The Next Proving Ground: Plans To Drill Off The Atlantic Coast

The U.S. Department of Interior over the past two weeks has advanced plans to drill for oil and natural gas reserves off the entire Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida. This plan has generated mostly negative reaction from residents along most of the coastal states effected, particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The federal government plans to lease out areas off the coast of the entire Eastern seaboard for the planned exploration of these energy resources despite the potential risks to a massive population if there is an operational incident.

The actions of the Department of Interior have prompted the response from the state level governments which are effected by this potential new energy strategy. The most recent was in my home state of New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie wrote a strong letter to the Department of Interior vigorously opposing any drilling or exploration efforts off the coast of the state.

Governor Christie cited the potential threat to the marine wildlife, the water, and other natural resources as well as natural habitats. The exploration for these energy sources can have a very damaging effect and the governor maintained that his position has always been against these types of exploratory methods in coastal waters.

My own view, as a resident, is that the Atlantic coast should be off limits to this type of drilling and exploration for a variety of reasons. The first of which is that the New Jersey coast line is a huge economic driver for our state; between the tourism at the beaches, to the fishing industry.
Second, the implementation of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and other exploration methods on land have created a glut in the supply of oil and natural gas. The bigger issue now is what to do with the abundance of the supply of the resources and how to store it until the demand curve resets itself. The industry does not need more resources supplied from the Atlantic Coast, when the U.S. domestic oil and natural gas industry has other areas which currently provide supply.

Finally, I agree with the governors of the Atlantic coast states, the population density especially in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast/ New England would create an environmental catastrophe in the event of an incident in an exploration operation. The sheer volume of people and the pollution potential for such a huge area is a high-risk scenario.

We have a responsibility to protect our natural resources and in this case, the Atlantic Ocean should not be explored for energy reserves in this manner. The risks far outweigh the return. It is my hope that the residents and the state governments can appeal to the federal government on this important matter.

I have grown up at the beach in New Jersey and I have seen the first-hand impact of pollution on the shore. I have also seen the impact of a storm like Hurricane Sandy, which a similar storm system in the future could have a disastrous impact on an off -shore drilling operation.

The Atlantic coast has been immune to exploration for this long a period of time, I do not understand what there is to gain by opening it up for oil and gas exploration at this point. I am hoping that the other side of this debate can make that argument in the coming months. I am hoping that the residents will band together and inform our representatives on both the state and federal level that we are not interested in this type of activity taking place on the Atlantic coast.

NJ Devils: West to East Coast – The Road Ahead

The New Jersey Devils lost yet another game on the road last night to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime. Since the teams reached the extra session, the Devils will earn a point in the standings for the overtime loss, but it still leaves an unsettling feeling for the fans. This 2016-17 Devils team has struggled on the road so far, and the reverse is also true: the team has been very strong on their home ice (7 wins, and only 2 losses – both in overtime) which has buoyed their overall performance.

There are some fans and local “beat” media types that are quick to point out that many of those games where the Devils performance has lacked are in games against top tier teams or teams with winning records, for the most part. They would also be correct in generalizing the effort of New Jersey being very resolute in many of those games, where they have battled to stay in those losing games rather than give up.

However, in my view, the fact that the Devils have played 14 games on the road this season and have won just 3 of those games and lost 11 times (7 in regulation and 4 in overtime), is a concern. I can concede that it is still early, there is a great deal of hockey still left to be played; but the reality is that these trends get entrenched and they are difficult for teams to turn around.

In addition, the team has been without star forward Taylor Hall who was out with an injury until his return last night to the action in Chicago. Hall does significantly impact the manner in which the team approaches the strategy to a given game. His ability to use his speed and skating ability to push the puck forward puts pressure on the opposing team and changes the way in which the Devils hold the zone offensively and transition the puck as well. That type of impact cannot be underscored. It obviously remains to be seen how a healthy and effective Taylor Hall as well as the health of other key players impacts the performance of the team on the road as the season moves forward.

