Christie BPU Goes All In For South Jersey Gas Pipeline and BL England Gas Plant

July 27th, 2015 No comments

BPU Finds Gas Pipeline & Power Plant Justified By Christie Energy Master Plan

Climate Impacts Ignored, No Demonstration of Need

BPU Cherry Picks Laws, Policies, Plans, Reports, and Data

In light of important new information, this is a quick followup to my post last week on the BPU hearing where the Commissioners approved South Jersey Gas’ request to amend a prior June 2013 BPU Order (see this). Apologies in advance for the poor format of this post.

In that post, I accused BPU Commissioners of not considering extensive public comments on the project and conducting no open deliberations – that remains an accurate statement.

But I just now received a PDF (no link) of the formal Board Order approving the project (signed 7/23/15, but effective August 1, 2015).

The latest BPU Order does superficially address public comments as well as breaks new ground and thereby raises a host of issues that are actually quite revealing of how the BPU makes regulatory decisions.

Frankly, I could see no daylight between the BPU’s analysis and findings and those of the lawyers and lobbyists for SJG and BL England. The Order reads as if SJG lawyers drafted it. That is not outside the realm of  possibility, given how the trove of emails between Executive Director Wittenberg and SJG lawyers revealed that SJG lawyers drafted critical regulatory documents at the Pinelands Commission, including the MOA with BPU, the Executive Director’s Report and recommendations to the Commission, and the response to public comments document.

So. let’s take an initial look at some of the issues raised by that Board Order.

1. Order ignores the Pinelands Commission
We urged BPU not to repeat mistakes of the past in prior Orders and get out in front of the Pinelands Commission – we asked that BPU table the SJG application until the Pinelands Commission decided the fate of the project, see:
Instead, BPU doubled down and reiterated an erroneous  June 2013 finding that the South Jersey Gas pipeline was in compliance with all federal and state laws.
That was not correct when the initial finding was made in the June 21, 2013 Order and it is not true now.
Legally, the pipeline must be approved by the Pinelands Commission and it has not approved by the Pinelands Commission. Therefore, contrary to what BPU says in the Order, the pipeline is NOT in compliance with all federal and state requirements.
The BPU has total disregard for the Pinelands Commission’s role and is obviously doing the Governor’s Office and South Jersey Gas’s bidding and pressuring the Pinelands Commission to approve this project.
2. Did EPA sign off on the extension of the Clean Air Act compliance date to 2017?
Back in 2006, the DEP originally issued an enforcement order for violations of the federal Clean Air Act that required the BL England plant to upgrade to meet federal Clean Air Act standards or shut down.
Flouting a federal Clean Air Act based enforcement deadline, that Order was amended by the Christie Administration to promote re-powering and to extend the compliance deadline – most recently on July 11, 2104 after the Pinelands Commission refused to approved the SJG pipeline on january 10, 2014.
According to BPU, there was “consultation” with EPA on the amendment of the DEP ACO to extend the initial Clean Air Act compliance deadline to 2017.
It is really bad that EPA apparently signed off on that.
3. Inappropriately narrow scope of review by BPU
Because SJG claims that this is a “new project” based on significant new information and changes to the route to reduce impacts on the Pinelands, we have argued for an expanded review of the original project and reconsideration of the prior BPU Orders, which were done without adequate public involvement and contained critical technical flaws related to the need for the project, impact on renewable energy, and climate change impacts based on lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead, the scope of the BPU staff review was actually narrower that the initial review.
It is limited to just two items in  SJG’s request (i.e. a) the new interconnect location and b) restriction on hookups in Pinelands Forest Area along the route.
But even within that narrow scope of review, the review was further reduced in scope and limited to “safety” issues related to the new interconnect station.
4. The initial route review and route modifications were limited to safety
According to the new BPU Order, prior to issuing the June 2013 Order, BPU worked with SJG to modify the original route proposed by SJG.
But the ONLY thing they considered during this route modification process was location with respect to 100 feet from occupied buildings (safety concerns). There is no indication that environmental resources and avoidance, minimization or mitigation of impacts were considered by BPU.
5. The Energy Master Plan consistency review process is a sham
According to BPU, the Christie Energy Master Plan:

The 2011 EMP contains five overarching goals:

