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We’re Thankful For Our Winter Place In The Sonoran Desert

November 25th, 2021 No comments

Somewhere Near Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta

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Recently arrived at our winter digs. Although the photo doesn’t show it, there was a beautiful orange – turquoise sunset.

BLM lands outside Ajo, Arizona, nearby Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, just north of the Mexican Border in the Sonoran Desert.

Lots to the thankful for out here.

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Murphy DEP Denies Request For Public Records On DEP’s Review Of “Fortress Energy” LNG Export Project In Gibbstown, NJ

November 24th, 2021 No comments

Current DEP Commissioner LaTourette Represented Fortress In DEP Permit Process

OPRA Records Denial Appears To Be A Cover Up Of LaTourette’s Involvement

DEP Documents Reveal A Cozy Relationship With Fortress Energy

The Murphy DEP just denied my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for public documents regarding the DEP’s review of permit applications for a massive LNG export plant in Gibbstown NJ, known as “Fortress Energy”.

I’ve responded to OPRA requests as a DEP employee and I’ve filed hundreds of OPRA requests to DEP. This was a routine and very specific request for permit records. So, the DEP’s denial is a severe abuse of OPRA and because it is so egregious it suggests DEP has bad faith or corrupt motives.

The denial comes at a time when I recently filed OPRA requests and obtained sensitive, controversial, and embarrassing documents (including DEP enforcement records on Statewide violations of DEP’s drinking water standards for “forever chemicals”).

These OPRA documents I recently received also included controversial and embarrassing documents that show that current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette was personally and directly involved in the permitting of the LNG plant  as a lawyer representing Fortress (and as Director of the environmental law Department at Gibbons law firm where he supervised other lawyers working on the LNG project).

The OPRA documents also expose that DEP knows that current DEP permit regulation do not allow DEP to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or climate impacts. Yet LaTourette has done nothing to close the loopholes he exploited in representing and securing DEP permits for Fortress Energy.

(In a post I’m still working on, I also will reveal how these OPRA response documents show a cozy and inappropriate relationship between the permit applicant Fortress and the DEP staff. DEP knows I have these documents).

LaTourette recently denied knowledge of and downplayed his role in that DEP permit process and misled the community at a recent DEP “listening session”.

LaTourette has also repeatedly gaslighted the public and media by his statements about his commitment to addressing climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, belying that commitment, he has done nothing to close huge gaps in DEP’s regulations – regulations he exploited on behalf of Fortress Energy to secure DEP permits for the LNG plant (in record time and under the public and media radar).

So – given how badly I’ve been bludgeoning DEP and Commissioner LaTourette with documents I’ve obtained via OPRA –  DEP clearly had a corrupt motive to deny my request to obtain additional permit documents that would further embarrass Commissioner LaTourette and further expose his misleading statements about his role in the LNG DEP permit process as a lawyer for Fortress Energy.

I requested, very specifically, the communications between the consultant representing Fortress Energy (“Rambol”, the project is technically known as Delaware River Partners, DRP and Gibbstown Logistic Center)  and the DEP staffer who served as the point of contact on DEP’s land use permits.

Here is my OPRA request:

I request the following public records:

1. Communications (correspondence, emails, meeting agendas and notes, phone calls,) between Laura George of Rambol and Suzane Dietrick of DEP Land Use regarding DEP permits and approvals of the proposed DRP GIBBSTOWN LOGISTICS CENTER

2. emails, meeting agendas and notes, memoranda, application review comments and other communications between Suzane Dietrick and DEP staffers, the DEP Office of Permit Coordination, and the DEP Commissioner’s Office regard the proposed DRP GIBBSTOWN LOGISTICS CENTER.

DEP denied this request on the sham basis that it was overly broad.

Yet it was narrow and very specific: it identified 2 specific individuals, a specific permit application, and a specific project which DEP reviewed and approved during a very specific timeframe.

DEP asserted the very thin reed that my request was overly broad because it failed to specify a timeframe. But that is bogus, because the permits were already issued and DEP knows when the permit applications were initially submitted and when they were approved. That timeframe is defined already and known to DEP.

