NJ Spotlight Is Becoming The Fox News Of Energy & Climate Reporting

January 7th, 2020 No comments

Consistent Pattern of Bias And Providing A Platform For Energy Industry Talking Points

Major Relevant Concerns Ignored

Reality is the OPPOSITE of What Is Reported

“drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions now look remarkably easy to achieve, from an economic point of view. Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner in economics (1/3/20)

After the extensive media coverage of the Exxon climate fraud lawsuit, it is now well understood that the fossil energy industry waged a propaganda war to manufacture doubt, deny, and undermine the credibility of climate science and that they used the media to deploy that propaganda.

So, based on this history, one would assume that the media and professional journalists would be cognizant of their role in deceiving the American public and be highly skeptical of energy industry climate and energy claims. One would assume that they would resent being used as a tool to lie to their readers and manipulate public opinion.

One also would assume that the media would feel  some sense of shame and take responsibility for their role in this deception and try to correct the historical wrongs that they participated in and make things right.

One would think that they would reject and correct the current framing and narrative, which is upside down and exactly backwards.

But these assumptions are the ramblings of a naive fool.

I’ll use just the recent nuclear industry talking points Op-Ed by Carol Browner – which lacked adequate disclosure of Browner’s industry funded front group, Nuclear Matters – and quick excerpts from today’s NJ Spotlight story on electric vehicles to illustrate my conclusion that NJ Spotlight’s climate and energy coverage remains hopelessly mired in falsehoods, ideology, and consistently reflects fossil fuel bias, both in the content of the coverage and the facts that are ignored.

First, let’s slog through some theory to point out relevant economic theory and consensus facts that are rarely – if ever – reported (interested readers can hit the links for further details):

1. Fossil fuels, the fossil (and nuclear) energy industry, and the internal combustion engine receive BILLIONS of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

The subsidies are so huge that even capitalist tool Forbes reports on that, see:

Spotlight coverage is obsessed with so called subsidies to renewables, when the opposite is true. It is fossil that gets all the subsidies and they go unreported.

2. Fossil fuels, the fossil energy industry, and the internal combustion engine “externalize” huge costs of their operations, costs which fall under the concept of “the social cost of carbon”.

Spotlight coverage is obsessed with the so called imposition of costs on ratepayers by renewables, when the opposite is true. Fossil imposes huge and unreported costs on us all.

3. Economic theory elucidates a concept that is known as “market failure”.

For our purposes, prime examples of “market failure” include “externalities” and “public goods“.

Fossil energy markets are rife with structural “market failure”. Countless studies describe and quantify such market failure (do the Google).

But Spotlight is obsessed with reporting on so called “cheap” gas and never mentions the reality of market failure in their coverage. Again, the reality is the opposite of what is reported.

Additionally, economic concepts seek to examine the equitable dimensions of markets, in terms of the distribution of costs and benefits.

One key measure of distributional equity is known as the “Gini co-efficient”.

One key indictor and a remedy to inequitable distribution of economic resources and inequitable concentration of benefits is known as the Hicks-Kaldor criterion, which basically says that economic winners have a moral obligation and mechanism to compensate economic losers.

Another key concept in economic policy is what as known as “inter-generational equity”. In this regard, a key assumption in the economic calculus to public policy and planning for the future that incorporates inter-generational equity is known as “social discount rate”.

These fundamental economic concepts never get incorporated in Spotlight coverage – which omissions mislead readers.

4. Other states, including New York and California, have taken more aggressive steps than NJ to address market failure via regulatory mandates and surcharges to incorporate the external cost of carbon.

NY’s proposal is pending, but California recently adopted:

The GHG adder used in the TRC, RIM, and PAC tests is a modeled price meant to achieve an aggressive GHG reduction target. The new values start at $73.24/metric ton of CO2 in 2019, escalating to $150/metric ton of CO2 in 2030.

Compare California’s program with RGGI. RGGI only covers 15% of total GHG emissions and the allowance price is in the paltry range of $5/ton.

But readers of NJ Spotlight virtually never are told about any of these theories or facts.

