New Jersey Environmental Lobby Newsletter - Winter 2016



New Jersey Environmental Lobby Newsletter

Water Wars -
“Water wars” usually refers to arguments over allotments of river water in arid states like Arizona and California or Lake Kissimmee in Florida. In New Jersey we are having our own water war—over risks to water quality..
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Executive Director's Update -
A number of issues carried over from 2015 into the first quarter of 2016. In February, S988 and a concurrent Assembly bill passed, to bypass the BPU’s disapproval of a wind farm off the coast of Atlantic City. A previous measure was the subject of a pocket veto by Governor Christie.
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The Atlantic Coast Is Saved from Drilling ... For Now -
On March 15, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it would not sell drilling leases off the southern and mid-Atlantic coasts. Ocean advocates across the country welcomed this!
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Fishermen’s Energy Persists In Attempt to Provide Offshore Wind Power to New Jersey -
At a time when energy infrastructure projects draw opposition over siting, a relatively small project that has the support of state politicians, the U. S. Department of Energy, environmentalists, and the coastal city nearest to it should have clear sailing. Not so for the six-turbine wind farm...
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News from NJThink Outside the Bag! -
Before her association with NJEL, Executive Director Noemi de la Puente was a founder of ...
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Water Wars -
“Water wars” usually refers to arguments over allotments of river water in arid states like Arizona and California or Lake Kissimmee in Florida. In New Jersey we are having our own water war—over risks to water quality.

In New Jersey, drinking water is pulled from both surface and ground water sources. In this, the densest state in the union, it is imperative that these sources be protected from the pollution generated by human, agricultural, and industrial activities.

To protect water at its source and public health “downstream” there are an array of State rules for the management of wastewater and stormwater. The Summer 2015 issue of this newsletter described criticism of changes proposed by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for stormwater management rules. DEP also proposed changes in Flood Hazard Area (FHA) rules that would have facilitated development while increasing risks of flood damage. The reduction in the sizes of buffer zones along rivers and streams designated as “critical” to a clean water supply drew particular criticism.

Led by Senators Smith and Lesniak, both legislative chambers passed a concurrent resolution stating that the Flood Hazard Area rule changes violated the intent of previous legislation. DEP had 30 days to either withdraw or amend the proposed rules, but failed to act. In February, Senator Lesniak introduced a second resolution which, if passed by both chambers, would have blocked the changes. The Senator also announced his intention to monitor permits issued by DEP and challenge those that reflected the loosened rules. Before the vote on the second resolution was held, DEP withdrew the proposed changes.

The public should be grateful for the actions of the Legislature in this matter, but this was only one battle in what seems to be a never-ending conflict over protecting New Jersey’s water resources from pollution. After withdrawing the proposed FHA rules, DEP created a firestorm among environmental groups by restricting access to a stakeholder meeting that was allegedly called for input on revised rules. The “invitation only” list was stacked with DEP staff and representatives of the development sector, with just a handful of clean water advocates. Notably excluded were experts that had helped lead the opposition not just to the FHA rules, but other weakened regulations. Groups (including NJEL) that had signed on to written comments of lead organizations and that had kept their own members informed about the issues were not notified of the meeting.

In a protest that made its way into the media, representatives of invited groups appeared at the meeting, then walked out rather than imply approval of the flawed public involvement process. For now, the current FHA rules prevail.

The FHA rules are only one segment of a slate of rules and policies that need reinforcement or outright overhauling in order to protect water supplies and public health. Combined (storm and sanitary) sewer systems, delays in local water quality management plans, and resistance to coastal zone management rules are problems that DEP resists addressing, in spite of the efforts of advocacy groups and complaints by the public.

Executive Director's Update -
Noemi de la Puente, Executive Director:
A number of issues carried over from 2015 into the first quarter of 2016. In February, S988 and a concurrent Assembly bill passed, to bypass the BPU’s disapproval of a wind farm off the coast of Atlantic City. A previous measure was the subject of a pocket veto by Governor Christie. The reintroduced bill awaits the Governor’s signature. Protection of the Pinelands is still a struggle, 40 years after the passage of the Pinelands Protection Act. From its inception, development interests have tried to find ways around the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) Governor Christie’s “packing” of the Pinelands Commission with appointees sympathetic to development has created more challenges to protecting the Pinelands and its vast aquifers.

