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Christie and His Corporate Cabinet Cronies Want To Kill Obama EPA Climate Rules

September 3rd, 2015 No comments

Going the way of the update of the Water Supply Master Plan

We will combine three issues today that share common themes, with quick commentary based on news reports.

Christie Seeks To Kill Obama EPA Climate rules

Confirming my post yesterday, both DEP Commissioner Martin and BPU President Mroz revealed their corporate stripes in a political assault on the Obama EPA’s “Clean Energy Plan”. Issued just hours before their assault, my timing was impeccable!

Playing to the Republican primary base, Christie’s DEP Commissioner Martin again compromised the integrity of DEP by politically attacking the Obama EPA climate plan.

The timing of Martin’s letter to EPA, the red meat rhetoric used in the letter, and the high profile press release are strong evidence that the DEP is playing partisan politics to support Governor Christie’s presidential campaign ambitions.

Beyond any doubt, Martin’s words are campaign talking points – ideological red meat for the right:

… Obama administration inappropriately reaching far beyond its legal authority to implement more onerous and burdensome regulations on businesses and state governments alike.

Yet the media uncritically transcribes them without explaining that they reflect a radical right wing view of the historic consensus on federalism under the Constitution and the Clean Air Act and that they flat out contradict the US Supreme Court’s “Massachusetts” decision.

The Christie spin about “burdensome regulations” flat out contradicts the cost-benefit analysis of the EPA proposal, which found huge positive net economic benefits.

BTW, NJ DEP regulated greenhouse gases as “air contaminants” (i.e. pollutants) under NJ’s Air Pollution Control Act way back in 2005, a context that should be part of this story.

Bob Martin’s letter will live in infamy – again on the wrong side of the science and law, he follows Christie Whitman’s legal advisor Bob Fabricant’s infamous legal memo that set back EPA regulation of greenhouse gases by over a decade.

I’ve written about that but very few people know this inside story and the press, by failing to cover it, has given Christie Whitman a pass.

In part as a result of that decade of delay, we very likely have passed irreversible tipping points to runaway climate chaos.

Asset Management: Gone Down The Same Black Hole as The Water Supply Plan Update

Dan Van Abs has a good piece on Asset Management in today’s NJ Spotlight, read the whole thing:

But Van Abs left critical information out of his analysis, as I wrote about last week.

DEP and the NJ Environmental Infrastructure Trust rolled out their “Asset Management” initiative years ago. They have touted the effort rhetorically in press releases and legislative testimony, but done very little in implementation.

DEP sent signals that they were planning to implement asset management via exactly the regulatory mandates Mr. Van Abs suggests (with which I agree), but DEP got strong pushback from the private water companies and the public authorities.

As a result, DEP blinked and did the traditional thing: delayed doing anything.

A strategy recommendation from DEP staff is now on DEP Commissioner Martin’s desk.

But based on the DEP staff briefing to the Water Supply Advisory Council last week (a meeting Mr. Van Abs attended) and the industry’s strong opposition to a DEP regulatory approach – coupled with this administration’s animus to regulation, which is particularly rabid with the Gov. on the campaign trail – the initiative is as good as dead – down the same black hole that swallowed the Water Supply Plan Update.

Pollution Worsens Drought Threats to North Jersey Water Supplies

Jim O’Neill at the Bergen Record gets the Passaic basin drought – pollution story wrong again.

He not only commits an error of omission by avoiding the critical issues, but states as a fact that passing flows were set to protect aquatic life, while they in fact were also set to protect public health from pollution in the river from sewage treatment plants.

Here are the two stories he ignores –

Those interested in the history and basis for DEP passing flows, see this excellent technical paper by the NJ Geological Survey:

I will be writing about the implications of this paper soon.

