Thursday, March 20, 2014

Action Alert: Stop Seismic Testing Off New Jersey!



Despite the efforts of New Jersey elected officials, concerned citizens, and organizations like yours to close the door on seismic testing off our shores, we are now facing yet another seismic threat – this time right at our doorstep and happening already this summer.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (L-DEO), in collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF), have proposed a study of seafloor sediments 15 miles off the Barnegat Bay to better understand historical changes in sea level from 60 million years ago through the present.  The researchers propose to use powerful seismic airgun arrays to shoot blasts of compressed air deep into the seabed, similar to the process used to locate buried oil and gas deposits.  Furthermore, the airgun blasting would endure for 720 hours over a 30-day period.  The L-DEO researchers have requested authorization from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to “take” (i.e., harass) individuals from 26 marine mammal species during its study, which was conditionally granted on Monday, March 17 in a federal register notice of the proposed incidental harassment authorization.  The proposed authorization is an evaluation of information provided by L-DEO regarding its potential impacts on marine mammals and NMFS’s ultimate approval, despite evidence linking seismic activities to harm.

Proposed location off Barnegat Bay
The proposed authorization acknowledges the scarcity of data at several points throughout its discussion of potential impacts of seismic activity on marine mammals and other animals, yet it consistently writes off the impacts as negligible.  For example, the proposal states: “The sound criteria used to estimate how many marine mammals might be disturbed to some biologically-important degree by a seismic program are based primarily on behavioral observations of a few species…for many species there are no data on responses to marine seismic surveys.”  Given that 26 marine mammal species could potentially be impacted by this survey, 6 of which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, it is concerning to see NMFS gloss over impacts in the absence of hard data instead of taking a more precautionary approach.

Furthermore, the proposed authorization references information that is irrelevant or even incorrect, and several instances of “cut and paste” from previously issued authorizations are evident.  For example, at one point, the notice states, “Additionally, no beaked whale species occur in the proposed seismic survey area,” even though earlier in the notice, six species of beaked whale are listed as potentially occurring in the proposed study area.  How can we rely on NMFS’s evaluation of impacts to marine mammals from this proposed seismic survey, when entire groups of marine mammals are erroneously omitted from their analysis?

Clean Ocean Action has already begun to develop its response to this proposal to blast the ocean with seismic airguns in the name of scientific research.  We first sent a letter to NMFS with over 30 signatories to request a 60-day extension to the 30-day comment period and a public hearing.  NMFS responded to COA on April 9th with the news that the comment period has been extended by 30 days, with a new deadline of May 16th; however, COA is still pushing for the full 60-day extension and a public hearing.  We are currently drafting detailed comments on the proposed authorization for submission to NMFS.

Seismic airguns, whatever the reason for their use, can have devastating impacts to cherished marine mammal species and vital coastal industries, including commercial and recreational fisheries and tourism.  Join Clean Ocean Action in defending our precious coastal resources from the far-reaching impacts of seismic testing.

Call on your local elected officials to pass a resolution opposing seismic testing – no matter the location or objective.

Click here for our fact sheet on this issue.

Please call Clean Ocean Action at 732.872.0111 or email Cassandra Ornell at science@cleanoceanaction.org with questions.  To get involved, email Jennifer Cubias at outreach@cleanoceanaction.org. The clock is ticking…

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Port Ambrose "Pause"?

Liberty Natural Gas continues to drag its feet in completing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for its proposed Port Ambrose LNG facility off the NJ/NY coast.  Under the federal Deepwater Port Act, applications for LNG facilities in the ocean (like Port Ambrose) must be processed, from application submission to final agency approval, within 356 calendar days.  All public input, environmental review, and economic analyses of proposals happen within that timeframe in a 240-day “clock.”  On October 21, 2013, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the two federal agencies responsible for reviewing Liberty’s application, officially “stopped the clock” on reviewing and processing the application for 90 days, with the intent to provide Liberty with more time to address over 250 critical data gaps identified during the scoping period by federal agencies and members of the public, including Clean Ocean Action.  This decision to “stop the clock” for Port Ambrose review was made after over half of the public’s review timeframe had already elapsed.  The 90-day timeline suspension passed, and although new documents were slowly posted to the federal docket during this timeframe, it didn’t appear that any significant headway had been made in addressing these data gaps.

