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In Walking Back Absurd Climate Remarks, Murphy DEP Goes From The Frying Pan To The Fire

October 27th, 2020 No comments

DEP Attacks Critics, While Exposing Further Caving to Business Community Opposition

Senator Smith Invokes Right Wing “Regulatory Takings” Talking Points To Undermine Climate Regulations

DEP Is Rigging The Game In The Business Community’s Favor

NJ Spotlight today wrote a followup piece on their DEP climate regulation story last week.

Last week’s Spotlight story was based on an interview with DEP Deputy Commissioner Shawn LaTourette. It included remarkably irresponsible but revealing quotes – bordering on climate denial – which off course I blasted, see:

Just as I predicted (see: DEP In Damage Control Mode), in today’s  story, Mr. LaTourette attempted to walk back those remarks, but in doing so, he dug his hole even deeper.

LaTourette falsely attacked critics (while again hiding his dangerous policy views behind “science”). In doing so, he further exposed DEP’s capitulation to business community opposition, and invited an even more damaging attack by Senator Smith, longtime Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee.

Below I’ll explain what’s really going on, but first read the whole NJ Spotlight story:

I)  False Attack On Critics Will Backfire

In another stunning set of absurd remarks, Mr. LaTourette falsely attacks critics: (emphasis mine)

LaTourette said the critics were wrong to conclude that the DEP would leave it up to an individual to decide whether it was safe to build a house in a particular location.

“They have nothing to react to at this point,” he said. “For folks to jump to the conclusion that what we may propose to help ready our state to face this great risk, for folks to presuppose that whatever it is won’t be good enough, that’s not following the science.”

What an idiot. And now he not only confirms that he’s an idiot, but that he is motivated by bad faith.

As NJ Spotlight thankfully (but only partially noted), the criticism was based on LaTourette’s own statements:

LaTourette’s first remarks included this: “We are not saying: ‘You cannot build in a future flood-risk area.’”

But LaTourette’s “first” remarks were far worse than that. Here’s what he actually said, which included a statement that it was not DEP’s role to regulate and he used red meat right wing rhetoric to attack both government and regulation:

“We’re not at a point, nor do we think it’s our role, to tell people: ‘Don’t build here, you shouldn’t build there, you can’t do that,’” LaTourette said. …

He said the DEP wants to avoid being the “big, bad government” that imposes heavy-handed regulations.

officials have continued to gather input via a series of virtual meetings with stakeholders and aim to formally propose new regulations “early next year,” perhaps in the first quarter, LaTourette said.

And in trying to cover his tracks and justify his false attack on critics, LaTourette lamely tried to hide behind “science” when he said:

“For folks to jump to the conclusion that what we may propose to help ready our state to face this great risk, for folks to presuppose that whatever it is won’t be good enough, that’s not following the science.”

Critics weren’t “jumping” to any conclusion, critics were responding to MaTourette’s dangerous statements.

Of course, this has zero to do with “science” and by making that absurd “science” remark, Mr. LaTourette – a former corporate lawyer – reveals that he knows nothing about climate science and that the term is just another slogan or talking point to him.

If he were engaged in good faith, Mr. LaTorette should have apologized and admitted that he mis-spoke and set the record straight.

His remarks were so egregiously wrong and embarrassing that the Gov.’s Office and DEP Commissioner McCabe should have issued a public statement distancing themselves from his remarks and setting the record straight.

The fact that none of that happened basically confirms that he did not mis-speak and that his warped policy views represent the position of Gov. Murphy.

That is a very bad sign. Very bad. And instead of damage control, Mr. LaTourette sparked additional criticism.

II) DEP Is Caving To Business Community Opposition And Following Christie’s Anti-Regulatory Playbook

But Mr. LaTorette didn’t just falsely attack his critics.

In his effort at damage control, he revealed a major concession: i.e. that DEP will issue what’s technically known under administrative law as a “pre-proposal”, which he mistakenly called a “road map” (that misrepresentation is totally unacceptable, coming from a lawyer):

“Within the next several weeks, certainly before the end of the year, we will lay out a road map that folks can respond to, that we can take more comment on, before a rule is proposed,” he said. “It is the next phase in stakeholdering these important concepts.”