But, NJ Spotlight has provided a platform and published numerous stories (too numerous to mention here) that not only ignore all the above, but flat out contradict it with industry lies.

Without addressing the recent pro-nuclear Op-Ed by Carol Browner (more on that in a future post), today’s NJ Spotlight story on electric vehicle provides glaring examples:

1. What does “competitive” mean?

NJ Spotlight focuses on “competitive” aspects.

“This isn’t going to do anything to help the competitiveness of New Jersey businesses,’’ said Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey, referring to the high costs manufacturers already face because of steep energy bills. He urged state revenue be used instead of relying on ratepayers to fund the program.

First of all, there is a dangerous hidden premise: the Legislature has no obligation to “help” NJ businesses.

But, with respect to alleged “steep energy bills”, as we highlight above, energy bills are rife with externalities and do not reflect the social cost of carbon or the equitable aspects of climate chaos or energy market prices, costs and benefits.

NJ Spotlight then reports this as a fact, not an ideological claim:

The rebates under the proposed bill will finally make electric vehicles competitive with conventional internal-combustion engines.

The internal combustion engine benefits from HUGE subsidies, externalizes its costs, and exacerbates an already grossly inequitable distribution of economic resources and costs (economic, social, environmental and public health costs).

Accordingly, if these costs were included in the price of gasoline and incorporated in the purchase price of the internal combustion engine vehicle, electric vehicles would be economically superior.

Spotlight’s failure to report facts on fossil subsidies and market failure leads readers to exactly the opposite and wrong conclusion.

2. The role of regulation is to remedy market failure

As noted above, NJ Spotlight fails to mention market failure or the policies of other States to remedy various market failures.

But they have no problem reporting assumptions that markets are superior to regulation. Check this out:

Advocates view the legislation as crucial to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the transportation sector, the single largest source of pollution contributing to climate change. It also aims to comply with California’s clean-car program, which seeks to convince motorists to switch to electric cars, or zero-emission vehicles.

Not only is that an ideological claim about the superiority of markets (i.e. the program is about “convincing consumers”), but it is factually false.

The California clean car ZEV program is a regulatory program that targets the automobile industry: (not the education of consumers)

In 2012, CARB adopted a set of regulations to control emissions from passenger vehicles, collectively called Advanced Clean Cars. Advanced Clean Cars, developed in coordination with the United States (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), combined the control of smog-causing (criteria) pollutants and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into a single coordinated package of regulations: the Low-Emission Vehicle III regulation for criteria (LEV III Criteria) and GHG (LEV III GHG) emissions, and a technology forcing mandate for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV).

Regulatory mandates are not being enforced. But Spotlight readers don’t know that.

Worse, Spotlight instead provided a platform for the auto industry – which is not in compliance with regulatory mandates – to criticize the state:

To some, however, New Jersey has fallen behind other states, especially those that followed the Garden State in trying to implement the California clean-car program.

“New Jersey has literally done nothing to advance the goals of this program,’’ said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.

Chutzpah, no?

3. Costs for Whom? What about equity?

NJ Spotlight regularly reports aggressively about the so called called high costs of renewable energy and economic impacts on ratepayers, while ignoring ALL of the above economic theory and facts that would pout those alleged high costs in context.

Today, they correctly reported the amount of funding for the EV rebate program, but not the implications of it is where coming from:

The bill proposes to siphon off $30 million a year from a ratepayer-funded program over the next decade to provide rebates to consumers to buy the more expensive electric vehicles.

The bill would “siphon” that money away from low income energy assistance programs that benefit low income people who are desperately trying to keep the lights on and stay warm in the winter and transfer it to rebates to wealthy people buying new cars.

That is a moral outrage.

Spotlight then reports a correction to prior reporting – without noting that it is a correction – by carefully noting that the bill does NOT provide new money or increase ratepayer surcharges, but, as we previously correctly pointed out, merely authorized BPU to increase those surcharges in the future:

It also opens the way for the state to raise additional funds to finance expansion of the charging infrastructure to reduce range anxiety of motorists, who fear they’ll be left stranded with no place to recharge their vehicles.

