The People’s House

January 8th, 2021 No comments

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The recent images of the Trump insurrection – while not surprising – are deeply disturbing, so I thought I’d share a more positive frame and memory.

The photo above was taken during a spring 2009 tour of the Capitol for “NJ Environmental Leaders” sponsored by my friend NJ Congressman Rush Holt.

As I recall, we toured the Capitol and attended a luncheon with Holt and recently installed Obama administration officials involved with environmental and climate policy. Expectations for the Obama administration were very high, but soon to be dashed.

The event was coordinated by Obama White House Climate and Energy staffer Heather Zichal. For Zichal’s full bio, see:

I met Zichal when, as a Rutgers student, she worked as a volunteer with the Political Committee of Sierra Club’ NJ Chapter, and then for NJ Congressmen Holt and Pallone, Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign and then the Obama 2008 campaign.

The NJ Chapter endorsed Holt in the 1998 race for NJ’s 12th Congressional District. Zichal played a role in that decision, which was unusual because it departed from Sierra Club’s national policy, which strongly favored endorsement of incumbents, especially pro-environment moderate Republicans. Holt was running against one term moderate pro-environment Republican Frank Pappas.

I was Acting Director of NJ Sierra Chapter at that time and led the Trenton press conference (in Senate annex) when Sierra announced the Holt endorsement. Holt thanked the Club and made brief remarks.

I first met Holt – who lived in Hopewell Valley and was involved with the local watershed group – during the mid 1990’s controversial land use debates in Hopewell Valley involving the 3.5 million square foot Merrill Lynch Scotch Road project,  the Trenton-ELSA-Hopewell sewer line, and the expansion of the Bristol Myers Squibb facility, which was located just south of Holt’s house. I also lived in Hopewell at the time.

Sierra volunteers convinced Holt – our Holt convinced them – that the politics of fighting sprawl development and advocating the protection of water resources were very politically popular.

Holt’s leadership on those issues played a huge role in his Sierra endorsement and later may have been the deciding factor in his upset win in a Republican leaning suburban swing district.

I think the 2009 luncheon address was by a US Navy official, who spoke about climate as a national security threat.

The one thing I distinctly recall from that luncheon was a question I asked during Q&A.

At the time, the Obama campaign was widely praised for its savvy use of Digital organizing and social media as an organizing tool. They had assembled large lists, including environmental activists.

Probing that success, I specifically asked Ms. Zichal if the Obama White House would continue to use those lists to cultivate grassroots support for their climate policies, which were expected to face strong opposition in Congress.

Zichal’s reply was stunning: she flat out told me and the crowd that there were no plans to conduct that kind of political operation and that as far as she knew, the entire social media campaign infrastructure had been abandoned.

I was – to put it mildly – shocked.

That was when I first knew for sure – long before it became obvious with the selection of Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator, the “all of the above” energy policy, and the half assed effort to pass a cap and trade bill – that Obama was not serious and his rhetoric was nowhere near his actual policy.

At the time, my negative assessment was very poorly received in virtually all quarters.

Sadly, even now, some of my fellow “NJ environmental leaders” never came to share that assessment.

[End notes:

1. As a Sierra professional, I was not involved in Sierra endorsement decisions (they are made by the volunteers). In hindsight, it would have been much better for Sierra to support Holt’s prior 1996 Democratic Primary challenger Carl Meyer of nearby Princeton, who was far more progressive.

I also knew Carl Meyer, who I met before I came to Sierra during the victorious debates over the proposed Mercer County garbage incinerator. I think Carl later was part of the legal team with Chris Hedges in challenging the NDA.

