Tuesday, June 27, 2017

New island forming off North Carolina's Outer Banks


USA TODAY reports:

To the delight of beachgoers and photographers, a new island has formed off the coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The island, which is off the coast of Cape Point near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, is a mile long and three football fields wide, The Virginian Pilot reported.

Instagram user chadonka posted an aerial image of the new island, which shows just how big it is.


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NJ lawmakers again raid green funds; make clean getaway


Administration, lawmakers tap $75 million from fund, up $25 million from amount announced previously — in addition to $161 million already diverted this year

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:

With only a few days left in the fiscal year, the Christie administration and lawmakers turned to an old and trusted standby to help plug the last remaining gap in the current state budget.
Without debate, both the Assembly and Senate budget committees yesterday approved a bill (A-5000) tapping another $75 million — up $25 million from the amount announced last month — from the state Clean Energy Fund for a supplemental appropriation.
The legislation, introduced on June 15, aims to balance the state budget by diverting money from a variety of funds, although just how much is unclear because the measure only listed specific amounts for the Clean Energy Fund, which is supposed to finance renewable energy and energy conservation programs.
In addition, the legislation would tap unspecified dollars from the state recycling fund and the Unclaimed Utility Deposits Trust Fund. According to sources, the amount totaled about $10 million. The state fiscal year ends June 30.
The bill said the additional $75 million would be added on to past diversions allocated to NJ Transit and the budget to cover utility costs. The bill passed quietly on a day when legislative leadership were holed up in negotiations over next year’s fiscal budget, which begins on Saturday.
In May, the Christie administration announced a $527 million shortfall in revenue that needed to be closed before the end of the fiscal year. The bulk of the deficit was to be closed by pushing off payments of about $300 million to municipalities to cover Homestead property-tax credits until the new fiscal year.
At the time, state Treasurer Ford Scudder said the state would divert an additional $50 million from the Clean Energy Fund to plug the gap, a common tactic used by legislators and the administration. This fiscal year the fund already has had roughly $161 million diverted to other uses.
With the latest $75 million diversion added to the $161 million that already has been tapped, approximately 60 percent of the state’s Clean Energy Fund has been raided, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Anything that is not nailed down, they are going to take,’’ he said.
More than $1.5 billion has been diverted from the Clean Energy Fund during Christie’s tenure with legislative support. The fund is financed by a surcharge on gas and electric customers’ monthly bills.
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Bill targeting Horizon's reserves clears NJ Senate panel


Horizon Blue Cross Shield of New Jersey officials at the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing Monday in Trenton. - ()
Legislators advanced a bill Monday that could significantly increase the state's control over the finances of its largest insurer, as well as set a precedent for businesses statewide.
The bill, introduced Friday by Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), and amended Monday, cleared the state Senate’s Budget and Appropriations Committee.
If it becomes law, it would allow the state to have access to "excess" reserves of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.
Vitale said the bill does not create "a slush fund" and is not a "money-grabbing" move. He said it establishes a "ceiling" for the reserves of Horizon, and anything beyond the ceiling would be "divested in a public way" to the state.
Currently, Vitale explained, there is only a range, or "floor," within which Horizon keeps its reserves.
"We don't want (Horizon)to be over-reserved. There is no benefit to the members if they are over-reserved," Vitale said.
Horizon said it ended 2016 with a risk-based capital, or reserves ratio, of 620 percent, and it is incurring substantial losses in the individual market this year. It expects to end the year with an RBC under 590 percent, which is at the lower end of the 550-700 percent range established by regulators in Pennsylvania.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Menendez blasts GOP healthcare bill as 'downright nasty'

Legislation could ultimately cost New Jersey $30 billion in Medicaid funding

“Page by page, this Republican plan forces Americans to pay more for less, less comprehensive healthcare coverage,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, speaking about the Senate GOP’s bill meant to repeal and replace Obamacare.
He added that the Republican legislation could ultimately slash $30 billion in Medicaid funding in New Jersey, where more than a half-million people enrolled under Medicaid expansion could lose coverage.
Menendez spoke at a news conference at Newark Community Health Centers, where slightly more than half the patients are on Medicaid.

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EPA proposes expansion of lead soil cleanup in Deptford

The news release below is from the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 2 office in New York City:

(June 22, 2017) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed an expansion in a cleanup plan to continue removing lead-contaminated soil from a residential development previously owned and built by the Tempo Development Group in West Deptford, (Thorofare), N.J. EPA added the Tempo development to the Matteo & Sons, Inc. Superfund site in October of 2016 after finding that residential properties on nearby Birchly Court, Woodlane Drive, Oakmont Court and Crown Point Road were impacted by lead contamination from the disposal of crushed battery casings. Lead is a toxic metal that can impact a child’s ability to learn and cause a range of other serious health problems.