For two years, Pinelands advocates have opposed a South Jersey Gas Company pipeline route through the Forest Planning area in Cape May and Cumberland Counties. The CMP allows such transportation infrastructure only if it will serve residents already living in the Pinelands. That is not the case for thisn project, which was proposed to convert an aging coal plant, originally slated for closure, to natural gas to supply future development. Under its authority to enforce the CMP, the Commission disapproved the pipeline route in 2014, only to have South Jersey Gas return with an “amended” application a year later. The gas company claimed that the pipeline would “eventually” serve people living in the Pinelands. By that time, a Commissioner had been replaced by Governor Christie but the Commission did not even vote on the application. Under the leadership of the Commission’s Executive Director, also appointed by the Governor, the Commission issued a “certificate of filing,” which in effect passed the decision off to the Board of Public Utilities. The BPU then presented SJ Gas with a Christmas gift. On December 16, 2015 the BPU approved the company’s petition to waive all municipal land use ordinances and regulations in relation to the construction of the pipeline. The BPU could not negate the Pinelands Act or CMP, but BPU President Richard Mroz claimed that the BPU did not have to consider the impacts on the Pinelands and, further, that the BPU had to consider the “broader impact to the public” and the “service, convenience, and welfare of the public.” With that, the petition was approved, although the Pinelands Commission’s certificate of filing disingenuously pronounced that “the Certificate of Filing is not an approval . . .all county and municipal agency permits and approvals . . .are subject to review by the Pinelands Commission.”

Wharton State Forest Motorized Access Plan— In Wharton State Forest, within the Pinelands Reserve, damage to the forest has increased steadily because of the irresponsible use of offroad recreational vehicles. A Motorized Access Plan (MAP) was years in development, with input by recreational drivers, scientists, and visitors who use the forest for camping, fishing, and hiking. The MAP is essentially that—a map of roads and trails that are open to recreational vehicles and designation of areas that are off limits except for emergency and maintenance access. Over the years, unofficial trails have been cut through State property without permission, creating damage to soil, wetlands, plants, and animal habitat. DEP failed to adopt the MAP, however, after opposition from a small but aggressive group of recreational drivers who do not want to accept that state forests are NOT their private property. The problem is compounded by DEP’s deliberate failure to hire adequate numbers of forest rangers to enforce the rules that do exist. Pinelands advocates turned to the Pinelands Commission which, regardless of DEP’s action on the MAP, has the power to establish rules in the Pinelands. The Commission failed to act at a recent Commission meeting attended by a vocal group of drivers. On March 14, I attended a rally at the State House, organized to protest the failure of both DEP and the Commission failure to protect the Pinelands. Check out NJEL’s Facebook page for photos of the dedicated citizens who braved a chilly rain to demand that DEP and the Pinelands Commission fulfill their responsibilities.

MS4 permits are part of the Federal and State regulatory framework for protecting our water resources from the pollutants in stormwater runoff. Since 1977 watchdog organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wrangled with the U.S, Environmental Protection Agency over rules for stormwater management. Several decades, Congressional actions, and lawsuits later, EPA has still not adopted rules that will ensure decreases in polluted runoff from storm sewer systems. EPA failed to comply with a 2003 court ruling directing it to strengthen the rules. In August 2015, after threat of another lawsuit, NRDC and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) reached an agreement with EPA about complying with that court ruling. The essential problem with the Federal rules is their vagueness and lack of measurable standards. The municipalities decide on strategies for reducing runoff pollution (for instance, pet waste rules), without having to meet uniform standards or demonstrate enforcement. EPA agreed to adopt measurable standards for MS4 permits by November 17, 2016. In an encouraging move, EPA is consulting with environmental organizations that are expert in water quality management as well as the local jurisdictions that will implement the rules.

While basic standards may be created at the Federal level, the States are responsible for developing and implementing rules that will apply to each State’s unique needs and achieve goals. In New Jersey, watershed associations with scientific staff and expertise have provided recommendations for revised State rules. One particular concern with the draft rules is the exemption of projects within “small,” systems, which are defined as those serving fewer than 100,000 persons. In New Jersey, most construction takes place within “small” systems. Many such projects, particularly in urban areas, are for redevelopment purposes. Redevelopment is an opportunity to reduce the volume of runoff; it should not leave it the same or even worsen it. In the local permitting process, this is frequently ignored in the enthusiasm for redevelopment of any kind.

