Monday, May 11, 2015

"Coal Rolling " Ban Exposes New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's Air Quality Hypocrisy

by Nomad

Although the air quality in New Jersey is a serious problem, Governor Christie's sweetheart relationship with the Koch brothers doesn't give him a lot of authority to do much about his state's air pollution problem. Not when so much of the problem blows in from Koch country.
So what's a presidential hopeful to do? Go after the small fish, of course. 

When it comes to air quality standards, New Jersey has a serious problem. That's according to the American Lung Association which  grades every county in the nation on its air quality and ozone levels. They found that as in past years the Garden State remains among the nation’s worst for pollution.

Poisons Blowing in the Wind
In fact, New Jersey is not alone. The survey found 42 percent of the nation’s population live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. The ironic part is that the state or county that produces the pollution may not experience the damaging effects.
Experts say that New Jersey's problem is "a combination of locally produced pollution and pollution that travels.”

That means no one governor or state legislature can do much about the problem. It requires joint action from those states who -literally- get the fallout of other states that pollute. In a country as fractured as the US, working together for a regional solution in bipartisan way is nothing but an exercise in nostalgia and idealism.

Here's what I mean.
Back in December 2013, Governor Chris Christie rejected an anti-air pollution petition from acoalition of eight Eastern states. Pollution doesn't recognize state borders and what is dumped in the air in one states ends up downwind. 

The petition sought  anti-pollution commitments from nine upwind states, namely, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.  The aim was to protect the health of downwind residents and to level the playing field for businesses.
The petition cites decades of inaction by the upwind states during which time the eight Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states have spent tens of billions of dollars to reduce their own air emissions.
The other governors who signed the petition  hailed from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Need I add that they were all Democrats?

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy who led the petition campaign said:
"We're paying a steep public health and economic price for the failure of upwind states to make investments needed to operate power plants and industrial facilities in a clean and efficient manner. Now is the ideal time to get the upwind polluters to take action."
Christie, who is, incidentally, asthmatic, apparently thought otherwise. Apparently, we must say, because neither he nor his offices bothered to explain why the governor was against corporate accountability when it comes to air pollution.

Great Americans
However,  it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Governor Christie would rather put his political ambitions above the health of his residents. In real terms that means keeping your top dollar campaign contributors smiling and jolly.

Says Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club:
“Christie on a lot of environment issues will step right in line with the Tea Party and the Koch brothers.”
And the Christie-Koch ties are not mere speculation. The Nation reports:
A Koch favorite who has appeared at secret summits organized in the past by the major donors to conservative causes and the RGA, Christie has been among their most vocal defenders in recent months. At the the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, for instance, he hailed brothers Charles and David Koch as “great Americans who are creating great things in our country.”
One of those great things is dumping tons of hazardous materials into the nation's rivers and air. A Rolling Stone article last year noted that Koch Industries ranked third among the 30 top polluters of American air and water. In particular the company ranks 13th for toxic air pollution.
When Christie met the Kochs in Vail, Colorado, it was love- not pollution- that was in the air. Here's a transcript of the Koch Brothers' 2011 Summer Seminar which Christie was keynote speaker. David Koch introduced Christie by saying:
"I'm really impressed and inspired by this man.,, He is my kind of guy."
In Koch-speak that means "I own this Butterball turkey."

The Beast Flexes Its Muscles 
In June, 2014, when the EPA proposed a commonsense plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants, the Koch beast roused from its nap and went into action.
It was impressive to behold too. 
Media Matters explains:
Nearly identical op-eds have been published in at least 16 newspapers across the country, each written by [the Koch-financed] Americans for Prosperity (AFP) chapter director or deputy director in that state. The op-eds call for state legislatures to fight back against the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which would place the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants.
One could argue in favor of free speech if not for the fact that only one of those 16 newspapers had the journalistic courtesy to explain to its readers the convoluted connections between AFP and the Koch brothers.