The silver lining in the case of a tough team like Chicago is that the Devils will not have to play there again this season. The Devils also dealt with a trip to the West Coast already and subjected themselves to that gauntlet. The point being that they have put some of the more difficult road trips behind them.

It should also be noted that the Devils schedule is “back loaded” with home games in the second half, which if they play to their potential and are in the mix for a wild card playoff spot, they should be able to win several of those home games, so they figure to be well positioned in the long term.

Conversely, they have not played many Metropolitan Division opponents so far this season, so New Jersey has some difficult games ahead against teams in the top of the standings such as the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets.

In addition, the Devils have several games remaining with the top teams from the Atlantic Division such as the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Boston Bruins. It is going to be “tough sledding” until February where they have nine of their eleven games that month are at home at Prudential Center.

In the meantime, we will learn if Travis Zajac has found his scoring touch again after the hat trick last night. We will see how the new defensive pairings for this season hold up under the crucible of Metropolitan divisional rivalry games. We will see if the young Devils prospects can continue to contribute in the various facets of the game on a consistent basis.

The Devils have areas to improve and they have areas where they have been surprisingly better than anticipated, but that is not unlike many other teams at this point in a hockey season. It remains to be seen how the road ahead will treat New Jersey, but I know one thing: they have to figure out a way to win games away from Prudential Center, or else this season will be over before we know it.

Minimum Wage Debate: A Six Month Review – Follow Up

The debate surrounding the minimum wage increase has been extraordinarily divisive among the American general public. I have covered this issue from a variety of aspects, particularly surrounding the referendum vote affirming a minimum wage increase in my home state of New Jersey in January.

 

Now, six months later, I will again follow up on this contentious subject and as I have done in the past, I will analyze the data available to measure the impact on the job market in those states which increased wages.

 

The Data: Six Months Later

 

The report from the Center for Economic & Policy Research is very promising. There were no job losses in most states which raised the minimum wage, and if you do not recall from my earlier coverage, 13 states raised that wage for the workers in their respective states.

 

In fact, all but 1 state of the 13 states saw job growth within the first 5 months of the passage of the minimum wage increase. The states that raised the minimum wage had better job growth than those that did not raise the minimum wage.

 

Furthermore, the top 10 states for job growth feature 4 states which raised the minimum wage: Florida, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. This data is exciting for the proponents of the minimum wage increase and will help their cause to gain traction on the national level.

 

Conversely, the data in this report will be largely damaging to those factions which continue to oppose the increase in the minimum wage from being approved in other states or on the federal level.

 

However, the detractors will most probably point out that the economy needs to fill higher paying jobs at a much more prevalent rate in order to fully bounce back. This statement would be rather accurate given the current state of the economy.

 

The factions who strongly defend the minimum wage increase would argue that the economy and job growth usually always starts from the bottom and progresses up the salary chain. Therefore, the gains made in the minimum wage jobs, they would argue, are an indication of future job growth of higher paying positions. These factions would use the data from this report to illustrate a trend in overall job growth in the 13 states with raised minimum wages which have also seen stronger job growth across the salary spectrum.

 

The Garden State Blues

 

My home state, New Jersey, has the worst job growth of the states that raised the minimum wage and is the worst state overall for job performance with a decline in net hiring of .56%, according to the Center for Economic & Policy Research.

 

The national labor force participation rate is declining, and New Jersey has been impacted by that unfortunate pattern in the labor market as well. The labor force participation rate is the amount of people who live in a particular state who are within the legal working age and that are gainfully employed.

 

The labor force participation rate in New Jersey was 63% in January 2014, the lowest rate since June 1983, during that horrible recession. In New Jersey and across the nation the share of people in their prime earning years that are employed is declining.

 

New Jersey is suffering for multiple reasons, the taxes on businesses coupled with the high standard of living have caused companies to either leave the state or hire less people. The cutbacks in hiring are due to the fact that the labor force here needs higher wages in order to meet the cost of living. It creates a vicious cycle.

