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Star Ledger Editorial Repeats Call on Senate President Sweeney and Legislature to Veto Christie DEP’s Highlands Septic and Stream Buffer Rule Rollbacks

July 19th, 2016 No comments

“Time for a Legislative veto”

In case you missed it, yesterday the Star Ledger ran another killer editorial calling on Sweeney and the Legislature to veto the Christie DEP’s proposed Highlands Septic Density rule and adopted Flood Hazard rule rollbacks – read the whole thing:

So, enough. Not only should Sweeney stand up to the governor on stream and river protections, the Legislature should pass a similar resolution that overturns the rule changes on sewers and septic tanks, too. Christie officials shouldn’t get to conduct their policy negotiations behind closed doors. Time for a Legislative veto.

The editorial expands prior criticism of the bad public policy of the DEP rules to how they were developed in secret via the Christie DEP’s notorious “by invitation only” stakeholder process.

The SL wrote:

Consider the so-called “stakeholder” meeting the administration held back in March, to gather feedback on how to fix its flood hazard rule proposal that had been rejected by lawmakers— the same one still threatened with a Legislative veto. The administration refused to allow in representatives from the lead groups that protested the rule changes. Many seats went empty, and experts who showed up weren’t permitted to fill them. Those who were invited ended up walking out in protest.

The Ledger editorial is pretty consistent with what we’ve written for some time on both the Flood Hazard rules and the Highlands Septic Density rules, most recently, see:

I want to again praise the Highlands Coalition for their smart move on holding their own public hearing at Montclair University and their emphasis on the urban benefits of the DEP’s regulatory protections of Highlands water.

That tactic and urban focus encouraged Newark Mayor Baraka and Jersey City Mayor Fulop to join the battle.

I also want to praise those who recently walked out of the sham DEP Stakeholder process on the Flood Hazard rules.

As I argued at the outset of the Christie Administration – repeated over the course of the last 7 years –  that sham process should have been boycotted a long time ago, see:

Unfortunately, my recommendation to boycott the DEP “By invitation only” Stakeholder process was rejected by environmental groups who were working with the Christie Administration –

I still feel the knives in my back and smell the blood on the floor at that April 28, 2010 meeting at the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic’s Office in Newark, where we put my recommendation to a vote. As I recall the groups working with the Christie DEP included the NJ Environmental Federation (now Clean Water Action), the American Littoral Society, Clean Ocean Action and some of the watershed groups.

How’s that decision looking now folks?

The take home message to the Highlands Coalition and environmental activists here is that building real bridges to urban interests and providing real benefits – not selfishly manipulating them to support your open space program – is good policy and politics.

Aggressive tactics and advocacy work!

You have nothing to fear but fear itself!

Yet there are still some who fear or refuse to criticize the Governor and still want to work the inside game with the Christie DEP.

I heard that argument just last week coming from the Rethink Energy NJ crowd on the question of whether and how to pressure the DEP on the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certificate for pipelines.

“Don’t mention Gov. Christie or criticize the DEP – He’ll get mad and punish us”

Sad, but true.

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Tell Senate President Sweeney – No Deals On Clean Water

June 30th, 2016 No comments

Sweeney spins

 Inappropriate to negotiate back room political compromises on regulatory protections

Yesterday former Governor Tom Kean wrote a strong Op-Ed urging the Legislature to veto the Christie DEP’s Flood Hazard rules and today the Star Ledger weighs in with a strong supporting editorial:

My jaw dropped reading this line from Senator Sweeney:

Sweeney’s rationale for the delay is that he’s trying to find a middle ground. He says he plans to meet with the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection to work out a compromise. “You have my commitment,” he said this week. “If we can’t fix this, on Aug. 1, we’ll pass it.”

Compromise? “Fix” it?

The thought of Senator Sweeney meeting with DEP Commissioner Bob Martin to discuss complex regulations and “fix” them absolutely boggles the mind.

It is totally inappropriate to negotiate back room political compromises on regulatory protections (for an example of exactly how Sweeney abuses the process, see: “Political Pressure On DEP: How The Game Is Played”).

Talk about the blind leading the blind! (and Sweeney is expressing no confidence in Senate Environmental Committee Chairman Bob Smith, who has rigorously, openly, and fairly considered the DEP proposal.)

