Category Archives: Sea Level Rise

Strengthen, don’t gut, the Delaware Coastal Zone Act

Note: a version of this piece was published in the Delaware State News on June 3, 2017.

The Delaware State News has a history of solid coverage of the Delaware Coastal Zone Act.  Not the least was a detailed five-part series by Russ Peterson in which he laid out the history of the Act as he experienced it.  (This might be reprinted if available.)

I was aware of, but not involved in, the controversies in the late 1960s and early 70s that lead to the Act.  Since the early 1990’s Green Delaware has advocated about the Act, and regarding individual permits sought under it.  We have likely disagreed with Delaware’s “environmental community” nearly as often as we’ve disagreed with the Chamber of Commerce, et al.

Much of the near-fifty-years of Coastal Zone controversy has been rather stereotyped — business and union interests claiming damage to the economy, loss of jobs, etc., and environmental interests asserting the need to protect our natural resources and quality of life.  For the most part, the Act has been chipped away at, and enforcement has often been weak.  The last few years have been especially disastrous, with the Markell administration shutting down meaningful enforcement, handing out Coastal Zone permits like so many peanuts, and Delaware courts willfully misinterpreting the plain language of the Act to deny citizens “standing” to demand enforcement.  The present Governor, John Carney, ran on a platform that included weakening of the Act.

The current proposed legislation, House Bill 190, would not leave much left of the Act.  The prime sponsor, Rep. Ed. Osienski, is a retired construction union business agent.

In spite of these problems, the Act has done a lot of good.  Here’s one example:   In about 2004 the Crown Landing liquefied natural gas import terminal was proposed in Logan Township, New Jersey.  If built, if would have disrupted normal traffic on the Delaware River and created serious hazards.  Because part of the facility would have been in Delaware waters, and because it would have been a new “bulk transfer facility,” prohibited in the Delaware Coastal Zone, Delaware was able to say no to Crown Landing.  (Thank John Hughes and Ruth Ann Minner.)  A case about it went to the US Supreme Court.  Now, not so many years later, facilities are being proposed for the export of LNG, including one right on the Northern border of Delaware.  Market conditions change but oil/gas company profits tend to determine public policy….

It’s been a long fifty years, and the activists who originally fought for the Act, many still active in the 1990s, have now mostly retired or passed on.  To many living Delawareans, the Act is history, its benefits perhaps taken for granted, and the need to fight for it less than obvious.  Yet the widespread opposition to SB 190 makes clear that Delawareans as a whole continue to recognize the significance and concrete value of the Act, and don’t want it weakened.

The immediate impetus for the Act was an attempt by Shell Oil to build another refinery in Delaware.  Given the environmental horror show of the existing Delaware City Refinery, the threat posed by another one was easy to see.  The Act served that immediate purpose effectively.

But the Act did a lot more and how this came about is worth considering.  Politics tends to be a pragmatic business, focused on short term goals and problems.  Russ Peterson was a different sort of politician.  Highly educated, a product of the then-progressive political atmosphere of the US Upper Midwest and a former research director for DuPont, he was comfortable with conceptual, big picture, thinking.  He, and many of his supporters, were Republicans.  (Later in life, when the GOP went to pot, he became a Democrat.)  Peterson set up a study group, staffed by a professional scientist.  Their report provided the conceptual basis for the Act.

Science tell us that the places where land meets water are among the most biologically productive, as well as being the most vulnerable to pollution and destructive forms of development.  This biological productivity relies on the preservation of beaches, marshes and wetlands.

Sites along the water have also historically been sought by industrial interests seeking access to cooling water, places to dump wastes, and water-born transport.   They are also sought for recreational uses such as swimming beaches, marinas, surfing, and fishing.  Growing coastal populations have increased all  these pressures.

Coastal locations are a limited resource subject to many competing demands.  Fifty years ago Delaware’s political system was able to recognize these realities and act somewhat effectively with a pioneering “coastal management” law.  Has our collective wisdom so deteriorated that, in the face in increasing http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/blood-pressure demands, we will choose to roll back,rather than strengthen, coastal protections?