 

In another report I reviewed, a study of major metropolitan areas and their respective job growth versus population size, I found that both New York City and Philadelphia finished in the bottom for job growth given that measurement. New Jersey relies on both of those cities to employ large amounts of their residents, which is obvious when you look at the bedroom communities that have sprouted up in New Jersey near those two major cities in the past.

 

That metric, the labor force participation rate, has everyone, including the White House, concerned about the job market in the near term. A member of the White House staff confirmed that they have to do more to assist businesses to enable them to create more jobs that are higher paying to improve the participation rate.

 

Stigma

 

I poured through several reports and data, but the biggest issue with the labor force participation rate is the stigma involved in society over the perception of those who are long term unemployed.

 

The studies I reviewed displayed a growing misconception by hiring managers and large and small corporations that the members of the labor force who have been unemployed for a long period of time cannot adequately fulfill the duties of the respective job which is currently open.

 

Several labor market analysts and those within the federal government who analyze job market trends disagree with this assessment, and acknowledge that the American economy still has a huge issue with long term unemployed people who are in their prime earning years. That figure stands currently at 35%, so for all the news that the job market is improving, that statistic is particularly alarming and damaging to our economy.

 

The debate within these circles and within the federal and state governments will shift in the coming months into a new focus: how to reverse that mindset and reverse the downward trend in the stagnant hiring of the long term unemployed. Many options are being discussed including potentially incentivizing the process for companies that do hire those individuals who have been out of work for a prolonged period of time.

 

Outlook

 

This report on the minimum wage increase certainly casts some light on the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report which I think was too quick to “jump the gun” on the effects of the minimum wage on job growth. That report, in summary, basically maintains that minimum wage increases would have little to no positive impact on the creation of jobs.

 

The outlook for the proponents of the cause to get the federal government to raise the minimum wage is, in my opinion, strengthened by the data in the report from the Center for Economic & Policy Research. The groups in favor of this measure have a petition launched on the White House website if you would like to lend your support to this cause.

 

The growth of jobs overall is obviously the much larger issue here, and it will be interesting to see how the government and the business community will address the labor force participation issue in the future. It is becoming increasingly clear that something has to be done to employ more people in the prime of their respective careers, the overall improvement of our economy depends upon it.

 

(Statistics, rankings, and some background information courtesy of the Congressional Budget Office, Office of Management & Budget, Center for Economic & Policy Research, The Fiscal Times, and Forbes.com )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow Up: Minimum Wage Increase & Jobs

In a follow up story to recent coverage on the topic of the minimum wage increase and its impact on employment, some positive news made headlines today. The Center for Economic and Policy Research issued a report that in 13 states where the minimum wage was increased, after two months of data, the number of jobs increased in those states.

 

These findings have caused the proponents of the minimum wage increase to basically say “I told you so”; and that it is evidence that the correlation between the slight increase in wages and a negative impact on jobs is a weak argument.

 

Conversely, the detractors have stated that this report is based on too short a sample window (two months) and that the increase in minimum wage will have a “ripple effect” on the rest of the economy and the overall jobs market.

 

In my home state, New Jersey, where this has been a very “hot button” issue, and where residents just approved a minimum wage hike which came into law in January, the employment numbers decreased slightly. This data could fuel the detractors of the minimum wage increase here in The Garden State.

 

However of the 13 states with the increased minimum wage, only New Jersey, Connecticut, and West Virginia had either decreased or flat job level changes. The sampling may be small, but the main message here is that the increase in the minimum wage is not the devastating blow to job creation that the detractors were making it out to be during the implementation of these changes in January.

 

Minimum Wage Workers

The report also provided some information on the minimum wage worker in the United States. The percentage of the work force making minimum wage is 3 percent, so this increase does not effect a huge group of the overall labor market.

 

However, the industry groups such as the National Restaurant Association, the large fast food chains, and other groups are still strongly against the increase in the minimum wage in states that have yet to make a change.