There have been several hours of testimony by experts, including DEP, before the Senate Environment Committee, over a period of months. EPA and FEMA lawyers and experts reviewed the rules as well.

The rule proposal was over 900 pages and there is another several hundred pages of DEP’s responses to hundreds of public comments. And, of course, another hundred pages or more of a “concurrent proposal”.  Of course, DEP Commissioner Martin will tell Sweeney that the proposal has been fixed already.

Sweeney can knowledgeably participate in this debate? Are you kidding me? (Sweeney’s “experts” are likely Dennis Toft and Dale Florio)

Sweeney probably didn’t think he’d face press scrutiny about his failure to post the SCR 66 veto Resolution. He is spinning.

Just as we warned:

The public and the Committee will be drowned in the weeds of a lengthy adoption – response to public comments document on the original proposal along with an entirely new and complex re-proposal document. This is a formula for political manipulation. It will take weeks to decipher the documents. Meanwhile, by the time the dust settles, the original proposal will be adopted into law and the Veto Resolution will have withered on the vine (faded into the budget debate) and the Legislature adjourned for the summer.”

Sweeney has never been a supporter of strong environmental regulations, and he has supported the Christie DEP rollbacks.

Obviously, the Star Ledger editorial board didn’t know that Sweeney opposed the Category One buffers back in 2007.

Back in 2007, then Senator Sweeney joined then Republican Senate President Bob Littell in attacking the C1 stream buffer program:

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)

Tell Sweeney No Deals on Clean Water!

[End note: Truly “fixing” these rules would require, among other things, that stream buffer protections and surface water quality standards are enforced.

As we wrote, that would provide a regulatory basis to kill major development, like pipelines. Legislative veto of DEP rules for failure to protect buffers and water quality would also be used in anti-pipeline litigation.

Sweeney is a strong supporter of not only development, but pipelines in particular.

And we will never forget how he twisted arms to make the Pinelands pipeline happen. ]

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Pipeline Activists Declare Energy Independence In Celebration of the 4th – Urge Sweeney To Block The Pinelands Pipeline

June 29th, 2016 No comments

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Taking a pause from the Trenton scene and the veto of DEP flood hazard rules (I’ve done about all I can do on that issue), I went down to Senate President Sweeney’s West Deptford district office today to join with about 40 south jersey pipeline, climate and renewable energy activists. It was great to see lots of folks I haven’t seen in awhile:

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Activists and organizations supporting a transition to clean renewable energy and opposing the pipelines through New Jersey will have a July 4th potluck picnic at the office of Senate President Stephen Sweeney to oppose his support for the oil and gas industry, and invite him to sign a declaration of energy independence. They will deliver 1,000 petitions calling on him to take action to stop pipelines through the Pinelands.

“Senator Sweeney’s support for the oil and gas industry is a direct threat to the Pinelands, and to a sustainable future for New Jersey,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Lena Smith. “He is vocally supportive of the dirty fracked gas pipelines through the Pinelands and is twisting the arms of New Jersey’s elected officials to clear the way for these pipelines to be built.

Sweeney was invited to attend the gathering, which was organized by Food & Water Watch, the Pinelands Pipeline Action Network, the Coalition for Peace and Justice, Unplug Salem, 350 South Jersey, Ramapough Lenape Nation, Don’t Gas the Pinelands Coalition, New Jersey State Industrial Union Council, People Over Pipelines, Citizens United for Renewable Energy and Progressive Democrats of America.

Senate President Sweeney

Senate President Sweeney

Sweeney needs to be told flat out that his chances to be the next Governor are significantly diminished by his continuing support for the fossil energy industry.

With respect to the South Jersey Gas Pinelands pipeline he supports, 4 prior Governors have opposed that, so he is completely out of touch with even main stream NJ bi-partisan politics.

So, let’s rehash the day’s events.

There was a road detour, and I took a wrong turn on “Kings Highway” – a troubling address for a Legislator with Gubernatorial ambitions, no? – on the way there and ironically ended up at massive pipeline and fossil infrastructure:

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Arriving at Sweeney’s offices, the view didn’t get much better – he is in the belly of the fossil beast:

the view from Sweeney's Office

the view from Sweeney’s Office

As the group assembled on a grassy knoll in front of Sweeney’s office (ironically a pipeline ROW), the police showed up. Alleging the need to protect us from some non-existent threat of attack from the rear flank and to keep us off private property, the cop wanted the group to move away from the grassy knoll to an island on a nearby roadway. The island location the cop pushed us onto was dangerous, because cars drove by on both sides.

