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How’s This For A Campsite?

May 20th, 2017 No comments

Coconino National Forest

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Almost every day I say: “We’ll never find another campsite this nice!”

Here’s our campsite at sunset last night – just outside of Sedona, Arizona.

After two superb hikes this morning and one yesterday, we are taking refuge from the heat and sun for a short rest in the library (more on all that soon, plus shots from Texas and New Mexico).

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 PS – this was our Thursday night campsite at sunrise yesterday, just south of Sedona:

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Rio Grande – Off The Wall

May 17th, 2017 No comments
Rio Grande river at Big Bend National Park, looking southeast. Mexico is on the right (5/1/17)

Rio Grande river at Big Bend National Park in Texas, looking southeast. Mexico is on the right (5/1/17)

Man may seek such [wilderness] scenes and find pleasure in the discovery, but there is a mysterious fear that comes over him and hurries him away. The sublime features of nature are too severe for a lone man to look upon and be happy. ~~~ Thomas Cole (1820’s) as quoted in Nash (p.79)

What shall we do with a man who is afraid of the woods, their solitude and darkness? What salvation is there for him? ~~~ Henry David Thoreau, quoted in Nash (p.91)

Yesterday marked one month since we began our adventure, so I thought I should post brief observations and some photos of where we’ve been.

Overall, its been incredible and far better than I had imagined.

I am experiencing incredible landscapes and everyone I’ve run into is friendly and interesting. I am sleeping and eating well, walking more, drinking less, and haven’t had a bad day or heartburn, not even once. My buddy Bouy is having a blast – chasing elk is his latest game – and actually enjoys his little bed-cave in the van. The van is running great and all systems working. BTW, we are camping on National Forest or Bureau of Land Management lands, for FREE!

On the downside, we’ve run into a lot of extreme weather. After a beautiful day in Shenandoah National Park, we had a week of cold rain and fog along the Blue Ridge. In trying to drive away from that mountain weather, we hit tornadoes, golf ball size hail, 50 mph winds and flash floods in Little Rock Arkansas. After that, we had record low temperatures in the desert in Texas (28!), harsh high winds and heat conditions in the desert at Big Bend National Park, lightning storms in Arizona, and even snow in Flagstaff Arizona! All in just one month! (and it looks like we left Big Bend NP and Chisos Basin just before the wildfire!)

I’m having slight altitude adjustment issues camping here at 7,000 feet – light-headed, shortness of breath easily, and not much stamina.

Also, I am reading and writing less. Just finished re-reading Roderick Nash’s classic “Wilderness and the American Mind”. Visited an excellent local bookstore here in Flagstaff and picked up a copy of another classic I never read: “Water and the West” by Norris Hundley Jr. about the history of the Colorado River Compact. I’m only on Chapter 4, but there are echoes and huge ironic historic parallels between early 20th century advocacy for an “All American Canal” and the current debate over Trump’s Wall.

Here’s a flavor of the history from Hundley: in response to the use of Oriental labor on the Mexican Delta by LA Times publisher Chandler to build competing water infrastructure to benefit the development of Mexican lands  – another irony in light of the movie classic “Chinatown” – California Imperial Valley residents claimed that Chandler was using “Japs and Chinamen” to steal water that belonged to “red blooded, free Americans“. Asiatics and Mexicans were denounced and said to “undermine our social standards, destroy the efficiency of our schools, and fill our courtrooms”. They accused Chandler of “betraying the real American workman” and “subjecting Americans to unsanitary conditions”. In early 1900’s testimony:

Who wants to drink from a stream when he knows that there are 7,000 Chinamen, Japs, and Mexicans camped on that stream a few miles above in Mexico?” (page 33-34).

Sound familiar? An historical continuum of deplorable racism.

We ran into US Border Patrol twice in Texas, and were screened by dogs and forced to stop and answer questions at one checkpoint. I took strong exception to this with the agents. They didn’t understand why I was concerned and told me that illegal migrants travel 7 miles across the desert at this specific point. My thought – which I didn’t share with the agent – was that anyone who could travel 7 miles across that desert should be exactly the kind of people we embrace and reward with citizenship- smart, brave, tough, determined, hard working, strong and committed.

At Big Bed National Park, I met a Rio Grande river tour guide as he was loading canoes onto his trailer at the end of the day. We had a good conversation about the river and the region. He suggested I spend the night nearby in an old ghost town named Terlingua. He said that it was the cultural center of the region and that I should be sure to spend some time and have a few beers and music on the front porch. He also advised that I drive along the Rio Grande river on RT. 170 for some spectacular scenery on my way north.  I forgot to ask him about the green color of the river, and whether that was a result of eutrophication or minerals or some other reason.

