Public Lands Management – NJ DEP Is Actually WORSE Than Trump Department of Interior, BLM and Forest Service

August 3rd, 2019 No comments

Perversely, after years of denial, DEP will now use climate change to promote more logging under the RGGI carbon sequestration program

Public shut out of public lands decisions

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I’ve been out west for almost 3 years now, spending the majority of that time dispersed camping and hiking in dozens of our splendid national forests and on BLM lands.

Right now, I’m in Lolo National Forest on the Montana Idaho border. Incredible beauty, healthy forests, and rugged landscape (way too rugged for this old fart!).

The local environmental news right now is a strong public outcry over recent Trump BLM “Resource Management Plans” for western Montana. (hit the links to the 2 volume EIS for the “Missoula Draft RMP”. Comments can be submitted electronically from this page. The public comment period closes On August 15, so please be sure to comment).

For my NJ friends, a quick scan of the “preferred alternative” in volume 1 of the BLM EIS turned up this gem, which explicity confirms what I suspect NJ DEP foresters are about to do.  Note how BLM explicitly confirms exactly what I’ve said the foresters in NJ plan to do (i.e.explicitly linking “forest products” and logging with “restoration”: (emphases mine)

“This (preferred) alternative would produce the greatest quantities of forest products from vegetation restoration activities of all alternatives.” (ES, page 3)

The recent infusion of about $10 million/year in RGGI funds for carbon “sequestration” will greatly expand this current DEP forestry/public lands abuse, leading to more logging to create “young forests” to sequester carbon.

That writing is already on the wall.  (HEADS UP: DEP is seeking public comments and will hold a meeting on RGGI, so don’t miss it! But that is a meeting limited to discussion of allocation of RGGI money, not public lands management or climate change. The public doesn’t get to weigh in on those critical policy issues.)

DEP has accepted dubious scientific claims that wood products “store” carbon – thereby minimizing the carbon released by logging – and the correct but misleading claim that “young forest” sequester carbon at a higher rate than mature forest – thereby exaggerating the sequestration of logged “young forests. Even prior to the RGGI sequestration program, DEP foresters disparaged mature forests as “single age class” forests that need to be logged to improve “diversity”, “forest health” and “resilience” and to “reduce wildfire risk” and insects/diseases (caused or made worse by climate change)- this of course is exactly what the Trump folks are doing (but without highlighting the role of climate change or without an idiot like Trump talking about raking and “cleaning up the forest floor”).

In contrast to the torrent of slogans and pseudo-science DEP spouts to justify logging under various pretexts – which now include carbon sequestration – you’ll find zero specific policy and program commitments, allocation of RGGI funds, and technical standards establishing an “afforestation” program and an “urban forestry” program.

Instead of planting millions of trees to shade and cool NJ’s cities and providing funding and jobs to urban residents and community organizations – a real environmental justice program – DEP will give money to elite groups like NJ Audubon and NJ Conservation Foundation and Mike Catania’s Duke Foundation to log forests in the Highlands and Pinelands, while issuing press releases bragging that they are fighting climate change and promoting environmental justice (and DEP’s friend Tim Dillingham of American Littoral Society will get his piece of the action for sham coastal wetlands restoration too – DEP might even find some way to fund the Gov.’s Chief Cheerleader Ed Potasnak at NJLCV and The Keep It Greed Crew. Of course, the former DEP hacks now at Rutgers will likely get a piece of the RGGI patronage as well.

It is truly sickening.

Shifting gears, somewhat, today’s post was prompted by a superb Counterpunch article by George Wuethner, that explains just how radical the Trump BLM plans are.

Wuethner puts these technocratic BLM RMP decisions in context and explains the implications – I urge you to read the whole thing, see:

An outspoken advocate for selling off our public lands, William Perry Pendley became the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management  (BLM), which oversees management of 250 million acres of public lands across the country.

Pendley is the former president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a property-rights group that regularly sues the Department of the Interior on behalf of companies that want to mine and drill on public lands.

Also, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt appointed Karen Budd-Falen for the role of Assistant Secretary for the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Parks. Budd-Falen is one of the family lawyers for the infamous Bundy Family which commandeered the Malheur Wildlife Refuge and still grazes their cattle illegally on BLM lands in Nevada.

Least we do not forget, Berhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil industry, has also directed the BLM to revise its land-use plans to eliminate protective land categories like Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, while significantly increasing the leasing of public lands to the Oil and Gas industry. The recently released BLM draft management plan for the North Central District Office in Lewistown reflects these changes in emphasis.