There are several bad things going on here. DEP is rigging the game.

Procedurally, a “road map” prior to a regulatory proposal is not just delay.

It amounts to a major political concession, because it provides an additional opportunity for the business community to organize, lobby, and work secretly behind the scenes – in the dark – to defeat any strict science based DEP climate regulations.

At the same time, this informal “road map” process also undermines the science and expertise of DEP staff, by allowing the business community to make unaccountable attacks on DEP’s recommendations, with no scientific basis and with arguments based on economics and politics.

Decades of DEP regulatory experience tell me that the business community always intervenes politically behind the scenes directly with the Governor’s Office, the DEP Commissioner, and legislators on major DEP rules and important DEP science that forms the basis of rules. To minimize this political abuse, NJ laws limit that intervention and provide transparency and accountability mechanisms.

The NJ Administrative Procedures Act (APA) – the law that governs DEP’s rule making – does not provide for any informal “road map”. The APA law has 3 regulatory procedures, all of which are formal and on the record, so that they may be reviewed by the public, the legislature, and a court of law (meaning that public comments and DEP responses are transparent). Those 3 valid procedures are: 1) a rule pre-proposal; 2) negotiated rulemaking; and 3) rule proposal.

In contrast to a formal “pre-proposal”, “negotiated rule making” or “proposal” (procedures legally authorized under the NJ Administrative Procedures Act), with a “road map”, the business community lobbying and interventions behind the scenes with the DEP Commissioner and Gov.’s Office will not be transparent and may occur in the dark with no fingerprints.

This invites abuse and undermines the science.

This “road map” process is exactly what the business community asked for.

Specifically, in an October 5, 2020 letter, NJBIA Vice President Ray Cantor (a revolving door former Christie DEP Deputy Commissioner) strongly criticizes the DEP’s regulatory process and urges DEP to slow down and provide additional opportunities for his business colleague to intervene politically: (emphases mine)

As the largest business association in New Jersey, we have requested that the Department allow us to assemble a smaller, representative group of businesses which would meet with the relevant managers within the air program in order to have more focused discussions on the potential proposals. This meeting, and we believe that more than one would be advisable, would be intended to better inform the Department on how to accomplish their goals, to discuss what proposals would work and which would not, to discuss costs and impacts, and to ensure the Department proposes the most workable regulatory changes that are feasible.

Even with additional and meaningful stakeholdering, I also suggest the Department use the official pre-proposal process or circulate proposed regulatory language. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA), as you are well aware, does not allow for significant substantive changes upon adoption. This limitation makes it all the more important that the language crafted and proposed be as precise as possible. Allowing the regulated community and others to review and comment on rule language before it is officially proposed in the Register will give the Department a tool to craft a better rule. In fact, the APA specifically authorizes a pre-proposal process.

[My Note: the NJ APA does not – repeat does not – authorize a “road map” process or the informal process of meetings with DEP managers recommended above by NJBIA.]

DEP Deputy Commissioner LaTourette’s “road map” process concedes to this NJBIA criticism and request.

Quite revealingly, LaTourette even parrots NJBIA Cantor’s gibberish term “stakeholdering”: (NJ Spotlight)

“Within the next several weeks, certainly before the end of the year, we will lay out a road map that folks can respond to, that we can take more comment on, before a rule is proposed,” he said. “It is the next phase in stakeholdering these important concepts.”

It’s obvious that NJBIA’s Cantor has the ear of DEP’s LaTourette. And it’s pathetic that LaTourette parrots NJBIA legal gibberish.

Finally, LaTourette’s DEP is following Gov. Christie’s regulatory policy and procedures, not those of Gov. Murphy.

Former NJ Gov. Christie, in Executive Order #2 was designed to “provide immediate relief from regulatory burdens” and prevent “costly”, “job killing”, “red tape” regulations on the business community. It includes a “advanced notice” process to solicit private sector  input before rules are proposed (the NJ APA does not authorize an “advanced notice” process. Christie just made that up). Christie’s EO #2 provided the exact “road map” informal process that Mr. LaTourette just confirmed.

