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Mastro Report Documents Christie Directive Through IGA to DEP – Regulatory Approvals Are DEP’s “Quid” in Hoboken Rockefeller Development – Sandy Aid Shakedown

April 23rd, 2014 No comments

Gov. Christie Personally Directed Series of DEP Meetings to Discuss “Economic development in Hoboken”

Hoboken Mayor’s role in the Sandy aid shakedown was related to local development approvals of Rockefeller

But DEP regulatory approvals for Rockefeller are completely ignored

There are two primary events that are driving the various Christie scandal investigations: 1) the GWB lane closures; and 2) the alleged “shakedown” of Hoboken Mayor Zimmer.

Investigations of those two events have generated many secondary spinoff stories, including Gov. Christie’s use of the Port Authority as a “political piggy bank”; ethical conflicts and revolving door abuses by former Port Authority Chair David Samson and Lori Grifa of Wolff & Samson law firm; and the numerous tales of political intrigue and personal mini-dramas of the Christie Administration players that have emerged as the inside story has been revealed.

Of the two, the Hoboken shakedown is clearly the more serious criminal abuse.

So today – especially given our DEP experience – we want to focus on critical and under-reported aspects of the Hoboken shakedown as it is told in the Mastro Report: the highly revealing and crucial role of DEP in the scandal.

The interview summaries for that Mastro Report reveal significant details about the Gov.’s Office, the Rockefeller Development Group, and corrupt politicization of DEP regulatory oversight.

Tons of media stories have been written about the Mastro Report and the alleged “shakedown”, or  quid pro quo at play in Hoboken.

That quid pro quo went something like this: Mayor Zimmer has alleged that Sandy aid to Hoboken was used as blackmail to pressure her for support  - in the form of local development approvals – for the proposed billion dollar Rockefeller development.

Gov. Christie so called “exoneration”, i.e. the Mastro Report, spends a lot of time on this issue.

Mastro interviewed 75 Christie Administration officials. The Report includes “summaries” of those interviews.

Of that total interviewed, 9 were DEP officials, 1 was from the NJ Environmental Infrastructure Trust, and 1 was a former DEP Assistant Commissioner now in Gov. Office. So 11 of the 75 people interviewed were involved in environmental approvals. 

Mastro interview summaries reveal that there were a series of 3 meetings with Rockefeller and DEP regarding “regulatory approvals for Hoboken development” and “permits”.

Those DEP meetings were arranged at the direction of Gov. Christie to explore “economic development in Hoboken” (see Constable summary re: Feb. 25, 2013 email from Renna) and set up by the Gov.’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) (see Renna and Constable summaries). The Rockefeller Development Group was invited by IGA (Renna).

  • The March 5 meeting – “Birkenstock crowd”

There was a March 5 meeting with DEP Commissioner Martin, DCA Commissioner Constable, Gov. Office (Mowers), Rockefeller Development Group, and Hoboken Mayor Zimmer.

Remarkably, Martin somehow can’t recall the name of the “two or three others” at the meeting and the “consulting firm” (i.e. Rockefeller Development Group). But Martin DID recall this – note how Martin downplays and makes anything related to Rockefeller seem to come from Mayor Zimmer, despite the fact that Rockefeller was invited by the Gov.’s Office:

Martin recalled that Mayor Zimmer then mentioned that the Rockefeller Group potentially could play a role in putting money into the build out of the project. He recalled that discussion of the Rockefeller Group was not long, but that the Mayor mentioned the Rockefeller Group’s construction on either the north end or the south end of the city could provide protection.

But Martin fails to mention lots of critically important facts that are related to development, not flood control, specifically: 1) the Gov.’s objective for the meeting, i.e. “economic development in Hoboken”; 2) the fact that the meeting was set up by the Gov. Office IGA; 3)  the Gov.’s Office invitation and attendance of the Rockefeller Group; and 4) the fact that Martin directed a followup meeting on March 26 with DEP Deputy Cantor and the the DEP Assistant Commissioner for Land Use, the DEP group that reviews development projects like Rockefeller’s.

DCA Commissioner’s Constable’s account of this meeting differs significantly from Martin’s, but curiously, they both have trouble recalling what went on during the meeting and who attended, but they both distance themselves from Rockefeller and attribute anything related to Rockefeller as coming from Zimmer.