This completely undermines Spotlight’s prior and consistent reporting about so called rate increases to pay for the program and exposes industry opposition as based on exaggerations (which Spotlight continues to print, despite the fact that they know these claims are false).

And, of course, Spotlight closes the story with the (unqualified) perspective of climate criminal Jim Benton of the NJ Petroleum Council.

All this amounts – at best – to serious bias.

More on the fact free Browner nuclear Op-Ed in a future post.

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Murphy DEP Rules Exclude Climate Change In Infrastructure Planning

January 6th, 2020 No comments

Murphy DEP Dodge On The PennEast Pipeline Masks Major Regulatory Flaws

Widely Denounced Trump NEPA Rollback Actually Reflects Current NJ Regulatory Policy

Last week, the NY Times reported that the Trump administration was rolling back environmental impact statement review requirements for infrastructure regarding climate change impacts:

Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning

WASHINGTON — Federal agencies would no longer have to take climate change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of highways, pipelines and other major infrastructure projects, according to a Trump administration plan that would weaken the nation’s benchmark environmental law.

The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects.

According to the NY Times, the Trump move was condemned by environmental activists and Democrats:

Environmental activists and legal experts said the proposed changes would weaken critical safeguards for air, water and wildlife. The move, if it survives the expected court challenges, also could eliminate a powerful tool that climate change activists have used to stop or slow Mr. Trump’s encouragement of coal and oil development as part of its “energy dominance” policy.

The Trump rollback – initiated by Executive Order – has been closely followed by media and when finalized got negative press across the county and was widely denounced as reckless and irresponsible (it is ironic that Phil Murphy is affiliated with CAP, who issued that criticism).

Yet, here in NJ, under Democratic Gov. Murphy – who claims to be a national leader in climate policy – current DEP regulations do not consider climate change.

Let me repeat: current NJ DEP regulations do not consider greenhouse gas emissions or climate change. Period.

While I have not been able to review the final Trump CEQ NEPA rule –  based on press reports, the Trump rollback appears to eliminate only the “cumulative impact” climate reviews under NEPA, not climate impacts entirely.

So, let’s examine the Trump NEPA rollback in light of current NJ law and DEP regulation.

First of all, NJ does not have a “State NEPA” that mandates environmental impact statements, like NY State’s SEQRA law. Secondly, NJ DEP regulations ignore climate change entirely.

That means that the current NJ DEP regulations are actually even weaker than the Trump NEPA rollback, because DEP does not consider climate change at all (direct, indirect, secondary, or cumulative impacts).

Which brings us to the recent PennEast pipeline DEP permit controversy.

Gov. Murphy has Tweeted and the NJ press dutifully has reported that NJ DEP denied the PennEast pipeline permits.

I have explained why that is false – DEP did not deny the PennEast pipeline permits.

(for those who like to verify claims based on evidence and get into the weeds, see the PennEast permit application documents, including DEP’s deficiency letter at the very end. I challenge anyone to find the climate impact review documents that regard greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed pipeline (and lifecycle upstream fracking and downstream combustion).

Clarity on this issue is absolutely essential, because, under current seriously flawed NJ DEP regulations, DEP would be unable to deny the PennEast pipeline.

This is true for 2 reasons:

1) current DEP permit regulations and permit review policies do not mandate review of climate impacts or establish any standards upon which to deny a permit based on greenhouse gas emissions or climate impacts; and

2) current DEP water quality certification regulations and permit review policies lack adequate science based technical criteria and standards upon which to deny a water quality certificate for a pipeline. For example, the recent DEP Raritan Bay Williams pipeline permits and WQC denial will be challenged and very likely overturned by the Courts. First of all, the NJ State permits that were denied are pre-empted by federal law and secondly, the denial of the WQC was based on DEP’s enforcement of a Guidance document. Williams’ lawyers are smart enough to know that – as I’ve written many times – in  Metromedia decision, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that Guidance documents are not enforceable.

NJ DEP has relied on the inability for PennEast to condemn State owned lands. That inability has made it impossible for PennEast to submit a complete permit application.

Rejection of that “incomplete” permit application allows DEP to dodge these fatal flaws in current DEP regulations – the same flaws for which the Trump administration was widely condemned. 