Christie EO #2 provides:

1. For immediate relief from regulatory burdens, State agencies shall:

a. Engage in the “advance notice of rules” by soliciting the advice and views of knowledgeable persons from outside of New Jersey State government, including the private sector and academia, in advance of any rulemaking to provide valuable insights on the proposed rules, and to prevent unworkable, overly-proscriptive or ill-advised rules from being adopted.

DEP’s LaTourette just further revealed his prior anti-government and anti-regulatory remarks by following the exact same pro-business regulatory procedures that were not only recommended by NJBIA but previously adopted by Gov. Christie in EO #2.

Perhaps even worse, while following Gov. Christie’s EO#2 process, DEP is not following the regulatory policies and procedures announced by Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order #63 which was designed to revise and replace Christie’s EO#2 on rule making and strengthen the hands of State regulators. (However, EO 63 is seriously flawed, as I wrote).

III)  Senator Smith Invokes Right Wing Property Rights Talking Points

Finally, more troubling still were the comments of Senator Smith, longtime Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee.

I’ve worked closely over many years with Senator Smith and know – with the exception of the Highlands Act which he sponsored at the policy direction of Gov. McGreevey – that he strongly opposes DEP land use regulations and often carries the water of the development community.

Senator Smith – despite contradicting himself on the risk of sea level rise and supporting DEP Tourette’s absurd prior comments –  really undermined necessary strong DEP regulations by playing, right out of the box, the “takings” card: (emphasis mine)

If the DEP is taking an incremental approach to climate regulation now, that’s because it can’t afford the lawsuits that it would attract if it issued strict rules on development in future flood zones, argued Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

Smith, who frequently warns about the dangers of rising seas at the Shore,said any move by DEP to prevent development of future flood zones would prompt “inverse condemnation” suits claiming that the government has taken private property without compensating the owner, who is therefore entitled to payment.

“If the department took the position that ‘we’re going to tell people where they can and can’t build’, that’s inverse condemnation and you’ve got to have the bucks to back it up,” he said. “To take the role that some people would like to see them take, they don’t have the resources to do it.”

He said the DEP is taking a limited approach to new climate regulation for now, in hope of convincing the public that stronger measures will be needed later.

Smith, in addition to advocating very bad policy, is just flat out wrong on the NJ law on “regulatory takings”. His remarks reflect politics, not science and mis-state the NJ law on “regulatory takings”..

In order to trigger a compensable “regulatory taking”, a DEP regulation must totally extinguish all economic use of a property and violate “reasonable investment backed expectations”.

The risks of sea level rise, storm surge, extreme weather events, flood hazards, and related climate impacts have long been known, and not only to scientists and DEP regulators, but to the general public and investment community.

DEP has been issuing warning Reports on coastal hazards for decades and adopted a federally approved coastal management strategy that addresses coastal risks related to climate. NJ’s coastal land use law, CAFRA, was enacted over 40 years ago.

DEP also has been mapping and regulating inland flood risks under the 40 year old NJ Flood Hazard AreaControl Act.

If anyone didn’t know about all this, surely Superstorm Sandy opened their eyes almost a decade ago. Due diligence comes from simply reading the paper!

So there can be no “reasonable investment backed expectations” to develop in high risk areas.

Furthermore, there are many alternative uses of property that provide economic opportunities, aside from development. So, it would be rare indeed for DEP to extinguish all economic uses of land.

There is no NJ case law I am aware of directly on point with respect to DEP climate regulation and takings, but the precedent is strongly in favor of DEP’s rules, if they are based on science and designed to protect public health, safety and environment.

[Update – a reader agrees, and offers concrete examples:

you did a good job correcting Sen. Bob on takings law…empty land, unbuildable land at the nj coast still has a value as a buffer and privacy measure for neighbors – a market for empty lots for privacy sake…the price of that probably goes way up over time…
I’m a customer: I bid $5 for any unbuildable lots…will take up to ten to add to my portfolio and sell them to neighbors for $10,000 each. ~~~ end update]

Finally, Smith also completely misses the point regarding the objectives of development restrictions to address climate change:

“I don’t think it’s going to be enough to provide the information and the guidelines,” Smith said. “Not everybody is altruistic or thinks in the current moment what is really in their best long-term interests. Their view is very short term, and it’s very hard for them to do the right thing.”