But those recollections are belied by Constable’s recollection of Martin’s “Birkenstock” smear (Constable):

Following Constable’s March 5, 2013 meeting with Mayor Zimmer and DEP, Martin subsequently joked about the irony of Mayor Zimmer’s talking about development – suggesting something along the lines of, in a joking manner, that Mayor Zimmer was part of the “Birkenstock crowd of folks typically not in favor of development.

If Martin is joking about Zimmer’s opposition to development, that obviously suggests that development – not flood control – was disussed.

And note that neither Martin nor Constable specifically recall or even mention that Rockefeller group was at that meeting. 

But, Rockefeller involvement at that meeting is confirmed by reading Renna (IGA) summary, which blows the entire Martin/Constable cover story:

Renna believed that Kelly asked Renna to set up the meeting between DEP Commissioner Martin and Community Affairs Commissioner Constable, and Mayor Zimmer. …

Prior to the meeting on March 5, Mowers sent an email to Renna asking if it was OK for the Rockefeller Group to be part of the meeting with Mayor Zimmer and the Commissioners.  Renna recalled that she did not know who the Rockefeller Group was, and the only reason she remembers the Rockefeller Group now is because that Renna went to Kelly to ask who the Rockefeller Group was. Renna recalled Kelly said that Lori Grifa represented the Rockefeller Group. Renna can not recall whether Kelly said whether it was or was not a problem for the Rockefeller Group to attend the meeting,  but Renna said that she would not have made the decision for the Rockefeller Group to participate in the March 5, 2013 meeting without clearing it through Kelly.

Rockefeller was there. They were invited by Mowers/IGA. The Gov.’s objective for arranging this meeting was “economic development in Hoboken”.

Dots connected.

Martin, Constable, and Renna’s attempts to downplay these facts strongly suggest a coverup.

In our next post, we explore the followup meetings at DEP on March 26 and May 9.  There is lots of information in those interview summaries that suggest that Rockefeller Development Group was provided not only undue access, but corrupt preferential regulatory treatment.

In the meantime, hit the links to the documents below, from our friends at PEER:

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Press Release 

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Contact:  Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Leola Webb (202) 265-7337 

Christie Eco-Officials Fronted for favored Developer

Mastro Report Focus on DEP Role in Pressing Hoboken for Rockefeller Project     

Trenton — In releasing the interview summaries from his internal investigation of the George Washington Bridge scandal, Governor Chris Christie confirmed how intertwined his environmental agencies were in his political operations, according to an analysis released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Of the 75 persons interviewed by the law firm retained by Christie, eleven were from environmental agencies, principally, the Department of Environmental protection (DEP).

One major topic of the interviews conducted by Randy Mastro of the law firm engaged by Christie was pressures put on Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer to approve a controversial development project by the Rockefeller Group.  Mayor Zimmer recounted being personally lobbied by both the Lt. Gov. and the Director of the Department of Community Affairs but, in addition the interview summaries –

  • Describe three meetings between DEP and Hoboken officials. The meetings involved many high level DEP officials “which was not the norm for the DEP’s meetings with municipalities…” according to one witness who described herself as “intimidated”;
  • Contain often flimsy and contradictory pretexts from top DEP officials for the meetings; and
  • Detail how the Governor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA), then run by Bridget Kelly, was in charge of deploying the political roll-out for every supposedly objective official act, such as the distribution of post-Sandy aid.

“Nixon had his CREEP – the Committee to Reelect the President – and Christie has his IGA,” remarked New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP analyst.  “Agencies like DEP which are supposed to promote the environment have been subverted into promoting Christie’s political agenda.”

This widely ridiculed internal investigation did not delve deeply into related topics such as how Christie’s office politicized award of grants to municipalities to rebuild power infrastructure.  Running up to his reelection, IGA made sure grants to favored municipalities received media attention and political plaudits.

After an analysis by PEER showed that grant awards violated the state’s own criteria and seemed designed to reward friends and punish perceived enemies, Christie’s office backtracked.  Initially they blamed a contractor and then claimed there were data entry errors. Now they say they are starting calculations again from scratch by hand.  Meanwhile, delays in Sandy relief lengthen principally due to these shenanigans.

“Christie’s tax-paid private investigators seemed eager to buy every exculpatory ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ canard offered by officials who obviously know better,” Wolfe added.  “These guys can’t even run a decent cover-up.”

