Gov. Carney promises attack on the Delaware Coastal Zone Act
Nine years ago two people were contending for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Delaware. (Then, as since, it was presumed that the Republican candidate would not be competitive, such that the Democratic nomination likely meant the governorship.) The two Democratic contenders were John Carney, a long-time party warhorse, and Jack Markell, state Treasurer but essentially an interloper in Delaware’s closed politics.
Markell reached out to me, asked questions, seemed to be thinking about Delaware’s problems. (It is rare for any Delaware politician to reach out to Green Delaware, or probably to any other independent voice.) Ultimately, he seemed somewhat smarter, and open to a wider range of ideas, than Carney. He produced a “blue book” of proposals on various issues. Some made more sense than others, but at least he seemed to be thinking. (Disclosure: I later participated in some of his Transition Team meetings.)
In comparison, I realized that all the times I’d met or seen Carney around Legislative Hall or otherwise, he’d never asked me a question. Never showed the slightest interest in Green Delaware’s work. More, I’d never seen him say much interesting about anything. For someone with high ambitions, his apparent lack of intellectual curiosity was disturbing. It seemed to me that as Governor Carney might replicate the mediocrity of the Ruth Ann Minner administrations.
Carney went on to serve three undistinguished terms in the US Congress.
Ultimately I ended up favoring Markell. (Green Delaware never made an endorsement.) It was likely a mistake. Markell’s apparent open-mindedness was more a campaign tactic than a reflection of who he was. What he was, really, was a Republican getting elected as a Democrat. He probably was smarter and more open-minded than Carney, but these qualities were used for dealmaking, not so much on behalf of Delawareans. Many of Markell’s deals were bad for Delaware.
Aside from the deals themselves, Markell and his people operated arrogantly and secretively, steadily reducing the already-minimal ability of Delawareans to participate meaningfully in running the state.
He sought to represent the interests of the wealthy while transferring the costs of government to those less able to pay.
He proved skillful at controlling the General Assembly.
He sought to weaken laws and regulations generally, further shifting control of Delaware towards big business.
He called repeatedly for review and elimination of regulations, but never called for enhancement of regulation to meet emerging needs such as climate change.
His attitude towards environmental problems and enforcement ranged from indifference to active hostility.
He seemed to think that public employees were parasites on society, whereas any employment in the private sector was inherently good.
he essentially shut down enforcement of the Coastal Zone Act.
He proved skillful at manipulating the media, especially “public” media. He understood that most media are under stress and often willing to use prepackaged propaganda,which he provided on a regular and predictable schedule.
He made bad appointments to the judiciary and to administrative appeal bodies such as the Environmental Appeals Board and the Coastal Zone Board, leading to a situation in which citizens lack meaningful venues for appealing special-interest-serving decisions.
Markell’s bad deals are many, even when we recognize, as we should, that there is inherent risk in the very competitive “economic development” and risks have to be taken. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Reopening the Delaware City Refinery
Delaware had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when the Refinery, polluting the state since 1957, as shut down and scheduled for demolition. Instead, Markell engineered a scam, involving millions in public funds paid to the new owners, PBF Energy, to keep the refinery open. The amount of public input into this decision: zero. The harm done to health and environmental quality: almost immesurable. This has been followed up by allowing facilities to be constructed for unloading crude-hauling “bomb trains, and allowing the refinery to transload products for other facilities on the river, all in flagrant disregard for the Coastal Zone Act. Ultimately, what this scam disregarded was the health and safety of Delawareans an the need to reduce, not increase, use of fossil fuels. Delaware policy should be aware of this, given that Delaware is the lowest-lying US state and most vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise caused by global warming.
Consider, for example,”Bloomgate,” ultimately a scheme to pretend that burning natural gas in “fuel cells” could be a source of “renewable” energy. Worse, the scam created a means to reach into Delmarva Power ratepayers’ pockets to pay for overpriced natural gas generators at industrial sites. Legislation was passed allowing the gas (a fossil fuel) burned in these fuel cells to be considered a “renewable” electricity source. The total ripoff of Delmarva Customers has now reached approximately $150 million dollars (several dollars per month on bills) with actual benefits to the state being approximately zero. Meanwhile, funding for solar went away.