DEP regulations are not designed to protect individual and economic interests. Of course individuals often seek economic gains that violate the public interest, risk pubic safety and health, and harm the environment – that’s why we have regulation in the first place.

DEP regulations are designed to protect the public interest, public health and safety, and the environment.

Shame on Smith, he’s as bad as DEP’s LaTourette.

[End Note: Of course, the science and regulatory issues are far broader than just addressing the risks from flooding under CAFRA and FHACA.

DEP’s own “climate PACT” initiative addresses both emissions reductions and “adaptation”.

In fact, it will be interesting to see how broadly DEP interprets its existing authority to mandate emissions reductions, especially from currently unregulated sources and sectors (e.g. buildings, transportation, forestry, agriculture, “small sources”, etc).

Equally, other state environmental agencies, such as NY State DEC, have built scientific and legal bridges between greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation, including important things like fossil infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) and air and water pollution control laws, greatly expanding regulatory authority to address climate, including “upstream” lifecycle and cumulative impacts.

DEP has very broad authority to comprehensively regulate emissions and adaptation, mandate emissions offsets, mitigation, and energy efficiency, etc but all indications thus far are that they are taking a very narrow approach and repeating historical flaws in various flawed DEP individual permit “silo” programs, instead of comprehensive planning and regulation.

Finally, we note that the recent “environmental justice” bill Gov. Murphy just signed into law does NOT address climate justice. That’s right: it does NOT regulate greenhouse gas emissions or adaptation in EJ communities.

How will DEP Climate PACT regulations address the EJ issues?

We’re not optimistic. More to follow, of course.

PS – In the body of this post, I didn’t want to waste readers’ time or a bullet on this lame idiot Jennifer Coffey, who basis her assessments on personal phone calls to DEP hacks.

In what is an unprecedented move, Jenn TRIPLED down!

Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, said she had been concerned about what the new regulations would say, after reading LaTourette’s earlier comments, but feels more comfortable after speaking with him.

“I am confident that the DEP is going to be proposing concrete actions under NJ PACT to mitigate the impacts of climate change and to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” she said

That’s how you earn those large Wm. Penn and Dodge Foundation grants.

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I Get The Urge For Going

October 23rd, 2020 No comments
Coconino National Forest (just outside Flagstaff Az)

Coconino National Forest (just outside Flagstaff Az)

I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
And summertime is falling down and winter is closing in. ~~~ Joni Mitchell (1968)

(But I like Tom Rush’s version)

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After Announcing Retreat On Climate Regulations, The Murphy DEP Is In Damage Control Mode And Trying To Change The Subject

October 19th, 2020 No comments

NJ Spotlight Prints DEP Diversion, Despite Publishing A Critical Conflicting Story Just Days Prior

False impression DEP aggressively responding to climate crisis, while – by DEP’s own words – they are actually retreating

[Update below]

Just days after Murphy DEP Deputy Commissioner Shawn LaTourette announced a massive retreat from climate regulations, the Murphy DEP released an update of a Report mandated by the otherwise toothless and ignored 2007 Global Warming Response Act (GWRA).

The timing alone reflects a desperate and obvious PR move by DEP to change the subject. News management 101. Orwell.

And the lame folks at NJ Spotlight took the bait hook line and sinker and went right along with the DEP game, and without providing crucial context for the Report that their own outlet had just reported days prior.

In what could be the worst headline ever, NJ Spotlight reported:

Spotlight presents a lot of DEP’s spin on DEP’s “progress” in that favorable story.

The DEP Report may call for “major action”, but DEP’s own Deputy Commissioner just announced that DEP was retreating and delaying even minor action. The contradiction is stunning.

