Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Christie's $225M Exxon settlement wins judge's approval

A state judge Tuesday approved a controversial $225 million settlement negotiated between ExxonMobil and the Christie administration related to decades of extensive pollution at two of the oil giant’s former refineries in Linden and Bayonne and other sites around the state, James M. O'Neill reported this afternoon for The Record.

The settlement had drawn intense criticism from both environmentalists and Democrats in the state legislature because it was so much smaller than the nearly $9 billion the state had originally sought when it first filed the case in 2004 during the McGreevey administration.

“After giving considerable time and thought to its task,” Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan wrote in his decision, “the court finds that the proposed consent judgment is fair, reasonable, in the public interest, and consistent with the goals of the Spill Compensation and Control Act,” the state law under which the state had originally sued Exxon.

The settlement also covers natural resource damages at 15 smaller sites, including a Teterboro fuel tank farm, as well as nearly 1,800 gas stations, that were not originally part of the case.
Several environmental groups vowed to appeal the decision to the appellate division.

“Exxon’s massive damage to New Jersey’s environment couldn’t have been more clear,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

“Today’s decision by the Court sadly rubberstamps the Christie Administration’s sell-out settlement. This settlement still stinks. The disregard of a generation of pollution at hundreds of Exxon facilities around the state is a slap in the face to New Jersey. Exxon has created a legacy of pollution and public health risks in our state, and we will be taking further legal action to hold the Christie Administration accountable.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pines exec hurled fastball win as team was still lacing up

How must it feel to be standing in the cleats of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission's ace, rookie, relief pitcher Robert Barr. Denied? Relieved? Confused?
Barr got called up this year from the political minors when his team was in big trouble.
Here's why,
Last season, team owner, Gov. Chris Christie, and General Manager Jeff Van Drew (the local state Senator) had promised big-time, corporate ticket-holder, South Jersey Gas, a pleasing outcome.
But the Pinelands Pipelayers saw their pennant hopes slip away when a bunch of local enviros fielded a Green Team that took the corporate squad into extra innings in the season's final game.

Looking decidedly Double-A alongside the Commission's Yankee pinstripes, the greenies nonetheless hung in with sterling defensive plays and support from screaming fans. As darkness descended, the game was halted--in a tie.  
In a postgame cell-burner from somewhere out of state, Christie growled into Van Drew's ear:

"I don't like losers, understand numbnuts? I don't support losers. I don't hire losers and I don't hang out with losers (pause) except for that nerd Wildstein back in high school."
"Make no mistake, sir," Van Drew said. "I've got the answer for the new season, a fireballer named Barr. All we have to do is get rid of somebody so we can put him on the roster." 
Fast, fast forward to this season. Barr's in the bull pen. The enviros are shaking. With the big game almost ready to start, and most of the Pipelayers still in the locker room checking stock picks on their smartphones, their pitching coach Nancy Wittenberg  strides to the mound. Yes, pitching coach.
Amazingly, it only takes Nancy ONE pitch to save the season.
Some claim it was an inside fastball.
Jeff Tittel insists it was a spitter. No matter, Wittenberg delivered. And Barr? Not a single pitch thrown. Who'd have thunk it.
If the foregoing fable makes no sense to you, fear not. Our interview with Carleton Montgomery, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance's Executive Director Carleton should clear it up.

[Actually, Carleton is not as happy today as when the photo at right was taken, but who could blame him.]

Interview with Carleton Montgomery
(Click on the little arrow to launch the audio)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Is revised NJ Energy Master Plan too fossil-fuel heavy?

"Dozens of speakers asked the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to update the state’s 2011 Energy Master Plan with increased goals for renewable energy at a public hearing Monday afternoon at Stockton University, " Michelle Brunetti Post reports in the Atlantic City Press.
“I'm embarrassed our master plan seems to focus on fossil fuels,” said Ron Hutchison of Northfield, a member of 350.org, which works to combat global warming.
Like many other speakers, he said the plan should take into account the social costs of using carbon-based fuels, including the price of dealing with climate change, rising sea levels, and health problems from particulate air pollution. 

Many asked the BPU to return to standards in the 2008 Energy Master Plan, calling for 30 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable energy such as wind and solar by 2021. That percentage was decreased to 22.5 percent in the 2011 plan.
About 70 people came out to give their input, or listen to others. Speakers took up almost the full four hours, from 1 to 5 p.m.
BPU President Richard Mroz ran the meeting. He opened by saying the state has been doing well meeting the 2011 plan’s five major goals of driving down energy costs, creating a diverse portfolio of clean new energy generation in-state, rewarding efficiency and conservation, promoting emerging technologies and using renewables.