  • Drive down the cost of energy for all customers;
  • Promote a diverse portfolio of new, clean, in-state generation;
  • Reward energy efficiency and energy conservation and reduce peak demand;
  • Capitalize on emerging technologies for transportation and power production;
  • Maintain support for the renewable energy portfolio standard of 22.5% of energy from renewable sources by 2021.In addition to the overarching goals, the 2011 Energy Master Plan contains 31 policy recommendations in the four general sections of:
  • Expand In-State Electricity Resources;
  • Cost Effective Renewable Resources;
  • Promote Cost Effective Conservation and Energy Efficiency;
  • Support the Development of Innovative Energy Technologies.
I obviously don’t agree with all of these EMP goals and policies. But I do realize that they exist.
But instead of fully evaluating the proposed SJG pipeline and BL England plant for consistency with these EMP goals and policies, BPU cherry picked just ONE (seriously flawed) goal from the Energy Master Plan – “instate clean generation” – and ignored the effect of the project on other goals (e.g. efficiency and renewables et al).
Can’t do that.
But, they say we learn something new every day.
I didn’t know that there was a statute that required “maximum extent feasible” consistency with EMP – we should look into litigation on this.
6. BPU ignored consideration of Climate Change or the Global Warming Response Act goals 
A significant new $500 million investment in fossil fuel based energy infrastructure is insane given what we now know about the rate of climate change and excellence of tipping points that will trigger irreversible runaway climate chaos.
Even the Pope weighed in.
New science on lifecycle emissions and global warming intensity from natural gas show that it is as bad or worse than coal.
Obviously, this kind of fossil infrastructure investment will undermine GWRA and renewable energy goals.
7. The assertion that NJ needs the capacity is not justified by any analysis or data
The BPU Order claims, without any supporting evidence, that the failure to build instate generation capacity will result in importation of dirty coal power – but that simply is not true. It also ignores the fact that capacity resources include efficiency, demand management, and renewable energy.
Instate efficiency and renewables can provide capacity – as well as imports of renewable power.
It is questionable that BL England closing will be replaced one for one by imports of coal power – instate efficiency and renewables would provide a portion of all of the power demand.
8. BPU comparison of coal versus gas GHG emissions is seriously flawed
BPU claims that natural gas plants are less greenhouse gas intensive than coal plants. This is a straw man and completely misleading claim. The issue is lifecycle impacts. The larger issue is efficiency and renewable alternatives.
Regardless that the most critical issue which is how best to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, the assertion that natural gas as a fuel is less GHG intensive than coal is demonstrable false.
On top of the misleading nature of this claim, there is no evidence cited to support this assertion.
And the coal unit at BL England is closed anyway (May 2014) – they are using oil/diesel.
And the BPU relies on the Clean Air Council, which is a political body and is not a credible scientific or technical source to back any conclusions.
9. BPU considered acid rain impacts on Pinelands forest, but not climate impacts
In another illustration of misleading cherry picking of the evidence, BPU claims, again with no evidence or expertise, that conversion from coal to gas will reduce SOx & NOx emissions and acid rain impacts on Pinelands forests from coal plants in Pennsylvania!
It is simply remarkable that the BPU bases a decision on criteria pollution emissions from coal plants in Pennsylvania, but completely ignores VOC ozone procurers and greenhouse gas emissions from the thousands of fracking wells there!
They also ignore climate impacts to Pinelands forest and human health impacts from BL England emissions.
10. “Primarily Serve the Pinelands” – How The Grid Works
A key issue is wether the pipeline and the BL England plant can be shown to “primarily serve the Pinelands”.
BPU attempts to support SJG’s argument in two ways: first by stating that 39 of 53 towns in the Pinelands get power from Atlantic City Electric and that electricity is distributed on the grid much like water flows through a stream or river. In making this argument, BPU again relies on the false assumption that if BL England shuts down that replacement power 1-1 – will be imported from coal plants in Pennsylvania.
The analogy to a flow of water is misleading – the electron field in the grid moves at virtually the speed of light. The grid is not dedicated from local power producer to local power consumer.
11. Distortion of PJM Report on Reliability upgrades
Some claim that if BL England is shut down, that environmentally destructive and costly new power lines will be built in order to address “reliability. Both claims are false.
Jus the opposite is true: PJM evaluated the grid reliability issue under the assumption that BL ENgland would shut down, that reliability upgrades would be to existing infrastructure, not new green fields projects, and they specifically noted that the grid was over 40 years old and in need of upgrades independent of BL England open or closed.
The PJM reliability upgrades are not all related to closure of BL England – the transmission infrastructure is over 40 years old and some of these upgrades would b e required with or without BL Ebngland – again, misleading statements.

 12. No evidence or economic analysis to support claims about “price stability”

BPU makes several other unsubstantiated and questionable claims, including the the project will provide energy price stability and lower energy costs.

Costs and energy prices are not stated and do not consider benefits or social costs of carbon.