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Sham Energy Markets Governed By Energy Industry Lobbyists

September 2nd, 2015 No comments

Government oversight has become Corporations for the Corporations

Welcome to the Brave New World of Deregulation

 Christie’s energy & environmental agencies headed by former energy industry lobbyists

Award winning journalist David Cay Johnston has another outstanding story today on how energy markets are gamed, see:

Read the whole thing, but below I’ll excerpt his closing paragraphs, because they highlight criticism I and several others recently made at the Christie Energy Master Plan public hearings. (see also: The Game Is Rigged)

We blasted the fact that the Gov. Christie appointed President of the NJ Board of Public Utilities, Richard Mroz, is a former energy industry lawyer and lobbyist, including a founder of the NJ Energy Coalition. 

BPU President Richard Mroz

BPU President Richard Mroz

Accordingly, he has gross conflicts of interest in reviewing and voting to approve billions of dollars of energy industry revenues for his cronies and the corporations he previously represented as a lawyer or lobbyist.

Most recently, the NJ Energy Coalition testified at the BPU Energy Master Plan hearings Mroz presided over and played a high profile role in supporting the controversial $500 million South Jersey Gas Pinelands pipeline and BL England repowering projects that Mroz voted in favor of.

Many environmentalists were still angry about the commission’s action at Monday’s public hearing on updates to the state’s Energy Master Plan run by BPU President Richard Mroz.

“This is the background you have with the Energy Master Plan, what appears to be complete corruption and collusion in the Pinelands. It’s a debacle,” said water quality activist Margo Pellegrino, of Medford Lakes, with rising emotion and to applause, before Mroz asked her to end her comments.

Mroz also has a political revolving door past, as a player in the Whitman Administration, the disaster crew who deregulated the energy industry, a fiasco and billion dollar ripoff that keeps on ripping.

Similarly, Gov. Christie’s Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – the agency that works closely with Mroz’s BPU to rubber stamp all the lax air and water permits for those energy industry facilities – is a former energy industry consultant, with absolutely zero environmental training or experience.

(*Despite his lack of experience and expertise – and without legislative authorization and contrary to 40 years of environmental law and agency practice – Martin unilaterally “transformed” DEP’s “mission critical role” to include “support of economic development”. He then, like a Mafia debt collector (“Nice shop you have here, it’d be a shame if it burned down“), openly threatened DEP professionals to get in line with his agenda via his “burning platform” briefing. Redolent of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Martin then ordered all DEP staff to attend “customer service” training: of course, the customers being business,  industry and developers seeking DEP permits, not the public seeking DEP protections. Unfortunately, DEP professionals fell in line. Amazingly, this arrogant abuse of power has been totally ignored by media and Legislative oversight bodies.)

DEP Commissioner Robert Martin

DEP Commissioner Robert Martin

Repeat: the heads of Gov. Christie’s energy and environmental agencies are former energy industry lobbyists.

Why has NJ media failed to connect those dots?

Read the whole article – what Johnston sees in NY we also see in NJ:

Sham markets

My case against electricity markets is not an argument for traditional utility regulation. Monopoly utilities also pose serious economic problems that I have been writing about for more than four decades. But the ease with which the so-called markets are gamed, making them shams in my view, suggests that they are no better and arguably worse. Keep in mind that Enron wrote the original market rules.

What we need in all cases are regulatory agencies staffed by competent people with the authority and resources to pursue the facts. Above them we need regulatory commissions whose appointees are scrupulously fair and deeply informed. Instead we get boards filled with past and future utility executives who do favors for their past and former employers at tremendous expense to consumers and the economy. It’s as if the Knave of Hearts were installed as Wonderland’s tart regulator

What we see in the New York case is, at its most blatant, how democracy that should serve people is being perverted into government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations. We must take our government back.

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Lawsuit Filed To Force Christie DEP To Release Development Plans For Liberty State Park

August 31st, 2015 No comments

Privatization of Planning for Public Parks

NJ Future Conducts Covert Privatization Planning With Christie DEP

Now it’s getting interesting.

[*Full disclosure: I was consulted by and provided assistance to plaintiff’s counsel.]

In the latest development in the controversy over the Christie Administration’s scheme to privatize and commercialize Liberty State Park, on Friday, a Jersey City resident filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) lawsuit to compel DEP to release public records on Park development plans.