###

See DEP interview summaries for

Commissioner Robert Martin

Assistant Commissioner for Economic Growth Michele Siekerka

Chief Advisor to the Commissioner Raymond Cantor

Water Quality Division Director Michele Putnam

Assistant Director Division Water Quality Eugene Chebra

Supervising Environmental Specialist Linda Coles

Water Quality Specialist Matt Klewen

Director Office of Flood Hazard Risk Reduction David Rosenblatt

Look at IGA intimate role in roll-out of grant awards

Read Gov. Christie’s version of events

View all the interviews

Review how Christie politicized Hazard Mitigation grants

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

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Life on the Pequod

April 22nd, 2014 No comments

An Earth Day Message

The Voyage of Life - Thomas Cole

The Voyage of Life – Part III, Manhood – Thomas Cole (1840)

Chris Hedges is perhaps America’s most profound and prescient public intellectual and advocate for human dignity and social justice.

On Earth Day, we must heed his wise but painful words:

The most prescient portrait of the American character and our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Melville makes our murderous obsessions, our hubris, violent impulses, moral weakness and inevitable self-destruction visible in his chronicle of a whaling voyage. He is our foremost oracle. He is to us what William Shakespeare was to Elizabethan England or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to czarist Russia.

Our country is given shape in the form of the ship, the Pequod, named after the Indian tribe exterminated in 1638 by the Puritans and their Native American allies. The ship’s 30-man crew—there were 30 states in the Union when Melville wrote the novel—is a mixture of races and creeds. The object of the hunt is a massive white whale, Moby Dick, which in a previous encounter maimed the ship’s captain, Ahab, by dismembering one of his legs. The self-destructive fury of the quest, much like that of the one we are on, assures the Pequod’s destruction. And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed—just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.

“If I had been downright honest with myself,” Ishmael admits, “I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.”

Watch the video or read the whole speech: The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies

The Course of Empire - Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire – Part IV, Destruction – Thomas Cole (1833-1836)

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According TO US EPA Report, NJ Has the Worst Water Quality in the Country – Over 90% of Rivers, Lakes, Streams, Bays, and Ocean Are Polluted, Unhealthy, and Fail to Meet Clean Water Act Standards

April 20th, 2014 No comments

Christie Administration’s Deregulation and Disinvestment Bring Dirty Water

NJ Waters Fail to Meet Standards and DEP Cleanup Plans Are Ineffective

All While US EPA Lamely Asks:  How’s My Waterway?

Source: US EPA

Source: US EPA

Last week, we wrote about how the Christie Administration’s austerity policy was accelerating the deficit in clean water infrastructure – both wastewater treatment and drinking water systems, see:

We also posted a few pictures of one stream negatively impacted by the Fenimore landfill, see:

Of course, the “insidious ecological decline” of Barnegat Bay is another example of Clean Water Act impairment we’ve written in some detail about.

And for years, we have written about Gov. Christie’s deregulation and privatization policies.

So today, we put it all in context, based upon the data in US EPA’s new “enhanced version of “How’s My Waterway” app and website initiative.

We thought we’d outline some of the consequences off that set of Christie policies, in terms of clean water in NJ. (hit link for complete picture).

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an enhanced version of “How’s My Waterway,” an app and website to help people find information on the condition of thousands of lakes, rivers and streams across the United States from their smart phone, tablet or desktop computer.

The How’s My Waterway app and website, http://www.epa.gov/mywaterway, uses GPS technology or a user-entered zip code or city name to provide information about the quality of local water bodies. The new version of the site includes data on local drinking water sources, watersheds and efforts to protect waterways, as well as a map-oriented version of “How’s My Waterway” designed for museum kiosks, displays and touch screens, available at: http://watersgeo.epa.gov/mywaterway/kiosk/.

“Communities and neighborhoods across the U.S. want to know that their local lakes, rivers and streams are healthy and safe to enjoy with their families, and providing that information is a priority for EPA,” said acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner. “The enhanced version of ‘How’s My Waterway’ provides easy, user-friendly access to the health of the places we swim, fish and boat, where we get our drinking water, and what is being done to curb water pollution. People can get this information whether researching at a desktop or standing streamside looking at a smart phone.”

Take a look at some of the “NJ highlights”  - I wish EPA made strict enforcement of the Clean Water Act as high a priority as providing information via websites and trendy user friendly app’s.