DEP permit reviews are coordinated through DEP’s Office of Permit Coordination, so that is routine standard operating procedure and an OPRA public record.

But not all individual permits are reviewed by or have involvement of the Commissioner’s Office. This review would include the Commissioner, Chief of Staff, Deputy Commissioner, possibly the press office, possibly the Governor’s Office, and the Commissioner’s legal Counsel. So, this aspect of my OPRA request raises legitimate “deliberative privilege” issues.

But DEP did not deny my OPRA request on the basis of “deliberative privilege”. (If they did invoke “deliberative privilege”, they would confirm political involvement of the Commissioner’s Office and/or Governor’s Office in DEP permit review).

All DEP permit documents are OPRA public records, by definition. All communications between a permit applicant and the DEP are public records (with the exception of very limited corporate proprietary information or domestic security exemptions, which clearly do not apply in this case). These documents form what’s known as the “administrative record” for the project and are open for public review under OPRA.

It is an outrage that DEP denied this request – this is a blatant abuse of OPRA.

I already refiled the request and will be appealing this denial to the Government Records Council or perhaps the Courts and will request Legislative oversight of DEP’s OPRA practices.

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Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette Accused Of Misleading Residents at “Listening Session”

November 23rd, 2021 No comments

DEP Commissioner LaTourette Has Some Explaining To Do

His Credibility Is Shot

In response to the recent post exposing just how closely current DEP Commissioner LaTourette worked on the proposed Gibbstown NJ LNG export project known as “Fortress Energy”, local residents tweeted expressions of shock and feelings of betrayal:

The Twitter dialogue began with this tweet, in response to my post: (the tweeter was not aware that I broke that story, in this original 2/9/21 post, and basically forced NJ Spotlight to report the story several days later):

found this (provided a link to a WHYY/NJ Spotlight story) – this was all news to me

A reply said:

News to me, too. Notice how he [LaTourette] was quick to point out at last week’s meeting that he represented plaintiffs who were injured by the chemical train derailment in Paulsboro ten yrs ago, but no mention of the legal work he did for the LNG developer?

Which prompted this reply from another reader:

Omg this is horrific even by Jersey standards. Interestingly at last week’s DEP listening session he told me how he defended plaintiffs in Paulsboro after the Mantua Creek train derailment. But he didn’t mention this. And no answers or stance on this issue

The discussion wrapped up with this observation:

Why am I not surprised? He implied at the community meeting last week that he knew little about the status of the permitting process for the LNG facility, which simply did not make sense for such a notorious project. Let’s hope he gets lots more questions at the next meeting.

Yes, let’s hope he gets lots more questions at the next meeting.

Better yet, perhaps he should just resign, because his credibility is shot.

[End Note: There is tremendous irony in LaTourette’s claims on Paulsboro train derailment.

I was on the ground very shortly after that toxic train derailment and I ventured into the “Hot zone” when the evacuation was still in effect (scroll down and see these photos I took at the time). I’ve written probably 20 posts on that disaster since then.

I assume that’s how LaTourette made friends with Senator Sweeney. Legally, it was the equivalent of ambulance chasing.

[Update – an informed reader who apparently knows more than I just blasted me for suggesting that LaTourette’s was a Sweeney man:

He is Murphy’s boy not Sweeney’s – gibbons is north jersey polluter firm not tied to Norcross- you let Murphy off the hook from LaTourette by doing that – Murphy invested in fossil fuel exxon dupont etc.

Let Gov. Murphy off the hook? Say what? In a prior post, I said that Gov. Murphy “knew a good corporate man when he saw him”.

After NJ Spotlight’s last story on the pending Biden rail permit decision, I suspected that a Sweeney deal may be about to be nixed. Who knows if LNG wasn’t a deal with Sweeney/Norcross on something else. Easy to scuttle now after Sweeney is gone.~~~ end update]

(I’ve not revealed names, but all this can be seen on my Twitter feed)

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A Propaganda Of Silence

November 23rd, 2021 No comments

Major Stories Are Suppressed By NJ’s Lame Media

Big Pharma, NJ Petro-Chemical, & NJ Corporate Power Block Coverage

A Tale of The Personal and The Political

(we name names)

Let me preface my NJ story with a remarkable parallel.