In addition to DEP dodging regulatory flaws, Gov. Murphy is able to dodge the fossil infrastructure moratorium issues and get false praise for having “killed” a pipeline.

The reason why a clear understanding of the basis for the PennEast permit status is important is because DEP has set no regulatory precedent, while avoiding any focus on loopholes in DEP regulations regarding water quality certification and lack of greenhouse gas emission standards. That means OTHER pipelines and fossil infrastructure can be approved under DEP’s flawed regulations.

If DEP were forced to make a regulatory decision on the merits, that would trigger the obvious need for a Gubernatorial moratorium and reforms to DEP regulations regarding pipeline reviews.

This moratorium and regulatory ratchet down would apply to ALL fossil infrastructure, not just PennEast.  

NJ Spotlight can’t seem to understand these issues and is listening to the selfish perspective of Tom Gilbert, who only cares about the PennEast pipeline.

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The State Of NJ Has Gone BACKWARDS On Climate Change Policy Over The Last 30 Years

January 4th, 2020 No comments

A few months ago, the NY Times got a lot of mileage out of an important major story:

That story took an historical overview of the evolution (or devolution) of climate science and public policy debates, ever since world renowned climate scientist Jim Hansen’s groundbreaking testimony to Congress in 1988:

I would like to draw three main conclusions. Number one, the earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. Number two, the global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship to the greenhouse effect. And number three, our computer climate simulations indicate that the greenhouse effect is already large enough to begin to effect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.

Sadly, that NYT story did not prompt followup investigative pieces or spark public outrage – and certainly none in New Jersey, a purported national leader in environment, energy and climate science and policy.

So, I took a cursory look at relevant NJ policy history, and quickly came to the stunning conclusion that NJ has gone BACKWARDS on climate policy over the last 30 years, the same period of time that science has shown the problems getting far worse and much quicker than predicted.

Just consider the following:

In 1989 – that’s 31 years ago – NJ Gov. Tom Kean issued Executive Order #219 – while I am not certain, I assume that the “scientific consensus” Gov. Kean referred to was based on Jim Hansen’s 1988 Congressional  testimony, as well as the science on CFC’s and depletion of the ozone layer:

WHEREAS, A scientific consensus exists that emissions of certain gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons (hereinafter “CFCs”), and halons are causing significant changes in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere

WHEREAS, A scientific consensus also exists that these emissions are likely to cause significant changes in the Earth’s climate, including overall warming, increased drought, an increase in the intensity of hurricanes and other major storms, as well as increased incidence of harmful ultraviolet radiation; and

Remarkably, that Kean Executive Order goes far beyond current policy and regulation in at least 3 critically important ways:

1. Science based public eduction was emphasized and provided resources, not run away from and defunded – the obvious assumption being that an educated public would support strong climate initiatives:

All State entities shall review their programs designed to facilitate public awareness of environmental issues and revise such programs to ensure, to the maximum extent practicable, the effective communication of information that will enhance the public’s understanding of the basic processes involved in global climate change, the causes of such change, and possible approaches to reducing and adapting to such change.

Thirty years later, a recent Rutgers – Eagleton poll found that the public still does not understand the fundamentals of global warming and climate catastrophe, never mind the causes and approaches to reducing GHG emissions and adapting to climate change.

Contrast that public ignorance on climate change with the huge investments Kean & subsequent NJ Gov.’s made in educating the public on recycling, a campaign that led to strong public knowledge and support for the recycling program and high participation rates (and while there are significant differences in how the two programs impact corporate profits, there are no recycling deniers).

2. State agencies were directed to develop regulatory responses – including land use restrictions – to respond to sea level rise:

All State entities with responsibility for policies or regulations affecting the location, construction or maintenance of public or private facilities (including residential developments) shall:

a. Ascertain the degree to which those facilities will be affected by predicted changes in sea level; and

b. Develop policies, in consultation with the general public and other governmental entities, to respond to such predicted changes in sea level.

While it was on the Table 31 years ago, DEP land use regulation to reduce climate risks is a taboo topic today.