2. Of course, with respect toThe People’s House and speaking of Princeton, there is this political fact:

When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.

~~~ end]

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Me And My Shadow

January 5th, 2021 No comments

Sunset In The Sonoran

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NJ Spotlight Repeats – Verbatim – Condi Rice’s “No One Could Have Imagined” 9/11 Lie With Respect To COVID Deaths

January 2nd, 2021 No comments

No One Could Have Imagined That A Journalist Would Repeat That Infamous Rhetoric

Monumental Failures In High Places – But No Accountability

NJ Spotlight sure started the New Year with a bang.

Check out this astonishing – and false – claim by editor John Mooney:

We have now lost more than 19,000 people in the state due to the virus. No one could have imagined on March 4, when New Jersey reported its first confirmed case, that the number would skyrocket.

“No one could have imagined”?

Are you kidding me?

How could Mr. Mooney – a grown man and professional journalist – so mindlessly parrot that particularly historically ignominious phrase?

That phrase is as toxic as “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sex with that woman”.

Reporters need to stop reading just government press releases and start reading government documents.

In case young readers may not be aware of the origins of that notorious phrase, denying any responsibility for 9/11, President George Bush claimed (NY Times 4/13/04) (emphasis mine)

there was nobody in our government, at least, and I don’t think the prior government that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.

Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice carved that phrase in stone when she later testified to the 9/11 Commission: (excerpt from the transcript of Rice’s testimony to the 9/11 Commission)

[Gov.] KEAN: I’ve got a question now I’d like to ask you. It was given to me by a number of members of the families.

Did you ever see or hear from the FBI, from the CIA, from any other intelligence agency, any memos or discussions or anything else between the time you got into office and 9/11 that talked about using planes as bombs?

RICE: Let me address this question because it has been on the table. […]

And I said, at one point, that this was a historical memo, that it was — it was not based on new threat information. And I said, “No one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon” — I’m paraphrasing now — “into the World Trade Center, using planes as a missile.”

Those claims by Bush and Rice were blatantly false.

The Joint Inquiry of 2002 confirmed that the Intelligence Community had received at least twelve reports over a seven-year period suggesting that terrorists might use planes as weapons.

NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd further debunked them with additional evidence from FBI sworn testimony: (3/22/06 NYT column)

Even though Condi Rice told the 9/11 commission that “no one could have imagined” terrorists’ slamming a plane into the World Trade Center, an F.B.I. officer did. Officer Samit testified that a colleague, Greg Jones, tried to light a fire under Mr. Maltbie by urging him to “prevent Zacarias Moussaoui from flying a plane into the World Trade Center.”

So, that phrase, “no one could have imagined” will live in infamy and should obviously be radioactive, especially to an experienced professional journalist, whose craft is language.

According to Wiki, the concept of a failure of imagination is “a circumstance wherein something seemingly predictable (particularly from hindsight) and undesirable was not planned for.[1]

But, what we have in this case is actually far worse than a “failure of imagination” because the event in question was not only predictable and predicted, it was planned for.

Let me repeat: the event was not only predicted it was planned for by NJ State officials.

The event I’m referring to is the COVID pandemic and the number of deaths predicted.

Citing 19,000 current COVID deaths, Mr. Mooney claims that “no one could have imagined” that “the number would skyrocket” when the virus was first detected back in March 2020.

That is as big a lie as Bush and Rice’s.

As I wrote on March 17, 2020, NJ has two Pandemic Plans adopted pursuant to NJ law.

Those plans found that pandemics are “inevitable” and predicted potential fatalities from 5,000 (NJ DoH) to 50,000 (NJ Hazard Mitigation plan), including the collapse of the health care system and social  disorder.

Thus spake the NJ Department of Health’s Pandemic Influenza Plan:

The Looming Threat:

History tells us that Influenza pandemics are inevitable but unpredictable and arrive with very little warning. Should an influenza pandemic virus again appear that behaves as the 1918 strain, the results could be catastrophic, even when taking into account the remarkable advances in medicine. Air travel could hasten the spread of a new virus, and decrease the time available for implementing interventions. Outbreaks would most likely occur simultaneously throughout much of the U.S., preventing shifts in human and material resources that usually occur in response to other disasters. The effect of influenza on individual communities will be relatively prolonged (weeks to months) in comparison to other types of disasters. Healthcare systems could be rapidly overburdened, economies strained, and social order disrupted. […]

If a severe (1918-like) pandemic hits NJ, the impact on the healthcare system and the number of deaths is estimated as follows:

Deaths                                                5,000 (2% of ill)

The NJ Hazard Mitigation Plan’s Pandemic Chapter estimates 10 TIMES more deaths:

Three major influenza pandemics affected areas across the globe in the 20th century, causing millions of deaths. New Jersey saw the impacts of these pandemics. If a new influenza virus were to begin spreading throughout the world, New Jersey could experience more than 50,000 deaths, more than 275,000 people hospitalized, and more than 2.5 million people ill (NJDOH, 2012). Table 5.21-3 provides details on pandemic events that have impacted New Jersey.

And that’s from 5,000  to 50,000 deaths from a flu pandemic. In contrast, COVID is at least 10 times and up to 100 times more deadly than flu.

But you don’t have to accept my opinion at face value about how grossly incompetent and mismanaged the response by NJ State officials was.

You can read this excellent analysis by  Jeffrey Frankel, Harpel Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and formerly a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. A shorter version appeared in Project Syndicate: (emphases mine)

Events like the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the US housing crash of 2007-09, and the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, can be called “black swans”: in each case, few people were able to predict them reliably.  But they were known unknowns, not unknown unknowns.  That is, in each case, knowledgeable analysts were fully aware that such a thing could happen, even that it was likely to happen eventually.  They could not predict that the event would happen with high probability in any given year.  But the consequences of each of these events were severe, and predictably so.  Thus, policymakers should have listened to the warnings and should have taken steps in advance. They could have helped avert or mitigate disaster if they had done so.

Listen to the Cassandras

After the danger of the new coronavirus had become apparent to all, US President Donald Trump repeatedly said that such a pandemic was “an unforeseen problem” that “nobody ever thought would be a problem.”  But of course epidemiology experts had warned about the danger for years, and as recently as last October.

So, I guess you could say that NJ Spotlight engaged in Trumpian lies!

As far as I know, no press or public official have held State officials accountable for their monumental failures.

I contacted Mr. Mooney, Mr. McAlpin and two reporters at NJ Spotlight today demanding that they correct this egregious and unforgivable factual error.

We’ll let you know how they respond.

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Murphy DEP Climate Proposal Would Allow Development In Inundation And Flood Hazard Areas

January 1st, 2021 No comments

A Whole New Angle On Underwater Mortgages

Lax Restrictions On New Development And Reconstruction Could Jeopardize Future Federal Funds

Floating a Vague Trial Balloon Days Before Christmas Is No Way To Build Public Support

Source: NJ DEP REAL (June 2020)

Source: NJ DEP REAL (June 2020)

Inundation –[in-uhn-dey-shuhn noun

1. the condition of being flooded: Researchers are warning that accelerated sea level change threatens hundreds of thousands of coastal homes with inundation.

2. a flood: Areas shaded in purple on the map may see an inundation of 3 to 12 feet.

Three days before Christmas, the Murphy DEP released outlines (or “road maps” ) of the long delayed and overdue package of climate regulations known as “PACT” (for Protecting Against Climate Threats). The package has 2 basic parts: “mitigation” (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and “adaptation” (responding to the impacts of climate change).

The road map to the package of “adaptation” land use regulations is called “REAL” (for Resilient Environment and Landscapes).

Not since the notorious flaming failure of The BIG MAP has DEP been so creatively deceptive with acronyms. Let’s hope for a better outcome this time around! (and we have’t yet reviewed whether the DEP’s REAL proposal addresses FEMA’s strong criticism of DEP’s stormwater rules las year).

Of course this misguided DEP rollout tactic generated generally favorable coverage by NJ Spotlight, with Tom Johnson writing about the “mitigation” (greenhouse gas emissions reduction) side and Jon Hurdle writing about the “adaption” side.