The public was kept in the dark about whether or not the clock resumed ticking on January 19th, 2014, until last week.  On March 7, 2014, the USCG sent a letter to Liberty, which stated that the timeline for processing Liberty’s application had been retroactively re-suspended effective January 19, 2014.  The clock will remain stopped indefinitely, until Liberty finishes addressing the over 200 critical data gaps identified by Clean Ocean Action and others during the project scoping process and can provide a complete draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for review and public comment.  One of the major data gaps concerns where onshore infrastructure will be located during the port’s construction, something that Liberty has been silent about throughout the application process.  The letter contains a list of specific data requests and a strong warning to Liberty: “Our team expects timely responses to the below list [of data requests] and any further requests for necessary information.  If, in our collective opinion, your responses are unreasonably delayed, we will take the appropriate action we deem necessary to further the application process.”  A risk assessment workshop was recently completed, which identified potential hazards associated with the construction and operation of Port Ambrose.  The letter states that a report of the workshop’s findings is in production, and shall be included as an appendix to the DEIS once finalized.  This, coupled with Liberty’s ongoing filling of data gaps, could further delay completion of the DEIS, which may not become available for public review and comment for several months.

Clean Ocean Action continues to call on Governors Christie and Cuomo to exercise their legal right to veto this proposal. Such a veto, under the law, can be transmitted to the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration, at any time.  Call your governor today ask him to veto Port Ambrose!

Governor Christie: (609) 292-6000
Governor Cuomo: (518) 474-8390

Thursday, March 6, 2014

COA Comments on NJ Post-Sandy Action Plan

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is issuing its second round of disaster relief funding to states hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, and New Jersey has been allocated $1.463 billion.  Prior to disbursement of these funds, the State is required to update its action plan that details remaining unmet needs and how this round of funding will be used.  Clean Ocean Action presented oral comments at two of the three public hearings held by the State to solicit input on the amended action plan, and yesterday sent a letter to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs with the following additional comments:


Gabrielle Gallagher
NJ Department of Community Affairs
101 South Broad Street
Post Office Box 800
Trenton, NJ 08625-0800

March 5, 2014

SUBMITTED VIA E-MAIL

RE: New Jersey Action Plan Amendment Number 7, Substantial Amendment for the Second Allocation of CDBG-DR Funds

Dear Ms. Gallagher:

The Christie Administration announced a proposed Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Action Plan to use and distribute $1,463,000,000 in federal funding for Superstorm Sandy disaster recovery through the Department of Community Affairs (DCA).  This allocation represents the second phase of the initial $5,400,000,000 provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-2, approved January 29, 2013).

Clean Ocean Action (COA) is a broad-based coalition of 135 conservation, environmental, fishing, boating, diving, student, surfing, women’s, business, service, and community groups, with a mission to improve the degraded water quality of the marine waters off the New Jersey/New York coast.

COA appreciates this opportunity to provide comments on the Action Plan Amendment Number 7, Substantial Amendment for the Second Allocation of CDBG-DR Funds (“Action Plan”).  With this round of Sandy recovery funding, now is the time to think beyond fixing the damage done and look forward toward increasing resiliency.  As a clean ocean is critical to New Jersey’s coastal economies, including tourism and commercial fishing, COA especially urges the State to implement projects that protect and improve water quality in the face of impacts from ongoing and predicted climate change and sea level rise.

COA presents the following comments to the Action Plan:

Sea Level Rise and Climate Change  
As we rebuild our coastal communities, we have an unprecedented opportunity to benefit from lessons learned and implement changes to address future challenges.  Importantly, as directed by HUD, the state must incorporate projections on sea level rise and climate change in its project planning process, to ensure that monies are invested in long-term community resiliency and conservation programs built to evolve with changing conditions and socioeconomic needs.  We applaud the State’s intent to use the NOAA Sea Level Rise predictive tool in developing the infrastructure Flood Hazard Risk Reduction Program.  However, all projects – infrastructure, housing, and business related – must be planned for the inevitability of sea level rise and increases in extreme weather events.  Furthermore, mention of climate change is noticeably absent from the Action Plan; nowhere in its 100 pages is the phrase even mentioned, despite the fact that HUD has directed grantees to employ a risk analysis for infrastructures that “must consider a broad range of information and best available data, including forward-looking analyses of risks to infrastructure sectors from climate change.”  COA urges the State to include information in the Action Plan on how future climate change risks will be incorporated into its infrastructure projects.