US EPA

US EPA

 

US EPA

US EPA

 

US EPA

US EPA

 

US EPA

US EPA

 

US EPA

US EPA

 

 

 

 

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This is What Sea Level Rise Might Look Like

April 19th, 2014 No comments

High Tide After Full Moon on Delaware River In Bordentown, NJ

Bordentown Beach (4/17/14)

Bordentown Beach (4/17/14)

Walking the dog late Thursday afternoon and noticed high tide had submerged benches and picnic tables.

We had rain Tuesday, the river was flowing high, and a full moon, so the tide was as high as I’ve seen it.

Saw a couple taking photos, and thought these might be good images for showing what the effects of sea level rise might look like – which is an abstraction for most folks.

Stopped to talk with them, and met Eva and Rodney Hargis, who graciously agreed – here are their shots.

I don’t think most folks understand what projected 3 feet of sea level rise by 2050 or permanent inundation would mean – barrier islands submerged – but people can relate to pictures of submerged park benches and do understand the tides.

For those interested in reading an excellent report on climate impacts on the Delaware River Basin, see this University of Pennsylvania study (2008).

SAMSUNG CSC

tide2

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Vapid Sound Bites Proliferate As We Surrender Democracy To Corporate Oligarchs

April 18th, 2014 No comments

Princeton Research Concludes that US is an Oligarchy, Not a Democracy

Governor Christie Provides A Road Map To How Oligarchs Rule

NJ Media Ignores the Issue

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. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism. ~~~ Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens

[Update: 4/21/14 - Kudos to NJ Spotlight for publishing a list of NJ's oligarchs: NJ's 10 Highest Paid CEO's].

We’ll get to the boxed quote above in a minute.

For those that don’t get into the weeds to follow the internal workings of government – or are too lazy to file an OPRA public records request and conduct a file review – the Mastro interview summaries provide a revealing Cliff Notes glimpse into how the Christie government operates.

I’m an in the weeds guy, so I stayed up practically all night reading the DEP summaries -

One would assume that everyone would question why 11 of the 75 interviews were of NJ environmental officials (including 1 former DEP manager now in the Gov.’s Office) – and what role DEP played in the Rockefeller development controversy at the heart of the most potentially criminal part of the scandal.

Do reporters think it is appropriate and standard operating procedure for the Gov. to have his political arm (Office of Intergovernmental Affairs) arrange a series of private Commissioner and high level DEP meetings with a major corporation like the Rockefeller Development Group to discuss DEP regulatory approvals for a billion dollar development project?

So, over the last few days, I’ve been reaching out to reporters covering the various Christie scandals to try to explain what the Mastro interview summaries reveal about how Governor Christie governs.

Or more specifically, how corrupt and beholden to corporate economic interests and the Gov.’s political agenda the DEP has become.

Let’s just say reporters have no interest in any of that.

For the most part, they prefer to focus on the scandal aspects – as opposed to the governing or policy aspects – of the story, and lazily write the Mastro cover story, e.g. Most of Hoboken Sandy Energy Grants not scored due to errors, memo’s show

Or write vapid bullshit like this:

(and Matt Katz is one of the better reporters now working at the best media outlet, in terms of serious coverage of public policy issues.)

Which brings us to the boxed quote above.

This morning, I came across that finding from a research paper published by a Princeton University professor – in straight forward statistical regression analysis, the paper demonstrates that the US is an Oligarchy, not a democracy or representative democracy.

Professor  Gilens’ paper confirms the prior theoretical work of another Princeton professor, Sheldon Wolin, laid out in his masterpiece book: Democracy Incorporated – Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

[Robert Reich dubs it "The New Gilded Age" - while Mat Taibbi writes of  American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap]

One would think that Princeton study a rather newsworthy finding, no?

One would think it is not hard to use the Rockefeller influence on Gov. Christie and DEP as a perfect illustration of that research.

So, why isn’t that story being written? Especially after the NY Times opened the door in a scathing expose, see

The Mastro DEP summaries lay the story out on a silver platter.

But instead of serious reporting about how the Rockefeller Development Group got Gov. Christie’s support and a series of closed door meetings with the DEP on regulatory approvals – and what kind of reforms must be enacted to end those abuses –  we get more vapid blather from the press corps.

No wonder we’ve surrendered democracy to the corporate Oligarchs.

They’ve got the best media money can buy.

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