Today I want to make just a few large points on the adaption package.

Tom Johnson’s Spotlight story didn’t provide a link to DEP’s mitigation “road map” and there was nothing on DEP’s PACT webpage. From the story, it almost sounded like DEP provided an oral briefing to a select group of DEP picked “Stakeholders” and media, with no written backup. I can’t think of a worse way to present a program. It literally invites the fact free spin and sloganeering that Tom Johnson parrots in his story.

Because we were not an invited “Stakeholder”, we have absolutely nothing to review or comment on. So I’ll leave readers with Tom Johnson’s characterization:

While short on specifics, DEP staffers gave a broad outline last week on how the state intends to crack down on both so-called stationary sources of global warming pollution — like power plants and commercial and industrial boilers — and mobile sources, such as medium- and heavy-duty trucks that primarily rely on fossil fuels to move goods around.

The specifics and outline in Tom’s story are so broad as to be meaningless.

But because certain specific programs were mentioned in the story, for now I must note that we previously wrote about the lack of climate protections in DEP’s boiler rules and the totally inadequate scale/scope of the electric vehicle program. By way of context, DEP appears to regulate boilers of only 5 million BTUs/hour. Yet just last year, as I wrote, DEP rolled back regulations for boilers 10 times larger, 50 million BTU’s/hour. Why is DEP not going after greenhouse gas emissions from those larger boilers?

Strong going forward suggestions to DEP:

1) you need to “score” all the regulatory proposals you outline in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions they would produce.

If you don’t, you invite the continued spin and the misplaced focus on compliance costs.

2) you have to do these briefings far more transparently and with broad public awareness and engagement.

Continued reliance on your hand picked “Stakeholders” is a formula for failure.

Now back to the REAL land use “road map”.

The DEP road map has fatal flaws.

NJ is one of the worst states in the country for repetitive flood damage claims. NJ is right up there among the worst with Texas, Florida and NY. NJ has a tiny fraction of the land area, coastline, and river/stream miles of those states, which just shows how bad NJ development regulation and land use planning are.

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Yet, despite projections of sea level rise that will inundate lands, the DEP proposal would allow new development in those areas.

The DEP would allow development that was destroyed by flooding to be rebuilt in lands projected to be inundated.

Repetitive Loss Properties, by County – Source: NJ Hazard Mitigation Plan (March 2014)

Repetitive Loss Properties, by County – Source: NJ Hazard Mitigation Plan (March 2014)

The proposed DEP “hardship waiver” approach is not a ban. By its individual case by case and site specific nature, it is the antithesis of regional planning, which calls for a science based regional approach to multiple individual land parcels (ironically, DEP misleadingly calls their approach “watershed based”). Hardship waivers will be issued and will continue to put people and property at deadly risk.

DEP has no problem incorporating land use planning in regulations when they promote development (i.e. the DEP CAFRA regulations relax environmental protections, increase allowable  impervious cover, and increase development density in State Plan mapped coastal centers). This is particularly flawed because DEP did not control the State Plan center policies or the entire coastal center mapping program adopted by the State Planning Commission. State Plan designated growth centers are recognized in DEP’s Highlands regulations as well.

So, I can not understand why DEP can’t incorporate regional planning and climate science based standards that restrict development in their PACT regulations (and DEP’s CAFRA, Waterfront Development, Wetlands, and Flood Hazard regulations ) and move away from a site specific approach, particularly given DEP’s complete institutional control of the underlying Coastal Planning and regulatory processes.

I could not find a discussion of coastal and back bay lands that are projected to be impacted by storm surge and wave action or combined effects of coastal and river flooding.

Homes on even higher stilts is not an acceptable solution – would residents of inundated areas kayak to stores and work? Obviously, only very wealthy people can afford to live in such a high cost home. This lands new meaning to “gated community”.

Inland, the DEP would allow existing development destroyed by flooding to be rebuilt in flood hazard zones, thereby perpetuating the repetitive flood insurance claim problem.