So for now, let’s rehash a few of the lowlights of DEP’s retreat. DEP Deputy Commissioner said: (NJ Spotlight)

“We’re not at a point, nor do we think it’s our role, to tell people: ‘Don’t build here, you shouldn’t build there, you can’t do that,’” LaTourette said. …

He said the DEP wants to avoid being the “big, bad government” that imposes heavy-handed regulations.

officials have continued to gather input via a series of virtual meetings with stakeholders and aim to formally propose new regulations “early next year,” perhaps in the first quarter, LaTourette said.

(we will do a future post on our assessment of DEP’s Report and “progress” in implementing the GWRA. I assure you that we see far less progress than NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle does. For now, see:

Mr. Latourette’s should be help accountable for his astonishing remarks about DEP’s regulatory role, “big bad government”, “heavy handed regulations”, and an open ended delay on proposing regulations that conflicts with Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order and prior commitments to propose rules this fall.

The DEP retreat from climate regulations (specifically retreat in terms of delay, in scope, and in stringency) should be major news and fodder for followup coverage documenting the responses of real climate activists (not the Penn Foundation Funded hack source NJ Spotlight chose to represent the “environmental” viewpoint).

But instead of accountability for DEP and followup coverage of the implications of DEP’s retreat, Spotlight immediately allowed DEP to change the subject and create the false appearance that they were aggressively responding to the climate crisis (instead of, by DEP’s own words, actually retreating).

This journalistic malpractice is not an anomaly, but part of a disturbing pattern whereby every time Spotlight writes what might be perceived as a critical or edgy story, the immediately followup it with a puff piece of green cover or rehabilitation.

The examples are too numerous to present here, so I’ll just mention the most recent.

On September 23, 2020, Spotlight reported that the Murphy BPU had slashed energy efficiency programs proposed by NJ PSEG by over 61%.

Public Service Electric & Gas has reached a tentative settlement with state regulators over its proposed $2.5 billion plan to invest in energy-efficiency programs for its customers, accepting a scaled-back $970 million program instead.

Obviously, a $1.6 billion 61% cut in an energy efficiency program calls into question Gov. Murphy’s commitment to his stated climate and “clean energy” goals and undermines the policies of his highly touted recently adopted BPU Energy Master Plan.

That is clearly “bad news” for the climate and bad news for the Governor

But the very next day, on September 24, 2020, Spotlight reported exactly the opposite: good news, with no mention of the bad news context: (again, ignore the headline, which is the opposite of the story content. The State did NOT put “more muscle”, as reported just a day earlier, they slashed the muscle to the bone via a $1.6 billion cut):

The state’s utilities want to ramp up spending by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three years to convince their customers to reduce their electric and gas use, complying with a new mandate to invest in energy efficiency programs.

The filings last week by six of New Jersey’s utilities have the goal of advancing the Murphy administration’s clean-energy ambitions by reducing pollution, potentially creating thousands of new green energy jobs, and saving customers’ money, be it homeowners or businesses.

Does reporter Tom Johnson, when he claims utilities want to “ramp up” spending (under a headline claiming the state puts “more muscle”) think we forgot that BPU slashed PSE&G’s energy efficiency program by $1.6 billion, over 61%, a fact he reported just the day before?

Obviously, he was providing cover for Gov. Murphy and BPU.

That is journalistic malpractice, and it is happening over and over again.

And that’s only when NJ Spotlight writes a critical story – which happens about once in a blue moon.

[Update – I failed to mention a very important point.

When DEP Deputy Commissioner LaTourette gave the interview to NJ Spotlight where he announced a major retreat on the regulatory front (using red meat right wing slogans), he knew exactly what the DEP Climate Report had found and the “major actions” that the Report would recommend. He knew they would be extremely controversial and strongly opposed by the business community.

Those “major actions” include a dramatic expansion of DEP regulations, which is taboo to powerful business interests and friends of Gov. Murphy.

So, in order to soften the blow and tamp down major opposition by the business community, he used NJ Spotlight to send a message:

“Don’t worry, we won’t regulate you. This is all just to appease the enviro’s and make the Gov. look good.”