 

In my earlier writing on this subject, particularly on the fast food workers, I described the protests of the worker and their rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25” alluding to the current minimum wage in some states. I factored out that hourly wage to approximately $15,000.00 per year, and this report also notes that figure and ties it to the national poverty level figure of $22,282.00 for a family of four.

 

Many of these workers have dependents, and they also now have to pay into the exchanges for their own health care or family health care coverage. This is all very difficult to achieve on the current level of $7.25 or $7.40 per hour depending on what state you reside within.

 

Moving forward

 

This report is just the first of many that will be commissioned by the government, research groups, or other interested parties in this very controversial matter. The initial data shows that the increase in minimum wage levels had a more constructive overall impact on job creation than what was initially forecasted.

 

The overall issue moving forward I think is not to focus on the minimum wage effort, I think those workers deserve higher wages and I agree with the federal increase to the $10.00 per hour level. The bigger issue is the examination of much larger methods with regard to government regulation and corporate tax structures which could be revised to create a climate capable of fostering job growth across the rest of the labor market.

 

Increases in minimum wage jobs are great, but it is only representative of a very small amount of the work force. The American public, the government, and the business community should be much more concerned about job creation for the other 97% of the work force.

 

The Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, said this week, and I am paraphrasing, that the recovery of the U.S. economy still feels like a recession to the majority of Americans. That is where our focus should be and not on the increase of a few dollars per hour for a very small, but hard working segment of our work force.

 

 

(Statistics courtesy of The Center for Economic & Policy Research and CBS News. Additional financial market data and background information courtesy of The Wall Street Journal -www.wsj.com)

Superfund: Cleaning America – Part 3

The Superfund has tackled the most difficult pollution and provided solutions to very complex remediation projects throughout the United States. The first two installments of this series traced the history of this program, the types of contamination, the enforcement protocols, and the spill response mandate from Congress.

 

 

This portion of the series will be dedicated entirely to my home state, New Jersey, which has the highest number of Superfund sites in the United States. The complexities of some of the politics involved in the placement of sites on the Superfund list will also be examined.

 

New Jersey

 

The State of New Jersey has the most sites listed on the Superfund system for cleanup. This number can be attributed to the abundance of manufacturing, chemical engineering, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies located in New Jersey based on its central location between New York City and Philadelphia.

 

 

The other troubling statistic for New Jersey is that it is the most densely populated state in the country. Therefore, a spill or a hazardous pollution site has the potential to impact many more lives than in other, more remote areas of the United States.

 

In the N.P.L. section of the EPA website you can search the sites and filter them by state. Using that website feature, I was able to determine that New Jersey has 144 sites listed on the N.P.L. which is a staggering statistic (www.epa.gov).

 

In a recent report made available through the Freedom of Information Act (F.O.I.A.) the State of New Jersey could have 27 more sites which are toxic that could have qualified for the Superfund program and are not on the list.

 

 

The most notorious site which remains missing from the list in New Jersey for Superfund cleanup is the former DuPont site in Pompton Lakes. The EPA has confirmed that the company’s practices have contaminated the ground water, soil, sediment, and surface water at the site (www.nj.com).

 

 

The pollution present at the former DuPont site threatens an area containing approximately 400 homes, where reports of illness from families breathing in toxic vapors from the contaminated groundwater seeping into their basement have become increasingly problematic.

 

Governor Christie has maintained that the state Department of Environmental Protection (D.E.P.) will continue to work on the cleanup efforts at the site. The Governor has stated that many sites on the Superfund list sit for years without being adequately addressed (www.nj.com).

 

However, the head of the Sierra Club in New Jersey, Jeff Tittel, counters the Governor’s assessment by stating that the state program has been in charge of the site for years and nothing has been done to address the major issues there, that it is a prime candidate for Superfund remediation.

 

The EPA statement to the media when the inquiry was made about the Pompton Lakes site being overlooked for Superfund status intimated that the site was too small for inclusion in the program. The site is estimated to be anywhere from 540 to 570 acres in size; which has the environmental groups and residential groups in that area in an uproar (www.nj.com).