Scott Fallon of the Bergen Record first reported that the Christie DEP paid NJ Future, a private planning group, $120,000 to develop plans for privatizing the park.

On July 14, 2015, NJDEP denied an OPRA request for the NJ Future report to DEP made by plaintiff, William P. Bednarz, of Jersey City.

What could the Christie DEP and NJ Future have to hide?

Mr. Bednarz is represented by attorneys Walter M. Luers and H Howard Moskowitz, who wrote: (boldface emphases mine)

As set forth in the June 2, 2014 $120,000 Grant Agreement, also attached, the NJF report was to “detail[] findings and recommendations for Liberty State Park” in pursuit of “NJDEP’s goal to have LSP increase revenue and become financially sustainable,” including, among other matters, “[r]evenue projections for any suggested” development, a “list of potential developers/contractors,” and a discussion of “[p]otential issues and risks of recommendations.” The contract provides that NJDEP “facilitate” meetings between NJF’s consultant and undefined “LSP stakeholders.” Attachment A, at 1, 2.

The report was necessary, according to the grant agreement, in light of NJDEP’s “realiz[ation] that the State lacks the entrepreneurial expertise to design and effect[uate] those changes.” Id. at 1.

In short, the New Jersey Future report is a manual on how to monetize and commercialize Liberty State Park in implementation of Governor Christie’s plan to “save” New Jersey’s state parks, announced in November 2011, entitled “Sustainable Funding Strategy for New Jersey State Parks.”

The report is a government record “subject to public access” under OPRA as a “document that has been received in the course of the State’s official business.”

I got a real kick out of this DEP “realization”:

“realiz[ation] that the State lacks the entrepreneurial expertise to design and effect[uate] those changes.” Id. at 1.

Of course DEP Parks lacks entrepreneurial expertise to privatize – their job is to manage parks in the public interest for the enjoyment of visitors, not to make profits!

Once again, Christie’s privatization policy and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s “transformation” initiative to radically change DEP’s mission to “promote economic development” are shown to be absurd.

Based on my own successful litigation experience with OPRA, they have a strong case and are very likely to win.

Public release of the NJ Future Report to DEP is critical, because NJ Future was obviously acting on behalf of the Christie DEP in privately planning for private park development. DEP used NJF to avoid public scrutiny.

Now DEP is compounding that abuse by trying to cover the whole thing up by denying access to public records.

NJ Future should be ashamed of themselves for conducting covert planning for NJ’s most popular State Park.

According to the DEP’s contract with NJ Future, NJF was required to submit a Report that:

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So, what were NJ Future’s “recommended activities that can produce revenue”?

What aspects of the Park were “attractive” “to revenue producing developers, contractors and concessionaires”?

What “developers/contractors” did NJ Future identify?

What areas and buildings at LSP did NJ Future recommend developing?

What “revenue projections” did NJ Future generate?

What “stakeholders” did NJ Future interview and consult?

The public demands answers!

Shame on both NJ Future and the Christie DEP for a covert strategy to avoid public involvement in park planning and for their craven revenue driven privatization scheme.

Mr Moskowitz was kind enough to provide the contract documents – sorry I have no links, but they are available upon request.

[Update: 9/3/15 – Scott Fallon broke the NJ Future DEP project, so I would have thought he’s have been a lot stronger in his story on that and the Christie “Sustainable parks” privatization and commercialization scheme – Fallon puts that in the most favorable light possible:

Efforts to generate more money at Liberty State are part of Christie’s Sustainable Parks initiative, unveiled in 2011 to reduce the park system’s reliance on the state budget.

What a wuss.

