NJ Audubon and Christie DEP Rebuked On Sparta Mountain Logging Plan

April 6th, 2017 No comments

Audubon Loses “Forest Stewardship Council” (FSC) Certification

Christie DEP promotes logging in absence of state regulations and private certification

“The Mask is off”

According to the Associate Manager, Forest Management, North America at Rainforest Alliance, NJ Audubon has lost the certification of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for their proposed expanded logging at Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA):

I wanted to let you know that the Sparta Mountain WMA is no longer included in the FSC certified. You can find the public summary of the 2017 project here:http://info.fsc.org/details.php?id=a0240000007vNetAAE&type=certificate&return=certificate.php

Rainforest Alliance is the private group that audits logging operations for compliance with FSC standards. FSC standards are private and voluntary and are not enforceable under federal or state environmental laws and regulations.

FSC standards are far more lenient that NJ land use and water quality laws and regulations, like those enforced under the NJ DEP’s Surface Water Quality Standards, stormwater, stream encroachment, and freshwater wetlands (e.g. 300 foot stream buffers, no impact on natural water quality, avoidance and mitigation, etc); or the Highlands Act (300 foot buffers, prohibitions on steep slopes, and 1,000 foot buffers around vernal ponds, et al). Logging is exempt from local land use ordinances too.

I don’t usually do this because the man has his own huge media megaphone, but today I quote my friend Jeff Tittel of NJ Sierra Club because he absolutely nails the significance of a very wonky issue:

“Audubon’s logging plan for Sparta Mountain will not be certified with FSC. This shows just how bad the plan is. When a group with weak standards and no real rules won’t even certify it, it means that it’s just a logging plan and has nothing to do with stewardship. The mask is off now since Audubon can no longer hide before FSC or stewardship.

This is not the first rebuke NJ Audubon received on Sparta Mountain WMA and their FSC cover scheme.

First of all, NJ Audubon got caught in a lie – a story we broke – when they changed the FSC designation of Sparta Mountain as “High Conservation Value” (HCF) forest.

Contrary to false local media, FSC HCV designation establishes higher management objectives that discourage and place additional burdens and restrictions on commercial logging in HCF forests.

As we wrote, under FSC standards, NJ Audubon initially designated the Sparta Mountain as “High Conservation Value Forest” (HVCF) due to exceptional biodiversity (SMWMA).  HCVF’s are subject to strict management standards that tend to promote preservation and limit the intensity of commercial logging in order to protect those high conservation values. FSC management options for HCVF include preservation and “no cut”. Here is the FSC standard:

Intent: High Conservation Value Forests are managed to protect and maintain their identified high conservation value attributes. In some cases, active management is consistent with these attributes, and in other cases (e.g., most old growth forests), active management is specifically precluded.

According to FSC standards, mapping HCVF should be based on a “precautionary approach”, particularly under uncertainty or lack of data, including issues like suitable habitat and presence or absence of species:

2.6.2 | Using the precautionary approach

The Precautionary Approach means that when there is a threat of severe or irreversible damage to the environment or a threat to human welfare, responsible parties need to take explicit and effective measures to prevent the damage and risks, even when the scientific information is incomplete or inconclusive, and when the vulnerability and sensitivity of values are uncertain14. In the context of HCV identification, this means that when there are reasonable indications that an HCV is present, the assessor should assume that it is present.

On top of that, the FSC audit of NJ Audubon’s Sparta Mountain logging scheme revealed that NJA not only failed to comply with FSC public participation and local government consultation requirements. The audit showed how NJA actively deceived FSC auditors as well as fellow NJ environmental groups by using false and misleading claims regarding the nature of their logging in “outreach” NJ Audubon conducted with NJ environmental groups.

Second, Governor Christie vetoed NJ Audubon’s number one legislative priority which was to establish an FSC certification program on all public lands in NJ. That horrible bill would not only have greatly expanded commercial logging in NJ forests, but it also would have granted NJ Audubon a financially lucrative monopoly as the only FSC certified forestry consultant in NJ. NJ Audubon is effectively a consultant, in it for the money and the government grants and contributions from commercial interests like hunters and the “guns and ammo” crowd.

In anticipation of passage of that law and the financial windfall that would accrue to them, NJ Audubon dramatically increased their forestry staff and budget.