 

In the meantime, New Jersey has been awarded $160 million in federal funding via the stimulus package directed toward 8 Superfund sites in the state (www.njspotlight.com). This proves that the federal government is aware and concerned about the pace of the cleanup efforts of the numerous polluted sites in New Jersey.

 

In addition, New Jersey has two other sites being proposed for inclusion on the N.P.L. at this point: Route 561 Dump Site in Gibbsboro and the Mansfield Trail Dump in Byram.

 

These overlooked toxic sites have been a source of great concern for residents in New Jersey. The debate continues on whether or not the sites should require EPA assistance in order to remediate properly versus the ramifications of having the environmental program run by the state government be responsible for those areas.

 

 

According to the website, NJ Spotlight.com, there are concerns from the environmental groups that the state program is concerned more about the redevelopment of the land than the complete remediation of the pollution at these sites. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups cite the more strict standards of cleanup required by the Superfund as the rationale for why the DuPont site should be under the EPA jurisdiction.

 

In fact, New Jersey has privatized its hazardous waste cleanup program which allows for more cost conscious remediation work and less public scrutiny of the program (www.njspotlight.com). The New Jersey D.E.P. has also introduced a program called the Licensed Site Remediation Program which would use private contractors hired by the polluters or P.R.Ps to clean up the waste sites. This program has also met with strong opposition from the environmental groups in the state.

 

The prevailing question from the environmental groups in regard to this program is: how can the public be assured that the cleanup process is done correctly and thoroughly with limited government oversight?

 

The other issue I see in this approach by New Jersey is it does not address how the cleanup of a site would be achieved in the event that the corporation or entity involved in the pollution on the site is now bankrupt or no longer exists. In that case, who would be responsible for hiring the private contractors to clean up the site?

 

The new order of the day from the Christie Administration is to limit state government expenditures and maintain balanced budgets, so in that scenario, the state government would not cover the costs of the expenses to remediate the site. I would have to assume that the site would end up on the Superfund list anyway for the federal government to clean up the hazardous material.

 

The other point worth mentioning here is that other states have gone to a similar model to the one used in New Jersey to deal with the cleanup of contaminated sites. The net result of this shift could be a changing role in the future for the EPA with regard to environmental contamination cleanup, but that remains to be seen.

 

One of the most polluted sites in New Jersey at one point was the Imperial Oil site in Morganville. It first became listed on the Superfund in 1983, which is a strong indication of the level of contamination at that location at one point in time.

 

The EPA, through Superfund, has removed 25,000 gallons of contaminated oil from the 15 acre site (www.epa.gov). The project also provided for the cleanup of four other properties which are residential and located adjacent to the Imperial Oil site.

 

According to the U.S. government, there are 406,326 people living within 10 miles of the site (www.census.gov). That potential for potential public health risk to a huge number of people is a driving force behind the importance of cleaning this site properly and thoroughly.

 

The Imperial Oil cleanup project received $33.4 million in Recovery Act funds to treat the contaminated soil on the site which is threat to the groundwater supply located beneath the site (www.epa.gov). The soil will then be tested over a very long period of time to measure the effectiveness of the remediation work done there.

 

The safe cleanup of the Imperial Oil site is a case study in the success that the Superfund protocols can achieve when the process is allowed to move from start to finish. That location featured some complex environmental remediation problems, and the EPA was able to find solutions to those issues and move the project forward to the final stages of soil sediment cleaning.

The next installment of this series will explore the criticisms of Superfund which have manifested over the years. It will also take an in-depth view of one of the worst pollution areas the program has ever faced, the Gowanus Canal site in Brooklyn.

 

Beach Replenishment Post- Hurricane Sandy

The New Jersey coast, which was battered in some places and destroyed in others by Hurricane Sandy, is undergoing a beach replenishment via federal hurricane relief funding.

