Thursday, February 26, 2015

Slicing up the NJ open-space funding pie could get bloody

The Christie administration is proposing how New Jersey should allocate money to open-space preservation projects in its new budget, but its plan differs in significant respects from how lawmakers want to divvy up the funds, which could trigger a fight, Tom Johnson reports today in NJ Spotlight.

"The good news, however, is that the administration is anticipating a slight boost in revenue collected from corporate business taxes, which could mean the program has $80 million to spend rather than previous projections of $71 million. That depends on whether those projections hold up, a recurring failure with the administration’s past budgets.

"With less money available than in previous years for such projects, however, the differences could create deep divisions among the many groups, towns, counties and others seeking to obtain a share of the funding -- as well as legislators. Some key lawmakers have their own priorities as to how the money should be spent, including more money for farmland preservation.

"The issue will be played out in budget negotiations that could drag on until the end of June, when the state needs to adopt a fiscal plan for the upcoming year. The debate follows approval of a ballot question last November by voters that would divert corporate business taxes to preserve open space and farmland, as well as fund other programs."

Full story: Administration, Lawmakers Could Clash Over Who Gets Open-Space Funding 


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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More coverage of NJ Senate panel’s Pinelands vote

MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Yesterday afternoon, we reported on the Senate Judiciary Committee's split approval
of Robert Barr, Gov. Chris Christie's controversial nominee to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.

Our post included the first-out-of-the-gate news story on the action reported by Chase Brush of PolitickerNJ: Judiciary quietly approves Christie's Pinelands Commission nominee  

A number of additional stories appeared later in the day and today. Here are a few:

Panel pushes controversial nomination for Pinelands Commission to Senate --NJ Spotlight 
With foe absent, Pinelands nominee advances in N.J. Senate -
Ocean City man moves closer to Pinelands Commission post - Press of Atlantic City
Pipeline sparks debate at committee meeting - Shore News Today
Christie's nomination for Pinelands Commission OK'd as pipeline project looms -
Sweeney and Christie-Crats throw Pinelands legacy under the bus - Wolfe 


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Three energy, environment bills advance in Pa Senate

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee yesterday released bills to:

  • Extend natural gas service into un-served or underserved areas
    SB 214 -Yaw, R-Lycoming);
  • Allow municipalities to use public funds for the improvement, extension, repair or rehabilitation of private lateral sewage lines connected to public sewer systems where the municipality or municipal authority determines that such activities will benefit the public sewer system (SB 289 - Fontana, D-Allegheny); and
  • Provide for an independent counsel for the Environmental Quality Board
    (SB 307 - Yudichak, D-Luzerne)



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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Controversial NJ Pinelands nominee out of committee

New Jersey dome - between office buildings

The third time proved to be the charm today for Robert Barr, Gov. Chris Christie's
contested nominee to serve on the NJ Pinelands Commission.

The Senate Judiciary Committee early this afternoon released the nomination for a floor
vote despite a wall of opposition mounted by environmental organizations, all fearing that Barr's replacement of a sitting commissioner, who had voted against a proposed natural
gas pipeline, would insure Commission approval for the South Jersey Gas project.

PolitickerNJ's Chase Brush quickly filed the following story recapping the action:
Judiciary quietly approves Christie's Pinelands Commission nominee

Barr’s nomination had been scheduled for a vote on two previous committee agendas but failed to obtain enough support at either session for the vote to be taken. Today, Senator Raymond Lesniak, who had opposed the nomination, was away. Lesniak’s meeting replacement was Senator Jeff Van Drew, a vocal supporter of both Barr and of the
proposed pipeline.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

Can Wolf's DEP meet gas drilling rules rewrite deadline?

David Conti
reported yesterday in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
New faces in the governor's office, changes in the makeup of two advisory boards and a series of delayed meetings will not derail Pennsylvania's largest rewrite of environmental rules for gas and oil drilling since the shale era began, the industry's top state regulator promises.
“That is a failure. That is bad government,” Scott Perry, deputy secretary for oil and gas at the Department of Environmental Protection, said about the potential of missing a March 2016 deadline, which would require starting over. “We are not going to fail.”
Recent moves by the DEP and changes to proposed rules that will require a new round of public comment don't inspire the same confidence among the industries targeted by the rules, though.
“I do have some concerns. I think it will be tough to hit that deadline,” said Lou D'Amico, president of the Marshall-based Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association.
The DEP last week moved to replace the five long-serving members of its Technical Advisory Board, which helps the department review oil and gas regulations, when it sent names of candidates to Gov. Tom Wolf for his consideration. Perry declined to identify the nominees.
Current members were waiting to be told whether their service is still wanted.
“No other administration has really touched the makeup of the board,” said Gary Slagel, the government relations coordinator at the Cecil office of the law firm Steptoe & Johnson who has served on the board since 1989.
Perry said the department wants new members focused solely on shale drilling since it announced last week the formation of a board for advice on rules for conventional oil and gas drilling.

Read the full story here  


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Sunday, February 22, 2015

In Trenton: Third try for Pinelands nominee; Enviro bills

** CORRECTION - The Judiciary Committee meets at noon on Tuesday, Feb 24**

Maybe the third time’s the charm for Robert Barr whose controversial nomination by NJ Governor Chris Christie to the Pinelands Commission was scheduled by the Senate Judiciary Committee for a vote two previous occasions but not called.

The Barr nomination is listed for consideration again on Monday, Feb. 23, when the committee meets in Trenton.

Why is the nomination causing a fuss?  
Robert Barr

Columb Higgins provides the answer in this Ocean City Gazette piece written after the committee skipped over the  nomination for the second time on January 26, 2015:

Barr’s nomination to Pinelands Commission delayed again

Also on the Judiciary agenda is the nomination of Jeffrey Link of Franklinville, for an additional term on the state's Fish and Game Council.