For today, I want to make brief bulleted points about the relevance and contrast of the Trump rollbacks for my NJ friends who are fighting very similar NJ DEP abuses.

While the NJ DEP is not led by a former head of a property rights group and the managers of DEP Division of Forestry and Fish & Game are not former oil industry lawyers or lobbyists, there are strong similarities in public management policies between the Trump administration and the NJ DEP.

Trump’s DOI, BLM and US Forest Service are seeking to:

  • restrict public involvement in public lands management decisions;
  • narrow the scope and depth of environmental reviews under NEPA
  • increase extractive uses of public lands, particularly logging
  • using pretexts and slogans like “sustainability”,”resilience” and wildfire risk reduction
  • privatizing public lands management
  • deregulating public lands management
  • ignoring – or exploiting – the role of climate change in public lands management

It is no secret that the Trump administration is implementing these policy rollbacks to promote extractive uses via an across the board assault, using bureaucratic design, personnel, budgets, regulatory, policy and local, regional and national management plan changes.

Now let’s compare each of those above bulleted practices and objectives of the Trump administration’s policies to those legally mandated and implemented in NJ by DEP.

1. While Trump is rolling back and reducing the ability of the public to participate formally in public lands management decisions, NJ DEP has NO formal process for public participation in public lands management decisions and is not accountable to the public’s expressed concerns. The DEP may engage in a “Forest Action Plan”, ad hoc meetings and local briefings and “stakeholder” processes – which are usually triggered after strong public controversy – these are not formal and are not mandatory statewide processes.

2. While the Trump folks are reducing the applicability, scope, and depth of environmental reviews under NEPA, NJ DEP has NO formal environmental review process for public lands management.

NJ residents don’t even get the chance to attend a public hearing to complain and submit comments on an environmental impact statement, because they are not required nor held by NJ DEP.

3. While Trump agencies are openly and transparently increasing extractive uses – particularly logging – in contrast, the DEP also is promoting logging, but DEP prefers to stealth these destructive practices under slogans, spin and pretexts. Just look at the Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area “Forest Management Plan” for an example – there are several others.

4. While Trump DOI, BLM and USFS are increasingly privatizing and outsourcing public lands management – including a radical new initiative to transfer ownership of public lands – the NJ DEP is far more subtle, working through surrogates like NJ Audubon (a controversial and embarrassing front group for not only Trump himself, but another Wall Street billionaire) and forestry associations to accomplish many of the same things.

5. While Trump agencies seek to reduce the applicability, scope and substantive requirements of regulations and otherwise deregulate forest management practices, the NJ DEP does not regulate forestry (forest management plans are exempt from DEP regulation and subject to a voluntary and informal “Best Management Practices” (BMP) guideline).

6. While Trump agencies deny, downplay and/or exploit the role of climate change in forest management, the NJ DEP completely ignores the role of climate change (a blatant form of climate denial).

Perversely, after years of effective denial, DEP will now use climate change to promote more logging under the RGGI sequestration program (and expanded wildfire prevention logging and “prescribed burns”).

So, while the Trump administration’s public lands policies are horrific, keep in mind that they are scaling back a well developed and elaborate historical management framework. The larger edifice, while full of holes, at least exists on paper and can be challenged in court.

In contrast, the NJ DEP has nothing – nada – squat.

On that basis, I conclude that NJ DEP is actually worse than the Trump abomination.

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Toxic Lakes And Institutional Racism

July 26th, 2019 No comments

NJ State Parks and Open Space Programs Recall The Racist Practices of Robert Moses

[Updates below – McCabe Op-Ed response]

My good friend and former colleague Jeff Tittel has a brilliant Op-Ed running in today’s Bergen Record – read the whole thing:

Tittel connects the dots between toxic algae blooms that have closed major NJ recreational lakes, regulatory failures at the NJ DEP, and disinvestment in State parks.

I want to discuss briefly Tittel’s key conclusion:

Under Gov. Christie Whitman the focus of Green Acres went from parks and people to buying open space like farms and forests. As part of that change, she cut DEP’s parks staff from 1,000 to 400, where it still remains. I believe that was part of their plan because they didn’t want more people from urban areas coming out to recreate in wealthy suburban and rural areas. Those policies continue. …

Too many legislators with houses on Long Beach Island aren’t worried about swimming areas in North Jersey. Too many environmental groups cater to the country-club set, not parks and people.

Ouch!! (Is Senator Bob Smith, Chairman of the Environment Committee, the only legislator with a house on LBI? I don’t think so!).

