Liberty State Park Screwed By Sweeney Sellout

June 26th, 2015 No comments

Sweeney Quietly Abandons His Clean “Repair” Bill

Sellout Promotes Commercialization of Liberty State Park

Will Gov. Christie Sign A Bill To Commercialize A National Icon?

Liberty State Park was sold out (again) during back room legislative maneuvers in yesterday’s hectic last minute budget session.

We need to rehash a little recent history in order to make this maneuver understandable.

Recall that last year, the Legislature rammed through a bill to consolidate the Hackensack Meadowlands Commission with the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority.

Despite the fact that Liberty State Park (LSP) is not located in the Meadowlands, that bill included a provision that would give the new Meadowlands Commission jurisdiction over Liberty State Park, including a new role in developing the park.

LSP supporters, who successfully have fought privatization and commercialization projects in the park for decades, cried foul and mounted an effort to urge Governor Christie to veto the bill.

We tried to explain why that effort was useless, given Gov. Christie’s own Parks Privatization policy and his DEP’s secret promotion of commercialization plans, including masking them via a $120,000 park development study conducted by the private planning group NJ Future and a New York City development firm.

After the Gov. signed the bill into law, in an embarrassing sequence, Democratic legislators initially denied knowledge of the LSP amendments, then they said they had no intent to commercialize or develop the Park, and then they promised to fix the problem.

Assembly Speaker Prieto then sponsored a bill he claimed would repair the damage that he claimed was inadvertently caused by the Meadowlands consolidation bill he sponsored.

I explained why Prieto’s bill would not solve the problem, which could only be solved by a “clean” bill that simply deleted LSP from the Meadowlands Consolidation law and eliminated any role for the new Meadowlands Commission at LSP, see:

Senator Sweeney stepped in to save the day.

Sweeney’s bill – the introduced version, that is  - proposed to solve the problem by simply deleting LSP from the Meadowlands Consolidation law and eliminating any role for the new Meadowlands Commission.

Under this bill, the entirety of the provision regarding Liberty State Park would be removed from the law, leaving the commission with no authority or responsibility with respect to the park. 

Sweeney got good press for this, see:

Bill seeks to lift control of Jersey City’s Liberty State Park from sports agency

a bill by Senate President Stephen Sweeney would return all development powers at the park to the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state park system. Although Governor Christie would be likely to veto it, Sweeney’s bill could disrupt the administration’s goal of helping to finance private development at the park in Jersey City.

Park advocates welcomed the new legislation.

The Sierra C lub praised Sweeney in a May 21, 2105 press release:

Sweeney Bill Protects Liberty State Park

Senate President Stephen Sweeney is sponsoring bill S2866 that would remove jurisdiction of Liberty State Park from under the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. This bill would delete the section that gave the power to NJSEA and return power to New Jersey DEP Division of Parks and Forestry. The bill would also require any leases or concessions to go through appropriate public review. The Christie Administration’s goal is for private development in the park. The Sierra Club supports this new bill to remove the park from private control. We support bill S2866 because it helps to protect Liberty State Park.

Well, Sweeney may have wanted to protect Liberty State Park back in May, but yesterday, he sold LSP out by amending his bill to reflect the sham Prieto bill.

Despite enormous public opposition and a ton of media coverage, the Legislature has now explicitly sold out Liberty State Park TWICE, and lied about it both times.

There must be a powerful deal in the works to drive these kind of corrupt legislative maneuvers.

The Prieto bill passed both houses and is on the Governor’s desk.

Will Gov. Christie, in the midst of a Presidential campaign, sign a bill that would promote privatization and commercialization of a national icon?

I thank Howard Moskowitz, Esq. for bringing this to my attention. I was focused on yesterday’s Clean Energy/Climate Coalition event.