New Jersey League of Women Voters President Nancy Hedinger said she was disappointed the public hearings were being held in August, a time when many people are vacationing and cannot participate.
Richard Jackson, executive director of the New Jersey Energy Coalition, made up of 55 members including all the state’s major electric and gas utilities, said he hoped the new master plan puts emphasis on investment in electric and natural gas infrastructure projects that improve efficiency and safety, and lower costs.
Before the hearing, environmental groups and renewable energy promoters, including the New Jersey Sierra Club, Fishermen’s Energy350.org, Environment New Jersey, Clean Water Action, and Citizens United for Renewable Energy held a news conference to call for approval of renewable energy projects such as the Fishermen’s Energy wind farm.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Did NJ Pinelands pipeline battle just end without a vote?

Did the cantankerous battle over a natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands just end without the firing of a single shot? 

That may be the case as the Pinelands Commission staff on Friday issued a “Certificate of Filing” which declares that an application from South Jersey Gas to build the 22-mile natural gas pipeline along roads through the Pinelands is complete and ready for review.

It also eliminates the need for an approval vote by the full commission, something that critics of the pipeline feared had been cinched with Gov. Chris Christie's contested
 appointment of a new commissioner to replace a panel member who had cast the 'no' vote that sunk the pipeline on a previous occasion. 
Christie's new Pinelands nominees trigger enviro alarms

Environmentalist fought the appointment which narrowly passed the Senate on March 16. Pinelands supporters outraged by vote to replace Commission member who voted against pipeline

Since then, opponents have been dreading an expected new vote, so Friday's action 
came as a surprise--although equally unwelcome--and made some wonder if the new appointee also had decided to vote against the plan. 

Matt Katz,
in NJ Spotlight, reports that Commission Executive Director Nancy 
Wittenberg told the commission that the decision "does not need to come before them for a vote because the project is a private development for use only within the Pinelands, and the gas pipeline will feed a power plant that will provide electricity to the area."

Briana Vannozzi filed the video report at the top for NJTV News.

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Water contamination bill sitting on Gov. Christie's desk

A bill sponsored by NJ Assemblyman Herb Conaway that requires the Department of Environmental Protection to establish maximum contaminant level for 1,2,3- 18 trichloropropane in drinking water is awaiting a signing decision by Gov. Chris Christie.

Conaway, a physician and a Democrat, represents the 7th Legislative District comprising municipalities in Burlington County.In the  video, he explains the reason why he introduced A-3954 and why he thinks the governor should sign it.

The contaminant, not currently regulated by drinking-water standards, was found in Moorestown NJ's water supply last October, causing town officials to shut down two of its primary wells. Toxin leads Moorestown to shut two wells

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New Jersey says it will hire a consultant on offshore wind

New Jersey plans to bring on a consultant to advise it on developing offshore wind farms, a step that may finally move New Jersey to act on a five-year-old legislative mandate, Tom Johnson reports today for NJ Spotlight.
Board of Public Utilities President Richard Mroz said the yet-to-be-hired consultant would help the state write regulations essential to developing wind turbines off the Jersey coast. The regulations, four years behind schedule in being adopted, would spell out a financing mechanism to have utility customers fund the projects.
Mroz told the Senate Judiciary Committee of the agency’s plans during a reconfirmation hearing yesterday, at which senators criticized the board for not moving quicker to comply with a law aimed at promoting offshore wind farms. Mroz and fellow BPU Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso won confirmation from the Senate later in the day.
“Why hasn’t the BPU done its job?’’ asked Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), a leading proponent of the state moving more aggressively on developing renewable energy.
“Institutionally, the BPU has failed us in the establishment of wind energy.’’
Without the regulations, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to line up financing from Wall Street to help fund the projects, which could easily run to more than $1 billion. The regulations would pay the developers for the electricity the wind turbines produce through credits paid for by ratepayers.
Critics of the administration of Gov. Chris Christie have long complained about the lack of action on offshore wind, something the governor had supported during his first campaign. Some claim that the BPU has done nothing but deny offshore project applications since Christie began exploring the possibility of a run for President and started courting large, potential campaign contributors like  the Koch Brothers who are heavily invested in fossil fuels and have underwritten efforts to discount or oppose alternative energy technologies like wind and solar. What do you think? Is the BPU plan to hire an offshore energy consultant, sincere or simply a delaying tactic? Use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Environment and energy bills signed by NJ Gov. Christie

NJ Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

Although he has spent most days recently on the presidential campaign trail, New Jersey Governor Christie is still signing, vetoing and conditionally vetoing bills.

Among those which that he most recently signed into law are:

S-2420/A-3838 (Smith, Bateman/McKeon, Eustace, Gusciora, Benson) – Increases electric power net metering capacity threshold to 2.9 percent of total annual kilowatt-hours sold in State.