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Christie Subaru Subsidy Creates Camden Corporate Compound

August 30th, 2015 No comments

“Gateway District” Is Segregation By Design

An Archipelago of Harsh Private Spaces

Clueless Conservationists Provide Political Cover: “Beg For Rain Garden”

The Philadelphia Inquirer story about the Christie Administration’s most recent corporate subsidy to relocate Subaru from nearby Cherry Hill to Camden prompted me to take the challenge laid down by architectural critic Inga Saffron: (Changing Skyline: It’s What Makes Subaru A Tax Dodge):

Should any employees be adventurous enough to commute by PATCO, the River Line, or NJ Transit bus to the Walter Rand Transportation Center in downtown Camden, they will face almost a mile’s walk along the mini-highway of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Only 65 percent of Camden adults have access to cars, so the lack of transit hits them hard. Bike paths and new transit stations have been promised, but in some vague, far-off future.

So, being an adventurous cyclist and semi-trained dabbler in urbanism, I hopped on the Riverline with my bike and headed down to Camden to see the new Subaru site. Here’s what I found.

Urban Design Fail

The Inquirer critic was harsh, but actually understated the conditions I saw:

To hear state and city officials tell it, Subaru’s decision to take up residence in Camden is the first step in establishing a vibrant new urban district on the edge of downtown. But what it really does is import sprawl into a city hungry for density. And New Jersey taxpayers will be the ones to pick up the tab for this wasteful, antiurban land deal.

When suburban companies make the move into cities, they typically bulk up in height to fit in with their urban compatriots. Not so here. Subaru will leave a relatively tall building (seven stories) in the suburbs for a shorter one (four stories) in the city. Subaru’s new home, sized for 600 employees, will be a lonely island in an asphalt sea containing 1,031 parking spaces. […]

The entire 13-acre Gateway District, which includes the Subaru project, is being developed by Brandywine Realty Trust, the company responsible for the cluster of glass towers at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. It’s pitching Gateway as Camden’s answer to the Navy Yard. If so, it’s a poor-man’s version, with no meaningful street grid, no inclusion of interesting older buildings, no aspiration for true urbanity.

The phrase “aspiration for true urbanity” got me thinking that over 50 years ago, in the classic 1961 self described “attack on city planning and rebuilding”, Jane Jacobs emphasized “the intimate and casual life of cities” in setting forth her own groundbreaking observations and principles of what makes cities work – observations obviously lost on the Christie Camden Crew:

One principle emerges so ubiquitously …. is the need of cities for a most intricate and close grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support. … Cities are fantastically dynamic places, and this is strikingly true of their successful parts, which offer a fertile ground for the plans of thousands of people. ~~~ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”

I don’t think I could find anything further from Jacobs’ principles than what I saw in Camden’s “Gateway District”.

Instead, I found the nightmare James Kunstler wrote about 32 years later in his 1993 book “The Geography of Nowhere”:

Thirty years ago, Lewis Mumford said of post-World War II development, “the end product is an encapsulated life, spent more and more either in a motor car or within the cabin of darkness before a television set.” The whole wicked, sprawling, megalopolitan mess, he gloomily predicted, would completely demoralize mankind and lead to nuclear holocaust.

It hasn’t come to that, but what Mumford deplored was just the beginning of a process that, instead of blowing up the world, has nearly wrecked the human habitat in America… the everyday landscape becomes more nightmarish and unmanageable each year.

Most recently, Chris Hedges nails it in his 2012 book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”. Chapter 2 “Days of Siege” focuses on Camden:

Camden sits on the edge of the Delaware River facing the Philadelphia Sky-line. A multi-lane highway, a savage concrete laceration, slices through the heart of the city. It allows commuters to pass overhead, in and out of Philadelphia, without seeing the human misery below. We keep those trapped in our internal colonies, our national sacrifice zones, invisible.

So, in light of that Jacobs – Kunstler – Mumford – Hedges context, let’s take a look at the Subaru “Gateway District” site – it’s obviously been selected as an easy in and out location for car commuters using I-676: camden2

But, as Hedges notes, the Subaru development is actually worse than car dependent sprawl being imported into the City.