The DEP proposal doesn’t even go as far as the NJ Hazard Mitigation Plan’s “Repetitive Loss Strategy” (2019) (Chapter 8) and may jeopardize future federal funding because it will not reduce the number of repetitive loss claims:

8.1.2 REQUIREMENTS FOR REPETITIVE LOSS STRATEGY

To be eligible for an increased federal cost share, a FEMA-approved state or tribal (standard or enhanced) mitigation plan that addresses RL properties must be in effect at the time of grant award and the property must be a RL property. Guidance on addressing repetitive loss properties can be found in the State Multi-Hazard Mitigation Planning Guidance and in 44 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 201.4(c)(3)(v). The State’s RL Strategy, as detailed in this section, will identify the specific actions the State has taken to reduce the number of RL properties, which must include SRL properties. In addition, the hazard mitigation plan must describe the State’s strategy to ensure that local jurisdictions with SRL properties take actions to reduce the number of these properties, including the development of local or tribal mitigation plans.

The only answer to the inundation, expanding flooding, and repetitive claim problems is to ban development and to prohibit rebuilding of development destroyed by flooding (one and done). We’ve written about how to address NJ’s “right to rebuild”.

This kind of “strategic retreat” must be planned carefully, not done via piecemeal regulation.

The DEP’s road map completely fails with respect to inundation, flood hazard restrictions, repetitive loss and strategic retreat planning.

It also is silent on and misses a huge opportunity to impose real “green building standards”, which, at a minimum, would mandate electrification of new and phased electrification of existing buildings

Finally, I see no carbon sequestration strategy (afforestation, urban heat island, etc) or requirements –

More to follow on all that.

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Murphy DEP Official Defends Climate Adaptation Regulations As A Real Estate “Value Proposition”

December 30th, 2020 No comments

Words Matter And Reveal Ideology

Neoliberalism On Steroids

Who talks like this? Sounds like a used car salesman: (NJ Spotlight):

“There’s nothing about this proposal that diminishes our ability to have robust economic development; quite the contrary,” he said. “Folks in the development community can say they have a value proposition to their clients. They can say, ‘We’ve looked at the risks in the long term, and you can feel confident buying a new home from us.’”

And what is a “risk-profit paradigm”? Is that when a developer maximizes his profits while the homeowners, business and governments get wiped out in a flood? When developers privatize the profits and socialize the risks and costs?:

There are some, because they are concerned with a shorter risk-profit paradigm, might think that any additional requirement is just another step too much,” he said. “But our job is to protect everyone and our natural resources, and so perpetuating an environment in which we go for the lower bar effectively displaces future risk on someone else.”

This is pretentious pseudo-intellectual gibberish. It is incoherent.

Worse, it exposes Mr. Latourette’s ideological fealty to a private property, investment, and market based paradigm that has no place in government.

Government does not base regulatory policy on private investment and real estate “value proposition” paradigms.

It bases regulations on science, law and the public interest.

This reminds me of another recent rhetorical embarrassment by Mr. LaTourette, see:

So, let’s rehash what DEP Deputy Commissioner said just a few months ago, back in October: (NJ Spotlight)

“We’re not at a point, nor do we think it’s our role, to tell people: ‘Don’t build here, you shouldn’t build there, you can’t do that,’” LaTourette said. …

He said the DEP wants to avoid being the “big, bad government” that imposes heavy-handed regulations.

Mr. LaTourette seems to have abandoned the “big bad government” and “heavy handed regulations” rhetoric, but not the Neoliberal market fundamentalist ideology behind that rhetoric.

And think: this is from the man next in line to become DEP Commissioner.

[End Note – Mr. LaTourette seems to do much better when the PR flacks put words in his mouth:

In his opening remarks at the virtual awards ceremony, DEP Deputy Commissioner Shawn LaTourette also noted that the 2020 “honorees exemplify the values that motivate us here at the Department of Environmental Protection and across the Murphy Administration: an abiding commitment to science and service, and a drive to confront our greatest challenges, and out of them create new opportunities that will help us build a stronger, fairer New Jersey.”

LaTourette needs to retire to Joe Biden’s basement.  ~~~ end]

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