In my next post, I will analyze just what that DEP found, what it recommended, and how the disastrously minuscule “progress” the DEP has made contradicts and destroys the credibility of the media and environmental cheerleaders, who have so grossly exaggerated and falsely praised Gov. Murphy’s fake “climate leadership”. Don’t miss it. ~~~ end update]

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NJ Audubon Benefits From And Celebrates Trump Corruption And Self Dealing

October 18th, 2020 No comments

NY Times expose of Trump tax avoidance and self dealing has direct links to NJ

Let’s begin with a question:

Why would NJ Audubon brag about “global attention” at Trump’s Bedminster NJ golf course, which is precisely the corruption and self dealing exposed by the NY Times?

While it has not be a focus of national concern, NJ people know that the roots of the Trump administration’s corruption are buried deep in NJ, from Jared Kushner (who’s “loathsome” felonious father went to prison) to Trump’s strategic advisor and fellow COVID con man Chris Christie.

For years, I have repeatedly written about one aspect of that NJ based corruption related to a Trump “partnership” with NJ Audubon at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.

So, I was heartened to read the NY Times’ recent expose of Trump’s tax evasion, fraud and corruption, which had several links to those NJ corrupt roots, specifically at his Bedminster Golf Course regarding tax avoidance (specifically which could involve “landscaping”, “conservation easements”, “stewardship”, and other “administrative costs” directly associated with the NJ Audubon “partnernship”).

The NY Times reported:

Tax records do not have the specificity to evaluate the legitimacy of every business expense Mr. Trump claims to reduce his taxable income — for instance, without any explanation in his returns, the general and administrative expenses at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey increased fivefold from 2016 to 2017.

I assumed that this bombshell was sufficient for at least the NJ press corps to investigate and expose the details of the NJ Bedminster operation, including the NJ Audubon “partnership”.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

But again today, the NY Times ran a scathing editorial that focused on Trump’s corruption and self dealing, including how he uses his properties, read the whole thing: The Self Dealing Administration (emphasis mine):

The appearance of impropriety is not confined to the family’s Washington hotel. From Scotland to New Jersey to Florida and beyond, Trump properties have raked in tens of millions of dollars from those seeking to curry favor with, or at least express their appreciation for, the president. …

The Washington Post has estimated that the U.S. government had paid well over $1 million to the president’s company since he took office in costs associated with the Secret Service. This includes at least 530 nights at Mar-a-Lago and 950 nights at the president’s club in Bedminster, N.J.

So, once again, the Trump – NJ Audubon “partnership” is directly in the media cross hairs.

(and this also is the place where trump conducted a COVID “super spreader” event)

So, I thought I might seed that media inquiry and remind people that, instead of terminating and being ashamed and apologizing for the corrupt Trump “partnership”, that NJ Audubon actually celebrates it!

Here is an excerpt from NJ Audubon’s 2017 “Corporate Stewardship Council Report” that summarizes the Trump deal.

In that Report, NJ Audubon emphasizes the importance of Trump’s corruption and how the partnership is “receiving global attention”: (see page 12)

In 2017 Trump National Golf Club installed additional acres of native warm-season grasses and wild flowers, as native warm-season grasses and wild flowers, as well as restored a 10,000-square foot wetland area with native plantings as part of its overall habitat improvments at its Bedminster, NJ. Trump National Golf Club began habitat restoration e orts on the property in 2014 with large scale invasive species removals, native grass seeding and riparian plantings to bene t migratory bird and pollinators. Since then, they have continued to provide stewardship efforts to maintain the habitat while incorporating additional areas ofhabitat restoration when possible. …

All restoration efforts at the [Trump] property (which is receiving global attention due to US President Donald Trump’s frequent visits to the site), are part of the USFWS Partners in Fish and WildlifeProgram. Though the installation of native plants at the property a variety of bird, amphibian and butterfly species have been documented to be actively utilizing the property as breeding grounds.

Note that the NJ Audubon praises expansion of “stewardship” activities during the same time period (2016-2017) that the NY Times’ tax investigation revealed that Trump’s tax deductible expenses at the Bedminster course increased “fivefold”. 

Does this directly implicate NJ Audubon in Trump’s tax evasion?

Is Trump taking additional tax deductions for his 6 figure contributions to NJ Audubon that are unrelated to the “Stewardship” “partnership”?

