Thursday, July 27, 2017

Critics of latest Pinelands pipeline: We can't drink gas

Protesters let Pinelands Commission know how strongly they feel about contentious natural gas project in South Jersey
                                                                                                                    Photo credit: Emma Lee/WHYY

Joe Hernandez reports for newsworks:
Critics of a proposed natural gas pipeline through the Pinelands in South Jersey were out in force at a public meeting held yesterday by the Pinelands Commission.
The meeting, at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, came after a state appellate court ruled it could not approve the project without public participation. Commission staff previously had signed off on the Southern Reliability Link pipeline.
The chief argument that protesters articulated against the pipeline was its potential danger to the environment. James Conroy, a Bricktown teacher, said he is worried about the possibility of contamination of the water supply. Notwithstanding the need for energy, Conroy said, the project’s environmental risks are too high.
“We can't drink gas. We can't harvest blueberries from poisoned bogs. And we can't raise animals when surrounding water becomes contaminated,” Conroy said.
A supporter of the project, Christopher Bohlke — who is a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 — said he has helped to build pipelines. Of a recent job running pipes underneath the Delaware River, Bohlke who is from Chatsworth, said, “Not one leak. Not one frack-out. The pipe went exactly where it was supposed to be … I would welcome natural gas to Chatsworth, and so would many of my neighbors.”
Just under half of the 30-mile pipeline would pass through the Pinelands.

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Allentown mayor in federal court on corruption charges

Allentown, Pa. Mayor Ed Pawlowski arrives at federal court in Philadelphia today

The Morning Call reports:

Allentown, Pa. Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who federal prosecutors say engineered a pay-to-play scheme, made his first appearance in federal court in Philadelphia on Thursday morning.

Pawlowski arrived at the courthouse about 11 a.m. for a first reading of the criminal charges he faces in the alleged corruption case.
The mayor, who has led the state’s third largest city for nearly a dozen years, faces more than 50 counts, including extortion, bribery and fraud, in the case that a federal prosecutor likened to selling City Hall to the highest bidder.
Two indictments unsealed Wednesday spell out charges against five people in parallel corruption cases in Allentown and Reading. Both focus on the cities’ mayors, who according to acting U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen orchestrated pay-to-play schemes by ensuring city contracts went to people or companies that contributed hundreds or thousands of dollars to their campaigns.
Pawlowski has maintained his innocence and vowed to fight the charges.
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As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Swaggers Through Western Parks, His Staff in D.C. Rolls Back Regulations

Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, visited Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colo. (NY Times photo) 

Coral Davenport and Nicholas Fandos for the NY Times:

WASHINGTON — Ryan Zinke, a former member of the Navy SEALs and lifelong Montana outdoorsman who now heads the Interior Department, loves to compare himself to Theodore Roosevelt, the father of American conservation.

“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt guy!” the interior secretary said in an April announcement that he would commence a review of
the boundaries of the nation’s national monuments. “No one loves public lands more than I do.”

But as the secretary hopscotches across millions of acres of Western parks, monuments and wilderness with his Stetson-sporting swagger, a crew of political appointees in Washington has begun rolling back the conservation efforts put in effect over the eight years of the Obama administration.

Many of those appointees spent the Obama years working for the oil and gas industry — and they come to the Interior Department with an insider’s knowledge of how its levers work and a wish list of policies from their former employers.

Their work has been swift. Mr. Zinke’s staff on Tuesday filed a legal proposal to rescind the nation’s first safety regulation on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. They are exploring a proposal to loosen safety rules on underwater drilling equipment put in place after the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They have rolled back an Obama-era order to block coal mining on public lands and delayed carrying out a regulation controlling emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trump's EPA job-slashing not as bad in NJ and NY

Environmental Protection Agency headquarters (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Scott Fallon reports for The Record:

The Trump administration’s planned job cuts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may not be as harsh to the regional office that oversees New Jersey’s 114 federal Superfund sites and other programs.

The buyouts of 30 employees at the EPA's Region 2 office, which serves primarily New Jersey and New York, are far fewer than buyout plans at other regional offices, where more than 150 employees are targeted. The EPA has proposed to cut its total workforce by 8 percent, or 1,200 positions, by September through early retirement and buyout incentives of up to $25,000 per employee.

But a former head of Region 2 and the union that represents more than 700 employees say they expect more staff cuts in the years ahead for an agency that Trump has said is an impediment to economic growth.