I took the man’s superb advice. We easily found the front porch. I had beers and conversations with the, lets say, very interesting locals, and met a lot of cool dogs too. We had live music, a burger, and beers at the Starlight Theater – and Monday was 2 burgers for 1 night so Bouy got meat instead of his kibble!

Here’s some of what I saw along the Rio Grande – where is Trump going to build the Wall here?:

Big Bend Park ranger warned us about Javelina's, who had been coming down from the mountains and killing dogs. Just before we shot this photos along the Rio Grande, Bouy chased 2 Javelina's along the riverbank! Those fat pig looking animals are very, very fast! He came back 10 minutes later with his tongue hanging out of his head, desperate for water!

Big Bend Park ranger warned us about Javelina’s, who had been coming down from the mountains and killing dogs. Just before we shot this photos along the Rio Grande, Bouy chased 2 Javelina’s along the riverbank! Those fat pig looking animals are very, very fast! He came back 10 minutes later with his tongue hanging out of his head, desperate for water!

I wish I wrote down the name of the mountains and this pass. River in green foreground (5/2/17)

I wish I wrote down the name of the mountains and this pass. River in green foreground (5/2/17)

Mexico is on the left - I hear NPD story this morning that a wall would block migrations of lynx and jaguar's and unknown other migratory species, leading to extirpation and extinctions. Scientists say they are hassled by US Border Patrol and their monitoring equipment is vandalized. WORST OF ALL, in 2005, Congress authorized Homeland Security to waive NEPA, the Endangered Species Act and other environmental Lawes to expedite construction of the wall!

Mexico is on the left – I heard an NPR story this morning that a wall would block migrations of lynx and jaguar and unknown other migratory species, leading to extirpation and extinctions. Scientists say they are hassled by US Border Patrol and their monitoring equipment is vandalized. WORST OF ALL, in 2005, Congress authorized Homeland Security to waive NEPA, the Endangered Species Act and other environmental Lawes to expedite construction of the wall!

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All for now – next post we show places in New Mexico and Arizona.

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Dupont “Pilot Test” For Groundwater Cleanup Perpetuates The Fraud

May 15th, 2017 No comments

[With key end notes]

(to the song “Stairway to Heaven”)

And he’s sampling the pathway for vapor.

For the last week, I’ve been off line and camping in the mountains of Coconino National Forest just outside lovely Flagstaff Arizona (more to come on that – but here’s a shot of Humphrey’s Peak, part of the San Francisco Mountains. You can’t see it clearly, but there’s still snow):

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But I came into town today to get my new Arizona drivers license and van registration documents and check my email.

My friend Lisa Riggiola of CCPL sent me a Bergen Record article by Jim O’Neill on a Dupont proposed “pilot test” to cleanup groundwater, after almost 40 years of all forms of corporate crimes, negligence, denial, and foot-dragging. Read the full story:

Pretty good coverage – but the claim that vapor intrusion was “discovered” in  2008 is pure bullshit. See this post for the actual timeline about who knew what and when they knew it – it’s a coverup folks:

But this story illustrates an even larger public health scandal – what is known as the “phased approach” under NJ DEP’s “Vapor Intrusion Guidance Document”:

The technical guidance utilizes a 6-step phased approach for investigating the VI pathway.

Let me try this analogy to elucidate the problem and show why and how the DEP  “phased approach” is totally fucked up, is not “precautionary” and is not based on protecting public health – but instead is designed to allow corporate polluters to deny, delay, minimize, and even avoid legal liability and cleanup responsibilities for poisoning people.

Let’s make the analogy something everyone knows about: a health checkup visit to the doctor.

Let’s say you first go to the doctor in the year 2000. He puts you on a scale and takes your weight – and nothing else – and says you might need to diet.

You go back in 2002 – he takes your blood pressure – and nothing else – and says your might have hypertension.

You go back in 2004 – he listens to your pulse – and nothing else – and says you might be at increased risk of stroke or heart attack.

You go back in 2006 – he takes blood tests, for blood sugar only – and says you might be at risk for diabetes.

You go back in 2008 – he takes your blood test, for cholesterol only – and says you might be at increased risk for heart attack.

You go back in 2010 – he takes a urine test – and says you might have kidney problems.

