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Need to Know: January 18, 2013: Ending paralysis: New Jersey and Germany

On the first of two inauguration specials examining the advocacy group “Common Good’s” proposals to end bureaucratic gridlock and get the United States moving forward, “Need to Know” anchor Jeff Greenfield explores why it now takes nearly four times as long to complete infrastructure projects in the United States than it did in the 1970s. By comparison, correspondent Rick Karr reports on how German political parties of every stripe are now backing a plan that is expected to nearly end that country’s use of fossil fuels by 2050.

Read the full transcript

Support for this program is made possible by: Perry and Donna Golkin Family Foundation, The William and Mary Greve Foundation, and O’Shaughnessy Family Partners LLC.

What’s on this week:

The battle in Bayonne

The Bayonne Bridge needs to be raised to accommodate the new size of ships. Need to Know looks into why the project has become a debate over government paralysis and environmental quality.

Germany’s green revolution

What would it take to transform the whole country’s electric grid–to shut down all of its old power plants, and move to a system that generates electricity exclusively from renewable resources? Well, that’s exactly what Germany’s trying to do–not decades from now….but now.

Robert Moses: New York’s own radical rehab specialist

In his reign as ‘Master Builder,’ Robert Moses “built 13 bridges, 416 miles of parkways, 658 playgrounds, and 150,000 housing units, spending $150 billion in today’s dollars.” He also became a symbol of blatant disregard of community input.

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  • Kathleen Migliore-Newton

    We used to live in lower Manhattan near Canal Street. After we moved there 30 years ago, Al D’Amato and the politicians on Staten Island pushed through a one-way toll on the Verranzano Bridge, so that truck and car traffic increased tremendously on Canal Street. Our community input was totally ignored. I know what pollution truck traffic can cause. There are no environmental restrictions on truck-diesel emissions, which are of a particulate nature and very bad for us to breath. Why couldnt’ there be some sort of rerouting of truck traffic around the Ironbound district?

    The German example illustrates what is lacking at this point in American discourse–a sense of community and shared responsibility for the common good.

  • Anonymous

    Rerouting the traffic would simply place the problem in someone else’s backyard. I have been fighting a bypass that is being built “to get the trucks out of town”. Howver, doing so would route those trucks through important wetlands, and woudl destroy many people’s farms and homes, and woudln’t really stop the pollution at all. Moving pollution from one place to another is no solution.

  • Aristocratism

    This was an interesting program contrasting Americans’ lack of unity versus Germany’s in making national progress. However, that comment would be too simplistic. It was interesting when the interviewer was interviewing the older developer fellow, he mentioned he was surprised and brought up Robert Moses. I was surprised because the developer essentially said “Well, we’ll hear out and record the comments, but we ain’t gonna do much about it.” And that’s democracy. The marginalized will not be satisfied. Which is sad because we’re talking about real people here, who just aren’t as rich to live in a clean area perhaps. They shouldn’t more subject to cancer and pollution than others just because they weren’t greedy.

  • Norinda

    I agree. These undiscounted costs rarely are factored in when business decisions to expand infrastructure which increases carbon emissions which attribute to climate change and global warming. The Port of Wilmington faces a similar dilemma, as the Governor wants to privatize the operations of the port to Kinder Morgan oil energy giant started by former Enron executives. They are one of the largest transporters of fossil fuels, coal and liquefied natural gas. They have been heavily fined by the EPA for coal dust spills and dumping toxins in waterways and gas leaks/explosions. The public is demanding more transparency in this deal and legislative oversight. Senate Bill #3 is going to the house to be voted on January 23, 2013.

  • Chris Out-Fm

    I am appalled that Need to Know ran advertorial as a normal program (“The Battle for Bayonne”). When an anti-environmentalist zillionaire buys airtime on PBS stations across the country as a soapbox for his propaganda on behalf of Big Real Estate, that is no longer journalism. It’s a very wily and deceptive infomercial. Shame on Need to Know and shame on PBS. Would Now on PBS have stooped so low? Who were the amoral execs who made the decision to run this advertorial propaganda? Name and shame them!

  • hugh owens

    excellent show, pretty balanced and informative but lacking one huge obvious viewpoint. Bayonne is moving all this cargo by thousands of trucks which could be moved by a few trains across a rail bridge which would cost a tiny fraction of what a car/truck bridge would cost. Most car /truck bridges are concrete with appallingly short lifetimes. Steel rail bridges last many decades. There are rail bridges in India 100 years old, easy to repair and maintain. Those trains could run on electricity instead of diesel. A new way of moving people and goods is needed now before fossil fuels are too expensive or scarce to use which is not far off.

