RETURN HOME

  • You are reading the Pine Barrens Blog.

Archive for May, 2012

DEP Gives Wal-Mart a “Way Around” Environmental Protections in the Pinelands

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

by Carleton Montgomery, Executive Director

Last week, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) granted a permit for construction of a Wal-Mart super-store in the Pinelands National Reserve in Ocean County, even though DEP had twice denied this development for violating regulations that are supposed to protect rare species, water quality and natural habitats.

After the second denial, the Asbury Park Press quoted newly-installed governor Christie as saying “There may be a way around it.  The DEP is working on it.”

So it was no surprise when DEP announced a proposed “settlement” to approve the same development plan that DEP had previously denied.  The agency’s rationale was that the developer will pay for compensatory habitat enhancements on several other, disconnected and distant pieces of land.  Before adopting such a settlement, DEP has to open it up for public comment.  So PPA and other groups submitted extensive comments showing the settlement was both legally and scientifically wrong.

There are two more important facts to consider about this deal with Wal-Mart:

First, DEP is no longer calling it a “settlement” of litigation.  Now they’re just issuing a permit, as if there was nothing unusual about the case.  Calling the deal a “settlement” was actually a candid admission that the plan couldn’t be approved under the Department’s regulations.  But after taking public comment, DEP may have realized the law doesn’t allow them to violate their rules just by calling it the approval a “settlement.”  When government tries to find “a way around” its rules, it always gets itself twisted up in such contradictions.

Second, we now know more about what kind of company Wal-Mart has become.  While sending millions of dollars to national environmental groups, it seems to have been sending even more millions in bribes to government officials across Mexico to buy permits in violation of environmental and other development rules.

In a detailed expose, the New York Times has revealed that Wal-Mart carried out, then covered up, a multi-million dollar campaign of bribing officials throughout Mexico to obtain development permits.  When a Wal-Mart lawyer got wind of the bribes and started to investigate, top management transferred the investigation to the very company official in Mexico who was deeply involved in directing the bribery campaign.  There it died until the Times started its investigation.

According to the Times report, the bribery campaign and subsequent cover-up were approved at the highest level of the company, including top managers in the U.S.  Wal-Mart is not denying the allegations, which are now being investigated by the Justice Department.  Bribing foreign officials directly violates American law, as well as foreign laws.  It’s also terrible for the economy and welfare of foreign countries, as each bribe begets more bribery and more artificial, bureaucratic rules on which more corrupt officials can hang their demands for cash.

Is it appropriate or seemly for our State to give a special deal to a company that has used bribery to get land use permits in blatant violation of American and foreign law, then tried to bury the evidence?  Is this the kind of company to which our governor and DEP Commissioner should give special dispensations on behalf of the people of New Jersey?

The bribery scandal should be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on this bad deal in the Pinelands.  Governor Christie should simply withdraw the permit and hold Wal-Mart to the letter of the law if it wants to build a store in the Pines, or anywhere else in New Jersey.

For more details, including the prior DEP permit denial, the proposed “settlement,” and PPA’s and other groups’ objections to the “settlement,” please go to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance web site at www.pinelandsalliance.org/protection/work/currentissues/development/walmarttomsrivermanchester

PPA LEEDing By Example

Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

by Jaclyn Rhoads, Director for Conservation Policy

PPA is helping to lead the charge on green buildings by going for LEED certification!  The US Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing green buildings in the market, pioneered a standardized system for certifying green buildings.  This certification is called LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

From www.USGBC.org , “The LEED® green building program is a voluntary, consensus-based global rating system for buildings, homes and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. LEED addresses all building types emphasizing state-of-the- art strategies in: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, locations & linkages, awareness & education, indoor environmental quality, innovation & education and regional priorities.”  The LEED programs are designed for new buildings, existing buildings and operations, interior design, core and shell, schools, retail, healthcare, and neighborhood development.

PPA has registered for the LEED existing buildings and operations certification.  With a grant from Gardinier Foundation, we have completed an energy audit of our facilities and a LEED assessment conducted by DeFeo Associates to determine what work we need to do to meet the certification requirements.

In the next coming months, the Bishop Farmstead offices will be upgraded with a new high efficiency boiler, central air-conditioning units, hot water heater, energy star appliances, and LED lights.  Our goal is to implement all of the recommendations from our energy audit, reduce our water use, create operation policies that reduce our natural resource use, create a purchasing policy to promote local and organic products, and to install at some point a renewable energy source on-site.

All of this work is geared toward educating the public about how important our resource use is to saving the Pinelands.  Our water use, energy use, and resource use has a direct impact on the Pinelands region, which PPA and our members work so hard to protect.

PPA will continue to provide updates on our blog and website and have special tours of our facility for the public to learn more about these projects and how to implement them in your home. In the meantime, please check out our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint since moving to the Bishop Farmstead.