[Update: In an email, Tittel adds:

Whitman also eliminated summer time bus service to our state parks from urban areas – Paterson to shepards pond – Perth Amboy to spruce run also eliminated the Warwick bus summer stop at Ringwood state park. ~~~ end update

I’ve written about how NJ’s “Green Acres” program is biased towards protecting the backyards of the wealthy elites, serving many of the same exclusionary and racist objectives as primitive private “restrictive covenants” and public municipal zoning struck down by NJ Courts, (and the US Supreme Court, , see Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 68 S.Ct. 836, 92 L.Ed. 1161 (1948); )see:

I’ve also written about how open space advocates, such as the Keep It Green Coalition (KIG), are funded by those same wealthy elites and Foundations, who are dues paying members and serve on the Boards of Directors and set policy that biases open space efforts, see:

KIG not only biases the open space program in favor of wealthy elites and against urban, poor and minority neighborhoods, but they stole public funds that were constitutionally dedicated to State parks and shifted them to acquisition of lands in the backyards of their elite Boards, members, and funders, see:

As Tittel notes, that has resulted in disinvestment in State parks – and lack of an urban parks program.

NJ’s open space and parks program priorities are a more sophisticated version of a very old form of anti-urbanism and institutional racism.

There are lots of ways elites keep out the riff-raff – institutional and structural, e.g. public investments, private covenants, disinvestment, “redlining”, zoning and land use restrictions, and even pure neglect that leads to toxic algae blooms.

NJ’s policies Tittel criticizes, i.e. those to prevent “more people from urban areas coming out to recreate in wealthy suburban and rural areas” – remind me of those practiced by Robert Moses.

Many people are aware of why Moses designed the bridge heights on the Long Island parkways: (How Low Did He Go?)

This summer, as New Yorkers head out to Long Island’s beach towns and parks on the Southern State Parkway, they’ll pass beneath a series of overpass bridges made infamous in Robert A. Caro’s monumental 1974 biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker.

In one of the book’s most memorable passages, Caro reveals that Moses ordered his engineers to build the bridges low over the parkway to keep buses from the city away from Jones Beach—buses presumably filled with the poor blacks and Puerto Ricans Moses despised. The story was told to Caro by Sidney M. Shapiro, a close Moses associate and former chief engineer and general manager of the Long Island State Park Commission.

As Marta Gutman notes, Robert Caro also wrote about Moses and segregation in public swimming pools:

The man’s (Moses) passion for extending New Deal benefits to New Yorkers of color was less clear. Moses had no qualms about manipulating public policy to imprint his values, including antidemocratic ones, on liberal reform programs. In 1938 he eviscerated an amendment to the New York State Constitution that Martha Biondi has shown would have allowed the state government to battle racial discrimination in the private sector.13 Robert Caro underscores other ugly outcomes of Moses’s public work, ascribing them to the commissioner’s personal antipathy for people of color. This assessment leads to the serious charge that Moses not only tolerated race prejudice in the WPA swimming pools, but deliberately segregated them. Caro targets pools in Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem and Colonial (now Jackie Robinson) Park in Central Harlem, arguing the former was sited in a white and the latter in a black neighborhood, so each would be racially segregated. At Jefferson Park Pool, Caro asserts that decisions were taken about design and staffing to assure that only white people swam there.14

(see: Race, Place, and Play – Robert Moses and the WPA Swimming Pools in New York City – by Marta Gutman, The City College of New York)

Gutman tells a more nuanced and complex story than Caro:

Moses was a racial conservative, but the sweeping charges do not hold up under close scrutiny of the physical city and evidence uncovered since the publication of my research in Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transfor- mation of New York. In this article, I argue that framing the discussion of race in terms of individual prejudice has dis- tracted attention from the more powerful political, spatial, and structural dynamics of racism, forces of which Moses was fully aware, and the actions some New Yorkers took to counteract them. As Biondi has argued, emphasizing per- sonal prejudice obscures the relationship of the man to the trajectory of reform liberalism in American politics. Biondi insists liberalism was rendered tragic by compromise with racial segregation—tainted by its appearance during the Jim Crow era and the ensuing unholy alliance forged during the New Deal between southern segregationists and northern politicians. The result, public policy deeply ingrained with the effects of race prejudice, proved devastating for blacks and cities.15 However, the outcome was not set in stone in New York during the 1930s. After a race riot exploded in Harlem in 1935, Moses constructed a stellar modern facility for public recreation in Central Harlem that challenged the unequal treatment of black and white Americans, widespread during the New Deal.16

Tittel’s arguments – in light of the New Deal era history Robert Caro and Gutman write about – are particularly relevant as the discussion of the Green New Deal emerges in the current context of Black Lives Matter and a focus on institutional racism.