Lack of effective regulation is one of the main reasons why NJ is the third worst states in the country for filing repeat claims in the federal flood insurance program and why Sandy caused so much damage.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Source: Wall Street Journal

Current DEP CAFRA (coastal development), Flood Hazard (stream encroachment), wetlands and water quality land use AND infrastructure regulations are not based upon and do not even mention climate change, nor do the Pinelands, and the Highlands, and the Hackensack Meadowlands regional plans and regulations.

Although Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe claims to be working on something, NJ still does not have a climate adaptation plan.

Just think of how much development has occurred in hazardous areas over the last 30 years. How much of that was wiped out by Sandy and other major floods since 1989?

Just think about many homes lost, lives lost, and billions of dollars spent would have been prevented had  DEP developed regulatory controls under CAFRA and the Flood Hazard Act to address flooding and sea level rise associated with climate change back in 1989.

But instead of strict regulation, just last year, the Murphy DEP weakened coastal & flooding protections.

3. Kean put DEP regulatory controls on energy conservation and greenhouse gas emissions on the table:

State entities shall foster energy conservation to the maximum extent practicable, in order to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that contribute to global climate change.

a. All State entities with responsibility for constructing, purchasing, leasing, operating or maintaining capital facilities and equipment shall employ state-of-the-art equipment for efficient heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting, and in other major energy using applications, where such equipment or techniques will result in lower costs over the lifetime of the equipment.

b. All State entities exercising regulatory authority over actions that directly or indirectly relate to the production or consumption of energy shall review their policies and regulatory practices to ensure that they provide maximum incentives designed to conserve energy and increase reliance upon sources of energy that contribute fewer emissions of those gases responsible for global climate change.

Today, DEP regulation of greenhouse gas emissions is virtually unthinkable – not even on the table.

But just think how much lower NJ’s greenhouse gas emissions would have been had DEP adopted regulatory mandates to require energy efficiency, renewable energy and limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Or how many electric vehicles and charging stations there would be if DEP mandated them back in 1989.

Instead, the BPU has assumed virtually complete control of climate and energy policy.

DEP does not consider climate impacts in there various regulatory reviews, policies and plans and DEP’s various permit regulations do not consider climate change at all:

when the NJ Department of environmental protection issues any permit or approval – including for oil and gas pipelines, for fossil fueled power plants, or for any form of development, including coastal or riverfront development that would be inundated by climate driven flooding, storm surge, or sea level rise – the applicant is not required to provide data on greenhouse gas emissions and NJ DEP experts do not review or consider greenhouse gas emissions or climate change impacts.

NJ DEP regulations do not authorize the DEP to condition or deny a permit based on potential greenhouse gas emissions of potential climate impacts.

No NJ DEP regulatory standard is is based on climate science – NONE – including air quality permit standards that govern air permits for major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Thirty years after Gov. Kean’s Executive Order, DEP regulatory controls are not even on the table.

Worse, instead, energy generation has been deregulated.

Right now, DEP relies on voluntary individual consumer choices, market forces, and marginal, small bore and ineffective market based efforts like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). For details, see:

Nationally, we simply failed to aggressively respond to the climate crisis over the last 30 years, as the NY Times story documents.

It’s worse in NJ – where we have gone backwards.

Word.

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The Murphy DEP Did NOT “Deny” The PennEast Pipeline Permits

January 2nd, 2020 No comments

Gov. Murphy’s Tweet Was Trump-Like In It’s Exaggeration & Falsehood 

Starting the New Year On The Wrong Foot – NJ Spotlight Again Gets It Wrong

[Update: 1/6/20NJ Spotlight reports the latest on PennEast, who is seeking at least a 2 year delay in FERC certificate in service timetables.

Once again, they got it wrong on the permit status:

In October, the DEP denied PennEast’s application for a water-quality permit for the second time, saying the Third Circuit’s ruling means the company “no longer has the legal authority to perform activities” on the 49 parcels.

Wrong again – the “no longer has the legal authority” issue is NOT a denial of the permits on the technical merits. The DEP deemed the applications incomplete because company can’t submit a complete application because they are blocked from condemning state land.

