Friday, May 06, 2016

NJ DEP: Friend or Foe of New Jersey's Environment?

An intentional controlled burn in the NJ Pine Barrens
Generally it's my creative habit to try to veer from topic to topic on this blog, but sometimes, not unlike actor Jeff Bridges' character "The Dude" in the 1998 Cohen brother's film The Big Lebowski, I must "abide" - on the same topic of my previous blog, the state of New Jersey's environment.

"Apocalypse in the Garden State", Kyle Dickman's article about the possibility of a catastrophic forest fire breaking out in the 1.1 million acres of  the New Jersey Pine Barrens was troubling.

As joint field research conducted by the Warren Grove Range and Drexel University's Laboratory for Pinelands Research notes, the periodic burning of stretches of the Pine Barrens (and other forests) is actually necessary for the growth and balance of different types of plant species.

But after reading Dickman's alarming article in the May 5th issue of Rolling Stone, which highlights the potential disaster of a combination of high winds, lack of rain, human error and over a million acres of dense pine tree forest carpeted by dried pine needles, I felt compelled to circle back and share a quick update on another environmental topic affecting Jersey that I first blogged about back on December 3, 2014.

The potential danger caused by a huge increase in freight traffic of rail cars carrying shipments of highly combustible Canadian Tar Sands oil, and Bakken crude oil through highly-populated areas of New Jersey is an unnecessary man-made risk.

A risk exacerbated by the double regulatory whammy of Republican Congressional opposition to both the funding of investment to update critical infrastructure repairs on U.S. railways, and the rapid enforcement of more stringent federal regulations on rail cars that carry combustible and dangerous liquids.

The Garden State doesn't rival Texas, California, North Dakota or Louisiana in terms of oil production, refineries and shipping

But few American politicians have been friendlier to the oil industry in the past couple years than our own Governor Chris Christie.

As I've often noted, what Christie lacks in tact, humility and self-control (Bridgegate?), he more than makes up for with his shrewdness as a political operator and zest for proving his conservative credentials to the national Republican establishment.

Just today, NPR reported that the New Jersey Sierra Club is reporting that inspections by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are down a remarkable 80% since Christie took office, as are the collection of fines levied for environmental violations as well.

By the way, that's the same DEP that quietly approved a request by Buckeye Partners (the owners of a massive port terminal facility in Perth Amboy where oil is loaded onto oil tankers for export) to ship an additional 1.8 million gallons of Tar Sands oil on trains that pass through some 11 different towns in densely populated Bergen County, NJ back in 2014.

As Sandra Meola of the environmental watchdog group NY/NJ Baykeepers told NJ TV in an interview back in 2014 (click the link above):

"New Jersey's DEP claimed a public comment period was not necessary because it was a minor modification, but it's not really a minor modification."

Le-Megantic oil train explosion July 6, 2013
Flash forward to 2016, it now looks like Christie's poor record as a steward of the Garden State's environment has actually cost the state federal funding that could have helped reduced the risk of a man-made catastrophic rail disaster like the one that struck the Quebec, Canada town of Le-Megantic back on July 6, 2013,  when an unattended 74-car train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed killing at least 42 people and literally destroyed half the town.

As the New Jersey Sierra Club reported in it's March newsletter:

NJ Loses Out on Funds for Oil Train Safety: New Jersey has not received any of the $10 million given out by the Federal Railroad Administration to improve safety on rail lines that carry oil. Governor Christie was one of 34 applicants for the grant. A recent boom in North Dakota Bakken oil has led to more of this dangerous substance on our rail lines and more accidents and explosions. This money would have gone towards upgrading rail crossings on particular lines that have experienced a large increase in the transportation of crude oil."

After the callous and frequently overly-theatrical way in which Christie habitually lambasted the Obama administration's policies during his time on the Republican presidential campaign trail, his joining 37 other states with Republican governors to vehemently oppose Obama's EPA mandate to curb fossil fuel emissions, and his bizarre decision to push to drastically scale back the $8.9 billion fine levied against Exxon-Mobil settlement for their pollution of New Jersey waters to $225 million during the height of his presidential run, it makes me wonder.

Was the decision by the federal government to deny the state of New Jersey a portion of the $10 million in funds allotted for oil train safety an intentional slapdown of Christie for his months of partisan loudmouthery, scaling back of the NJ DEP's oversight authority and vocal opposition of sensible EPA oversight of emission standards?

As far as the environmental interests of the Garden State are concerned, the people of New Jersey have lost out under a governor who consistently places his relationship with the petrochemical industry and Republican party establishment above the best interests of the people who elected him to serve.

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