Now that the writing is on the wall, the next DEP is unlikely to be grant funding NJA operations, so their deep pocketed members will have to pony up more donations to fund that budget, staff and CEO Stiles’ $102,000+ salary and extremely generous benefits.

Or maybe Donald Trump will write another check – or fellow billionaire Peter Kellogg will.

Third, NJ Audubon and DEP have conspired to cover up their forest planning on public lands by execution of a Memorandum of Agreement to keep information secret and by denying public records requests.

Regardless of the loss of FSC certification and statewide public outrage, NJ Audubon persists in their logging scheme – and in doing so, they expose another fatal flaw: DEP lacks the budget and manpower to properly oversee logging, Check out this spin by John Cecil of NJ Audubon: (NJ Herald)

When the 2016 audit report was released late in March, the Sparta Mountain WMA was not included among the parcels evaluated by the Rainforest Alliance.

Cecil said Tuesday that the decision was made by the state, with concurrence of Audubon, not to include Sparta Mountain.

“We included the first plan to give the agency (DFW) a good look at what the FSC standards are like,” said Cecil. “It is a very strict process.”

But that strict process also involves detailed reports which requires time and manpower to compile. 

Cecil said the state instead will adopt its own standards, much along the lines of the FSC, but not subject to the independent audit.

Cecil is spinning as obviously as friends of disgraced Trump strategist Steven Bannon.

I doubt that DEP made an FSC decision, but Cecil is correct that DEP lacks manpower to do the job.

But Cecil is misleading the public again – the FSC standards are weak and not remotely equivalent to NJ standards – even DEP opposed them .

Worse, there are NO ENFORCEABLE STATE DEP REGULATORY STANDARDS FOR LOGGING. THERE ARE NO PLANS TO ADOPT THEM.

Worse, as I recently wrote, Christie NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin is planning to expand the NJ Audubon logging scheme to all pubic lands – state parks, state forests, green acres, and WMA’s!

One of the first things the next DEP Commissioner must do is to impose a moratorium on DEP’s logging and “stewardship” initiatives, and defund the so called “conservation groups – not just NJ Audubon – that promote those failed and destructive programs.

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“More Ways We Are Fucked”

April 4th, 2017 No comments

A Burlington County Legislator Laid The NJ Legal Foundation

Energy corporations own all three branches of federal government, state agencies, and the law

We’re FERC’ed

Chesterfield NJ, site of compressor station

Chesterfield NJ, site of compressor station

“More Ways We Are Fucked”

Those were the sentiments of a friend with People Over Pipelines, the local group battling the Williams Transco “Garden State Expansion Project” compressor station and NJ Natural Gas pipeline.

After getting screwed by the rigged DEP permit process, reamed by the Christie corporate BPU and betrayed by the corrupt Christie-Wittenberg Pinelands Commission, the group is now seeking to appeal the DEP permits.

As a former DEP regulator well versed in the regulatory game, I’ve long known we’re fucked, and fucked at multiple scales and dimensions – from taking on polluters and addressing climate change to challenging even minor environmental permits.

I’ve delicately tried to explain to residents and pipeline opponents that the regulatory game is rigged, but tried to do so in a way that does not disable activism and lead to cynicism, apathy and despair.

But, I must say, despite the race to the bottom and corporate polluter driven downward spiral of environmental regulation, even my worldly perspective has been surprised to learn exactly how outrageously rigged the game can be when played by Christie corporate hacks .

The latest example of a rigged game – that led to the POP conclusion of being “fucked” – comes not from corporate hacks at DEP or BPU or the Pinelands Commission or FERC- but rather from the judicial branch and the law.

I advised POP that the next step in the process was to get a lawyer to appeal the DEP permits administratively through the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and that the most fruitful attack was the issuance of the DEP wetlands permit and “water quality certificate” (WQC).

I am no lawyer, but instead relied on my professional understanding of: 1) the EPA delegated DEP surface water quality standards and wetlands permit program, EPA Clean Water Act Section 401 WQC Guidance, and the NJ OAL appeal processes; 2) the New York State DEC denial of the Constitution pipeline’s WQC; and 3) a  successful Connecticut pipeline kill upheld by US District and Circuit Court of Appeals known as “Islander East”. (too lazy to post links to all these documents – shoot me an email if interested)

That Islander East case ruled that the federal Natural Gas Act did not preempt state permits issued pursuant to the Clean Water Act and Coastal Zone Management Act and upheld the State of Connecticut’s permit denial.