Antony Tseng, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3911, says losing even 30 of the office's 787 staffers will have an impact on the day-to-day work the EPA does in New Jersey and New York.

FUNDING: Trump's EPA cuts less severe under House plan; Chemical Safety Board funding restored

ENVIRONMENT: Millions in environment settlements could be diverted under Christie's stealth veto

POLITICS: Frelinghuysen's environmental record has advocates worried with EPA budget looming

"We actually need more people to do our jobs more effectively," said Tseng, an EPA engineer. "Our budget has been stagnant. We've had a hiring freeze for some time. So when this comes along, it's disheartening."

New Jersey has the most Superfund sites in the nation.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, said the buyouts were simply "streamlining and reorganizing" to make the agency work better.

"This is a process that mirrors what Obama’s EPA did about four years ago, with similar goals of focusing on the skill sets necessary for meeting evolving needs and streamlining functions and activities," she said.

Catherine McCabe, acting administrator for Region 2, would not comment. 

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Opposition expected at hearing for C&D facility in Howell

Proposed site of a construction debris processing facility in Howell, NJ 

Judging from the comments made already in responses
to a news story and from a letter written by a state senator,
a proposed construction and debris processing facility will meet opposition from some local residents at a hearing tomorrow night in Monmouth County's Howell Township, NJ.

The Shore News reports:

A notice of public hearing has been published regarding the construction of a new facility in Howell Township to process 1,500 tons of solid waste on Randolph Road this week.
The meeting will take place on Thursday, July 27th at 1pm at the Monmouth County Hall of Records.  Residents are invited to come out to express their opinions on this new facility.
The construction of the facility will also require traffic safety upgrades on the roadways to accommodate the increase in heavy commercial and truck traffic in that area of the township.   A traffic signal and road improvements will be constructed at the intersection of Randolph Road and Lakewood-Farmingdale Road.
According to testimony by the Monmouth County Solid Waste Advisory Council, the facility will include a 25,000 square foot main building and an 8,000 square foot maintenance garage.  A scale house and office building are also part of the proposed waste station.
The facility will take in a steady stream of construction and demolition debris and operate Monday through Friday from 7am to 5pm and on Saturdays from 7am to noon.
In a letter, Republican state Senator Robert Singer, whose district covers parts of Monmouth and Ocean counties, wrote:
“This kind of facility could end up causing a lot of headaches for local residents. “I have a lot of concerns regarding the environmental impact of the facility, as well as the potential traffic problems it could create. I hope the Freeholder Board considers these issues as they discuss the future of this project.”
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$660M spent repeatedly rebuilding same NJ properties

A much-needed reform to nation’s flood insurance would give homeowners the option to be bought out rather than rebuild.

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:

The nation’s flood insurance program has shelled out $660 million to repeatedly repair and rebuild the same 3,246 properties in New Jersey since 1978, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Across the country, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has paid out $5 billion to repair and rebuild more than 30,000 “severe repetitive loss properties,’’ analysis of Federal Emergency Management Agency data found.

The report, coming at a time when Congress is preparing to debate the reauthorization of the flood insurance program, recommends lawmakers revamp it to incorporate a series of climate reforms, including providing homeowners with a guaranteed buyout if they no longer want to rebuild.
“Flood insurance traps homeowners in a situation no one wants to be in: forced to rebuild in a location that will inevitably flood again,’’ said Rob Moore, lead author of the report and a senior policy analyst with the NRDC. “It’s time to start helping people move to higher ground, rather than make them wait for the next flood.’’

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fearing Trump, enviros press for Delaware River frack ban

Coalition delivers 64K signatures to five-member commission tasked with protecting source of drinking water for 16 million people
Delaware River Basin

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:

A coalition of environmental groups yesterday stepped up efforts to ban oil and gas drilling in the Delaware River Watershed, the source of drinking water for 16 million people in four states.
Hoping to avert the lifting of a moratorium on fracking, the technology used to drill for natural gas in the Delaware River Basin, the organizations began delivering to four governors and the Army Corp of Engineers petitions signed by 63,674 people calling for a permanent ban on the drilling.
The ultimate decision will be made by the five-member Delaware River Basin Commission, which initiated the ban in 2010, but is considering regulations that could allow drilling for natural gas. No regulations, however, have been proposed yet by the four-state agency.
With a new pro-business administration in Washington, D.C., environmentalists fear that its members and the Army Corps of Engineers representative could sway the four state representatives to lift the moratorium and allow drilling.
“With these petitions we are delivering more proof to the DRBC voting members that people are clamoring for a permanent ban on gas drilling and fracking in the Delaware River Watershed and they won’t be stopped until the four governors and the Army Corps vote for a ban to providing the essential protections our drinking water requires,’’ said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.