The reason why this distinction is important is because DEP sets no regulatory precedent, while avoiding any focus on loopholes in DEP regulations regarding water quality certification and lack of greenhouse gas emission standards. That means OTHER pipelines and fossil infrastructure can be approved.

If DEP were forced to make a regulatory decision on the merits, that would trigger the obvious need for a Gubernatorial moratorium and reforms to DEP regulations regarding pipeline reviews. This moratorium and regulatory ratchet down would apply to ALL fossil infrastructure, not just PennEast.  Spotlight can’t seem to understand these issues and is listening to the selfish perspective of Tom Gilbert, who only cares about the PennEast pipeline.  ~~~ end update]

I had planned to correct the false impression that DEP had “denied” the PennEast pipeline permit applications when that story was first reported by NJ Spotlight back on October 11, but got diverted.

Then my head exploded when I saw Gov. Murphy’s  over the top Tweet declaring victory:

My Administration fought and won in court to stop the proposed 116-mile Penn East natural gas pipeline. This week, @NewJerseyDEP denied and closed the application.

Gov. Murphy is spouting falsehoods: The permits were not “denied” and the application is not “closed”. The permits are pending and the application is open.

I can understand getting the fast breaking story wrong on the first report, back on October 11, before folks had  chance to digest the documents and talk to experts. But it’s been almost 3 months for the reality to emerge, including submission of a response to DEP by PennEast (see below), so it is unforgivable to repeat the lies and spin.

So today, we’re starting the new year on the right foot. I plan on exposing this crap every time I read it.

See my letter to NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle below, which corrects the errors and provides supporting links to the documents.

This is a correction you will not get from the Rethink NJ Murphy sycophants and DEP cheerleaders:

Jon – I hate to kick off the new year with a headache, but you are being spun and I have to correct a very misleading piece of today’s preview.

You report – based on a prior Spotlight story – that DEP “denied permits for a planned natural-gas pipeline”.

That is highly misleading if not downright false.

DEP did NOT “deny” the PennEast pipeline permits. DEP determined that they were “administratively incomplete” and sent them back for supplementation.

That is a minor and routine practice in the DEP permit process. The DEP issued what is known as a “deficiency letter”. DEP notes that on it’s website, see:

https://www.nj.gov/dep/penneast/

That DEP letter is NOT a “denial” on the merits and if you read the DEP letter, it explicitly says that the permits were NOT denied “with prejudice” (i.e. on the merits).See:

https://www.nj.gov/dep/penneast/docs/admin-def-penneast20190409.pdf

In fact, if you read PennEast’s 10/11/19 response letter to the DEP, you will note that DEP made embarrassing technical errors and misinterpreted their own regulations, see:

https://www.nj.gov/dep/penneast/docs/deficiency-response-20190911.pdf

(for some reason, I can’t get the PennEast letter link to work, both the DEP version and NJ BIA’s links. Try cut & paste into your browser)

Your readers deserve an accurate understanding of the DEP permit process. This was a procedural move and delaying tactic, at most.

Gov. Murphy’s Tweet claiming a permit “denial” was an outrageous example of Trump like spin and exaggeration.

Wolfe

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Waist Deep In The Big Map, And The Big Fool Said To Push On

December 31st, 2019 No comments

The captain told us to ford a river,
That’s how it all begun.
We were — knee deep in the Big Muddy,
But the big fool said to push on. ~~~ “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy” (Peter Seeger, 1967)

[Two Updates below]

Dear Reader: You may not remember The [Notorious] Big Map, but I do. For those unfamiliar with this initiative, please read this before proceeding any further:

Former NJ DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell

Former NJ DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell

(BTW, this “Policy Directive” amounted to what Campbell and his lawyer buddies would call a “post hoc rationalization” – in plain English, it was issued after the fact – but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

The big meeting with environmental leaders in the Commissioner’s Office to sell them the Big Map didn’t go well.

As NJ DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell’s designated “conscience of the Agency” and a former Sierra Club staffer and perceived “liaison” to the enviro’s, I felt it urgent to summarize my thoughts on what went down and make recommendations in an email memorandum to Campbell immediately following the meeting.

