New Jersey Environmental Lobby Newsletter - Mid-Winter 2015



New Jersey Environmental Lobby Newsletter

Oil Drilling Plan for the Atlantic Ocean Encroaching on New Jersey -
After the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf, the Federal government placed a moratoriumon offshore oil & gas drilling along the East Coast for five years.
Read More ...

Meadowlands Agency Consolidation Act -
The first quarter of 2015 was not particularly good for preservation of NJ’s unique resources...
Read More ...

Diversion of Green Acres-Funded Acreage in the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area -
At the same time that A3969 was moving forward, conservationists were busy opposing another...
Read More ...

Other Current Legislative Matters -
Permit Extension Act: S2551, sponsored by Senators Sarlo, Kyrillos, Oroho and Van Drew...
Read More ...

Environmental Education Fund News -
Lindsey Kayman and her band of volunteers continue to expand the reach of “Green Roots”...
Read More ...
Oil Drilling Plan for the Atlantic Ocean Encroaching on New Jersey -
After the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf, the Federal government placed a moratorium on offshore oil & gas drilling along the East Coast for five years. Shortly afterward, however, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) which is a framework for the geophysical and geologic activity of exploration that must be followed. As NJEL explained to its members at the time, SAG is the method of locating oil and gas deposits in the ocean with powerful blasts of pressurized air every ten seconds. The testing can take days or weeks.

While the PEIS covered the coast only from Florida to Delaware, New Jersey advocates for marine resources and clean air were rightly concerned. While the BOEM proposed rules for SAG, another Federal agency, the Department of the Interior had already completed a study that estimated that 138,000 marine mammals, including the critically endangered Northern Right Whale, would be negatively impacted, including death, by SAG. Other marine creatures are also at risk.

The ability to hear is vital to dolphins and whales. The powerful airgun blasts can cause hearing loss and deafness in —disrupting existential behaviors like feeding and mating. SAG can also inhibit sea turtle migration to nesting beaches and kill fish and blue crab larvae. Aside from the threat to biodiversity and particular species that everyone should care about, New Jersey has an economic stake in the risks posed by SAG. Ocean waters and marine life don’t recognize the boundaries drawn on maps; potential damage in the waters of nearby states cannot be walled off.

New Jersey earns billions of dollars from ocean-related activities—recreation, fish and shellfish harvesting, tourism, and the industries that service and support them. Approximately 500,000 jobs are connected to our marine and coastal resources.

Although the proponents of the SAG PEIS insisted that exploration would not necessarily mean that drilling would follow, that was laughable. Why undertake such expensive activities unless there is the expectation of exploiting them? NJEL joined the coalition led by OCEANA, signing on to letters sent as far up the chain of command as President Obama. At the present time, the PEIS stands but no testing permits have been approved.

Now, even though no exploration has begun, BOEM has published a plan for actual drilling. Companies will not have to waste any time once the moratorium is lifted in 2017! Opposition materialized in southern coastal states and Oceana began coordinating actions by municipal and county governments. In the past 15 months, dozens of jurisdictions, Chambers of Commerce, Tourism Boards, and state representatives passed resolutions or wrote letters of opposition to both SAG and the drilling plan. Clean Ocean Action, the Surfrider Foundation, and SandyHook SeaLife Foundation worked with towns from Monmouth, Ocean, and Atlantic Counties to fashion and pass resolutions of opposition. Many members of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation have sent letters of opposition to the Director of BOEM. NJEL is in the process of contacting mayors and town councils in Cape May County for the same purpose. Knowing the decision makers and the local officials who are sympathetic to our cause will make this effort more efficient and effective. If you know a county or municipal official, or a person who is a leader in the community (possibly YOU) please email Anne Poole at njel@earthlink.net to provide contact information. You do not have to be named as our “source.” If you want to make contacts on the local level, that will be much appreciated. Politicians are more likely to pay attention to local residents who may vote. Opposition in Florida resulted in its removal from the Plan, so it can be done!