Lots to consider in this BPU Order – lots of very revealing statements made – I’ll try to get a link and be glad to provide it via email – thanks to Theresa at PPA for providing it _ Will provide links to other documents like PJM when I can.

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BPU Approves South Jersey Gas Pinelands Pipeline, With No Discussion

July 22nd, 2015 No comments

Board Allows SJG To Rely On Prior Stealth BPU Approvals

Board and Staff Completely Ignore Public Comments

Game By SJG To Justify Pinelands Reconsideration

You’re a hypocrite Mr. Fiordaliso,” shouted Georgina Shanley, of Ocean City and Citizens United for Renewable Energy, as she left the room with several others. “This is a terrible day for justice. Shame on you!” ~~~ Press of Atlantic City [updates below]

Today the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) met to consider, among many other things, a revised application submitted by the South Jersey Gas Co. for their proposed Pinelands pipeline (we say its the same project and that this is all a game).

BPU President Richard Mroz, appointed by Gov. Christie, introduced the application by thanking Commissioner Joe Fiordaliso for serving as the hearing officer at the June 17, 2015 public hearing.

Recall that at the public hearing, Commissioner Fiodaliso was punked by South Jersey Gas who tried to hijack the hearing. In response to strong public criticism, he promised that he was there to listen and seriously consider public comments (in addition to testimony at the hearing, here are the comments we submitted). He betrayed that promise today (but I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let’s get back to what went on today).

President Mroz then said that he was aware of significant public concerns and the involvement of many people at the public hearing, but that the Board was considering the application as one part of the larger project.

These were incredibly vague and meaningless remarks for a trained lawyer and BPU President to make, so I knew the deal was in.

Staff then began by noting that the SJG pipeline route had previously been approved by a June 21, 2013 BPU Order and that the applicant (SJG) submitted a request to amend that Order in October 2014.

What this amounts to is an attempt by SJG and the Board to severely limit the scope of the issues that currently are under consideration to just the amendments SJG requested: 1) relocation of the interconnection station in Upper Township;  2) to continue to seek approval by the Pinelands Commission that “may or may not be a MOA”; and 3) an agreement not to connect to any new customers along the portion of the pipeline in the Pinelands forest area.

That means that the prior sham BPU Orders – adopted with virtually no public input at a time when there was little public awareness of the pipeline project – still stand and will not be reconsidered.

This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what SJG is a arguing before the Pinelands Commission, where they claim that “new information” and modifications of the pipeline route to reduce impacts justify a reversal of the prior Pinelands Commission finding that the project was “inconsistent with the Pinelands CMP”.

My guess is that this is part of a SJG legal and PR strategy to create the appearance of significant “new” information to justify reconsideration by the Pinelands Commission, while in fact keeping BPU review very narrow in scope.

Regardless of that, what BPU did today makes no sense at all from the BPU perspective, because at the public hearing, SJG was allowed to present sworn expert witness testimony that was extremely broad in scope, dealing with the environmental impacts of the pipeline, the pipeline route, alternatives, various energy policy issues (energy demand, need for the project, reliability, resilience, Energy Master Plan, air quality, etc), and the Pinelands issues.

Public testimony was presented for over 5 hours on an even broader range of issues.

But today, after an extremely brief and narrow summary staff recommendation to approve just 3 technical aspects of the “new” South Jersey Gas Co. Pinelands pipeline, the BPU Commissioners unanimously approved certain aspects of the pipeline with absolutely no discussion.

President Mroz repeated his prior comments about the narrow scope of issues before the Board.

A group of activists who attended the hearing then stood and left the room shouting “scam” and “shame on you”.

It was all done is about 2 minutes – 10 times less than the time staff and Commissioners spent on discussing such earth shaking issues as the fact that water tank paint dries morel slowly in cold temperatures and “vegetative management”: the difference between a “hazard tree” located in a right-of-way or on private property.

I wouldn’t even call this a ‘rubber stamp” – there must be some harsher term I can use that just doesn’t seem to come to mind right now.

We’ll go with: fucking corrupt bullshit.

[Update – I got a charge out of this BPU quote from the Press of Atlantic City story:

“We review for security and reliability,” said BPU spokesman J. Gregory Reinert. He said the board’s staff found no safety problems with the changes, and the approval was based on that finding.

Several people testified and offered data on pipeline safety issues – there is not even a hint that BPU staff considered that testimony – it was not even mentioned, never mind considered properly.