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I took exception to the lack of respect for and interference with constitutionally protected activity, especially  in the absence of any no trespassing signs or complaint by the private property owner. I suspect the ROW was public land anyway.

I explained this to the cop with no success – he immediately admonished me for having an “attitude” based on my tone of voice –  so went to Sweeney’s office to ask them to support us, because they didn’t want the political controversy of activists arrested outside Sweeney’s office. They agreed. I told the cop this. He backed off and went in to talk. But came out of Sweeney’s office and said Sweeney’s District Office manager said they merely rented the property and were not authorized to allow us to use the grassy knoll. What two faced wimps.

Here are photos of the event (still learning new camera – a used Sony mirrorless I picked up at a bargain price when I sold my lenses).

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Is Senate President Sweeney Playing Politics With Clean Water?

June 24th, 2016 No comments

Sweeney Yet to Post Veto of Christie DEP Flood Rules for Senate Vote

Is Sweeney carrying the Builders’ water or saving the best for last?

“We as a legislature have consistently supported the sanctity of buffers for our C1 streams. These are the purest waters we have in the State of NJ.” ~~~ Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith (June 16, 2016)

Senate President Sweeney has yet to post SCR 66, the veto of Governor Christie’s DEP flood hazard, stormwater management, and coastal rules.

The Assembly passed the Assembly version (ACR 160) and the Senate Environment Committee approved SCR66 and released it to the full Senate on June 16.

The case for a veto is strong.

At a State House rally later that day, Senator Lesniak (co-sponsor) promised that the Resolution would be passed during the Senate’s June 23 session. That did not happen. I really hope he was not just blowing the same smoke he did on Exxon NRD.

And I really hope Sweeney has changed his mind now that he is Senate President – and running for Governor – and is not attacking clean water and promoting inappropriate development again, like he did back in 2007 when the Category One waters buffers were incorporated in the stream encroachment permit program. Back in 2007, then Senator Sweeney joined then Republican Senate President Bob Littell in attacking the C1 program:

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)

Both houses previously passed the Resolution, but the Constitution requires that DEP be provided a chance to respond and that the Resolution be passed by both houses twice to finally veto the rule.

There are just two sessions left before the Legislature adjourns for summer recess – June 27 and June 30 – the Board list for June 27 has been posted and the Resolution is not on it.

We urge readers to call Senate President Sweeney at (856) 251-9801 and urge him to post SCR 66 to protect clean water and not make flooding worse.

Here is my letter to key Senators urging that they do the same:

Dear Chairman Smith and members of the Environment Committee:

I am writing to urge you to contact Senate President Sweeney and ask him to post SCR 66, the legislative veto of DEP flood hazard, storm water management, and coastal rules DEP recently adopted, despite prior passage of the Resolution by both Houses and legislative requests urging DEP not to do so.

As members of the Environment Committee, you heard the testimony and fully understand the implications of allowing the DEP regulations to stand:, i.e. there will be increased flood risks and further degradation of water quality in NJ’s “exceptional value” Category One waters due to allowance of additional destruction of stream buffers and more development closer to the water.

You have a serious responsibility to convey these implications to Senate President Sweeney and convince him to post SCR 66 for Senate vote, particularly given the Senate’s prior passage of the Resolution.

The DEP rules roll back water quality protections long supported by the Legislature and violate legislative intent and the regulatory policy in NJ’s Surface Water Quality Standards (NJAC 7:9B-1 et seq.).

As Chairman Smith noted on June 16 when the Resolution was released from the Environment Committee:

“We as a legislature have consistently supported the sanctity of buffers for our C1 streams. These are the purest waters we have in the State of NJ.”

It is time to affirm that support.

Respectfully,

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Liberty State Park Screwed By Sweeney Sellout

June 26th, 2015 No comments

Sweeney Quietly Abandons His Clean “Repair” Bill

Sellout Promotes Commercialization of Liberty State Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senator Sweeney stepped in to save the day.

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

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

Sweeney got good press for this, see:

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

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

Park advocates welcomed the new legislation.

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

Sweeney Bill Protects Liberty State Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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