 

The project had started earlier this year, and then was halted by the federal government shutdown. It is continuing now in the Long Branch area, which is going to receive $40 million in funding to rebuild their decimated beach (www.app.com). The work began last week and is part of a $102 million beach replenishment project which covers the area of the New Jersey coastline from Sea Bright to Manasquan Inlet.

 

The project will bring 3.3 million cubic yards of sand to the Long Branch beach areas alone. The scale of this project is, by far, the most ambitious yet in New Jersey (www.app.com). The question becomes whether or not it makes sense to continue to pursue this course when the storms continually pull the sand back into the ocean.

 

The proponents of the beach replenishment plan feel that it is vital to the economic recovery of the New Jersey Shore area to have larger beaches to accommodate tourists and visitors.

 

Some other groups in the general public believe that this project will provide additional protection to the beaches and the surrounding coastal town neighborhoods. The addition of that much sand calls for not only the beaches to be built back again, but the dunes system in many of these coastal areas as well.  The dunes will potentially hold back the tidal waves during a high wind and coastal storm event.

 

The other side

 

The other side of this situation is the view of the environmental and other community groups who believe that the beach should be repaired naturally and not with the involvement of engineered sand and sediment being dropped into place in huge quantities.

 

The sand is also dredged from the continental shelf, which causes the disruption of the ecosystem there as well as the underwater plant life in that area. The sediment caused by the addition of large amounts of new sand has an impact on the fish, birds, and other wildlife on the coast.

 

The beach replenishment projects have been growing steadily over the years, and this latest project is massive because of the extreme amount of damage caused by the mammoth Hurricane Sandy last year. The grain size of the sand in these projects is also problematic because it is usually larger than the grain size of the sand currently on the existing beaches. This causes the beaches to be muddy and changes the way the waves break on the shore especially during tidal periods. I have experienced it myself walking on the beach after the new sand has been installed, the sand is muddy and different in appearance.

 

These same groups will point to the fact that the same coastal areas were the beneficiaries of a beach replenishment project in the months leading up to the summer of 2012, and then Sandy and the Nor’easter storm which hit right after Election Day,  wiped out all of the sand from the last nourishment project.

 

Perspective

 

I understand both sides of this complex issue, the fortification of the beaches is needed to build the dunes, provide protection for the infrastructure of coastal communities, and provide support to the tourism industry. I am also a long time resident of the New Jersey Shore area, so I am very familiar with this situation.

 

Conversely, the beaches are being artificially engineered by man and machine to bring tons of new sand into a specific area with potential consequences to the environment and the natural habitats of fish, birds, and other wildlife. Then, every two years, the government looks at replenishing the beaches because the sand is being pulled away by the ocean during coastal storms.

 

The reduction of sand in the Continental Shelf has to have some effect on the ecosystem there as well. I am not sure if it is rational to keep restoring a coastline against the will of nature. I understand that the dunes are a source of protection but I think it is not a good situation to keep artificially enhancing them.

 

Then there is the sediment build up and the effect it has on the waves, especially during the peak tide cycles, and the role that the sediment has on fish and other wildlife. I am also concerned about the effect this enhancement of the beach can have on erosion. Some reports I read indicate that the expansion of the coastline through beach replenishment can actually accelerate erosion.

 

I think that the potential risks to the environment are too great and too costly for this type of beach nourishment to be effective. I also do not like the impact it can have on the ecosystem and the marine and bird life.

 

An argument can also be made for the cost of the beach replenishment process and using that money to make other infrastructure improvements. This could include building up the jetties which allows for a more natural tidal flow and can have less impact on the fish and wildlife. The money could also be used to make improvements to roads and bridges which were damaged during Sandy.

 

In the meantime, the project will continue with this phase in Long Branch and then will continue to work its way to the north to Monmouth Beach. The debate on whether this enhancement of the beach is good for the protection of coastal communities, or bad because of the environmental implications will continue on in the weeks and months ahead as well. The residents of New Jersey have to decide how they want the government to address this complex issue both in the present situation and in the future.

 

The stakes are high, and it is a problem which is not going away any time soon.