The so called “reliability” issue is key – and totally asserted with no factual basis. We asked the BPU to quantify and map these alleged reliability benefits of the pipeline spatially. IF net reliability benefits in fact exist – and that’s a big if, considering the vulnerable coastal location of the BL England plant and risks from climate change and sea level rise – they do not benefit people who live in the Pinelands, as required by Pinelands regulations.

The fact that BPU neglected to even document the so called “reliability” benefits suggests corruption. At a minimum, those benefits MUST be allocated in order to allocate costs to ratepayers. ~~ end update

[Update #2 – 7/23/15 – Today’s NJ Spotlight story gets it right.

This is all a very cynical legal and PR ploy by South Jersey Gas.

They are trying to create the false appearance that this is a “new and improved” project as a pretext to force the Pinelands Commission to reconsider it after the Commission refused to approve the pipeline in January 2014.

SJG has made minor technical changes to the same pipeline, and perverted Pinelands rules to recast it as a “private” development project that does not require Commission vote or any public hearings or participation.

It is an outrageous move by SJG that must be blocked,

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The Only Heat Christie Gets from Trenton Is The Weather

July 21st, 2015 No comments

No Accountability For Abysmal Record, as Christie Works The Hustings

I had hope the Democrats in the Legislature and media would make it a long hot summer for the Christie Administration by holding an intensive series of oversight hearings on Governor Christie’s abysmal record over the  last 5 years so that voters (and national media) in primary campaign states would know what they’re voting for.

Clearly, after the Exxon deal, we know that the Dems sure know how to put on a show.

I even teed up a list of environmental issues that illustrate that record (see this). We’re in a target rich environment.

In addition to pushback from Trenton Democrats, I had assumed that – as a leading chronicler of Christie’s environmental record – my phone would be ringing from Democrats doing oppo research and press doing accountability on Christie’s record.

Forget about that –

It seems like – whether its privatizing NJ’s water infrastructure or the toxic site cleanup program – half the Democrats in leadership are still working the “bi-partisan” Christie-crat rollback agenda and the press has other compelling things to write about, like Trump’s latest racist or ignorant remarks and whether Christie is polling at 2% or 5% (or even just 1%).

For example, DEP just adopted coastal management regulations that WEAKEN existing protections for the shore and – in the wake of Sandy – promote new development in hazardous shore locations (vulnerable to coastal storm surge and sea level rise) and remarkably IGNORE climate change and sea level rise.

But Democrats never mounted any effort to promote their own coastal policy alternative to Christie’s “rebuild madness” and privatization and outsourcing of climate adaptation work, which was Senator Barnes’s Coastal Commission bill that died in silence, as Barnes fell on his sword and coastal environmental groups were AWOL.

[* Not only were they AWOL is building public support for the bill, but coastal groups were prepared to OPPOSE Barnes’ bill – ask him how I had to argue vehemently, at a Trenton meeting I wasn’t even invited to but crashed, to stop them from OPPOSING the bill. Barns thanked me several times for that. Ask him, or the enviro leaders who were in the room.]

Similarly, DEP just proposed regulations under the Flood Hazard Act that weaken flood protections and would essentially eliminate one of the most effective land use and water quality programs of the last two decades, known as “Category One” 300 foot buffer protections.

Bergen County’s Senator Bob Gordon proposed legislation to strengthen that program and update decades old flood maps, so one would assume that he would want to be first in line in defending NJ’s stream protections, particularly given the persistent flooding in North Jersey.

But how can Gordon, who Chairs the Senate Regulatory Oversight Committee or Senate Environmental Committee Chairman Smith hold hearings on the Christie DEP’s proposed weakening of NJ’s flood protection and stream buffer protection program when Senate President Sweeney said THIS about the DEP’s buffer protection program during the Corzine Administration, who was weakening the program at the time but apparently didn’t go far enough for Sweeney.

404. COMMENT: The proposed Category One designations would appear to be more about curbing development than enhancing water quality standards. Unfortunately, this new regulatory proposal tips the balance even more against the economic prosperity of the areas, district 24 and 3. (127, 221)  (source: DEP regulatory document) 

Commenter #127 was Republican Senate leader Bob Littell – does that “bi-partisan” stuff sound familiar?

Oh, and I forgot, the Trenton environmental groups are similarly compromised, because they blindly supported Corzine DEP Chief Lisa Jackson on this C1 rollback in 2008 (I think I called it”Betrayal by the Brook”)

But who knows – maybe they’ll be a massive turnout and protest at the August 11 Energy Master Plan public hearing that rivals the People’s Climate March.

Keep Hope Alive!