This was an scheme to manufacture electric cars at the closed General Motors assembly plant in Newport, DE. The Delaware Economic Development Authority, gave Fisker $20 million in “financial incentives” but the result was a bankruptcy and Delaware reportedly ended up as an “unsecured creditor.”
Markell has talked a lot about education and has been repeatedly mentioned as a possible choice for US Secretary of Education (Obviously this is not happening under Trump.) Many people feel he has worked to divert funding from public schools to “charter” schools and shift control of education from public bodies to the business community.
We could go on and on, but the point is that Markell’s policies were essentially Trumpish: Unfettered capitalism and weakening of the public sector. This probably makes sense to a rich guy who made his pile in predatory telecom deals. But most Delawareans aren’t in that category and have needs and challenges.
So now, Delaware’s revolving door has revolved and John Carney is Governor of Delaware, having beaten Republican candidate Colin Bonini 58% to 39%. What’s to be expected of Carney?
Carney’s campaign website contains generic corporate Democrat positions. Little is offensive. Little is original. The main issue that Carney has seemed sincere about over time is promoting physical fitness.
Vote Smart says “John Carney, Jr. has refused to provide voters with positions on key issues covered by the 2016 Political Courage Test, despite repeated requests. Historically, candidates have failed to complete our test due to the advice they receive from their parties and advisors and out of fear of negative attack ads. John Carney, Jr. is still welcome to submit the test at any time.”
Carney as a person seems decent and inoffensive. He doesn’t seem corrupt, or a bully. Neither does he seem much of a thinker, or leader. But being a governor is much different than being a congressman.
Carney’s inaugural speech made no mention of global climate change, or sea level rise, or energy policy. (But his campaign website says “John believes one of the most serious threats facing Delaware is climate change and sea level rise.”) His speech included this:
- “Four years from now, when it’s time for the people of Delaware to render a judgment on this administration, I want them to say this:
- That the economy is stronger because middle and working class Delawareans are better off;
- That there are better-paying jobs that Delawareans value and where they feel valued;
- That they feel safer in their neighborhoods and in our towns and cities;
- That more of their kids are graduating ready for what comes next, with a sense of promise about the future;
- That our state’s finances are strong and in order;
- That Delaware had a governor who listened. And worked hard. For them.”
Carney’s first actions as governor provide some indications of what he may actually do:
Executive Order #1 seems aimed at turning the Delaware Economic Development Office over entirely to Chamber of Commerce interests. “CREATING A WORKING GROUP TO CONSIDER A PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN THE DELAWARE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OFFICE AND DELAWARE�S BUSINESS COMMUNITY. The “Working Group” contains no representatives of workers, or environmental interests. It’s pure corporate fat-cat.
More recently, Carney delivered a “ Special Address” to a joint session of the General Assembly. Carney didn’t mention climate change or sea level rise,or Delaware’s bad public health stats. He did promise a renewed attack on the Delaware Coastal Zone Act:
- “Other brownfields will require a fresh look at our venerable Coastal Zone Act. I don’t underestimate how hard this will be. Or how important it is to protect the beautiful natural areas along our coastline. But, I’m committed to working with all the relevant stakeholders to modernize the Coastal Zone Act. Our goal is to allow redevelopment in parts of our state that were once home to good-paying manufacturing jobs. I believe we can make reasonable changes to this law that will protect our environment while allowing our economy to grow. I want us to work together over the next few months so that we leave here in June with reasonable reforms that will leave our state better off.”
So Carney openly promises an attack on the Delaware Coastal Zone act. The last time the CZA was gravely weakened, mainstream Delaware “environmental” organizations were a huge part of the problem. Will there be effective resistance this time around?
It is worth noting that the reason the Claymont steel site is it the state it’s in, is that years ago Delaware legislators gave an exemption from the CZA for renewed operation of a steel plant there.
So when Carney, or anyone else, mentions a couple of prominent Coastal Zone “brownfields” as an excuse for weakening the Act, it is bullshit. The General Assembly can, and has before, given exemptions to specific sites–which is not to say it’s a good idea.
What Delaware pols, instigated as usual by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, are planning now is a generalized attack on protection of the Coastal Zone.
A good way to follow what Gov. Carney is really up to is to read his Executive Orders.
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