I got the headline for this post from legendary journalist and film maker John Pilger, who used that phrase during his remarks on a panel at the War On Terror film festival with Noam Chomsky, Stella Morris, and Michael Moore (hit the link and listen!)

Pilger was talking about how the media, the US media in particular, have gone silent on the persecution and torture of Julian Assange.

The media initially reported on several of Assange’s Wikileaks documents – particularly US war crimes like “collateral murder video” and the Afghanistan papers – but things changed dramatically after Assange leaked DNC and Clinton emails and was blamed by Democrats for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump.

After that, Assange’s status suddenly changed from First Amendment protected brave whistleblower to political pariah and national security threat and criminal.

Obama AG Eric Holder considered but refused to prosecute on threats to First Amendment press freedom grounds (thereby defying the recommendations of the military, National Security State apparatus, and the Clinton DNC wing of the Democratic Party), but the Trump administration indicted Assange under the Espionage Act and sought extradition from Britain. The Biden Department of Justice has continued to prosecute the Trump case.

The media got the memo: after first attempting to smear Assange, they simply have erased Assange and his persecution by the US Justice Department, which represents the most serious threat to press freedom and the First Amendment in US history (the lawyer for The NY Times in the leading press freedom “NY Times v. Sullivan” case wrote a NYT Op-Ed making that argument, but it’s since fallen off the media radar).

A propaganda off silence.

I don’t pretend to be a real journalist or to work on such world shaking issues, but I am very familiar with the media practice of “a propaganda of silence”.

Such a practice came harshly to my personal attention back in 1994, when I leaked memoranda from then DEP Commissioner Shinn to Gov. Whitman that exposed a totally corrupt strategy to suppress science and mount a PR campaign to avoid public disclosure of and DEP regulatory actions on high levels of mercury in NJ freshwater fish.

My Whitman memo leak story led the NJ Network TV News evening segment the same day I leaked it  (including dramatic graphics showing the DEP Letterhead memo to Whitman – it was covered by Ed Rogers before he was forced out of NJ media. I can still recall the look on my X wife’s face as we watched that segment!). The leak story was a page one above the fold lead story the next day in the Trenton Times (covered by Peter Page, another good reporter driven out of NJ media).

But none of the other major papers, particularly the Star Ledger (where Tom Johnson was the environmental reporter), covered the leak story. Not at all. Several days later, Johnson wrote a very small story, which was buried in the back of the paper, that mentioned the controversy, but didn’t emphasize the leak.

I was always curious about that.

Until I got the real explanation from the horses mouth.

The author of the DEP Commissioner Shinn memo to Whitman I leaked was Florio administration holdover DEP Assistant Commissioner Richard Sinding. I guess Sinding liked the job and wanted to stay on.

I subpoenaed Sinding, who was compelled to testify at my Civil Service administrative hearing. DEP Commissioner Shinn sought to fire me for insubordination.

Shinn was advised by then DEP Chief Counsel Michael Hogan, who would later become notorious as the Judge who ruled to approve the Christie Administration’s $225 million pennies on the dollar corrupt deal in the $8 BILLION Exxon “natural resource damage” settlement.

(I wrote at the time that Hogan’s prior DEP political hack work should have precluded his hearing the case. Hogan is a right wing Federalist Society type. I know that first hand from personal experience. In my first professional encounter with him at DEP, he angrily denounced me personally and rejected longstanding DEP policy by denying the federal Supremacy Clause in the Constitution in a matter involving a federal/state settlement agreement on the closure of the Cape May landfill. The Shinn/Hogan DEP later went on to totally flout this federal settlement by approving Cape May County’s revised solid waste plan:

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Later, to settle the case with DEP and preserve my reputation and employment opportunities, my lawyer coerced me into signing a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the State. My lawyer was required to surrender all documents. But I retained a copy of the hearing transcript and still have Sinding’s testimony (and the memo’s and new clips, etc).