It will create another gated private corporate compound –

Campbell’s Soup already is a secured, gated, artificially landscaped, and fenced compound for suburban commuters that virtually screams “urban gangsters get lost” – the guard at the gate even told me NOT to take photographs “from their sidewalk”:
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I might as well have been in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

But Campbell’s is not an anomaly – as I tried to make my way back to the Walter Rand Transportation Center, I came upon Cooper Hospital, the next compound, see:

And then I came upon Rutgers, another compound – an archipelago of restricted private space intentionally separate from the City of Camden and its people – note the appeal to “New Loft Offices” and on the building in the background to gentrifying “Lux Loft Living”: camden3

And this gated corporate world is driven by a racist logic.

Corporate Subsidies Bypass the Hood

While millions of dollars flow into corporate subsidies like the Subaru deal – Camden’s collapsing neighborhoods and the people who live there are left behind:

camden

Conservationists in the City 

In addition to the warped urban vision, the urban design fail, and the corporate subsides, the Inquirer story raised the important issue of the role of conservationists in the city.

During the open space debate, I criticized that role as opportunistic, manipulative, self serving, and basically racist.

Opportunistic photo-ops with black children in urban parks and political events with urban leaders in the run-up to a self serving Open Space ballot question is way over the top in my book.

But the Inquirer story reveals a whole other level of what could be described either – at best – as naive and ill informed co-optation, or perhaps more accurately as actively complicit in providing political cover for Gov. Christie’ corporate anti-urban agenda, while extracting the benefits of Foundation funded feel good tokenism:

As a company, Subaru has gotten a lot of mileage out its reputation for environmental responsibility. Yet here, it seems oblivious to those concerns. The New Jersey Conservation Foundation has been begging the company to include the same rain gardens Subaru has in Cherry Hill to help control flooding on Admiral Wilson. A request for a bike-trail connection to Gateway Park has also gotten little traction.

Oh boy. Where to start?

When rain gardens and bike-trail connections become the “public interest” “advocacy” benchmarks of revitalization of our cities – efforts funded by NJ’s largest Foundations – then something has gone horribly, horribly, wrong.

Which takes me to my parting shot.

Sustainable Shills

I have been critical of the “sustainability” crowd – the recent post on Woodbridge being the latest example of the fraud that parades under the “Sustainable NJ” banner, a fraud generously funded by NJ Foundations and NJ corporations, as well as the Christie Administration.

For those criticisms, I’ve gotten pushback and harsh criticism from a handful of SNJ fans, especially from a woman named Lori Braunstein. Well, well – I’ve been told that Lori’s husband is Brad A. Molotsky of Brandywine Trust.

Well, it looks like money talks and the Sustainable crowd – the folks that provide all that political cover for Christie – apparently doesn’t walk that walk:

The entire 13-acre Gateway District, which includes the Subaru project, is being developed by Brandywine Realty Trust, the company responsible for the cluster of glass towers at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. It’s pitching Gateway as Camden’s answer to the Navy Yard. If so, it’s a poor-man’s version, with no meaningful street grid, no inclusion of interesting older buildings, no aspiration for true urbanity.

Good God these folks are loathsome.

my Surly couldn't find the Greenway

my Surly couldn’t find the Greenway

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Take a Look At NJ’s #1 Ranked “Sustainable” Town

August 28th, 2015 No comments

What’s Wrong With Woodbridge?

Sewaren Sacrifice Zone

Mayor is “doing a heck of a job!”

PSEG Sewaren plant on Arthur Kill, Woodbridge NJ

Dead tree tellingly forms foreground of PSEG Sewaren plant on Arthur Kill, Woodbridge NJ

In reading the news coverage of the new PSEG gas power plant, I was stunned by Woodbridge Mayor McCormac’s remarks in support of the project, where he bragged about issuing local approvals for a project in just one hour of just one hearing: (mycentraljersey.com)

The approval process for the plant was simplified by the township’s Technical Review Committee, said Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac.

“We’ve really focused on economic development and companies know that they will save a lot of money and time dealing with Woodbridge government,” McCormac said. “There is typically  just one hearing before a board. You’re done in just over an hour.