  • VMGillen

    Re unity & Germany: Germans are absolutely unified in their unwillingness to expose themselves to harm, a concern that trumps other considerations, such as how much money, or jobs, or whatever, can be made, or saved… Project reviews are subject to the “Precautionary Principle” – if there is the slightest possibility of harm the project does not move forward: better safe than sorry.

  • VMGillen

    I am the
    president of the Elm Park Civic Association – my community surrounds the Staten
    Island foot of the Bayonne Bridge. Our members support the roadway raising. We
    also absolutely believe there are ways to minimize and mitigate the impact of
    this 3-plus year project on our community.

    People with no familiarity
    with – and little desire to learn about, our community, are conducting the
    environmental review process; they seem to view the review as a terrible burden,
    and our community as a an adversary which must be overcome.

    We were not
    directly contacted at the beginning of this process. Fortunately we discovered
    the request for comments on the original scoping document – and were able to
    meet the deadline for comments. Good thing we did: there was no mention of the
    existence of two schools and a Superfund site within 100 feet of the work area.
    Indeed, when asked about where workers would park, we were told they would park
    on the superfund site! Surely this cannot be construed as obstructionist
    behaviour on our part, can it?

    We feel our community is barely tolerated
    in this process, and simply represents an obstacle to be overcome, and that
    engagement with the ‘locals’ is an annoying regulatory requirement. Illustrating
    this: approximately 40% of the people in our community are Spanish-speaking. We
    requested, repeatedly, a Spanish translation of the Draft Environmental
    Assessment – when it was released we were told it is a very “robust” document
    (750 pages), so there is no translation, however a a five-page simplified
    version will be available in Spanish when public meetings are held.

    Regional Planning is absolutely correct: the community must be engaged
    early in the process, and should be treated respectfully. Ironbound is correct:
    there must be meaningful engagement. The assessment process is not a make-work
    “publish and defend” process, it is meant to provide opportunities for
    meaningful dialogues. I submit that our communities are capable of playing a
    significant role – we are not an uneducated mass of obstructionists The Germans
    understand they are all in it together – here in the States we seem to have
    embraced the principles of colonial extractionism.,- the project will go
    through; the locals have little say; any consideration of the local community
    is begrudged. What a pity: we really DO need these projects.

  • Anonymous

    An interesting segment, but the two sides of the analysis don’t really line up. The US story is all about regulatory issues while the German story is all about the political leadership. It would be valuable to know the extent of environmental impact regulation for the German projects in question. In the US, green energy projects with some degree of political backing are regularly stymied by NEPA/EIS hurdles; sometimes the concerns are valid, sometimes it’s nothing more than a Nimby legal maneuver. If Germany has a framework that can differentiate between the two while alleviating the overall regulatory burden, it would be valuable for the US (or at least interesting to the more wonkish viewer) to know more.

  • Barry Bennett

    I’m a big fan of PBS and “Need to Know,” but you failed to do your homework before starting on this story. It’s just too easy to blame “those stubborn environmentalists,” isn’t it? The real problem is that our nation is collecting less and less in tax revenue and that there is less money available for infrastructure projects. Remember Ronald Reagan’s “Government isn’t the solution to the problem, Government is the problem” speech? After massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and two unfunded wars, we as a nation are well on our way to what the “Club For Growth,” the Koch Brothers and Grover Norquist would call a “Starved Federal Government.” The uppermost “Two Percent” are paying less and less of a percentage of their wealth in taxes while the rest of us can only dream of a high speed rail system as the one available in Germany.

  • E. Nowak

    Absolutely disgusted by these two “bought and paid for by Common Good” episodes! Need to Know used to be one of the best investigative news programs on U.S. TV. But now, apparently, it can be rented out as a mouthpiece for anyone willing to pony up the cash. Tell me, can the Klu Klux Klan buy an episode? How about the Black Panthers? No? Why not? How did Common Good manage to get this privilege? If PBS is now pimping out its shows, I want to see episodes sponsored by Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International, and the American Civil Liberties Union, and not just groups who act as fronts for the real estate industry.

  • E. Nowak

    Balanced? Hardly!

  • Lewis Mumford

    The U.S.’s infrastructure deficit mentioned at the beginning of the show is not caused by the supposed ill effects of the National Environmental Policy Act (Bayonne and Orange county excepted, apparently), but a lack of money invested in infrastructure. The Second Avenue subway, for example, took 8 years to get through initial planning and environmental review, but it will take decades (forty? or more?) to complete because politicians say they don’t have the money to build it all at once. In the meantime, New Yorkers will live without that, and other, needed projects.

    Of course, the private sector’s potential influx of money is mentioned in the segment on Germany, but the show’s use of “private sector” is misleading; many of these renewable energy installations are run by non-profits or cooperatives, not big corporations or the wealthy.

    Bottom line: if we want infrastructure, we have to pay for it through taxing ourselves.