The argument that drilling off the Atlantic coast is necessary for energy independence is a specious nargument. Estimates are that there are only 209 days worth of oil and 13 months worth of natural gas recoverable on the Outer Continental Shelf. Supply and demand projections are that the bringing that fuel to the market will lower the price of gasoline by only 3 cents—years from now! This “advantage” is hardly worth the risk—or the investment. Investment in renewable energy is a wiser path. for the country and for New Jersey. Further, as the Congressional Delegation’s letter pointed out, then Gulf of Mexico holds the largest volumes of fossil fuel resources in the United States and oil and gas companies already hold tens of millions of acres of leases that are still undeveloped.

Meanwhile, we return to the SAG PEIS. Exploration requires permits and one positive element is that under Federal Coastal Zone Management rules, New Jersey would be entitled to review the projects of contiguous states. Even that public review process is problematic, however. The PEIS does not include a robust public participation process. Public hearings are not required. BOEM’s past public outreach has been in the form of “open house” sessions which allow attendees toinformally ask questions of BOEM personnel, but no opportunity for formal testimony. This prevents concerns and facts from being available to all interested parties. There is no provision for recording questions, comments, or responses, which prevents a complete record, and there is no policy for how comments will be incorporated into decisions. A grave omission is that there is no requirement for publishing notices of public comment periods in the Federal Register. The plan is for notices of permit applications to be published only on BOEM’s web site. OCEANA recently authored a letter, to which NJEL signed on, with specific recommendations for improvements in the public participation process, including a longer comment period. The letter is too lengthy to repeathere, but after its delivery to BOEM, we can share it with our members. NJEL’s staff and volunteers will continue to collaborate with OCEANA, and other environmental colleagues on this issue.

Thanks to NJEL member and SandyHook SeaLife Foundation Executive Director Mary Hamilton for providing guidance on this issue. AND, thanks to the members who responded with extra contributions so that NJEL can become involved in Federal issues that impact our state! We could not do this without you!

Meadowlands Agency Consolidation Act -
The first quarter of 2015 was not particularly good for preservation of New Jersey’s unique resources.

Members who receive NJEL’s action alerts know that after voters approved a funding mechanism for open space and historic preservation, special interests turned another bill into a tool for the exploitation of Liberty State Park (LSP) gateway to Liberty Island and America’s most recognizable monument, the Statue of Liberty.

The Meadowlands Agency Consolidation Act was intended to revise the formula for distributing tax revenues in towns subject to the rules of the Meadowlands Comprehensive Management Plan. Along with tax changes, the bill merged the Meadowlands Commission and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The reconstituted agency will retain the name “Sports and Exposition Authority.” Assuming that an agency’s mission is reflected in its name, this action was worrisome to advocates of the Meadowlands’ natural and economic resources. To make matters worse, just before the vote on the bill, an amendment was attached, reportedly at the insistence of the Governor’s office, giving the new agency jurisdiction over development and commercial activities in LSP. Currently, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has authority over the Park.

LSP was the brainchild of Sam Pesin, Sr., after a torturous family trip to the Statue of Liberty. Sam was horrified at what he saw as disrespect for the surroundings of this icon, and its inaccessibility.

Since the inception of the Park, developers have coveted its 1200 acres. Schemes ranged from an amusement park to condominiums, to a golf course. One by one, they were defeated by local residents and conservation groups, frequently led by the non-profit Friends of Liberty State Park.

In unofficial and anonymous pronouncements, State officials insisted that NJDEP would remain in control of activities in Liberty State Park, but the bill does NOT say that. It states that the new Commission will “evaluate, approve, and implement any plan or plans for the further preservation, development, enhancement, or improvement of Liberty State Park.”

No valid rationale exists for the amendment, and given this Governor’s record, it is particularly worrisome. Governor Christie has transferred various DEP responsibilities to private contractors and he has expected State parks to generate greater revenue. What revenue generator might be acceptable to the new Sports and Exposition Authority, whose mission is contained in its name? The bill’s passage was swift, just before Christmas and afterward a number of legislators stated that they did not realize the ramifications of the bill, which was intended to help municipalities in the Meadowlands Region. Marshalled by the Friends of Liberty State Park and the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, other environmental advocates and residents in and out of the immediate area, appealed to the Governor to conditionally veto the bill. He ignored those requests, which is not surprising, given the fact that the Christie administration contracted for a study of how commercial activity in LSP could generate revenue for the State. In February, the Bergen Record reported that a contract was awarded for the purpose of analyzing “the potential attractiveness of the park to revenue producing developers, contractors, and concessionaires.”