“Woodbridge Township fully endorses PSE&G’s proposed project, and welcomes continued economic investment at the Sewaren site.”

McCormac’s love for PSEG is reciprocal:(from the NJ.com story)

It is a true win for Woodbridge and the state, not just adding to the reliability of the energy grid, but creating jobs, tax revenues and general economic activity to the region, “Rich Lopriore, president of PSEG Fossil, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Woodbridge Township to move this project forward.”

Coincidentally, I just was reading Steve Fraser’s book “The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power“. The book begins by reviewing how and why mass protest movements arose and waged a class war to challenge the abuses of the 19th Century Guilded Age robber barons and trusts, “envisioning a new world supplanting dog eat dog capitalism”.

But Fraser asks why today there is no such response to far worse abuses of corporate power and even deeper disparities in wealth and income.

Fraser argues that there was an across the board surrender by progressive forces in labor, politics, and government that betrayed the vision and values of the New Deal. Democrats betrayed labor and progressive values in favor of Wall Street finance and corporate money. Instead of seeking economic justice, progressives made peace with and affirmatively embraced capitalism, selfishly pursued individual careers over collective social interests, and worshipped corporate power and free market individualism.

Mayor McCormac, a McGreevey Democrat, sounded like a perfect example of the betrayals Fraser noted.

So, I took a ride up to Woodbridge on Tuesday to see for myself what kind of town would allow a Mayor with that kind of pro-corporate arrogant disregard for his community’s participation to remain in power for so long.

When I returned home, a reader must have read my mind because I got an email advising me of the fact that Woodbridge scored the highest of any NJ town in Sustainable NJ’s ranking – with 870 points! Yay! (read the full SNJ Report, it’s a hoot. And don’t miss the role of the politically connected consulting firm “Greener By Design”).

So, let’s take a look at NJ’s #1 sustainable town and see what kind of town they are:

The kind of town that puts an oil company advertisement on a rusty sign leaving town:

Motiva corporate logo

Motiva corporate logo

The kind of town that put a children’s playground in a “buffer” (the word “buffer” was on the park sign) between an oil tank farm and a residential neighborhood – I could smell the hydrocarbons, so I challenge Mayor McCormac to say this place is safe for kids:

thankfully, it appeared that parents and kids know enough to stay away from this park

thankfully, it appeared that parents and kids know enough to stay away from this park

The kind of town that allows young children and families to fish in waters where it is unsafe to eat fish and shellfish, but posts no warning signs or consumption advisories:

fishermen told me they eat bluefish and bass caught off this pier in a local park. No warning signs were posted.

fishermen told me they eat bluefish and bass caught off this pier in a local park. No warning signs were posted.

The kind of town that puts a park next to a power plant (I previously thought the NJ DOT’s “scenic rest stop” along I-295 was bad!)

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The kind of town that has power lines everywhere and zones land for residential “multifamily” housing development adjacent to power line ROW:

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multifamily housing in powerline EMF field

multifamily housing in powerline EMF field

The kind of town bisected by bomb trains, oil & gas pipelines, refineries, oil & gas tank farms, chemical plants, tanker truck depots, The NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway (is there another town with more VMT?), the massive “Port Reading Business Park” with housing built all along the “Industrial Highway” access road from the Turnpike, and countless other visual and chemical assaults:

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The kind of town that shoehorns an elementary school between the NJ Turnpike and a power plant:

that's the NJ Turnpike sound wall just a hundred feet away in background.

that’s the NJ Turnpike sound wall just a hundred feet away in background.

The kind of town that builds high density residential housing along a heavily truck trafficked “industrial highway” to it’s shiny new – and almost empty – corporate Port Reading distribution center. This is incredibly poor planning:

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millions of square feet vacant in new 2.75 MSF distribution center

millions of square feet vacant in new 2.75 MSF distribution center

How anyone can call any of this “sustainable” is absurd.

While traveling along the “Industrial Highway”, you’all stay “fit and well” now! It would be hilarious if it weren’t so monstrously corrupt.

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