“It is unfortunate that years before the homes were built there, a prior entity apparently dumped crushed battery casings on the property,” said Acting Regional Administrator, Catherine McCabe. “The EPA has moved quickly to address contaminated areas and to help home owners understand the risks from the lead underneath and around their homes. EPA has removed nearly 2,000 tons of lead-contaminated material from three residential properties and we will continue the work until the job is done.”

In November 2015, during sewer repair excavation work at a residential property on Birchly Court, buried battery casings were discovered. In March 2016, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection referred the discovery to EPA for further investigation. EPA collected soil samples from the yards of the affected properties and confirmed lead contamination in the soil at levels above health based standards. Former operations at the Matteo site included crushing and recycling batteries, scrap metal recycling, and landfilling.

Under the EPA’s proposed cleanup plan, soil in yards contaminated at levels that pose a potential risk to people’s health will be removed and disposed of properly at a facility licensed to handle the waste. Excavated areas will be covered with clean soil. EPA will work to minimize any potential disruptions to residents during the cleanup. It is possible that some residents may need to be temporarily relocated while work is performed. The cleanup proposal requires deed restrictions be placed on public right-of-way areas, such as roads, to ensure that future construction or road work activities do not disturb the battery casings and contaminated soil buried below the roads. Under the proposal, the EPA will conduct a review of the cleanup every five years to ensure its effectiveness.

The investigation and cleanup of the Matteo site has been conducted in stages by EPA and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. The current cleanup proposal addresses additional residential properties in and around the former Tempo Development area of the Matteo site. The nearby Matteo & Sons, Inc. facility on Crown Point Road is undergoing a long-term investigation of the nature and extent of contamination, including potential impacts to surface water and sediment in Hessian Run. Hessian Run will be addressed in a later phase of work.

The EPA will hold a public meeting on July 6, 2017 to explain the cleanup proposal and other options considered and to take public comments. The meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. at the RiverWinds Community Center, 1000 RiverWinds Drive, West Deptford. Comments will be accepted until July 24, 2017.

Written comments may be mailed or emailed to:

Thomas Dobinson, Remedial Project Manager
U.S. EPA, Superfund, 290 Broadway, 19th fl.
New York, NY 10007
Tel: (212) 637-4176
Dobinson.thomas@epa.gov

The cleanup proposal is available at:
www.epa.gov/superfund/matteo-and-sons

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NJ enviro groups urge lawmakers to strike budget language diverting large chunk of Exxon settlement


The following is a news release (and letter to New Jersey legislators) from 11 state environmental organizations:


PROPOSED NJ BUDGET RAIDS ENVIRONMENTAL SETTLEMENT MONEY
Environmental Groups Urge Legislature to Strike Budge Language

Trenton, NJ - Dangerous language is again included in Governor Christie’s FY 2017-2018 Budget, currently in front of the New Jersey Legislature, that would divert millions of dollars from environmental restoration protections and communities impacted by pollution.

Within the Christie Administration’s budget proposal, and the budget currently under consideration by the Legislature, no matter how much money the State wins in damages from corporate polluters to restore natural resources, the amount going to restore impacted communities is capped at $50 million.  The State of New Jersey can then direct the remaining money to the General Fund to use for unrelated costs.

“To put this into perspective, Exxon Mobil is required to pay $225 million for damages to the environment in Northern New Jersey. Only $50 million of this sum will be dedicated to investing back into impacted communities with parks, waterfront access and habitat restoration,” said Debbie Mans, Baykeeper & Executive Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper.  “These communities have lived too long with pollution and deserve justice.”

Several environmental and community organizations are urging the Legislative leadership to strike the language completely from the budget bill, rather than amend the existing language.  The groups include: New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Ironbound Community Corporation, New Jersey Audubon, Trust for Public Land, American Littoral Society, ANJEC, Food & Water Watch, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Highlands Council, and NJ Environmental Lobby.  (See attached letter.)

 “It’s Groundhog Day.  If this same compromise language is inserted we know the Governor will use his line item veto power, just as he did the last two years.  In order to truly protect the funds and ensure they go to protect our most vulnerable communities and restore natural resources impacted by polluters, the language must be struck completely from the budget,” said Kelly Mooij, Vice President of Government Relations, New Jersey Audubon.

“It's outrageous to see the Legislature once again complicit in the Governor’s attempt to rob Natural Resource Damage polluter money from communities throughout New Jersey ravaged by pollution, particularly communities of color which are disproportionately impacted,” exclaimed Ed Potosnak,.