His enraged reply came very quickly:

You singlehandedly sabotaged my number one priority. Big Map is the most aggressive effort DEP has ever made to protect the environment and it would be a national model. And you sabotaged it to promote your own agenda. I have fired people for far less. You had better hope I calm down over the weekend or you’re fired too.

[Note: this is not the actual email text, but very, very close to verbatim. The Campbell email can be corroborated by Tim Dillingham, who I sent it to at the time to ask him to talk to Campbell.]

Ouch!

Yes, Campbell was right – I am proud to say that I did sabotage his Big Map fiasco.

But I did so not before repeatedly warning him that it was technically flawed, unworkable, politically infeasible, and would destroy his credibility. And that there were superior alternatives.

Specifically, I met with him personally several times to advise that:

1. Every DEP GIS geek, scientist, and land use permit writer told me that the technical bases for the Big Map – i.e. DEP’s several land use/land cover and natural resource GIS data layers – were not designed for or sufficiently reliable, scaled, accurate, current, or precise to be used for site specific regulatory purposes. Equally, there was no underlying scientific basis for the BM.

2. The Big Map would be perceived as a regulatory usurpation of the voluntary State Development and Redevelopment Plan, an illegal over-reach (ultra vires), and DEP’s institutional and legal arrogation of powers delegated by the Legislature to the State Planning Commission. This would trigger a political backlash from all quarters in Trenton and bad media that not only would make it impossible to realize, but would destroy his credibility and stellar reputation. The backlash might even set back the Department’s efforts across the board, perhaps permanently. The opposition likely would also spill over to impede the Department’s Category One “exceptional waters” protection and Highlands Initiatives that I was working on too.

Campbell – and whomever pitched the idea to him, which I believe was NRDC – had no knowledge of the controversial history, including flaws in State Plan mapping and failure of even modest attempts to incorporate the State Plan in DEP regulatory programs, which began in earnest with Gov. Florio’s Executive Order #114, which mandated that State agencies shall:

Adopt and incorporate as part of their agency programmatic mission, policies which comport with the State Plan and act in a coordinated fashion in investing resources at the State and local level in implementing the State Plan and achieving their programmatic missions.

(someone should ask Marty Bierbaum and John Weingart about how all that went.)

3. The Big Map initiative would not only spur vigorous opposition from the development community, the business community, the State Planning community, the legal community, and the legislature, it would not garner the support of environmental groups and therefore he would be going it alone, with no political support or cover.

4. There were far superior alternatives that did not suffer the flaws in #2, using DEP’s existing regulatory authority and programs, including targeted amendments to the Surface and Groundwater Water Quality Standards, Water Quality Planning Rules, and wetlands, flood hazard, and NJPDES permit rules.

I warned and told Campbell about all this in detail, orally in multiple one-on-one meetings and in writing, BEFORE he pitched the initiative to the Governor’s Office. He did not listen.

I raised all these issues in Campbell’s DEP Management Team, where he briefed the DEP Managers on the Big Map. I had hoped other managers, who supervised the GIS geeks, scientists and permit writers and knew of the flaws would back me up. But they were all yes men and kept quiet, leaving me out on a limb. Lisa Jackson, Campbell’s Assistant Commissioner for Enforcement, who subsequently became DEP Commissioner and Obama EPA Administrator, was the worst when it came to putting her cards on the table at Management Team meetings. She always dealt privately one-on-one with Campbell and never shared her policy views, issues, or opinions with colleagues.

I told Campbell and all others this at the briefing meeting with the Governor’s Office before the Gov. signed off on it. Campbell did not listen and the Gov. Office’s political people didn’t understand the issues I was raising.

I met secretly with staff of the Governor’s Office (Curtis Fisher) to try to convince him to intercede with Gov. McGreevey to derail the whole thing. Either Curtis was unwilling to go to the mat on this or unable to convince the Gov.

So, after repeated efforts to work internally to derail this beast, I really felt no obligation of loyalty to the Commissioner or his Big Map fiasco at the meting with the enviro leaders, and I laid out my critique of it in their presence – a full airing of all the dirt laundry and flaws with Big Map.