Fifty-five per cent of New Jersey’s surface water bodies do not meet the quality standards for their respective classifications (drinking water, fishing, recreation). To remedy this, MS4 rules must ensure that stormwater management techniques will change. The conventional practice is to collect the stormwater (as with retention basins) and move it away from the site. The polluted water eventually finds its way to a body of water. The better strategy is to utilize design to minimize runoff in the first place. This includes reducing soil compaction and impervious surfaces so as to improve water infiltration, using green roofs, incorporating rain gardens, and installing landscaping that does not require irrigation and chemical treatments.

NJEL is fortunate that members of its Board of Directors are associated with Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, the NJ Highlands Coalition, and ANJEC. These expert organizations are leading the environmental community in advocacy for effective stormwater management regulations.

The Atlantic Coast Is Saved from Drilling ... For Now -
On March 15, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it would not sell drilling leases off the southern and mid-Atlantic coasts. Ocean advocates across the country welcomed this, coming as it did after the announcement that Arctic lease sales would be suspended. Towns along the Atlantic coast had particular reason to be relieved. For two years after the announcement of the leasing plan, opposition to ocean drilling mounted in the coastal states. There had already been protests against the Bureau of Energy Management’s (BOEM) programmatic plan for seismic air gun testing (SAG) for oil exploration. BOEM had created the framework for permitting for SAG, insisting that it did not necessarily mean that there would be oil drilling. The question was, why would a company invest in SAG if it did not intend to extract oil that might be located?

In Florida, resolutions against drilling were passed in many coastal towns and letters of opposition were sent to the Department from fishing interests, county commissions, and tourism boards. Florida was then excluded from the plan. Governing bodies from Georgia to Delaware followed with resolutions and members of Congressional delegations defied some of their own governors who inexplicably supported oil drilling. In New Jersey, Chapters of Surfrider Foundation, the Sandy Hook SeaLife Foundation, and NJEL were enlisted by the national group Oceana to contact governing bodies and provide them with background and sample resolutions. Numerous New Jersey towns and Chambers of Commerce passed resolutions. The leadership of the League of Municipalities authored a letter to Interior Secretary Jewell, signed by mayors in towns in Monmouth, Atlantic, Cape May, and Salem Counties. National and local organizing culminated in a rally and telephone press conference held in Washington by members of Congress and leaders of national environmental organizations.

At the same time, Congressional proponents of fossil fuels mounted campaigns to defy the wishes of coastal communities and many of their own Congressional colleagues. U. S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the “OPENS,” which would have REQUIRED the Federal government to make leases available in the Atlantic. Representative Richard Hudson (R-NC) proposed an amendment to the funding bill for the Department of Interior which also would have required the Atlantic coast to be open to oil and gas drilling.

Fortunately, the Obama administration made the right decision for the Atlantic Ocean, but we must remember that the seismic air gun (SAG) testing programmatic plan is still in place. We may assume that oil companies will not engage in SAG if there is no expectation of being able to extract oil. It is also possible that the issue will emerge again, particularly if the price of oil increases. We must be vigilant.

Thanks to Mary Hamilton, Executive Director of Sandy Hook SeaLife Foundation (and NJEL member!) for facilitating NJEL’s involvement in Federal issues that impact New Jersey’s ocean resources. We look forward to continuing to work with SHSL Foundation and Oceana in the future. As Mary says, “For the Ocean!”