Like I said, I am not a lawyer, so was not aware that a recent federal court decision basically ruled that the State permit and administrative appeals process was preempted by the NGA and all challenges must be filed in federal appeals court. (A lawyer told me this – I’ve not read the decision).

BOOM! Just like that, the federal courts extinguished fundamental State law regarding environmental permitting and administrative appeals processes – including citizens rights to access state courts and state agencies.

It’s not enough that the federal Natural Gas Act was written by and for the gas industry or that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that enforces the law is a rubber stamp that is completely captured and wholly owned by the gas industry, or that State energy regulatory commissions and environmental agencies are mostly in the tank for the fossil and nuke energy industry.

No, that’s not enough for these greedy bastards that are destroying the planet.

These corporate bastards have the courts as well – they own all three branches of government and law.

The public was fucked.

In addition, not only has federal law, FERC and federal courts fucked the public, but NJ Legislature and State Courts have screwed them as well.

The NJ Administrative Procedure Act (APA) at N.J.S.A. 52:14B-3.2, 3.3 was amended in 1993 to restrict a State agency from allowing “third parties” to appeal to the Office of Administrative Law to challenged a State agency permit.  The “third parties” that have  a right to go to OAL to challenge an agency decision false into 2 groups: 1) a permit applicant who was denied a permit or doesn’t agree with permit conditions, or 2) those with a “particularized” property right or constitutional right to an OAL hearing.  The courts have construed these amendments very strictly. Court have found that a “particularized interest” standard is very high, and it is not met by even an adjacent property owner

How more “particular” can an interest be than when a permit impacts your private property?

BOOM!

“Again, more ways we’re fucked”.

So, just who was it that amended the NJ Administrative Procedure Act to limit citizens access? And why? Can we string the bastard up?

Ironically, very few people realize that Burlington County farmers and residents that long have supported preservation of rural farmlands have been fucked by one of the early leaders of the Burlington County farmland preservation program.

Specifically, former Gov. Christie Whitman’s DEP Commissioner and Burlington County State Assemblyman Bob Shinn was the sponsor of the 1993 amendments to NJ’s law that narrowly restricted the standards to challenge a DEP permit at OAL:

Section 3.3a of the APA, as amended in 1993, clearly instructs that “[e]xcept as otherwise required by federal law or by statute that specifically allows a third party to appeal a permit decision, a State agency shall not promulgate any rule or regulation that would allow a third party to appeal [administratively] a permit decision.” N.J.S.A. 52:14B-3.3a. A third party is defined in the statute as “any person other than: a. [a]n applicant for any agency license, permit, certificate, approval, chapter, registration or other form of permission required by law; b. [a] State agency; or c. [a] person who has a particularized property interest sufficient to require a hearing on constitutional or statutory grounds.” N.J.S.A. 52:14B-3.2 (emphasis added).

By enacting these limitations, the Legislature unmistakably intended to prevent the processing of permit applications by State agencies from being bogged down by time-consuming and costly formal hearings in the OAL. To require such formal hearings routinely in every instance where a local resident raises some objection to a proposed State permit could produce enormous delays. Such hearings could easily consume substantial public and private resources. They are also prone to convert an agency’s administrative review process into a veritable litigation battleground. See N.J.S.A. 52:14B-3.1 (noting disruptive effects and “chaotic unpredictability and instability” potentially caused to the State’s business climate by allowing challenges to permits by third parties “who have no particularized property interests or who are not directly affected by a permitting decision”); see also In re NJPDES Permit No. NJ0025241 Issued to Asbury Park City, 185 N.J. 474, 482, 888 A.2d 454 (2006) (citing the same legislative finding).

Shinn sponsored that horrible Legislation at the request of developers, polluters, and the business community who wanted to “streamline” the process and eliminate the public’s rights.

I hope that Bob Shinn is held accountable and is shamed by his Burlington County neighbors for doing that – but I somehow doubt that will happen.

So we’ll do it now: Shame on you Bob Shinn!

 

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From the Ocean to the Highlands, Christie DEP Mismanaging Natural Resources

March 31st, 2017 No comments

Christie DEP elevates economics over science and natural resource protections

Ignoring science, DEP Commissioner Martin doubles down on economic exploitation

Commissioner Martin’s scheme must be stopped, just like his proposed clearcut of Bulls Island State Park was.