In effect, Koch-friendly Republicans were given their marching orders through the nation's newspapers. Probably not what the Founding Fathers intended when they granted freedom of the press,

No Help from Christie
Not to be too gloomy, there is some good news.
This year the American Lung Association (ALA) said that the state of New Jersey's air quality had improved. especially in its success in cutting down on soot pollution (rather than ozone at ground level.) 
Deborah Brown, president and CEO of the ALA of the Mid-Atlantic, said, perhaps a bit wishfully:
“New Jersey can certainly be proud of the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our air since the first ‘State of the Air’ report 16 years ago. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make our air healthy for New Jerseyans to breathe,’’
That same source backs up the idea behind that anti-pollution petition which the Democratic governors advocated and which Governor Christie refused to sign. Clearly if neighboring states are not on board with EPA regulations, then there will always be a limit on how clean the air will be in the entire region. 

The ALA report called for the EPA "to adopt tough new requirements under its proposed Clean Power Plan to reduce pollution from power plants, particularly those emissions that contribute to global climate change."
Climate change?
That's not even something most of the Republicans are prepared to recognize, much less do anything about. 

If the Koch brothers are willing to covertly hijack the national press in order to defeat the Clean Power Plan, then you can be sure Mr. Christie (or any of the conservatives who are panhandling for Koch bucks) isn't very highly motivated either. 
*   *   *
Sadly we have come to expect such behavior from our public servants even when the issue is as clear-cut as this.
Christie and so many other Republican politicians have made their pact with the devils and cannot be bothered with the finer public health and environmental regulations.

Since the 1990s it has been recognized that that air pollution level, even at low concentrations were associated with increased rates of mortality. children, the elderly, and people who are active outdoors are particularly vulnerable. 

A California fact sheet on air pollution states that
pollutants that may cause serious effects with long-term exposure, such as cancer, when exposure level is low. Most toxics have no known safe levels and some may accumulate in the body from repeated exposures.
Minor concerns, according to Governor Christie. 
And that dismissal is actually pretty rich when you consider the ridiculous attention-seeking Ebola proclamations and his cockamamie quarantine policy. Remember when he perpetuated illegitimate fears and incarcerated a nurse who was absolutely disease-free?

Coal Rolling
Happily for Christie, however, the Koch brothers were both kind enough to leave the governor some scraps to gnaw on, some minor issue that wouldn't adversely effect Koch business and yet something to prove he (sort of) cares about the quality of air in New Jersey.

About a week ago, Governor Christie signed into law state legislation S2418. That new law would ban the practice of "coal rolling."

Never heard of it? Well, first off, it has nothing to do with coal and so the Koch brothers allowed it to pass their scrutiny.
Coal rolling, for your information, is the practice by some defiant drivers to modify their diesel trucks so that they will belch thick black smoke. 

I suppose it could be argued, that coal rolling is just a form of free speech about environmental policies.To hell with your clean air regulations, these drivers say, as they leave pedestrians looking like extras from "The Jazz Singer."

According to the new ban, retrofitting any diesel-powered vehicle with any device, smoke stack, or other equipment which enhances the vehicle's capacity to emit soot, smoke, or other particulate emissions" will be a crime.  
New Jersey Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen) who was the primary sponsor for the bill, played up the importance of the ban.
"Coal rolling increases air pollution in New Jersey and creates unsafe driving conditions on New Jersey's already congested roadways."
In fact, as one source points out, the ban was a bit of political show. How much does coal rolling actually increase pollution compared to coal fired power plants? Some have questioned the need for any new laws.
There are already ordinances on the books that simple need to be enforced. State Department of Environmental Regulations say that vehicles "shall not emit visible smoke, whether from crankcase emissions or from tailpipe exhaust, for a period in excess of three consecutive seconds."

Besides that there are also federal regulations regarding modifying trucks to belch smoke handed down by the EPA. (Ironically that the same agency the Koch brothers have workedtirelessly to dismantle.)

Eustace said that although there were regulations on the books, it is about enforcement. 
And therein lies the hypocrisy.
By signing this legislation, Governor Christie has shown that he would prefer to enforce only the laws that prohibit the defiant fouling of the air by New Jersey voters. However when it  comes to his white haired sugar daddies, he is more than happy to look the other way.  

After all, the Koch brothers are coal rolling the entire country and Christie thinks that is exactly what "great Americans" do.