“The Legislature just can’t keep their hands out of the cookie jar, and if this dangerous language remains in the 2018 budget families and business will be shortchanged once again and will never see there environment resorted,” Potosnak added.

"This money belongs in the communities and natural areas that have been harmed" said Tim Dillingham, Executive Director, American Littoral Society.  "This budget raid adds insult to injury. These funds should remain dedicated to their intended use."

Both houses of the New Jersey Legislature passed legislation, by over 70%, asking voters to constitutionally dedicate Natural Resource Damages to environmental restoration and enhancement and pursuing claims against polluters. If the question is passed it would end the Governor and Legislature’s ability to divert these funds, putting the lockbox in place mid-December this year.  Until it is passed funds could be siphoned off to the General Fund. Voters will be asked the question on Tuesday, November 6th Ballot throughout New Jersey.

***********************************************

TO: Senate President Sweeney, Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr., Deputy Republican Leader Diane Allen, Chairman Paul Sarlo, Speaker Vincent Prieto, Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, Chairman Gary Schaer

cc: Assembly Budget Committee Members cc: Senate Budget Committee Members

We the undersigned write to urge the absolute rejection of any language capping the amount of settlement funds collected for Natural Resources Damages (NRD) or other environmental settlements that can be deposited into the Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund.

Dangerous language is again included in Governor Christie’s FY 2018 Budget on page D-130 aiming to divert funds away from restoration.i This provision could redirect hundreds of millions of dollars from future environmental settlements into the General Fund instead of restoring the environment. The specific provision of concern states that the first $50,000,000 in natural resource, cost recoveries and other associated damages recovered by the State shall be deposited into the Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund and are appropriated for: direct and indirect costs of remediation, restoration, and clean up; costs for consulting, expert, and legal services incurred in pursuing claims for damages; and grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to further implement restoration activities of the Office of Natural Resource Restoration (within NJDEP). Recoveries in excess of the amounts appropriated pursuant to this paragraph shall be deposited in the General Fund as general State revenue.

The intention of NRD statute is for polluters, in addition to paying for cleanup from pollution, to compensate communities for the loss of the use of the natural resource and to restore those communities impacted by toxic dumping and chemical spills. If this cap provision is once again allowed to remain, nearly all restoration funds would be raided to support the general fund, leaving little money remaining to do important restoration work in and around the polluted site for which the settlement was awarded.

This provision in the FY18 budget directs money away from the restoration of natural resources and compensation, as intended by the original lawsuits and the laws they are being brought under, leaving communities that have been living with this pollution for decades empty handed.

This same language was in Governor Christie’s FY16 and FY17 budgets. Although, the Legislature amended it to require that one-half of any amount over $50 million would also be deposited in the Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund for FY2016, Governor Christie vetoed this amendment and the language was left unaltered in FY2017.

This language has already had an impact on communities. In September 2014, the Attorney General’s Office announced a $190 million settlement for pollution on the lower Passaic River. Only $50 million of that settlement will be used for natural resource restoration projects in and around Newark, Harrison, Bayonne and Jersey City.ii Projects that could provide open spaces, restored habitats and public access in our underserved communities. The remaining $140 million went into the General Fund.

The potential for more diversions will increasingly disaffect communities already strained with polluted water, diminished air quality, and toxic lands. Making a bad deal even worse, the $225 million ExxonMobil environmental settlement currently sitting in escrow will be subject to the same provision if allowed to remain in the proposed budget leaving families and business in Linden and Bayonne, as well as towns across the state where Exxon has pending environmental settlements, unable to fully restore their lost resources.

As a final point, the legislature has already overwhelmingly approved a ballot question for November that asks voters to constitutionally dedicate NRD funds to environmental purposes and the associated legal and administrative costs. By putting the question on the ballot, the legislature has determined diverting these funds is a big enough problem, that voters should have the opportunity to constitutionally protect NRD monies. By leaving the Governor’s language in the budget, the legislature is giving the administration one last chance to improperly divert funds away from communities before they are able to have their voices heard on this matter.

The language, in its totality, must be removed in order to prevent another executive maneuver by the Governor to divert restoration funds away from the damaged communities. 
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Ed Potosnak, Executive Director

New Jersey League of Conservation Voters

Debbie Mans, Executive Director 
NY/NJ Baykeeper

Joseph Della Fave, Executive Director 
Ironbound Community Corporation

Kelly Mooij, VP for Government Relations 
New Jersey Audubon

Anthony Cucchi, New Jersey Director 
The Trust for Public Land

Tim Dillingham, Executive Director 
American Littoral Society

Jennifer Coffey, Executive Director

Association of New Jersey Environmental Councils

Michele Byers, Executive Director 
New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Julia Somers, Executive Director 
New Jersey Highlands Coalition

