed fish in the Wallkill River and Great Swamp, the DEP released a draft Clean Water Act Section 303(d) “impaired waters” Report for public comment (read the DEP documents here – hit the links and see if you can find your watershed or favorite stream, lake, river or Bay.)

Talk about good timing!

The federal Clean Water Act requires that States prepare, every 2 years, a water quality assessment and list of waters that do not meet the Clean Water Act’s fishable and swimmable goals, as measured by attainment of State Surface Water Quality Standards. SWQS are set to protect designated uses, and DEP develops methods to assess attainment of a designated use, e.g. aquatic life support, recreation, fishing, drinking water, etc.

The DEP is desperately trying to spin the draft 2014 Report as good news or maintenance of the status quo, but that dog don’t hunt – particularly on DEP’s continuing failure to declare Barnegat Bay “impaired”, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that it is..

Back in 2011, Governor Christie vetoed a bill that would have required DEP make an “impairment” determination based upon the available science.

That bill was re-introduced (S765) and released at the first 2016 Legislative session meeting of the Senate Environment Committee on January 25, 2016.

Rutgers scientist and world renowned expert professor Mike Kennish’s research has found that the Bay is clearly impaired and on the verge of ecological collapse: he testified the Bay was “suffering an insidious ecological decline“. Kennish presented that research in testimony to the Legislature, but DEP has ignored his work, tried to block public release of his research Report, and even attempted to smear him.

Here’s just one example of how DEP spins the data to avoid the conclusion that 99% of NJ watersheds do not meet Clean Water Act standards:

Statewide, 205 miles of rivers and streams, and 2,197 acres of lakes located within 14 of New Jersey’s 958 subwatersheds fully support all designated uses (except for fish consumption).

(* If 14 of 958 watershed meet all standards (1.46%), that means that 98.54% fail to support all designated uses, thus the 99% headline of this post. It actually could be worse, because the stream miles that fully support all designated uses are likely a subset of all stream miles in the particular 14 watersheds. I haven’t looked at the data, but I’m confident that the 205 miles of rivers and streams as a percentage of all river and stream miles would show a similar percentage, as would the 2,197 acees of lakes as a percentage of total acres of lakes. DEP hasn’t presented the data this way to frustrate or avoid these kind of conclusions. Read this DEP Report to illustrate how DEP know how to report data on river miles.).

[Update: According to DEP, there are 23,521 total river miles in NJ. That means less than 1% of stream & river miles fully support all designated uses – i.e. 205 miles of 23,521 total miles]

That is an appalling indicator of failure – and it doesn’t even include fish consumption risks, which would bring the failure rate to 100% – there is a statewide fish consumption advisory for mercury and all state waters do not meet the designated use for fish consumption due to unsafe levels of mercury in fish tissue.

And DEP did not even consider the risks of hundreds of unregulated chemical pollutants DEP knows are present in NJ’s waters, including the USGS study on dual sexed fish likely caused by unregulated chemicals that are endocrine disruptors reported by the Bergen Record.

Here are the documents that NJ DEP released today – the public comment period is just 30 days (a March 2 deadline) and there are no public hearings scheduled.

Lots of maps and stories here – I think it will take me 30 days just to read all this – we’ve asked EPA – who raised significant concern with DEP’s 2012 303(d) report – and NJ DEP for a 60 day extension of the 30 day (90 total) comment period and to  hold public hearings (3) across the state:

DEP wrote:

Current Status of the 2014 Integrated Report:

The draft 2014 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Waters (303(d) List has been completed. The following documents are now available for public review and comment and may be downloaded from the links below. Comments must be submitted to Sandra Cohen at Sandra.Cohen@dep.nj.gov by March 2, 2016.

Links to maps displaying the spatial extent of key designated use assessment results are provided below – you might want to focus on the public water supply assessment map – too bad DEP did not identify the locations of surface water supply intake on that map:

Obviously more to follow on this.

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