We call on readers to contact their legislators and demand a moratorium on logging of NJ’s public lands and Highlands forests.

Two recent actions by the Christie DEP illustrate a growing crisis in the policy and mismanagement of the New Jersey’s last remaining natural resources (and I’m intentionally leaving the slaughter of black bears and lots of other examples out of this brief note).

  • Case #1 – fisheries

In 2008, I was hired by Pew Environment Group to manage their “Ending Overfishing in the Mid-Atlantic” campaign.

The justification for and focus of that Pew campaign was to defend anticipated strict new limits on the allowable catch of summer flounder, an over-fished but very popular species backed by powerful political interests centered in NJ (e.g. the lobbying group RFA and Congressman Frank Pallone).

However, shortly after I was hired, political pressure by those commercial and recreational fishing lobbyists and economic interests successfully pressured the Mid Atlantic Fisheries Management Council to revise their “stock assessment” to avoid more restrictive catch limits. As a result, more fish were allowed to be caught, jeopardizing sustainable fisheries populations.

Also as a result of the revised stock assessment, the planned Pew campaign was aborted and I left Pew as a warrior without a war

PEW is a very rational science-based organization. We advocate conservation. I expect that to be the expectation here.

Now, 8 years later, the chickens are coming home to roost. The most recent summer flounder stock assessment found that there was overfishing: (see MAFMC release):

In August 2016, the Board and Mid‐Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved an approximate 30% reduction in catch limits for both the commercial and recreational fisheries in response to the 2016 stock assessment update, which indicated the resource is experiencing overfishing but is not overfished. In order to not exceed the reduced 2017 RHL, a 41% reduction relative to the 2016 preliminary harvest estimates is needed. To achieve the reduction, the Addendum implements a one‐inch increase in size limit from 2016 measures for all regions with the exception of North Carolina. Additionally, all regions are required to constrain their possession limits to 4 fish or less and maintain 2016 season lengths.

Despite this science and risk to the sustainability of the fishery, in another short sighted political move, the Christie DEP  attacked and appealed the MAFMC catch limits: (DEP press release)

NEW JERSEY FILES FORMAL APPEAL OF SUMMER FLOUNDER QUOTA REDUCTIONS
STATE’S REPRESENTATIVES ARGUE ASMFC DECISION WILL CAUSE ADVERSE IMPACTS TO FISHERY AND INDUSTRY

(17/P25) TRENTON – New Jersey representatives to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have filed an appeal requesting the commission reconsider its vote significantly reducing the state’s recreational-fishing quota for summer flounder this year, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced today.

Yesterday, DEP Commissioner Martin spun the issue in a meeting with outdoor writers: (NJ Herald)

The U.S. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has proposed a 30 percent cut in the limit of summer flounder that commercial fishermen can haul in and a 40 percent cut for recreational fishermen.

Martin said those limits would decimate the Jersey Shore’s recreational fishing business, leading to job losses. He said that the decision, which is endorsed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, is based on old and faulty data.

Shortsighted economic and political decisions must not be allowed to over-ride the science and sound management of the fisheries resource. That happened in 2007, so after the prior collapse, I assume that National Marine Fisheries will have learned the lesson uphold the MAFMC restrictions and reject the Christie DEP appeal.

2. Controversial Logging of Highlands Forrests to be Expanded Statewide

Readers here are familiar with the debate over the NJ Audubon and Christie DEP proposed logging plans for Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area and other Highlands forests.

Given that debate, one would assume that the Christie DEP would proceed slowly and deliberately, based on the best available science and meaningful opportunities for public involvement in the development of public lands forestry policy.

One would be wrong:

  • DEP chief expects more forest plans like Sparta Mountain’s

    UPPER FREEHOLD — Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said Thursday that the forestry plan for state-owned land on Sparta Mountain is the first of many similar plans for the state’s parks, forests and wildlife management areas.

    And the commissioner, who is likely to end his nearly eight years as head of the department early next year with a new governor to be elected, strongly defended the state’s adoption of the early forest initiative, also known as early successional forest, which relies on man’s efforts to create areas within forests in which new shrubs and trees can grow.