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director 
Food & Water Watch

Noemi de la Puente, Executive Director
NJ Environmental Lobby

i Except as otherwise provided in this act and notwithstanding the provisions of any other law or regulation to the contrary, the first $50,000,000 in natural resource, cost recoveries and other associated damages recovered by the State, along with such additional amounts as may be determined by the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting, in consultation with the Attorney General, to be necessary to pay for the costs of legal services related to such recoveries, shall be deposited into the Hazardous Discharge Site Cleanup Fund established pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1985, c.247 (C.58:10-23.34), and are appropriated for: direct and indirect costs of remediation, restoration, and clean up; costs for consulting, expert, and legal services incurred in pursuing claims for damages; and grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to further implement restoration activities of the Office of Natural Resource Restoration. Recoveries in excess of the amounts appropriated pursuant to this paragraph, consistent with the terms and conditions of applicable settlement agreements or court rulings, shall be deposited in the General Fund as general State revenue.
 


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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Philly politico Renee Tartaglione guilty on all charges

Renee Tartaglione - David Maialetti photo for Philly.com

Joseph A. Slobodzian & Julie Shaw report for Philly.com

Philadelphia politico Renee Tartaglione was convicted Friday on all 53 counts of conspiracy, theft, fraud, and tax evasion in a scheme in which prosecutors alleged she fleeced $1 million from a Fairhill mental health clinic of which she was both president and landlord.

A federal jury of six men and six women deliberated for just about four hours before returning its quick verdicts.


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Pa. Auditor General rips Penn State leaders, NCAA

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale

Eugene DePasquale pulled no punches in his press conference Thursday announcing the results of his audit of Penn State.
Pennsylvania’s auditor general had harsh words for the university, former president Rodney Erickson, former FBI director Louis Freeh, Jerry Sandusky and the NCAA.
He unloaded a lot of numbers, a lot of statistics, a lot of data, but he also unleashed a hefty amount of opinion on how the Penn State board structure works and how things have happened since the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“I’m gonna get myself in trouble,” he said at one point.
It didn’t stop him.
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Friday, June 23, 2017

LaRossa leaving PSE&G for new role leading PSEG Power

Eric Strauss reports for NJBIZ:
Ralph LaRossa is leaving his post as president and Public Service Electric & Gas for a new position in the Public Service Enterprise Group family, PSEG announced Friday.
Ralph LaRossa is moving to a role leading PSEG Power.
 ()
LaRossa, who has led the New Jersey’s largest utility for more than a decade, will become the president and COO of PSEG’s merchant generation business, PSEG Power.

In this role, he is replacing Bill Levis, who announced his retirement in December. PSEG Power is an independent power producer that generates and sells electricity in the regional PJM, New York and New England wholesale markets.

“In his career at PSE&G, Ralph has demonstrated the right skills to step into this key leadership role,” PSEG Chairman, CEO and President Ralph Izzo said in a prepared statement. “For the past decade, Ralph has successfully led PSE&G through the largest capital program in its history. During this period, he led the recovery from Superstorm Sandy and maintained a focus on operational reliability and the needs of our customers. Ralph has demonstrated strong leadership and is respected across PSEG and the industry as he assumes this role as PSEG Power.”
Meanwhile, David M. Daly, president and COO of PSEG Long Island, has been chosen to replace LaRossa as president and COO of PSE&G, as well as chairman of PSEG Long Island.

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Philly comptroller wants to kick BigBellys off the curb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The City Controller says those Bigbelly trash compactors around Philadelphia are in a sorry state. And, he claims, they’re not working as advertised. But city officials strongly disagree with his findings.
The Bigbelly Solar compactors created a buzz when first installed in Center City in 2009.
They were supposed to be smarter than those old wire mesh trash receptacles that were always overflowing, and were intended to make our streets cleaner, save money, and improve the environment.
But, Controller Alan Butkovitz is trashing the system.
“While the Bigbellys were promoted as a tool to reduce the collection rate, with their ability to store more trash, there’s been no sufficient documentation to substantiate any financial savings,” Butkovitz said.
img 6866 City Controller Trashes Philadelphia Bigbelly Compactors
(credit: Steve Tawa)
Butkovitz says there’s no viable work order and maintenance tracking system, and the original Bigbellys, many of which he says are disgusting, are reaching their life expectancy.
Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams disputes Butkovitz’s claims that the Streets Department has not done a comprehensive cost benefit analysis.
“We’re saving about $650,000 per year with the decreased collection costs,” said Williams.
Williams says they’ve reduced the frequency of collections from 17 per week at the old litter bins, to 3.5 per week at each Bigbelly.
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