SCS for S-2567/AS for A-4025 (Sweeney, Oroho, Smith, Greenstein, Thompson/Mazzeo, Andrzejczak, Space, McHose, Pinkin) – Creates "Fishing Buddy License"

S-2599/A-4121 (Bateman, Smith/Spencer, Schepisi) – Provides certain definitions for biofuels under "Motor Fuel Tax Act"

S-2825/A-4316 (Sweeney, Greenstein/Mazzeo) – Increases efficiency and transparency in distribution of Superstorm Sandy aid money

S-3023/A-4558 (Ruiz, Oroho/McKeon, Spencer, Wimberly) – Appropriates $4,750,000 from various Green Acres funds for grants to certain nonprofit entities to acquire or develop lands for recreation and conservation purposes

A-4559/S-3022 (McKeon, Spencer, Wimberly/Codey, Doherty) – Appropriates $88,592,361 from "Garden State Green Acres Preservation Trust Fund" and various Green Acres bond funds for local government open space acquisition and park development projects

Bills he has vetoed conditionally (amendments offered to assure his signature)

S-2489/ACS for A-3859 (Sweeney, Whelan, Oroho/Greenwald, Coughlin, Bramnick, Singleton, Rible, Lagana) - CONDITIONAL – Permits public-private partnership agreements for certain building and highway infrastructure projects; provides for EDA oversight.

S-2784/A-3856 (Van Drew, Whelan/Andrzejczak, Johnson) – CONDITIONAL  Provides maximum sales and use tax imposition amount for sales and uses of boats and vessels; establishes grace period for imposition of use tax on certain boats and vessels used by resident purchasers.

See copies of any of the above bills on the NJ Legislature's website

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Five years after mandate, still no soil compaction standard


One of the questions examined on Monday at a special joint summer session of the NJ Senate and Assembly environment committees in Lavallette was what is holding up the implementation of soil compaction standards that were mandated in legislation enacted
five years ago.

Why is soil compaction a problem? Here's how Senate committee chairman Bob Smith (D) describes soil compaction:

"“When a bulldozer drives over dirt (at a construction site), the soil becomes compacted to the point that it’s just as bad as if you put in a concrete surface. The question is, when you do construction, should you restore soil so that it’s permeable again so that water can go through the soil and go back to the groundwater?”

Why was a meeting held on the shoreline of the Barnegat Bay such an appropriate place to discuss it? 

Many years of rapid residential and commercial development in formerly rural Ocean County brought with it miles of newly paved roads and parking lots and compacted soil beneath homeowners' lawns. During rainstorms, water that no longer is absorbed into the soil runs off and enters storm sewers, creeks and rivers that ultimately transport it (and the lawn fertilizers, pesticides, and street oil that it carries) to Barnegat Bay.

For years, scientists at Rutgers University have been monitoring the environmentally devastating results the pollution has inflicted on the Bay, a much loved fishing and boating destination, and have been calling for measures to stem the runoff.

The state legislature and Gov. Chris Christie responded five years ago with two laws. The first limited the amount of nitrogen in lawn fertilizer products sold in the state. The second directed the state Department of Agriculture to develop standards for soil compaction that developers and landscapers would be required to meet on new projects.

The fertilizer law is in effect. The soil law, now five years old, still has not produced final compaction standards.

Video interviews with two meeting participants

Dr. Stanley Hales of the Barnegat Bay Partnership discusses the delay in the adoption of statewide soil compaction standards and why it is hurting Barnegat Bay.

Helen Henderson of the American Littoral Society provides information on a soil compaction remediation project that produced dramatic results.

Care to add to the discussion on soil compaction? Share your experience and opinions in the comment box below.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Barnegat Bay advocate alerts lawmakers to pump plume

Member of the New Jersey Legislature's Senate and Assembly environmental committees met yesterday in Lavallette to take testimony on other issues, but a local activist captured their attention when she produced a picture of a large brown plume that was discharged into Barnegat Bay earlier in the week from a federal roadway project.

Save Barnegat Bay's Executive Director Britta Wenzel told the legislators that the discharge came from one of nine pumping stations installed along Route 35 from Bay Head to Seaside Park. They are part of a $200 million federal project designed to upgrade the roadway, damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and to reduce flooding. 

Here is our interview with Britta Wenzel

Following the meeting, Mary Ann Spoto reported for NJ.com that DOT spokesman Kevin Israel said the discharge, a silt plume, was "out of the ordinary." Testing by Ocean County officials determined that the water was safe, he said.
Israel said a DOT investigation determined it was caused by a combination of silt build-up in the system from months of construction an silt from the floor of the bay that was churned up by the force of the water coming from the outfall pipe.
The pump at that station has since been turned off and will be monitored, Israel said. It can be turned on if needed during a storm, he said.
To prevent silt from being churned up in the future, DOT crews will lay a broken stone and concrete matting on the floor of the bay, Israel said.
Crews have also installed a turbidity barrier to prevent silt from being dispersed, he said. They also began cleaning manholes of silt on Friday, he said.
The system is still in its testing phase, which includes making sure the pipes are sealed, Israel said. When that process is completed, the pumps should run less frequently, he said.
"The new underground storm water drainage system is a tremendous enhancement over what existed prior to this project.," Israel said. "The new system is designed to handle 25-year storms, while the previous drainage could only handle two-year storms."

Read the full Nj.com story here

Tomorrow we will report on the other main topic considered by the committee--soil compaction standards 

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