In response to opposition to the law, Assemblymen Vincent Prieto (Speaker) and Raj Mukherji introduced a bill that would require NJDEP approval of any plan proposed by the reconstituted Sports & Exposition Authority. Further, any LSP plan under consideration must have at least one public hearing at the Park.

While these provisions do not guarantee that LSP will be protected from exploitation, the small measure of disclosure will alert the public to potential threats. It will be up to advocates for New Jersey’s natural and historic resources to monitor the State’s stewardship of Liberty State Park and demand that its integrity be protected.

To read about the genesis of Liberty State Park and comments from the President of the Friends of Liberty State Park (FOLSP), Sam Pesin, Jr. see:
http://articles.philly.com/2015-01-20/news/58235704_1_liberty-state-parkliberty-house-jersey-city

A3969 was eighty pages long, containing the percentages of the various taxes that are apportioned among the towns subject to the Meadowlands rules. For more information on it, including its original purpose see:
www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/01/christie_administration_requested_ changes_to_meadowlands_bill_that_could_open_liberty_state_park_to.html

Thanks to our member, and President of FOLSP, Sam Pesin, Jr. for the impetus for an alert to NJEL’s “electronic alert network,” EarthShare NJ recently honored Sam with its Environmental Stewardship Award. Congratulations, Sam. It is well deserved.

Diversion of Green Acres-Funded Acreage in the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area -
Noemi de la Puente, Executive Director:
At the same time that A3969 was moving forward, conservationists were busy opposing another plan to exploit public assets. NJDEP is proposing to sell a parcel acquired with Green Acres funds to the City of Millville, for resale and industrial development. The property is the site of a defunct glass factory and is referred to as the Durand Glass property by the City and DEP. However, it is no longer owned by Durand Glass and is more accurately described as part of the Menantico Ponds Wildlife Management Area. The continuing referral to it as “Durand Glass” is calculated to confirm the appropriateness of an industrial status. It has not been used for industrial purposes for many years. The parcel in question is adjacent to parcels owned by the State and by the Nature Conservancy. The Menantico Creek is a tributary of the wild and scenic Maurice River, with a history of fishing and oyster beds.

With the Millville-based Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries (CU) in the lead, conservationists testified against the diversion at public hearings conducted by DEP. The tract has confirmed value as habitat for certain species and is also a recharge area for the aquifer that provides water to Southern New Jersey. Those characteristics are well known, but CU’s Program Director Celia Rodrigues made several additional points that apply not only to this, but should also be considered for any proposed diversions: (1) this is the largest diversion ever proposed; (2) diversions of preserved, publicly funded open space should only be for the public good—for instance, road improvement or fire stations—not for private businesses; (3) this will set a bad precedent, signaling that preserved space is a target for any proposal that can cite potential jobs; (4) continuity and connectivity is vital for the habitat and corridors that wildlife use; (5) alternatives to preserved wildlife management parcels should be identified—and in spite of DEP’s claim in its justification, there are in fact alternative parcels for sale.

Noemi de la Puente testified against the sale on behalf of NJEL, focusing on the City of Millville’s broad assumptions about future benefits from the re-industrialization of this property. In the report prepared on the conveyance, the City is quoted as saying that its acquisition of the land is “critical” to the ongoing efforts to relieve the City’s economic distress. Yet, the diversion of the Durand parcel is a speculative transaction. There is no end buyer at this time. Railroad right of way and other access limitations have made this property historically hard to sell. After many years, Durand Glass approached the State with an offer to sell. Any buyer would have to incur the cost of gaining access.

While the City continues to hope for re-industrialization, Noemi’s research revealed that Millville has become a center of eco-tourism and art, an hour or less from Philadelphia. Its Maurice River Cruises out of Millville are the subject of a 5 star review from “Yelp.” Part of the Delaware Bayshore area, Millville and Cumberland County offer beautiful natural areas crisscrossed by rivers and creeks, outstanding resident and migratory bird populations, small towns, access to the Bay, and a relatively short drive to the ocean. With its walkable downtown, Millville could position itself as a weekend/day trip getaway for the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

The conveyance proposal is contradictory to say the least. When DEP proposed purchasing the parcel with Green Acres funds, it ranked it as “highest priority” status, establishing its value to wildlife. Less than two years later, DEP is ready to turn it over to development. This tract allegedly has the infrastructure attributes that will attract an industrial buyer, except that for all of its purported industrial assets, the previous owner couldn’t sell it in the private real estate market!

Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, led by NJEL member and Legacy Award Winner Jane Morton Galetto, continues to lead on this issue and provide NJEL with information about the latest developments and how we can support their position. CU’s Board member Mary Heisler recently wrote to the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee requesting that the Committee review DEP’s proposal for the diversion. Sen. Robert Gordon Chairs the Committee and Sen. Loretta Weinberg is the Vice-Chair.

Other Current Legislative Matters -
Noemi de la Puente, Executive Director:
Permit Extension Act: S2551, sponsored by Senators Sarlo, Kyrillos, Oroho and Van Drew, gives a 2 year extension to certain permits. Although the time period for extensions was shortened from that first proposed, in some cases permits from approximately 2007 can be extended to 2016. A previous Permit Extension Act expired and despite repeated opposition by environmental advocates, particularly as regards clean water, this legislation continues to be proposed by those who favor developers over sustainability.

Equitable Permit Extension Act: A4024, sponsored by Assemblywomen Mila M. Jasey and L. Grace Spencer takes into account public and environmental health considerations that are not addressed by S2551. It was assigned to the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee and awaits consideration.

Water Infrastructure Protection Act: S22412/A3628, sponsored by Senators Sarlo and Kyrillos, was signed into law by Governor Christie. It will allow the sale of water or wastewater assets without public referendum. This is a controversial measure, with its opponents charging that it could facilitate giveaways of public assets and rate increases for consumers. Opponents criticized the lack of a requirement for public approval of sales, pointing to past local referenda that were rejected by voters in some municipalities. Proponents of the measure justified it by pointing out that much water and wastewater infrastructure is desperately in need of rehabilitation and that some localities do not have the technical and financial expertise to manage systems and in most cases do not have the funds for improvements and modernization. The measure was promoted as necessary for ensuring clean water for New Jersey’s communities. They answered the anecdotes about towns that rejected sales by pointing out that these were some of the municipalities most in need of professional management and private investment. We will watch for the evidence.

Pilgrim Pipeline: An pipeline proposed between Albany and refineries in the New York/New Jersey area, to carry Bakken crude oil. This oil is more volatile and combustible than other crude oils, like Texas “Sweet Oil.” Governor Christie has not provided an official position on this proposed project, although he has vetoed fracking bans, and fracking waste bans. This pipeline is opposed by many of the communities that it will travel through. The Senate and Assembly passed resolutions to ban this pipeline.

Fishermen’s Energy Pilot Project: S2711, sponsored by Senators Smith and Whelan, would require the BPU to approve qualified wind energy project and exempt the project from coast benefit analysis. NJEL has always been suspicious of “cost benefit analyses” that can be manipulated and rarely include health costs in the calculations. The bill’s name refers to the pilot project called Fishermen’s Atlantic City Windfarm (FACW). The project calls for six turbines sited three miles off shore from Atlantic City. Governor Christie signed the Off Shore Wind Economic Development Act in August of 2010 and BPU was supposed to craft off shore wind regulations in 2011. It still has not done so. BPU has also failed to implement Offshore Renewable Energy Credits (ORECs). BPU has not acknowledged the Dept. of Energy grant for $47 million toward the project (approximately 1/4 of the total). S2711 passed through the Senate Environmental and Energy committee, and passed in the Senate 21 - 15. An Assembly version is under consideration in the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee.

Environmental Education Fund News -
Lindsey Kayman and her band of volunteers continue to expand the reach of “Green Roots” with more screenings of single documentaries, participation in professional conferences and public events, and the “Eco-Cinema” film festivals designed for colleges. A feature of Eco-Cinema is participation in person or by Skype of film makers and experts in the fields covered by the films. Last year’s film festival at John Jay College was reprised in April and plans are progressing for the first university Eco-Cinema in South Jersey, at Rowan University. Visit www.environmentaleducationfund.org.

REMEMBER!

The New Jersey Environmental Lobby is your voice in Trenton. We are an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on the preservation and protection of a healthy environment for all our citizens. We need your support! JOIN NJEL and help us change the laws!

Back To Top