Waist deep in the Big Map, and the Big Fool said to push on.

The rest is history.

The Big Map suffered withering criticism, went down in flames and was withdrawn.

Thankfully, I was wrong and it dd not impeded the success of the Category One and Highlands Protection Act initiatives I led.

Of course I was right about the backlash.

The backlash spawned a rollback and it destroyed Campbell, as the NY Times reported (6/26/05)

These Days, a Commissioner Is Under Siege

TRENTON – BRADLEY M. CAMPBELL is either Solomonic or politically hopeless. In a brewing political fight over sprawl, Mr. Campbell, the state’s commissioner of environmental protection, is vilified by builders and environmental advocates alike. And the man he works for, Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, is not exactly rushing to his side.

Mr. Campbell puzzled just about everybody recently when he said he was suspending work on a new law, known by its Trenton shorthand as “fast track,” that expedites approvals for development projects.

The law — agreed to by Gov. James E. McGreevey last summer and scheduled to take effect next month — had led to a divorce between environmental groups and the Democrats, including Mr. Campbell, whom they had welcomed so warmly in 2002.

“The guy talks out of three sides of his mouth,” said Bill Wolfe, an aide to Mr. Campbell for two years who is now organizing a campaign against the fast-track law. …

“He had the same demeanor as McGreevey,” Mr. Wolfe said. “He tried to please everybody. He always wanted it both ways.”

Two recent developments underscore Mr. Wolfe’s argument.

And I’m glad to have exposed Campbell’s misdeeds after he finally found a pretext to deliver on his threat to fire me.

[Surely, there is no procedure in the DEP Rulemaking Manual – first written by former DEP lawyer Sam Wolfe (no relation) under the direction of Gov. Florio’s DEP Commissioner Scott Weiner I believe –  for the Commissioner to distribute drafts of rules for comment to a single individual in the course of the formal rule making process, as Campbell did with NJ’s largest builder.]

Too bad there’s no accountability for Campbell, who dodged the ethics review – and especially for NRDC, who I think blew the smoke of the Big Map concept up Campbell’s ass.

[Update #1: While I’m dishing dirt on Campbell, let me provide some real dirt that I’m ashamed to say I mishandled at the time.

In 2002, I returned to DEP after 7 years at Sierra Club and was working at DEP as Campbell’s policy advisor. I didn’t apply for the job. I was appointed to the McGreevy Transition Team and one day Campbell called me cold, said he was going to be DEP Commissioner and wanted to pick my brain. He invited me to breakfast in Princeton. We had a good conversation after which, explicitly knowing of my prior DEP experience, he offered me a job, upon one condition: loyalty (no leaks). He promised that I could be “the conscience of the Agency”. I accepted, with one condition: I would have influence and good work.

I had a lot of good work and wanted to impress, so I often stated late, till 6 or so.

One night, a friend and female colleague (who is still at DEP) came into my office. She was upset and crying.

She confided that Campbell had asked her to meet him in his office on a work related issue, but then used the meeting to ask her for a date. She felt pressured and very uncomfortable and asked me what to do.

I was dumbstruck and didn’t know what to do. I tried to empathize with and support the woman, but, really had no idea what I should do. So I did nothing other than talk with her for a few moments.

We never discussed the issue again. At the time, I was loyal to Campbell and actually was thinking of asking the woman out myself.

I guess that was my me too moment – and I failed the test. ~~~ end update]

[Update #2 – A Trenton insider, who flies at a higher altitude than I, reached out to me to expand upon the story. It’s worse than I knew. Check this out!:

Campbell announced Big Map before he had final okay from Gov. McGreevey. I ran into Jamie Fox in the statehouse right after Campbell presser he did not know or approve – he was livid . Campbell jumped the gun to get to the press because he was campaigning to be Gov. Rendells chief of staff . His interview was that Saturday. He showed up with the big map news clips and Rendell said to him your job is to work for your boss not promote your self – interview over.

That rings true from my experience. Campbell was incredibly ambitious, media hound, and self promoter. My communications with the Gov. Office were one way – I provided info, analysis and recommendations, but they never told me anything. ~~~ end update]

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