The words of the Act are clear and simple.  Read the entire law below:

It is hereby determined that the coastal areas of Delaware are the most critical areas for the future of the State in terms of the quality of life in the State. It is, therefore, the declared public policy of the State to control the location, extent and type of industrial development in Delaware’s coastal areas. In so doing, the State can better protect the natural environment of its bay and coastal areas and safeguard their use primarily for recreation and tourism. Specifically, this chapter seeks to prohibit entirely the construction of new heavy industry in its coastal areas, which industry is determined to be incompatible with the protection of that natural environment in those areas. While it is the declared public policy of the State to encourage the introduction of new industry into Delaware, the protection of the environment, natural beauty and recreation potential of the State is also of great concern. In order to strike the correct balance between these 2 policies, careful planning based on a thorough understanding of Delaware’s potential and the State’s needs is required. Therefore, control of industrial development other than that of heavy industry in the coastal zone of Delaware through a permit system at the state level is called for. It is further determined that offshore bulk product transfer facilities represent a significant danger of pollution to the coastal zone and generate pressure for the construction of industrial plants in the coastal zone, which construction is declared to be against public policy. For these reasons, prohibition against bulk product transfer facilities in the coastal zone is deemed imperative.

This Delaware Act has served as a model for coastal management laws worldwide.

We don’t have to look very hard to see that Delaware is vulnerable.  On the East Coast, we receive a cumulative dose the air pollutants emitted by states to the West.  Most of Delaware’s ground and surface waters are polluted.  As the lowest-lying state, we are uniquely vulnerable to the sea level rise caused by climate change.  Key segments of the economy,such as agriculture, recreation, and tourism are sensitive to changes in weather and climate.   Delaware’s location on the Northeast Corridor, with I-95 passing through,seems to make Delaware vulnerable to imported social problems, contributing greatly, for example, to the high levels of violence in Wilmington.  A few years ago Green Delaware noted that life expectancy in the US had slipped from 24th to 49th, and Delaware is slightly below the middle of the pack.  Many Delawareans are struggling with a our state’s lack of prosperity and economic opportunity.  A state run as a safe harbor for corporate misconduct, a “Company State,” as Ralph Nader put it, faces many conflicts of interest in seeking to improve life for human residents.

Of course, any fifty-year-old law, no matter how wisely conceived, can benefit from review and updating.  Heavy industry has faded in Delaware–and is unlikely to return–while sprawl development has greatly increased, causing increased traffic congestion and a decline in quality of life.   The entire state of Delaware is under the federal Coastal Zone Management program–a program entirely separate, administratively, from the Delaware Coastal Zone Act program and somewhat lacking in teeth.  Consideration might be given to expanding the jurisdiction of the Delaware Coastal Zone act to more of the state, perhaps all of it.  Many other possible upgrades are easy to think on.

An impressive collection of Delaware’s non-governmental organizations are calling on legislators to withdraw SB 190 and set up a “stakeholder” review process to look at the Coastal Zone Act.  Green Delaware supports this, but we note that such a process should (1) not be dominated by industrial/organized labor interests tied to the negative agenda revealed in SB 190,and (2) the focus should not be on weakening the act, but on strengthening it to meet the needs of present times.

Lots of work is needed to make Delaware a place to be proud of.  A beefed-up Coastal Zone Act can play a valuable role.  Green Delaware declines to accept that Delaware residents and legislators are less capable in 2017 than they were in 1970.  Those legislators need to hear from you NOW.

Alan Muller is Executive Director of Green Delaware.

For more on Russ Peterson and the Coastal Zone Act see: “Commentary: Time to think about Delaware’s Peterson, Coastal Zone Act,” and “Russ Peterson, the Delaware Coastal Zone Act, and leadership in Delaware,” also published in the State News.

Russ Peterson, the Delaware Coastal Zone Act, and leadership in Delaware

Delaware’s a mess. The water is rising. We are a major destination for bomb trains. One of the most leaky and dangerous nuke power complexes threatens and pollutes the state and is trying to expand with new reactors. The air and water are polluted. The economy is stagnant and the political system corrupt. The public schools are under attack. The court system is openly dedicated to protecting corporate crime. A tale of woe, to be sure. Continue reading

Time-critical action alerts: Stinker and a stinker

First, the old reliable stinker, alias Senator Tom Carper.

 The fate of the Keystone XL pipeline has become a fight of great substantive and symbolic significance to those concerned about climate change.  And, as we keep writing, Delaware is the lowest lying US state and mega-vulnerable to the effects of global warming–especially sea level rise.  Thus, Delaware pols should be leaders in the effort to limit climate change.  Obviously most are not.  Especially, Tom Carper isn’t. Continue reading

DNREC “listening session” on the EPA “Clean Power Plan”–Nov 5, 2014, in Dover, DE

The official notice is below.

Green Delaware Comments:

The “Clean Power Plan,” formally two proposals released in June by the EPA for public comment, is extremely complicated and hard to fully understand.  So much so that regulatory agencies, advocacy orgs, and others who have studied it at great length are not entirely sure what it all means. States have a great deal of flexibility in complying with the proposed requirements, whatever they turn out to be. Continue reading

Good News: “The Data Center” (power plant) apparently dead

Gas attack: U of Delaware kills $1 billion data center/power plant.”