Bills posted for the Assembly's voting session at 1 p.m. on Monday include:

A-3455  Chivukula, U.J. (D-17); Mukherji, R. (D-33); Pinkin, N.J. (D-18); Singleton, T. (D-7); Danielsen, J. (D-17)
Amends definition of "Class II renewable energy."
Related Bill: S-2282
A-3583  Eustace, T. (D-38)
Prohibits retrofitting diesel-powered vehicles to increase particulate emissions for the purpose of "coal rolling"; prohibits the practice of "coal rolling".
Related Bill: S-2418
A-4146  Andrzejczak, B. (D-1)
Authorizes DEP and NJ Marine Fisheries Council to regulate taking and management of striped bass; establishes interim taking restrictions.
Related Bill: S-2733
S-2418  Greenstein, L.R. (D-14); Gordon, R.M. (D-38)
Prohibits retrofitting diesel-powered vehicles to increase particulate emissions for the purpose of "coal rolling"; prohibits the practice of "coal rolling".
Related Bill: A-3583


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Pa. among states aiming to thwart EPA Clean Power Plan

State legislatures in coal-dependent parts of the country, including Pennsylvania, are taking action to delay complying with the EPA's Clean Power Plan.

Naveena Sadasivam writes in InsideClimate News:
Since the 2015 legislative session convened last month, at least a dozen states have introduced bills that effectively increase bureaucratic red tape and stall states from submitting compliance plans to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And, in some cases, the bills grant legislatures the power to veto their states' carbon emission reduction plans.
Three states­­––Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania––have already enacted such laws.The bills introduced in West Virginia, Minnesota and Montana, for instance, require that state plans be submitted to the legislature for approval before they go to the EPA. In Colorado, legislators want the state utility commission to sign off on the plan before it goes to Washington.
"The overall strategy is to find ways to choke the state plan with red tape one way or the other," said Aliya Haq, a director in the climate-and-clear-air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "These bills are all misguided in that they ironically limit the state's options," she said.
Under the Clean Power Plan, states have been assigned specific carbon reduction targets. Nationwide, the Obama administration aims to slash emissions 30 percent by 2030. The EPA is currently reviewing comments on the plan and is expected to finalize the regulations this summer. Once the rulemaking process is completed, states are on deadline to submit their plans by June 2016.
If a state does not submit a plan or submits one that fails to meet the EPA’s requirements, then the federal agency must formulate a plan of its own for the state.
Lawmakers have argued that they should be allowed to weigh in on any plan that significantly affects their states' economies. They contend that the EPA is overstepping its authority and that the Clean Power Plan will lead to higher electricity prices for consumers.
Environmental groups see the recent onslaught of legislation as a delaying tactic. They say that trying to push back or prevent submission of a plan will not give states a free pass from reducing carbon emissions. Instead of choosing the most cost-effective plan agreeable to all stakeholders, the states will ultimately pigeonhole themselves and be forced to accept a boilerplate plan proposed by the EPA, they say.
Sadasivam writes that many of the states are basing their approach on "model legislation advocated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative, business-backed group based in Virginia. ALEC routinely proposes legislation for states to adopt. While ALEC is secretive in its operations, leaked internal documents show that coal companies like Peabody Energy and their trade associations are bankrolling the group.

"The whole concerted national effort to have this pseudo-organic feel of legislative outrage about tackling climate change seems completely contrived by groups like ALEC," said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, an advocacy organization based in Pennsylvania. But Masur cautioned that ALEC is not the only organization working to undermine efforts to address climate change. Segments of the Tea Party, the coal industry and mining unions are all hugely influential, he said.
Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that have already enacted rules requiring legislative approval of the state plan to cut carbon emissions. The law does provide a loophole that allows the governor to submit a compliance plan without legislative approval. The legislation was signed last October under then Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who had been vocal in his opposition to the Clean Power Plan.
Since then, polls have confirmed that Pennsylvanians believe climate change is a real and immediate threat that requires swift action. A recent survey conducted by a bipartisan polling team found that 82 percent of Pennsylvanians want their state to implement its own plan to reduce carbon pollution. A majority support clean energy and doubt that renewable energy will mean burdensome costs to consumers.
Pennsylvania's newly elected governor, Tom Wolf, a Democrat who ran on a pro-environment platform, has indicated that he will engage with the EPA to meet the state's targets under the Clean Power Plan.
"It's depressing that groups like ALEC have so much influence," said Masur. "When hundreds of thousands of people say that the time to tackle climate change is now and the state legislature and governor [Corbett] ignore that and say we will still do what we want, that’s a bad signal for democracy."
Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comment box below



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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cuomo proposes oil cleanup fund increase, shift to DEC

  Fire burns Monday night after oil train derailment in W.Va. Steve Keenan/AP

The Cuomo administration has proposed boosting New York's oil spill fund to $40 million amid the recent surge in railroad shipping and dangerous derailments, while transferring authority from the state comptroller to its own environmental staff, the Associated Press's Michael Virtanen reports.

The increased funding is supported by the comptroller's office and environmentalist groups. Shifting control to the Department of Environmental Conservation is not.

The DEC said it would be more efficient for the agency doing the cleanups to administer the fund. The comptroller's office said its staff provides stronger and independent oversight that's focused on actual spills."

The past few years have seen a major spike in U.S. shipments of oil from the Midwest and Canada. Much of it is more volatile than normal because of high natural gas content, some is more dense and can sink in water and some is more difficult to remove, according to the comptroller's office.

Read more here:
Full story: ALBANY, N.Y.: Cuomo proposes oil cleanup fund increase, shift in control

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