Clean Water Trumps Fracking (Blue Jersey blog post and video)

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Judge in Pa. halts Mariner East 2 pipeline construction

Mariner East 2 pipeline construction in Aston, Delaware County. Construction includes underground drilling along parts of the route. In Chester County, Sunoco's crews punctured an aquifer, leading to some residents having to drink bottled water and shower at hotels.
Mariner East 2 pipeline construction in Aston, Delaware County. Construction includes underground drilling along parts of the route. The PUC halted construction of the line in West Goshen Township after finding Sunoco misled township officials on where it was planning to build a valve station.
Jon Hurdle reports for StateImpact:
A judge ordered Sunoco Pipeline to stop work on installing a valve along the Mariner East 2 pipeline route in Chester County’s West Goshen Township, the first time a court has blocked any part of the controversial cross-state project.
Administrative law judge Elizabeth Barnes of the Public Utility Commission late Monday granted an interim emergency order sought by the township to halt construction of the valve and equipment associated with it until a full hearing of the PUC can determine the matter.
The judge ordered Sunoco to “cease and desist all current construction” including that of the valve and its “appurtenant facilities.” She also instructed the company to stop horizontal directional drilling on a private property that the township says is not covered by a 2015 settlement agreement on where a valve may be built.
The ruling is a response to a complaint filed by the township with the PUC in February, alleging that Sunoco violated the agreement, misled the township on where it planned to build a valve station, and exposed residents to “clear and present danger” if there was a leak, the township said then.
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Questions raised about Trump FBI nominee Wray's retainer as Gov. Chris Christie's Bridgegate attorney

President Donald Trump
Trump's pick to run the FBI, NJ criminal attorney Christopher Wray

Wray's Bridgegate client, NJ Gov. Chris Christie

Matt Katz reports for WNYC News:

President Trump's nominee for FBI director, Christopher Wray, represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as his personal, publicly-funded Bridgegate attorney for 11 months before signing a mandatory retainer agreement, according to new documents provided to WNYC through a public records request.
Wray began working for Christie as his personal, publicly-funded attorney, according to bills submitted to the state, in September 2014. But it wasn't until August 2015, 11 months later, that Wray and Christie formally agreed to the arrangement.
Several lawyers who work with the government said the extended delay was extraordinarily unusual, possibly unethical, and could indicate that Christie, who was preparing to run for president at the time, was keeping it hidden from the public that he had a taxpayer-funded criminal attorney.
Indeed it wasn't until the summer of 2016 that it was revealed that Wray was holding onto a piece of potential evidence — one of Christie's cell phones that his former aides, charged in the Bridgegate affair, unsuccessfully sought to subpoena.
Wray and his colleagues would ultimately bill taxpayers more than $2 million in fees and expenses, including meals, hotel rooms, cab fare and flights. They continued working — and being paid — even after the Bridgegate trial ended and those convicted were sentenced to prison. It is unclear what work was done, since the governor was neither charged nor called to testify.
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Monday, July 24, 2017

Philly-area congressmen link military funds-water studies

Former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and present day Horsham Air Guard Station (AP photo) 

Danielle Fox reports for newsworks:

Three area congressmen successfully added amendments concerning drinking water contamination to a must-pass military spending bill.  The larger bill will get a vote later in the year. 
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat, Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican representing Bucks and part of Montgomery County, and Pat Meehan, a Republican representing parts of five counties west of Philadelphia, each announced an amendment to the House's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with the goal of changing military action on water contamination from firefighting foam.
For decades, the military used firefighting foams with perfluorinated compounds PFOS and PFOA on bases across the country. In the past several years, concern has spiked over whether the chemicals are toxic, potentially endangering local communities whose water supply may have been tainted. According to the Bucks County Courier Times, since 2014, chemical contamination from military bases has closed 16
water wells and over 200 private wells, serving 70,000 people, in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
While the military has investigated drinking water contamination, offering to pay for replacement water or filtration systems, many affected residents say they could do more. After futile attempts of calling on the military to fund a health study, the trio of area congressmen strategically folded amendments for health screenings and a study into an annual spending bill. The research could flag the health effects from exposure to the compounds, paving the way for future studies.
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