And why would NJ Audubon brag about “global attention”, which is precisely the corruption and self dealing and tax evasion exposed by the NY Times?

Obvious questions emerge, including:

1) how much did Trump pay or contribute to NJ Audubon as part of the “partnership”?

2) Have any of Trump’s NJ Audubon related expenses for “landscaping”, conservation easements, or other “stewardship” activities been used by Trump for tax avoidance purposes?

3) Is the Trump “partnership” still in effect?

4) Will media demand that NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles provide information and respond to questions?

Come on intrepid journalists, I’ve teed this one up for you! (pun intended).

As  Scooter Libby wrote cryptically to disgraced former NY Times reporter Judith Miller, the Aspens are turning – so, well, let me similarly just suggest that the blackbirds are singing in the dead of night.

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Environmental Leader Applauds Murphy DEP Retreat From Climate Regulations

October 17th, 2020 No comments

DEP denies role and injects another year of delay in adopting climate regulations

Given the opportunity to retract her support, Jennifer Coffey doubled down

While I was not surprised by the Murphy DEP’s recent retreat from regulations to respond – I hesitate to use the slogan “adapt”, as that tends to downplay the unmanageable severity of actual impacts –  to the accelerating climate emergency, I was shocked by how DEP publicly justified them. (see my prior post).

We followup on that with today’s post, in 5 easy pieces.

I)  Not My Job

Specifically, DEP Deputy Commissioner Shawn LaTourette (previously a corporate lawyer), claimed that it was not DEP’s role to regulate: (NJ Spotlight)

“We’re not at a point, nor do we think it’s our role, to tell people: ‘Don’t build here, you shouldn’t build there, you can’t do that,’” LaTourette said.

Perhaps worse, LaTourette spouted the anti-government and anti-regulatory ideological drivel of right wing Republicans, which NJ Spotlight of course put under a bold faced banner – just what Ray Cantor and NJ BIA asked for:

Not a case of ‘big, bad government’

He said the DEP wants to avoid being the “big, bad government” that imposes heavy-handed regulations.

II)  More Delay, with No Firm Commitment

Additionally, a key issue that was obfuscated by NJ Spotlight is the schedule for the climate regulations. Initially, DEP committed to proposing regulations this fall. Without any comment, DEP just injected at least another 6 months of delay by saying rule might be proposed next spring – delay that went unreported by Spotlight. (Yet Spotlight did provide a platform to Ray Cantor of NJBIA to suggest even more delay:

When will new regulations be ready?

Still, officials have continued to gather input via a series of virtual meetings with stakeholders and aim to formally propose new regulations “early next year,” perhaps in the first quarter, LaTourette said.

Ray Cantor, vice president of government affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, argued that the timetable is too tight for far-reaching regulations that will be based on decades-long climate forecasts.

On top of all that backtracking by DEP, LaTourette again created a false impression that climate impacts and the need for a DEP adaptation regulatory response is somehow a new issue that is poorly understood by the public:

Even if mitigation now will only start to pay dividends in 30 years or more, it’s important to win acceptance of the idea from a public that doesn’t yet get it, LaTourette said.

This was a repeat of how LaTourette blamed the public for his Covanta Union County incinerator experiment lies.

III)  Worse than Christie

DEP Deputy Commissioner LaTourett’e remarks actually are worse than Gov. Christie, who  in the wake of Superstorm Sandy claimed that climate was an “esoteric” issue that the public didn’t “give a damn” about, see:

“I have no idea. I’m not a climatologist and in the last hundred days I have to tell you the truth, I’ve been focused on a lot of things, the cause of this is not one of them that I’ve focused on,” Christie said in response to a question about the role climate change could have played in fueling the Oct. 29, 2012 storm. “Now, maybe in the subsequent months and years, after I get done with trying to rebuild the state and put people back in their homes, I will have the opportunity to ponder the esoteric question of the cause of this storm. …If you asked of these people in Union Beach, I don’t think they give a damn.” NJ Gov. Chris Christie, Feb. 5. 2013

Just what does it take to get fired in a Murphy administration?

Why hasn’t DEP Commissioner McCabe or Gov. Murphy issued a public statement refuting and clarifying LaTourette’s remarks? That silence is deafening and confirms that LaTourette speak for the Gov.