[Update: 7/27/19 – DEP gets hammered in a Tittel Bergen Record Op-Ed for neglect and elitism. How do they respond?

The next day, they lift the advisory on a tiny portion of lake Hopatcong that is accessible to the public only by boat!

Indian Harbor, which is only accessible by boat, is near beaches that will not be accessible due to continued high bacteria levels, including 24,750 at Pebble Beach, 24,500 at Sand Harbor and 26,750 as Bass Rock Beach.

Talk about tone deaf political malpractice! How do you double down on the kind of charges Tittel made?  Just what does it take to get fired?

And Commissioner McCabe is not only tone deaf. She is a coward – her statement runs away from the DEP advisory, dodging “blame” for effectively closing the lake to recreation:

An advisory is not a ban or an order for lake closure. An advisory is a form of guidance. No one would be ticketed or removed from the water if they choose to swim or engage in watersports when an advisory is issued. An advisory is meant to provide the public with information to help people make choices for themselves.

Not only is this statement cowardly, but it sends the wrong message to the public, virtually inviting people into the water.

Finally, it abdicates DEP’s responsibility to protect public health by relying on an ideological stance: i.e. “people make choices for themselves”. 

Some risks are too great to allow individual choice to govern decision-making. In such cases, Government must step up and assume responsibility.  

McCabe is a coward – she fears Mulshine’s attack on “Nanny State” grounds.

Finally, DEP’s statement misleads the public about DEP’s overall lake management program – science and regulatory oversight. DEP brags about how wonderful they are::

From Lake to Lab: New Jersey’s Advanced Process for Monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms

New Jersey has one of the most advanced monitoring processes and protective standards to reduce the risk to public health. DEP’s aggressive monitoring program on Lake Hopatcong includes daily monitoring and detailed scientific analysis of several water quality parameters related to harmful algal blooms.

But that statement documents ONLY DEP’s EMERGENCY REACTION to the HAB.

It says NOTHING about prevention, routine water quality monitoring and assessment, program staffing and funding, and the adequacy of DEP’s regulatory actions (i.e. Lake TMDL for nutrients).

It says NOTHING about solutions, e.g. mandatory septic pumpouts, investments in infrastructure upgrades, stricter regulations, etc

DEP has failed miserably on those matters. ~~~ end update]

[Update #2 – 7/29/19 – DEP Commissioner McCabe wrote an Op-Ed in today’s NJ.com.

It’s almost as if she read my prior posts and update above and confirmed my criticism.

First of all, McCabe blamed “mother nature” (which is a blatant form of denial of climate change and DEP regulatory responsibilities)

DEP will lift the advisories, as soon as the testing indicates that bacteria cell counts are trending reliably below the health advisory level. Unfortunately, control of those conditions at this point is in the hands of Mother Nature, who has not been kind lately as we have experienced heavy rains and elevated heat levels.

Second, it finally outlining solutions to the problem, she ignores DEP’s regulatory responsibilities and enforcement powers, instead pointing the finger at local governments and individuals:

In the long-term, we know the steps we must take to prevent future algal blooms. Algal blooms are fed by nutrients, most notably phosphorus, from septic tanks, surface runoff, and stormwater that flows into the lakes, either directly or through the lakes’ many feeder streams. Nutrients in lawn fertilizers and animal droppings readily flow into the lake when it rains.

The solutions are not necessarily difficult or expensive. Much can be accomplished through simple methods – residents in the watershed should routinely clean out septic systems, communities should sweep streets and clean stormwater catch basins ahead of the summer season. Property owners can reduce or forego fertilizer application, and install green infrastructure.

Has McCabe even read the DEP’s TMDL for Lake Hopatcong? Does she know it says THIS:

“eutrophic lakes & aquatic life impairments are ranked as Low Priority in the 2002 Integrated List of Waterbodies because they are not directly related to human health issues” @ p.9

Is she aware of DEP’s voluntary provisions of the Water Quality Management Planning rules (NJAC 7:15-1 et seq) – that apply to septics, septic districts and pump-outs?

Does McCabe know of DEP powers to reduce nutrients under numerous regulations, including stormwater, stream encroachment, freshwater wetlands, water quality standards, septic design, and Highlands Act?

Does McCsbe know that the DEP’s Wetlands Strategy is weak? (wetlands cycle and store nutrients)

Is she aware of significant gaps and loopholes in DEP regulations, such as forestry management BMP’s?

Has McCabe read DEP’s Nutrient Management Strategy?