Blue Acres Buyout Program
COA applauds the State’s continued funding of the Blue Acres buyout program as a way of providing a natural storm buffer via restoration of coastal areas to their natural states.  Although the value of coastal property is often tied to its development, a State assessment of the value of New Jersey’s natural capital estimated that wetlands contribute $10.6 billion annually to our economy solely for their role in storm surge and flood protection, water filtering and supply, and waste treatment.  The report contains numerous other examples of the benefits healthy coastal ecosystems provide.  The ability of intact natural landscapes to absorb wind, waves, and water can prevent untold damages to land and livelihood, while enhancing nearby property values.  Because of these numerous benefits, COA urges the State to expand the Blue Acres buyout program and continue to appropriate funding to the program in the Action Plan amendment for the third round of Sandy recovery funding and beyond.  Although this program offers promising benefits to flood-prone communities and the environment, the Action Plan does not provide discrete information on how properties are prioritized and ultimately selected for buyouts.  For example, the Action Plan mentions that the State has approved the purchase of 272 properties in Sayreville and South River, but does not indicate why or how these areas were selected.  Transparency is critical to ensuring that residents of flood-prone areas are made aware of their options under the Blue Acres buyout program.

Infrastructure
Infrastructure problems plagued a significant number of New Jerseyans during and after Sandy: 94 wastewater treatment facilities located in all 21 counties experienced failures or disruptions at some point during the storm and over a third of residents were without power for six or more days after the storm.  Not only has New Jersey’s water infrastructure been subject to extreme storms, it has also been subject to inadequate planning and financing to protect, maintain, and upgrade these systems for decades.  The recent storms have brought the attention to the vulnerabilities and the need to support and improve these drinking, stormwater and wastewater systems.  The plan’s prioritization of crucial services such as water and wastewater plants is to be commended; however, rebuilding also provides an opportunity to address chronic development-related problems such as inadequate stormwater management and substandard sewage infrastructure and treatment.  Improving the status and resiliency of our water infrastructure (drinking, wastewater and storm water) is critical for water conservation, protecting public health, reducing flooding, improving water quality, and preventing future system failures – which in turn improves our quality of life and vital tourism industry.  Funds applied to upgrading damaged and aging wastewater treatment and power distribution systems is money well spent, and will provide benefits for all residents for years to come.

Resiliency
Given the limited amount of money going to infrastructure in this round of recovery funding, it is extremely important that the State prioritizes spending of public funds in ways that maximize community and economic resiliency, reduce impervious surfaces to allow water to naturally infiltrate into the ground and reduce pollution, support and promote natural-resource dependent economies, and mandate green infrastructure and sustainable land use planning.  The Action Plan states that in “designing resilient coastal risk reduction projects, the State will assess the feasibility, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of incorporating nature-based infrastructure, including living shorelines, use of wetlands, dunes, and beach nourishment to reduce surge and flood volume.”  As referenced above, New Jersey’s assessment of natural capital has clearly demonstrated that natural systems intrinsically provide great value.  It makes economic sense to use nature-based solutions in building long-term resiliency.  In addition, US Strong, an initiative focused on building support for extreme weather relief and protection, has cited studies that show every one dollar spent in disaster prevention can avert up to nine dollars in clean-up and recovery costs.  We should focus on funding innovative and forward looking measures to protect our coastal communities, including an increased use of natural storm buffers, such as dunes and wetlands, over solely hard structural barriers.

Transparency
The Action Plan mentions extensive research that is on-going within State agencies and at universities.  This research should be focused on assessing the environmental and socioeconomic benefits of investing in long-term community resiliency and conservation programs built to evolve with climate changes and socioeconomic needs.  Research should also be made available to the public, and the State’s decision-making process for prioritizing projects and areas should be transparent and based on the best available data.

Comparison to New York Action Plan
Both New Jersey and New York suffered enormous losses due to Superstorm Sandy.  New Jersey’s second round funding allocation of $1.463 billion represents about 7.6% of the total $19.283 billion in unmet need estimated by the state.  In comparison, New York received more funding this round than New Jersey ($1.595 billion), which represents approximately 10.2% of their total unmet need ($15.710 billion).  Importantly, the New York Action Plan breaks out its assessment of unmet needs into four categories: housing, business, and in three described in the New Jersey Action Plan, and a fourth category called resilience.  The New York Action Plan makes strong references to the importance of considering climate change impacts recovery projects and in planning for the future: “climate change” is mentioned 11 times in the document, whereas the New Jersey Action Plan does not even mention the phrase once.