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Wooden Ships

June 25th, 2015 No comments

For My Friend Margo


Wooden ships on the water very free and easy
Easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be
Silver people on the shoreline let us be
Talkin’ ’bout very free and easy.

~~~~ Crosby, Still, & Nash – (1969) listen

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Another Shoe Drops In The Keep It Green Scheme

June 24th, 2015 No comments

Democratic Legislators Raid $20 M Clean Energy Fund To Restore Open Space Cuts

Another Transfer of resources from poor/urban to wealthy suburban

[Update #2 - 6/27/15 – Gov. Christie line item vetoed the $20 million Clean Energy Fund diversion (look at line item vetoes). It was the right thing to do, but given Christie’s $1 billion diversion from Clean Energy Fund, it was deeply hypocritical.  ~~~  end update]

[Update below]

NJ Spotlight reports that legislative budget revisions propose to raid another $20 million from the Clean Energy Fund to restore cuts made by the Keep It Green scheme, see:

In an incredibly hypocritical move, the Democrats now join Governor Christie, who they have criticized for diverting over $1 billion of Clean Energy Fund revenues to close budget gaps created by his corporate tax cuts.

So, on the heels of The Pope’s encyclical calling for immediate and aggressive action to address climate change and rapidly transition to renewable energy – with a special emphasis on justice for the poor – NJ Democratic legislators are slashing a critical fund that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps poor and urban residents.

The $20 million in Clean Energy Funds would go to restore the raid on State Parks funds by the Keep It Green Coalition’s Open Space debacle.

In response to the huge public outcry from State Parks supporters, even the Democrats’ Open Space implementation bill would restore the parks cuts recklessly caused by the KIG Open Space debacle.

The Keep It Green Coalition created this problem with their “Rob Peter to pay Paul” scheme so I blame them.

First, they tried to raid critical DEP clean water programs and State parks funds.

When that fact was exposed and the public was outraged, the raids were restored by the Gov.’s budget.

Now, legislators are caving in to pressure from KIG lobbyists and raiding the Clean Energy Fund.

The Gov. should line item veto this raid, but his hands are so dirty that may not be possible.

The Democrats are not serving their own constituents.

The Clean Energy Fund money helps urban and low income people lower their energy bills while they reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, these residents receive the least benefits from Open Space money, which goes predominately to the wealthy suburbs and rural areas of NJ.

The net effect is a double whammy:  a transfer of resources from programs that serve residents of poor and urban areas to wealthy white areas.

That is deeply unjust and very bad climate and public policy.

How do the Democrats and Keep It Green weenies who created this mess look themselves in the mirror?

[Update: Here is proof positive that this cynical move was coordinated by Dems and Keep it Green:

Jenn Coffey of ANJEC/KIG perfectly times an Op-Ed to provide cover for the maneuver. Jenn continues the lies of former KIG leader Tom Gilbert with this whopper:

Jenn repeats and perpetuates the KIG lies and fails to note that the KIG Ballot initiative diverted existing funds dedicated to core DEP water resource, toxic site cleanup, and state parks programs.

This was a massive deception of the voters who thought they were supporting open space, not slashing critical environmental programs and State parks funds.

Jenn also tries to respond indirectly to critics by including allocations to NJ’s urban areas.

Based on what she wrote, I wonder if she’s ever been in neighborhoods of Newark, Paterson, Irvington, Camden et al and compared the “open space” to the Hopewell, Pennington and Princeton backyards she protects.  ~~~ end update]

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For Free

June 23rd, 2015 No comments

Is Growing Old

I was standing on a noisy corner 
Waiting for the walking green 
Across the street he stood 
And he played real good
On his clarinet for free 

Now me I play for fortunes
And those velvet curtain calls 
I’ve got a black limousine 
And two gentlemen 
Escorting me to the halls 
And I play if you have the money 
Or if you’re a friend to me 
But the one man band 
By the quick lunch stand 
He was playing real good for free

Nobody stopped to hear him 
Though he played so sweet and high 
They knew he had never 
Been on their T.V.
So they passed his music by

~~~ “For Free” (Joni Mitchell, 1970 - listen to a live version)

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Exxon Reaction: Don’t Rush Flawed Ballot Measure to Dedicate Environmental Funds

June 23rd, 2015 No comments

Get It Right

Don’t Repeat Open Space Ballot Errors

We all know that “mistakes were made” in the recent Open Space ballot process.

We don’t want to repeat those kind of mistakes, where flaws were identified but the critics who flagged those flaws were ignored or marginalized.

But we could be repeating exactly those kind of mistakes, due to lack of full consideration and avoidance of untended consequences.

Yesterday, the Senate Environment Committee held the required public hearing on a Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR 163 [1R]) that is intended to authorize a November ballot measure to dedicate the revenues from environmental settlements with polluters to assure that money goes to environmental restoration, and not diverted to close State budget gaps.

I wrote about the SCR previously, see:

The Assembly companion (ACR 230) is bogged down and has not been heard in Committee yet.

Both Houses must approve the measure very soon for it to get on the November ballot – unsure of exactly when, but the Assembly would require an unusual special summer session, so it is not likely to happen (recall a summer session led to the Open Space debacle).