Fishermen’s Energy Persists In Attempt to Provide Offshore Wind Power to New Jersey -
At a time when energy infrastructure projects—even renewable energy projects—draw opposition over siting, a relatively small project that has the support of state politicians, the U. S. Department of Energy, environmentalists, and the coastal city nearest to it should have clear sailing. Not so for the six-turbine wind farm that Fishermen’s Energy (FE), a consortium of South Jersey commercial fishermen, has been trying to develop for six years. FE’s vision was to site a wind farm without intruding on important fishing grounds. This vision should have been embraced by a state that, despite a growing proportion of power from renewable energy, generates 50% of its electricity with nuclear power and much of the remainder with fossil fuels. However, the BPU refused to issue an offshore wind renewable energy certificate (OREC) for the project. Without that funding mechanism (created to encourage renewable energy development and improve New Jersey’s air) the project is not economically viable. The BPU found that the project would be too costly for ratepayers. FE claims that after a change in the supplier of the turbines, and a five-year renewal of the 30% Federal tax credit, the electricity generation will cost the average rate payer only $1 a year more than his current bill. In response, the Legislature passed S988/A3093, requiring BPU to accept a new application from FE. The bill awaits the Governor’s signature.

News from NJThink Outside the Bag! -
Before her association with NJEL, Executive Director Noemi de la Puente was a founder of the NJThink Outside the Bag Coalition (TOTB). Inspired by the efforts of the group of Princetonians (led by NJEL members Daniel Harris and Bainy Suri) who achieved a joint resolution of support from the Borough and Township of Princeton, the Coalition began an education campaign across the State. Noemi became part of a national network of activists who still share information about strategies that have been successful in enacting curbs on single-use plastic bags across the country.

In the meantime, Mike Pisauro, NJEL’s Legislative Director at the time, pitched the idea to a reluctant Legislature and a bill advanced farther than any had in 3 years, voted out of Committee. Unfortunately, issues considered more urgent, including Open Space Preservation funding, the Regional Greenhouse Gases Initiative, permit extensions, and even Super Storm Sandy, took the attention of the Legislature.

Noemi and TOTB kept working, however. New Jersey Chapters of the Surfrider Foundation and several “Sustainable Jersey” towns joined in the effort. There have not been successes on the level of the Hawaii or California bag bans, or even regional bans like South Padre Island, TX and the North Carolina Outer Banks, but public awareness of plastic pollution is increasing noticeably. In November, the Atlantic County beach town of Longport, imposed a 10 cent fee on ANY disposable bags. This may be seen as largely symbolic, as Longport has only 900 permanent residents and three commercial establishments, but it has a significant number of second home owners and seasonal visitors. Most of all, it shows what is possible under New Jersey’s constitutional limits on the power of municipalities to impose taxes and fees. Volunteers from the South Jersey Chapter of Surfrider Foundation and NJEL are working to achieve similar ordinances in Brigantine and Princeton, respectively.

HELP WITH THE POSTCARD CAMPAIGN!—To strengthen the campaign for a statewide measure on throw-away bags, TOTB is conducting a postcard campaign at public events. TOTB is providing pre-stamped postcards and the addresses of State legislators to attendees who want to send personal messages in favor of a state-wide fee on plastic bags at the retail cash register. Hundreds of postcards have been mailed to legislators after just a half dozen environmental and health fairs. TOTB and NJEL volunteers will attend another five events in the next four weeks and in May, NJELEEF will cross the Hudson River to present a screening of “Bag It” for a group in a Manhattan neighborhood.

One excuse for not taking action on disposable bags is that the public doesn’t care about the issue, even though public officials know that the litter, clogged storm drains, and jammed recycling equipment cost municipalities and private companies millions of dollars a year. According to communications consultants, in this digital, social media age, the most effective tool for getting the attention of public officials is still SURFACE MAIL. It is visible; it is hard to ignore; it can’t be deleted or erased. However, it also takes time and may be inconvenient for the sender. A pre-stamped postcard on which a person can write a short statement, (and which someone else will mail) is the best way to ensure that a public official will “get the message.”

In addition to volunteering their time, our Executive Director Noemi and her TOTB colleagues have paid out of their pockets for the TOTB web site, displays, education materials, and now, postcards and postage. A number of TOTB members have also joined NJEL to show their support for our legislative efforts. Will YOU help with a donation to fund the next purchase of 1000 stamped postcards? No donation is too small and large donations are ESPECIALLY welcomed. $10 will provide 20 stamped postcards. $100 will proved TWO HUNDRED POSTCARDS. Send a check to NJ Environmental Lobby, 204 W, State St., Trenton NJ 08608 or donate online at www.njenvironment.org, using the “donate” button on the home page. Show your appreciation to the volunteers who have given several years of their time, effort, and money toward a cleaner environment.
Thank you for your help!


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!

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