You go back in 2012 – he takes another blood test, for liver enzymes only – and says your liver function is not so good.

You go back in 2014 – he looks at your legs and says you have a serious problem related to diabetes and he must amputate your foot.

You never make it back in 2016 – you died of a heart attack or stroke in 2015.

This is how DEP’s Vapor Intrusion Guidance document’s “phased approach” works with respect to sampling – it takes many years to go from sampling groundwater, to soil, to building sub-slab, to indoor air.

Along the way – during those “6 steps” – there are multiple points to inject scientific uncertainty or to “exit” the process entirely, including the ability to blame other pollution sources, including the homeowner’s use of chemicals or cleansing agents, even their carpeting.

The “phased approach” is the exact OPPOSITE of a public health or precautionary approach, which would START with indoor air sampling, not wait 10 years to get there.

And none of this addresses the fraud Dupont engaged in regarding withholding this information until after negotiating a liability waiver in the settlement agreement – see:

Nor does it hold DEP accountable – here’s a warning to DEP Commissioner Campbell about the statewide vapor intrusion problem, way back in 2002. A February 2002 DEP memo warned the NJ DEP Commissioner about risks from vapor intrusion and flaws in DEP regulation:

Indoor Air from Contaminated Groundwater

The issue is relatively new as it relates to vapors from dissolved constituent plumes entering homes at above chronic levels. This issue is not an isolated incident (Wall Township) and has become an issue across the country. As more cases of this type surface it may cause the protectiveness of sites with natural attenuation remedies and the protectiveness of the groundwater quality standards to be re-evaluated.

The Dupont and DEP fraud continues!

End Notes:

1. That same 2002 DEP memo warning about the statewide risks of vapor intrusion and the major flaws in DEP groundwater standards and cleanup regulations also documents the underlying cause of the risks: at least 90% of so called “groundwater cleanups” are “natural attenuation” (see “classification exception area” a provision in the groundwater standards that effectively waives the groundwater standards:

“Classification exception area” means an area within which one or more constituent standards and designated uses are suspended in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:9C-1.6.

“Natural attenuation” means that DEP allows polluters to simply leave the pollution in the groundwater, if they can submit a consultant’s report/model to show it might decline in concentration over a 40 – 50 year period via evaporation, dilution, biological means (digestion by soil microbes) or many other technical scams.

Meanwhile, after DEP rubber stamped 90% of groundwater “cleanups” as “natural attenuation” during the 1990’s, the groundwater pollution was seeping off site and migrating to nearby people’s homes and daycare centers and schools at hundreds of sites!

OOPS!

And DEP NEVER REVISED THE GROUNDWATER STANDARDS – AS THAT 2002 WARNING SUGGESTS – TO INCUDE RISKS FROM VAPOR INTRUSION – THE GROUNDWATER STANDARDS ARE BASED EXLUSIVELY ON DRINKING WATER EXPOSURE AND RISKS. THEY IGNORE VAPOR INTRUSION RISKS.

2. From the big picture sense, of course this is merely another symptom of a much larger disease:

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Chris Hedges writes about that today: (boldface mine):

Forget the firing of James Comey. Forget the paralysis in Congress. Forget the idiocy of a press that covers our descent into tyranny as if it were a sports contest between corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats or a reality show starring our maniacal president and the idiots that surround him. Forget the noise. The crisis we face is not embodied in the public images of the politicians that run our dysfunctional government. The crisis we face is the result of a four-decade-long, slow-motion corporate coup that has rendered the citizen impotent, left us without any authentic democratic institutions and allowed corporate and military power to become omnipotent. This crisis has spawned a corrupt electoral system of legalized bribery and empowered those public figures that master the arts of entertainment and artifice. And if we do not overthrow the neoliberal, corporate forces that have destroyed our democracy we will continue to vomit up more monstrosities as dangerous as Donald Trump. Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

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Gov. Christie Used The USGS To Provide Cover For Highlands Rollbacks The Same Way Trump Used The Justice Dept. To Provide Cover for Firing FBI Director Comey

May 12th, 2017 No comments

[Update below]

“The U.S. Geological Survey and the DEP have a longstanding and productive partnership, one that is very unique,” said Bob Hirsch, a USGS scientist  – NJ DEP press release (boldface mine)

Listened to a NPR story this morning reporting on how Trump himself admitted that he decided to fire FBI Director Comey – and it rang a bell.

That admission by Trump contradicted the original White House Press Office and Vice President Pence’s multiple statements that Trump fired Comey based upon the recommendations of the Justice Department.