Among many other damning things – including the fact that Sinding testified under oath that he knowingly falsified the science at the direction of Commissioner Shinn – Sinding testified about numerous phone calls he got about my leak from State House press corps and environmental reporters.

They called him, not to report the story and his lies and DEP corruption, but to assure him that they would not run the story.

I always assumed that Tom Johnson was one of those lackeys. (Side note: Ironically, just weeks before my leak, Tom Johnson quoted me in a page one Star Ledger story directly contradicting incoming Commissioner Shinn on important then pending legislation regarding toxic chemicals in consumer products and what was called “household hazardous waste” (A-973, sponsored by Maureen Ogden). I had just worked successfully on and the NJ legislature had just passed “The Toxic Packaging Reduction Act” and “The Dry Cell Battery Management Act” designed to reduce toxic chemical in products, and the consumer products industry was the next target for DEP regulation. The corporate community and NJ’s consumer products industry vehemently opposed that legislation. No way would new “Open For Business” EO 27 rollback Governor Whitman support it).

Since then, over almost 30 years, I’ve broken scores of environmental stories in NJ, been an expert source in NJ media,  and my blogging work has frequently crossed over into the main stream media. But more recently I’ve become a pariah.

For example, here’s a short list of important stories I’ve written about in just the last weeks that illustrate NJ media’s “propaganda of silence”. The common thread flowing through these stories is that they criticize and expose the abuses of powerful corporate economic and political interests:

Here are other significant stories that the public has been manipulated on because the media is not reporting accurately and/or ignoring important DEP policies, regulations, facts, science, and/or perspectives:

Who will tell the people all this? Certainly not the cowards and hacks at NJ Spotlight.

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DEP Response to Climate Impacts From Massive New Fossil Infrastructure: “Beyond the scope of the applicable regulations”

November 22nd, 2021 No comments

After 4 Years Of Doing Nothing, DEP’s “Commitment” To Climate Change Is Exposed As Sham

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In the wake of the timing of  DEP Commissioner LaTourette’s work for the proposed Gibbstown, NJ “Fortress” LNG Export Facility (see Worst Revolving Door, Ever), I thought I’d read some of the permit files.

I will post soon on some very interesting things I’m finding, but felt compelled to share this gem, in DEP’s own words, right now.

For years, I’ve been writing about huge gaps in DEP regulations and trying to expose the fact the DEP regulations do not apply to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

I’ve repeatedly warned that DEP issues permits to massive fossil infrastructure without even considering the GHG emission or climate issues.

I don’t think the NJ media has ever reported that very basic fact and huge regulatory flaw at DEP.

I don’t recall environmental groups making this huge DEP dereliction of duty an important public issue. Just the opposite, they have repeatedly praised Gov. Murphy and DEP LaTourette’s “climate leadership”.

The public has no idea about this and mistakenly has been led to believe that Gov. Murphy is a leader on climate issues.

That false public impression is a direct result of cheerleading by environmental groups and lazy, incompetent, and cowardly journalism.

So, of course, I could not resist quoting DEP’s own words, written in response to extensive comments submitted by environmental groups on the proposed Gibbstown NJ LNG export facility (see above screenshot).

Validating what I’ll call the “IF Stone doctrine of government records”, this shocking DEP statement is found at the very end of a paragraph of the very last page of a detailed technical “response to public comment” document on the proposed LNG export facility, which would create massive greenhouse gas emissions :

DEP is committed to addressing the impacts of climate change and understands the concerns expressed related to global warming, the oversight of gas production through fracking and horizontal drilling. However, these issues are beyond the scope of the applicable regulations and the specific activities proposed under the subject application.

Current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette was the lead lawyer for securing DEP LNG permits. He secured those DEP permits in record time and under the public’s radar. So he obviously knows that DEP regulations are seriously flawed – in detail. He’s done nothing to fix those flaws.

It is simply no longer credible – after 4 years of taking no action to close these loopholes and gaps in DEP regulations while issuing hundreds of permits to major new sources of greenhouse gas emissions – for the Murphy DEP to claim that they are “committed to addressing climate change”.

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