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Christie DEP Adopts Climate Denying Coastal Rule

July 20th, 2015 No comments

Legislature Must Veto Irresponsible Christie Plan To Rebuild Coast

In North Carolina, the State Legislature drew national scorn by passing a law that prohibited State regulators from considering climate change and sea level rise in coastal planning and development decisions.

Here in NJ, Governor Christie just accomplished the same objective by merely ignoring the climate issue.

Despite receiving almost 20,000 negative public comments, the unified opposition of the environmental community, rare public criticism by leading professionals and the New Jersey Climate Adaptation Alliance, and a ton of bad press, the Christie DEP just adopted new coastal Zone Management rules that not only ignore climate change and sea level rise, but actively promote development in hazardous and environmentally sensitive locations, while scaling back DEP and public oversight of important coastal land use and development decisions.

I wrote about the rule when DEP proposed it last year, urging legislators to use their Constitutional power to veto the rule as inconsistent with legislative intent, see:

We repeat that veto request today, but instead of rehashing prior posts, will let the words of others make our case. (and look at THIS legislative precedent!)

The following is from the DEP’s response to public comments document – each commenter is named and given a number. But keep in mind that these are DEP’s translations and summaries of the comments. DEP typically softens criticism.

I chose Jon Miller’s comments because they are on point and it is very unusual for a professional association to make such strong public criticism. That is an indicator of just how irresponsible these DEP rules are – and there are additional powerful criticisms regarding destruction of natural resources; e.g. promoting restaurants and marinas in shellfish habitat, which previously was prohibited:

Jon Miller,  on behalf of the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management:(#96)

76. COMMENT: Sea level rise, driven by global climate change and by geological, climatic, and human factors particular to our region, poses a growing risk to New Jersey, threatening property, infrastructure, ecosystems, and livelihoods. Intensifying development in increasingly vulnerable coastal areas will magnify this risk. The proposed rules do not consider the effects of sea level rise; incorporating sea level rise into the permitting process is critical if it is to meet its goal of not putting the inhabitants of the New Jersey shore at risk. The Department should address this issue when revising the rules.

Half of the housing stock in northern New Jersey is about 50 years old, and approximately one-sixth is over 80 years old. Construction that takes place today has the potential to place shore residents in harm’s way for much of the rest of this century. Failure to incorporate sea level rise in permitting coastal development is not consistent with sound risk management.

In addition, rules that encourage further development in areas that will become increasingly vulnerable to flooding over the course of the century will be costly in both economic and human terms. The Department is strongly urged to revise the rules taking into consideration the effects of sea level rise on flood hazard areas. The commenters provided citations to reports/studies that they assert support their position see Kenneth G. Miller et al., “A Geological Perspective on Sea‐Level Rise and Its Impacts along the U.S. Mid‐Atlantic Coast,” Earth’s Future 1 (2013): 3–18, doi:10.1002/2013EF000135; John Church and Neil White, “Sea‐Level Rise from the Late 19th to the Early 21st Century,” Surveys in Geophysics 32, no. 4 (2011): 585–602, doi:10.1007/s10712‐011‐9119‐1; ; and Trevor Houser et al., American Climate Prospectus: Economic Risks in the United States (Rhodium Group, 2014), (76, 96)

121. COMMENT: The consolidation and simplification of the rules is supported; however, there is concern with respect to increased development in high risk areas. Public safety, property protection, and reducing risk which strengthens local and State economies are paramount. This position is also supported by the New Jersey Legislature through the enactment of CAFRA, at N.J.A.C. 13:19-2, and the Wetlands Act of 1970 at N.J.S.A. 13:9A-1 and 2. The legislative intent of these laws is violated by intensifying density and uses in coastal high hazard areas. The proposed rules do not consider increased risk in coastal development in the impact assessment, whether to the financial interests of local, State, or Federal taxpayers and to the NFIP and other disaster assistance programs well utilized after Superstorm Sandy.

The proposed rules are inappropriate after the lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy and the lack of integration of future conditions such as sea level rise is reckless in a regulation proposed at this time. The rules need to be reflective of the realities of sea level rise and the storm damage that happened as a result of Superstorm Sandy. Expansion of water dependent uses, easing infill oversight, and revising setbacks from water bodies are intensifying risk.

The extension of permits previously issued and individual permits that allow building on piers waterward of the mean high water line are opposed as these permits are in violation of the building codes and the NFIP. Further, the redevelopment of Atlantic City and the Hudson River Waterfront must be accomplished thoughtfully to minimize flood risk. (96)

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Solidarity With The Greek People

July 17th, 2015 No comments

As Oligarchs & Banks Crush The Greek People, We Stand In Solidarity



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