Trump’s defenders pointed to a memorandum by Deputy Attorney General and a recommendation of Attorney General Sessions (so much for his recusal from the Russia investigation!)

[Update: read this well written slam on the whole affair.]

Now that Trump himself owned up to the firing, it is perfectly clear that the White House lied and that they got caught using the Justice Department as cover for Trump’s personal choice to fire Comey.

There is a recent example of exactly the same thing in NJ – but Gov. Christie and his DEP Commissioner Bob Martin never were forced to own up to it.

Specifically: Gov. Christie and DEP Commissioner Martin did the same thing with USGS – they used USGS as pretext and cover for their own rollbacks of the Highlands regulations (see this for details).

It is obvious why the US Justice Dept. would cover for Trump (i.e. Trump appointed AG Sessions) – but why would USGS provide cover for Christie/Martin DEP rollbacks?

ANSWER: Follow the money and specifically look at the relationship between USGS NJ Office Director Rick KROPP – and former Martin DEP Deputy Commissioner Irene KROPP:

DEP Asst. Commissioner Irene Kropp was not fired for those outrageous remarks – no, she was promoted and was Christie DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s Deputy Commissioner and enforcer of his DEP “cultural change”, “transformation” and deregulatory initiatives. Kropp retired recently amidst ethics complaints growing out of the Fenimore landfill scandal..

Kropp’s role under Martin was to serve as his hack and intimidate DEP professionals to enforce the Christie – Martin agenda. She was involved with the “Burning Platform”.

As I explained:

Former Deputy Commissioner Irene Kropp, who retired recently, was Martin’s right hand woman. Kropp came to DEP around the time I did (mid 1980’s) so I assume that she has 30 years serving in various DEP positions: from water resources, to financial management, to site remediation.

Curiously, I don’t recall seeing her retirement announcement.

Kropp was a controversial figure at DEP and was resented by many staffers.

She developed the first DEP data management system, known as “NJEMS”. It cost a lot and didn’t work so well. During the Lisa Jackson/Corzine Administration, Kropp played a key tole in privatizing DEP’s toxic site cleanup program. During Bob Martin/Christie Administration, she was promoted to Deputy Commissioner  and ran herd on DEP staff, threatening anyone who questioned or resisted the Martin “transformation” and rollback agenda with the “burning platform”.

Some say Kropp was driven out of the DEP by the Christie Governor’s Office after she recently backed a DEP staffer who questioned suspicious AshBritt debris management payments. Others suggest as she retired to avoid a serious ethics charge, alleging favoritism on behalf of her fiancee and husband, who owns and operates a landfill (see:

It would not be irresponsible to speculate or suspect that Ms. Kropp of NJ DEP called Mr. Kropp of USGS to essentially scope and fund the USGS research project to validate the previously announced Christie objective to rollback Highlands regulations, provide “regulatory relief” to property owners, and stimulate economic growth.

This is the kind of corruption that IG’s were created to expose and rectify.

Perhaps Highlands activist will call for a investigation by the USGS Inspector General?

Just a thought.

[Update: 5/15/17 – The Kropp USGS – NJ DEP relationship is not the first:

Kropp’s predecessor was a man named Eric Evenson. Eric also came to USGS from NJ DEP and he also had a conflictual relationship: his wife, Karen Fell, was a manger in the DEP’s drinking water regulatory program!

Perhaps that is why a USGS representative recently said:

“The U.S. Geological Survey and the DEP have a longstanding and productive partnership, one that is very unique,” said Bob Hirsch, a USGS scientist  – NJ DEP press release (boldface mine)

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Can’t Run Away From The Corruption – (Or How I Met The Mayor)

May 10th, 2017 No comments

Fouled In Flagstaff

[Good news – Closeout: 5/17/17 – I passed City Hall this morning and thought I’d drop in to inquire about potential ethical and open public meetings issues.

I spoke with the City Attorney and his assistant for 15 minutes or so and explained the situation and my concerns about the political intervention on the wildlife enforcement issue and whether the Mayor’s advocacy for the project was inappropriate and if there were potential open public meetings issues.

They listened carefully and we had a good conversation – I was told that the development project was heard later that same Tuesday night in open public session by City Council and that Council had expressed no interest in the project. I asked if the Mayor supported the project publicly like she did privately in the diner and was told that yes she had.