How could McCabe IGNORE ALL THAT? Awful Op-Ed.

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Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon – On The Yellowstone

July 25th, 2019 No comments
Yellowstone river, at Livingston Montana
Yellowstone river, at Livingston Montana

The tax man’s taken all my dough
And left me in my stately home
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
And I can’t sail my yacht
He’s taken everything I got
All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon

Save me, save me, save me from this squeeze
I gotta big fat mama trying to break me
And I love to live so pleasantly
Live this life of luxury
Lazing on a sunny afternoon
In the summertime. ~~~ The Kinks (1966)

Spectacular day – bright sunshine, cloudless sky, and temperatures around 80 (but the constant 25 mph wind and dry air make it feel like 70). Visions of Paradise. 

The trees are drawing me near, I’ve got to find out why.

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Now you know that you are real.

x

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Green New Deal Rolls On – From The San Juans To The Tetons

July 24th, 2019 No comments
Slate retire alley - Mt. Baldy

Slate river valley – Mt. Baldy – just outside Crested Butte Colorado

The Pelosi-Schumer corporate Democrats and the media may be running away from The Green New Deal, but, we assure our readers that we are rolling along (BTW, the favorable thumbs up, waves, and horn honks as we ride the western backroads are running about 100 – 1! This is in the so called “Red State” fossil energy dependent west.).

As its been over a month since I last posted about our journey (from Ophir, Colorado), I thought I’d update folks on our recent exploits, from the San Juans to the Tetons (camping in national forests, with no Internets connections).

Given recent events, we will post policy pieces on the following issues in the upcoming days:

  • Gov. Murphy’s Global Warming Response Act amendments actually weaken current law
  • DEP helping to build a massive new fossil Petro-chemical Fortress on the Delaware
  • DEP Cleanup Plan (TMDL) for Lake Hopatcong Ignored Toxic Algae Blooms
  • RGGI derailed – Is there an exit ramp down the RGGI road coming soon?
  • I am not a “Distributed Energy Resource” (DER) – “raw material” Mario Savio Lives!

Now, getting back to the journey – We arrived in Ophir following a spectacular route from northwestern New Mexico (Sante Fe, to Taos, to Bandolier) northward across southwestern Colorado (Pagosa Springs, Durango, Dolores), where we saw historic river flows from the snow capped San Juan mountain range.

Rio Grande gorge, just west of Taos, NM

Rio Grande gorge, just west of Taos, NM

We saw record river flows on the following rivers as we crossed southwestern Colorado (hit links for USGS flow data):

Thankfully, Ophir was our last experience with wicked hailstorms, as we headed north and northwest – including a return to Rico, Lizard Head Pass, Toxic Telluride, Ridgway (where I got bitten by a dog) and Montrose (where I got treated for the dog bite in the emergency room).

Lizard Head Pass - snow and sleet on June 15, 2019

Lizard Head Pass – snow and sleet on June 15, 2019

By the time we arrived in Crested Butte, the Gunnison County Sheriff had closed all the rivers to all watercraft due to hazards conditions, including the Slate, East and Gunnison Rivers.

We spoke with a federal law enforcement officer who told us that there had been 2 fatalities in a week, leading to the closure. The melt of deep winter snowpack was delayed due to a cold spring, and now the rivers were raging as the summer temperatures hit and drove snowmelt runoff (another sign of more climate chaos).

We hiked up the Slate river valley road, which was closed, and came to the top, where a wall of snow formed a bowl at the base of the mountains (a cirque?) of Baldy. We managed to walk about a mile on that mini-glacier before turning back in exhaustion.

After getting tired of being dusted out of our campsite by the July 4 crowds of tourists, we drove over the mountains towards Aspen on a “shortcut” US Forest Service Road – my bones are still vibrating – where we stopped at high mountains lakes for gorgeous day hikes and dog swims.

We watched the US Women’s World Cup victory in Basalt Colorado, and upscale suburb of Aspen.

We then headed northwest, through Rifle, Colorado (home of Trump’s Secretary of Interior), north to the White River National Forest, past Dinosaur National monument and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and on to the Star Valley in Wyoming (just south of Grand Teton National park – those photos there in a subsequent post).

Some pics:

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National Recreation Area

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area

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Our Love To NoLa, As Barry Approaches

July 12th, 2019 No comments

Climate Chaos Just Beginning

A photo expression of our love to NoLa, as tropical storm Barry approaches (and the climate deniers again lie to the public):

Primarily, it takes a whole lot of denial: (from the New Orleans Museum of Art)

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And architecture and street life, unencumbered by liberal false modesty:

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