So, while I strongly support this and would like to see it move quickly and be on the November ballot, there is no rush. The Christie DEP is not exactly cranking out NRD settlements, so another year delay will not likely have a significant impact.

The Legislature’s move is in response to the Christie Exxon $225 million settlement of what DEP estimated was an $8.9 billion injury to natural resources (hundreds of acres of wetlands and marshes on the Bayway and Bayonne refinery sites).

Gov. Christie’s diverted more than $190 million in funds from the Passaic River cleanup settlement, expanding an abuse of prior Governor’s with respect to environmental funds.

The SCR does not address the underlying legal and technical framework for quantifying and monetizing natural resource injuries that led to the Exxon debacle, but it would allow voters to stop that diversion abuse and require that the revenues from environmental settlements are used exclusively for environmental restoration.

That is a good idea, but it does not resolve the underlying problems that led to the Exxon disaster.

A future post will discuss the failure to learn the lessons of Exxon and NRD, but for now a few thoughts on the Resolution:

1) The Senate Env. Cmte amended and released SCR 163 [1R] – the amended version deleted allowable use of funds for repayment of bonds and added a 5% for DEP administrative costs.

Ideally, additional allowable uses should be deleted because they have no nexus to restoring damaged natural resources. Those uses include:

any of the purposes enumerated in Article VIII, Section II, paragraph 6 of the State Constitution 

That is a reference to the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) dedicated uses, which include (problematic uses in tersm of a nexus to natural resource injuries are in boldface)

providing funding, including loans or grants, for the preservation, including acquisition, development, and stewardship, of lands for recreation and conservation purposes, including lands that protect water supplies and lands that have incurred flood or storm damage or are likely to do so, or that may buffer or protect other properties from flood or storm damage; providing funding, including loans or grants, for the preservation and stewardship of land for agricultural or horticultural use and production; providing funding, including loans or grants for historic preservation; paying administrative costs associated with each of those efforts; paying or financing the cost of water quality point and nonpoint source pollution monitoring, watershed based water resource planning and management, and nonpoint source pollution prevention projects; paying or financing costs incurred by the State for the remediation of discharges of hazardous substances, which costs may include performing necessary operation and maintenance activities relating to remedial actions and costs incurred for providing alternative sources of public or private water supplies, when a water supply has been, or is suspected of being, contaminated by a hazardous substance discharge; providing funding, including loans or grants, for the upgrade, replacement, or closure of underground storage tanks that store or were used to store hazardous substances, and for the costs of remediating any discharge therefrom; and providing funding, including loans and grants, for the costs of the remediation of discharges of hazardous substances, which costs may include costs incurred for providing alternative sources of public or private water supplies, when a water supply has been, or is suspected of being, contaminated by a hazardous substance discharge.

Many of the boldfaced allowable uses would not be appropriate uses of NRD funds.

2) But the larger concern, aside from the technical flaws above, is that failure to include “compensation for lost use of natural resources” in the SCR could have unintended consequences:.

A big part of the of the Exxon $8.9 billion damage assessment was compensatory restoration.

Raising further concerns with respect to DEP’s efforts to quantify and recover compensatory restoration, DEP Commissioner Martin sent a May 8, 2015 letter to legislators that explained how the Paulsboro oil depot NRD damage assessment was reduced by 85% due in part to reduction of the compensatory restoration component.

Failure to include “compensation for lost use” in the SCR could enable future Governors to skirt the dedication and use compensatory restoration revenues for budget gaps.

It also could be used by industry lawyers to support arguments that compensatory restoration for lost use is not legally authorized.

Legislators should not trust the Governor to interpret the word “restore” to include both primary restoration and compensatory restoration.

Legislators should not provide an opportunity for industry lawyers to even make the argument that the obligation to “restore” does not include “compensation for lost use”, or allow a judge to reach that conclusion.

It is not wise to take either legal risk and so Legislators should amend the SCR to include the phrase “compensation for lost use” of natural resources.

Let’s not rush this through and make the kind of mistakes made in the Open Space dedication.

[PS – I’ve been arguing that getting this on the ballot in November was a test of whether the Dems were serious or just grandstanding, so OBVIOUSLY I don’t want to give Assembly Dems an excuse for delay.

I just think the policy need to be rock solid and come before the politics.

PPS – How hard would it be for a competent lawyer to review the Exxon brief and the 3 prior court cases DEP LOST to determine legal vulnerabilities?

Then, based on these legal vulnerabilities, amend this Resolution and introduce legislation to strengthen the NRD program?

How hard would real reform be? Surely that’s not too much work.  ~~~ end]

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