    The other side of the debate, and strongly voiced by other environmentalists, is to leave forests alone to Mother Nature’s care.

Whoa! Totally unacceptable.

Commissioner Martin’s scheme must be stopped, just like his proposed clearcut of Bulls Island State Park was.

We call on readers to contact their legislators and demand a moratorium on logging of NJ’s public lands and Highlands forests.

We call on the professionals inside DEP to push back against this reckless and irresponsible policy – if you see something, leak something!

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Hayduke Lives!

March 31st, 2017 No comments

But he’s as Seldom Seen as the NJ Devil

_DSC1691

Latest sightings

1) RT 528, Chesterfield NJ

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 1.01.52 PM

 2) Recently at Sparta Mountain

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 1.19.59 PM

3) Somewhere in The Pinelands

_DSC1535 (1)

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Cutting Trees At Chesterfield Gas Compressor Station Site Sparks Public Outrage

March 30th, 2017 No comments

Williams Blows Off USFWS Concerns Over Breeding Migratory Birds

Christie DEP failing to enforce stream buffer, clean water, and wetlands standards

Activists present at site since Monday – “Occupy” actions on horizon

trees cut down in riparian zone - about 10 feet from stream bank

trees cut down in riparian zone – about 10 feet from stream bank

Activists have been present at the site almost continuously since Monday morning – public awareness and opposition are building. There is a piece of land adjacent to the compressor station site that is owned by Chesterfield township that would make a great place to Occupy.

Late yesterday afternoon (3/29/17) Williams began cutting trees at their Chesterfield compressor station site, over the objections of conservationists and US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists.

Despite expert sightings of breeding migratory birds, the company defied USFWS recommendations and proceeded at risk – meaning that should such habitat be discovered after the fact, they will face a slap on the risk by USFWS for “incidental take” – a minor cost of doing business.

[Update: Burlington County Times reports that FERC was involved – more FERC-ing off by the misguided Rethink NJ folks who parachuted in at the last minute and waste local resources. How many times do they have to fail before people stop listening to them?]

Or, as I suggested, a Hail Mary diversion.  Despite Williams blowing off US FWS, quietly behind the scenes, some are wasting resources seeking NJ DEP intervention on the same issue, even worse, via confidential communications with DEP Commissioner Martin. Tactically, this is just as bad as the FERC-ing off I’ve criticized.

Meanwhile, the cutting of trees is occurring within about 10 feet of a stream that its a tributary to Suckers Run – that issue is being ignored and could constitute a violation of NJ DEP riparian zone buffer and surface water quality standards. (Hint: read how NY State DEC denied a Clean Water Act certification as a result of similar adverse water quality impacts. Maybe Tom Gilbert of Rethink NJ, consultant Princeton Hydro, and local lawyers could read it and then act on it? Why are these killer regulatory issues being ignored, when they have defeated pipelines in neighboring states?)

stream is tributary to Suckers Run - DEP not enforcing Surface Water Quality Standards or riparian zone (buffer) protections

stream is tributary to Suckers Run – DEP not enforcing Surface Water Quality Standards or riparian zone (buffer) protections

I was at the site yesterday when the cutting began, and noticed that the company began to comply (but not completely) with soil erosion and sediment control requirements by installing a small section of stone and fabric, see:

_DSC1686

I went back to the site this morning and walked along the hedgerow and it sure looked like they were cutting trees and vegetation in forested wetlands – I don’t know what disturbance the wetlands permits allowed, but that surely needs to be looked into from a compliance and enforcement perspective. Maybe these regulated features were not mapped?

ponded water and forested wetlands

ponded water and forested wetlands

I am calling DEP now about both the riparian zone and wetlands issues.

Activists have been present at the site continuously since Monday morning – opposition is building and there is a piece of land adjacent to the compressor station site that is owned by Chesterfield township that would make a great place to Occupy.

Just a suggestion.

[Update – I stopped by the site again about 4:30 pm and came upon another example that illustrates a total disregard for public safety by Williams.

A huge machine was cutting down trees in the county roadway right-of-way. Branches and chunks of trees were falling onto the shoulder and roadway. Cars were slowing down and swerving over the double line at 45+ mph speed zone.

But there were no traffic safety measures in place: no warning sign, no safety cones, no flag man, nothing.

We convinced the Chesterfield police to shut it down on that basis. ~~~ end update.]

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