All this is astonishing from an administration who claims to be a world leader in climate policy.

IV)  Environmental Leader Supports DEP – An Act of Climate Cowardice & Massive Green Cover

But what I was surprised by was that an “environmental leader” actually supported the DEP’s approach.

While I have often written about the fact that the DEP “Stakeholder process” is a corrupt form of regulatory capture and co-optation and harshly criticized NJ environmental groups (aka The Green Mafia) for their sycophantic false and damaging political green cover for Democratic administrations, this episode is by far the worst example of these abuses.

Jennifer Coffey, head of the Association of Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) said:

But Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, endorsed the DEP’s approach to revising the regulations. “DEP is absolutely moving in the right direction in terms of addressing the impact of climate change and trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that we can keep the impacts from getting exponentially worse,” she said.

(yes, this is worse than Ms. Coffey’s absurd statement that Most environmentalists have relationships with power companies”. Of course, that rhetoric reflects the ideology and corporate style of her Wm. Penn Foundation funders.)

V)  Ms. Coffey Doubles Down And Evades

How could an environmental group support a “DEP approach to revising regulations” that rejected DEP’s regulatory role, reflected a right wing attack on “big bad government”, and, after 3 years in office, injected even more delay in adopting regulations?

Surely, Coffey could not actually be supportive of what DEP’s LaTourette said, could she?

So, I contacted Ms. Coffey via email to confirm her quote and ask if she wanted to retract or clarify her comments in support, based on Mr. Latourette’s statements.

I also asked 3 specific questions, in an October 14, 2020 email, I wrote:

Jennifer – I am writing to confirm your quote in today’s NJ Spotlight story.

I assume your quote was offered without the knowledge of Deputy Commissioner LaTourette’s comments.

If so, would you care to revise or revoke it in light of what LaTourettte said?

Or do you support LaTourette’s claims about: 1) DEP’s regulatory role? 2) About the efficacy of a climate impact. statement and property deed approach as an alternative to traditional regulation? 3) About the state of public knowledge?

Ms. Coffey responded by doubling down in her support for DEP, evading regulatory issues, and failing to respond to my 3 specific questions.

Here is her full reply (emphases mine) – which is full of spin and bullshit I will address in a future post.

I’ll simply note here that, obviously, the DEP Deputy Commissioner’s on the record statement carries far more weight in terms of conveying DEP’s actual regulatory policy than Ms. Coffey’s impressions of a stakeholder meeting and comments by DEP staffers.

Thank you for reaching out, Bill.

As I said to Jon when we spoke the other day, my experience on the NJ PACT stakeholder group leads me to understand that the NJDEP is incorporating the best available climate data to continue to guide where we can and cannot build in NJ, as the DEP has for decades through the CAFRA, Flood Hazard and other rules that have quite frankly been too weak in protecting our environment and public safety. My understanding is that PACT rules will reflect newly available science models and the correlated expansion floodplains as a result of climate change.In short, we should not be building in floodplains or in areas that we know will be flooding in the near future. Incorporating the best available climate science data that we have now, and more as it continues to become available, is essential to becoming more resilient in the face of climate effects that we know we cannot stop. The effects of climate change are here now and are affecting NJ more than any other state. We will continue to see rising sea levels and increasing precipitation that will continue to exacerbate inland flooding as sea levels continue to rise along our coast. The best models we have show that NJ will have an 11 percent increase in annual precipitation by 2050, and 37 percent increase by 2100.  It is not okay to simply assess impacts of climate change for new development, but we need to adapt to reflect new floodplain mapping and enhance stormwater management as a result of known climate impacts. We need to change both the places and ways we develop, and my participation in the NJDEP stakeholder groups has led me to believe that the PACT rules require better planning, avoid areas we know will be floodplains between now and 2050, and improve stormwater management. We need to simultaneously become more resilient to the impacts of climate change that we cannot stop and do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep those impacts from becoming exponentially worse.

Climate activists and all NJ citizens should be blasting DEP and Ms. Coffey for this cowardly and corrupt abdication.

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