With respect to increasing resiliency in the face of climate change, New York has taken proactive planning steps and created the New York City Special Initiative on Resiliency and Rebuilding (SIRR), which is “responsible for developing a plan to make New York City more resilient to the impacts of climate change, has also undertaken a massive effort to increase the resiliency of the hardest hit areas.”  The SIRR met with elected officials, organizations, and the public, conducted extensive research and predictive modeling on climate change impacts to the city, and released an over 400-page report in June 2013 that contains over 250 detailed infrastructure and coastal community resiliency building initiatives.  New Jersey should use this initiative as a model for a collaborative, forward thinking planning process and undertake similar assessments of climate related risks to our coastal communities.

Furthermore, New York has recognized the importance of regional collaboration in recovery and planning efforts, as climate change impacts know no political boundaries.  New York City representatives have convened meetings with city representatives from both Connecticut and New Jersey.  The Joint Climate Resilience Committee, formed with partner cities in New Jersey including Jersey City and Hoboken, was formulated to share key information resources and best practices within the region and integrate climate resilience within the consortium’s activities, was not even mentioned in the New Jersey Action Plan.  These regional initiatives should be publicized and continued, to show New Jersey citizens that our state officials are thinking holistically about recovery and integrating programs with our neighboring states.

Conclusion
By making transparent, effective long-term planning decisions that will benefit all New Jerseyans, we can help ensure that this funding is used efficiently and we are prepared for the next storm.  We are interested in working with the State in implementing prospective programs that will improve resiliency and coastal water quality, and look forward to opportunities to meet with you to work toward these goals.

Sincerely,
 
Cindy Zipf
Executive Director

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

No Place for Liquefied Natural Gas Imports, or Port Ambrose, in New York's Energy Future

NYS 2014 Draft Energy Plan points to a diminishing need for LNG imports and ignores Port Ambrose altogether


On January 7, 2014, the New York State Energy Planning Board released its Draft 2014 New York State Energy Plan for public comment. The Draft Plan, which runs to over 600 pages, is a comprehensive assessment of every aspect of New York’s energy matrix, including supply, demand, and infrastructure needs for the next twenty years.  While the Plan suggests that natural gas will play an important role in the state’s energy future, it sees no role for imported liquefied natural gas (LNG); and although other infrastructure projects are considered in detail, it doesn’t even mention Port Ambrose, the proposed Deepwater Port that would be constructed off Long Island and import LNG into the metropolitan area.

In its few remarks on the subject, the Plan notes that the need for LNG imports has diminished and that they now (in 2012) account for “less than 1 percent of total U.S. natural gas.” The Plan goes on to warn that natural gas markets are shifting to exporting LNG – which could “cause price volatility in the future” and have a disruptive impact on New York energy costs.

So where does this leave Port Ambrose? “This is further evidence, if any were needed, that there isn’t any demonstrable need for LNG imports for Port Ambrose,” noted Sean Dixon, Coastal Policy Attorney with Clean Ocean Action; “in aiming for affordable energy, resiliency, and market-based solutions, LNG facilities are clearly inconsistent with NYS’s Energy Future.”

“New York State must reject the false promise of carbon based fuels as a bridge to a sustainable future and stand as a leader in creating a new energy economy based on renewable resources,” said Jeremy Samuelson, Executive Director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk. “Our energy future will reflect exactly what we incentivize.  Economic growth, environment protection and greater national security are the inevitable by-products an aggressive transition to renewable energy.”

“New York State’s Energy Plan offers further evidence that Port Ambrose is not viable as an LNG import facility,” said Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.  “In all likelihood, if this project goes forward it will be used to export shale gas and that will inevitably lead to more fracking in the Northeast, and that’s something none of us want to see.”

A State Energy Plan is required under state law and is open for a 60-day public comment period.  As noted in the Board presentation and press release announcements on the readiness of the Draft Plan, there will also be six public hearings (in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island).

In June 2013, Liberty LNG’s proposed Port Ambrose LNG import facility application became active, triggering a year-long review process under the federal Deepwater Port Act.  Liberty LNG proposes building a port about 25 miles off of Jones Beach, NY, and a 20-mile pipeline which would connect with the existing offshore Williams-Transco pipeline just 2 miles off the coast of Atlantic Beach, NY.  Liberty LNG purports to be planning to use the facility strictly to import natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico and foreign nations.  Under federal law passed in December 2012, the license for this port could be amended to allow for natural gas exports.

The groups quoted above, along with an anti-Liberty LNG coalition of organizations from across the nation, continue to call on Governors Christie and Cuomo to exercise their statutory right to veto this proposal.  Such a veto, under the federal Deepwater Port Act, can be transmitted to the reviewing agencies (the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration), at any time.