“The Data Center” was a scam so blatant, so absurd, that it should never have gotten any traction at all.

That it did is a sad commentary on the intellectual and ethical emptiness of Delaware’s “Chamber of Commerce” business community, and, of course, the administration of Gov. Jack Markell.  The so called “Delaware Economic Development Office,”especially, demonstrates a consistent and predictable idiocy backed up by secrecy and dishonesty.

Per usual in Delaware, the scam was assembled by various parties, including the Markell administration, the University of Delaware, and the City of Newark, before the public was given notice.  Then, it was rolled out as a done deal.  Thankfully, it apparently has been undone.  (Note that the objection is mostly to the power plant, not to a data center as such.)

Aside from the obvious lie of saying a 278 megawatt gas-burning power plant was “auxiliary” to a data center, consider the un wisdom, or the symbolism, of a large new fossil-fuel power plant in a state so vulnerable to the effects of climate change that much of it will soon enough be under water.

Delaware has the lowest mean elevation of any state at 60 ft above sea level.   (Florida and Louisiana are next at 100 ft.)  The mean elevation of Kent County is only 36 feet.  Current measured sea level rise is around 3.4 mm per year and speeding up–it varies from place to place–and almost every new official prediction of sea level rise is higher than the last one.  See Waters rising … Delaware going away?”

It is long past time to be shutting down the the existing combustion power plants that drive climate change and sea level rise, far less a time to be building new ones.  (The total generating capacity in Delaware is on the order of 3300 megawatts.)

In the face of this, Markell has allowed investment in wind, solar, and energy efficiency to mostly come to a stop–suiting the interests of Delmarva Power–while embracing various schemes for burning more natural gas.

(All considered, it appears that the climate change impact of natural gas is at least as high as coal, because of the unburned methane emissions.)

Residents of the City of Newark, and faculty and students of the University of Delaware, came to life to oppose a scam in which the City and the administration of the U of D were deeply involved.  In recent decades it has been rare to see signs of political life in Newark, but self-interest does have an energizing effect.  See Newark Residents Against the Power Plant.

The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club (especially Amy Roe) and the Delaware Audubon Society contributed.

But the real hero of this fight, in my opinion, is Rep. John Kowalko of Newark.  Kowalko relentlessly sought accurate information from various parties so he could represent the true interests of his constituents.  It doesn’t take a lot of courage for professors or environmentalists to oppose a power plant, but Kowalko, a longtime union person, took a lot of heat from any-job-at-any-cost Delaware union officials.

Kowalko, as he usually does, behaved with gumption, integrity, and right-on values.   Consider the oath of office that Delaware’s Constitution prescribes for public officials:

“I, (name) , do proudly swear (or affirm) to carry out the responsibilities of the office of

(name of office) to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear (or affirm) always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.”  [emphasis added by Muller]

How many legislators take their oath seriously?  John Kowalko is one who clearly does.  (I don’t know what role has been played by Senators representing the area.)

Compare the “Data Center” fight with the fight of people around Millsboro against a giant Korean chicken-killing plant, another Markell project just as absurd and undesirable.  See “ Just how disgusting can the Markell administration get? Is there any bottom?”  That area is represented by Gerald W. Hocker and John C. Atkins, two of the most special-interest-serving legislators in Delaware.  (Atkins has been in the news recently –but not for helping his constituents!–, and Green Delaware has featured him before.)

Friday and Saturday are forecast to be Code Yellow bad air days in Delaware for ozone.  Saturday is also Code Yellow for particles.  Some discussion of the meaning of this is here.

Carper, Coons, betray Delaware yet again — vote for tar sands oil pipeline

ACTION: Call Coons and Carper.  Email their staffers.  Sign the petition.  But do something!

Two of the worst Democratic senators in the US Senate are from Delaware:  Chris Coons and Tom Carper.  These two are what have been called “Democrats in Name Only” (DINOs) in the sense that they almost always vote for fat-cat interests and betray the public interest.

On March 22, 2013, Coons and Carper disgraced themselves and mocked the interests of Delaware by joining 15 other “Democratic” senators in voting to support the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Continue reading

Planning and Sea level rise in Delaware–public comments needed

Bureaucrats trying to do their jobs but Gov. Markell betrays us yet again….

The single most important issue Delaware faces is sea level rise due to global warming.  Nobody knows exactly how fast the sea is going to rise, but the estimates keep increasing.  In my opinion, most indications point to greater rise than the official forecasts, But any realistic estimate of the situation says Delaware is going to change a lot. Continue reading