We all were satisfied that there had been adequate transparency and public accountability given the public hearing and the legal assistant volunteered to find out if 4 members of Council were present (the quorum threshold to violate Arizona’s Open Public Meetings law) and to share concerns about public perception in that kind of meeting.

I was asked if I wanted to file a formal complaint on the wildlife issue and declined.

The matter was responded to very well and professionally handled by City officials. Good stuff! ~~~ over and out]

[Update below]

After a cold night, I stopped for breakfast early this morning in a classic Rt. 66 diner in Flagstaff called Miz Zip’s.

I thought I’d share the experience – and I’m not talking about the food – because you can’t make this shit up, and there could be local Flagstaff residents that would be interested (assuming I have Flagstaff readers).

As I was eating, a big old bearded country cowboy type and an urbane looking large black woman sat down almost in my lap. I was initially pissed that that had to sit right next to me when the diner was almost empty at 7 am.

Then I thought they were an odd pair – I can’t imagine a stronger cultural contrast. C’est la vie.

Shortly thereafter, another old cowboy joined them. It was obvious that they were friends, as he greeted his buddy and hugged the woman.

After some banter about his cooking, the second cowboy gave something he had prepared to the woman and suggested she put it on her eggs.

He then got to the point of the breakfast meeting: he wanted the woman to block the local wildlife officials from enforcing an animal feeding ordinance that he had been cited for violating. He criticized the local ordinance, the city professionals, and claimed that there was a lack of science to support it. I assume that he was a hunter baiting game.

Overhearing the conversation, I got the sense that the woman was a City Councilperson.

After a few minutes, three more folks arrived, 2 men and a woman – all shared friendly greetings.

The conversation then quickly shifted from the animal feeding citation to a proposed large commercial development. This apparently was the topic for the breakfast meeting.

The woman initiated the discussion, and explained the proposed project – I listened closely, but may have not gotten it all exactly right, but here’s the gist:

A developer is proposing a project that apparently is inconsistent with zoning and/or flood plain ordinances and would need some kind of variance or waiver. The project includes Hobby Lobby, a company that the woman said she disagreed with their politics, but felt was going to locate somewhere in Flagstaff, so she wanted to work with them.

The deal involves a $2.5 million local property tax subsidy to the developer, in exchange for dedicated preservation of a 40 acre parcel of land and assumption of maintenance costs.

The woman touted a study she claimed to have read until 3 am in the morning. She said that the study found that the project would generate $10 million in tax revenues over a 10 year period, which she said more than paid for the $2.5 million tax subsidy. She also claimed that the property tax subsidy could or would be conditioned upon generating this $10 million in new tax revenue.

At this point, my head was exploding and I had to speak up.

So, as I grabbed my check, I tapped the woman on the shoulder and introduced myself. I started off by saying “I am from NJ and based on the conversation, I assume that you are a member of City Council.”

She replied that she was the Mayor!

And she introduced me to the woman at the end of the table as the Deputy Mayor. She shouted out that she too was from NJ, Berlin NJ – and asked my where I was from.

I shook hands with and then told the Mayor that I had left NJ to get away from exactly the kind of conversation and land use and development politics I had just overheard.

I warned them that these kind of deals are always losers and that once the city sends a message to the development community that it is open to this kind of dealmaking – in NJ land use law this would probably fall under a “GDP” (General Development Plan) – then the floodgates are open and Flagstaff will begin to look like NJ (and don’t forget those Hopewell GDP’s – Berwind and Merrill Lynch!

I then told the Mayor that her conversation with the cowboy on fixing the animal feeding violation constituted improper political intervention in a law enforcement matter. I advised there was no problem discussing ordinances, but discussion of a specific violation was inappropriate. I concluded by saying that there is plenty of science to support restrictions on feeding wild animals.

I then walked away in amazement.

It looks like that no matter how far you run, you can’t hide from or get away from the corruption.

There is no escape.

[Update – 5/12/17 – I had a nice conversation with a Flagstaff employee – a woman – during which I mentioned this episode.

I was advised that the Mayor won a Nov. election based on identity politics: LBGT and women’s issues – which resonated with University students, not the longtime residents.

If so, then this episode is a perfect illustration of how identity politics and what Chris Hedges calls “boutique activism” allow corporate Neoliberal Democrats to dupe progressives. Black activist Glenn Ford calls such urban Mayors part of the “black mis-leadership class”.

They appear progressive on cultural issues, but have no spine to take on corporate power or they actively promote a corporate agenda.

This explains a lot of why labor and white working class folks went for Trump.

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