Tag Archive: environment

Chris Christie promises to fight Obama Administration on environment

In this video, Chris Christie promises to fight the Obama Administration on the environment:

“I’ve got a feeling that you will see, come January 2010, a lot of battles between the Christie administration DEP and the Obama administration EPA.”

What does he mean? Does Christie plan to go further than the EPA? No, not at all. As Loretta Weinberg says:

“Chris Christie has boasted that he would fight the Obama administration’s efforts to protect our air,” said Weinberg.  “He has said that his first target for budget cuts would be environmental protection and that he’d roll back regulations that protect our air and water. Christie has vowed to follow Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford’s lead and reject more than $70 million in federal funds to invest in our state’s energy programs and he is opposed to the open space bond issue which would protect our remaining green space.  I don’t know about you, but I will take the recommendation of the President and the former Vice President when it comes to matters of the environment.”

Chemical Industry Lobbyists Met With DEP Commissioner Today

[Note: cross posted  with links and photo’s at:

http://wolfenotes.com/

I got a tip and was able to catch lobbyists for the chemical industry in the act. They met privately today with DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello. The meeting was to discuss, among other things, appointments to a controversial new DEP Science Advisory Board (SAB).

It is precisely these kind of off the record private lobbying meetings between DEP and regulated industry and developers that illustrate the need for more transparency at DEP.  We recently petitioned DEP to force public disclosure of these kinds of private meetings. That petition is currently before Commissioner Mauriello, who must make a decision shortly.

At the federal level, the Obama administration has emphasized greater transparency in government. In response, EPA Administrator  Lisa Jackson posts daily schedules of EPA managers on the EPA website, something Jackson explicitly rejected while NJ DEP Commissioner.

Yesterday, we filed a lawsuit seeking access to exactly these kinds of records that show chemical industry political intervention at DEP.

The chemical industry is pressuring Mauriello to appoint the following industry scientists to the SAB:

Anne Masse – employed by Dupont

John Gannon – also w/Dupont at Wilmington, De. plant

Joseph West – Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway NJ

Daniel Caldwell – Stout and Caldwell  Engineers and South Jersey Development Council

DEP is an administrative agency that is required by law to make open and transparent decisions based on law, science, and the public interest, not politics in back room deals with lobbyists for special interests.

Chemical industry political lobbying has no place in the DEP decision-making process, and must be restricted. Current Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) laws already mandate reporting of these kind of lobbying attempts “to influence government processes”. But far stronger restrictions are required. Forcing public disclosure is a good first step in that process of minimizing the corrosive effects of special interests on DEP.

Lobbyists should be limited to these buildings:

Artificial Oyster Reefs in the Raritan Bay

Green Jersey makes this catch from NJN News the other night:

Crews from NY/NJ Baykeeper and Rutgers are placing artificial reefs in the Raritan Bay, part of an experimental project to replenish the oyster population there. If it works, it will be tried elsewhere, according to this report from NJN’s Ed Rodgers.

In the project, oyster larvae are placed on mesh bags and attached to the metal reef structures placed in the water, or to reef balls, another type of artificial reef. The structures support the oysters and provide a habitat for other marine life.

Here is the segment:

The news segment says that Oyster harvesting ended in the 1940’s, but that there have been efforts to repopulate the bay over the last 10 years. We’ll have to see whether this works to help start repopulating Oysters in the Bay and then if it can be used to repopulate in other areas as well.

Hostile Takeover of DEP Science – Industry Seeks to Stack Board with Cronies

[cross posted – for version with links to documents and photo’s, see:

http://wolfenotes.com/2009/09/…

A huge shot was fired today in what has been a dirty and expanding covert war on science at DEP – today’s Star Ledger reports:

Scientists line up to join DEP’s controversial new advisory panel

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More than 100 scientists have applied to join the Science Advisory Board, a panel being created by the state Department of Environmental Protection to provide expert opinions on several environmental questions. ….

Faced with ongoing budget cuts and staff reductions, [DEP Commissioner] Mauriello contends the advisory board is a natural fit for lean times. …But critics claim the board will be a tool for pro-development and industry forces that want to roll back tough pollution standards and circumvent the DEP’s own scientific staff….

“This thing was created because the science and research people inside the DEP are perceived at top levels as out of control because they did not let politics and the wishes of the administration get in their way of recommending such things as a tougher chromium clean-up standard in Jersey City,” said Bill Wolfe of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER….

“For 20 years this has been the goal of business and industry: to dismantle the DEP’s Division of Science and the extensive research they have done to protect the public health and environment from developers and polluters,” said Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club.

Behind the scenes, powerful chemical and pharmaceutical lobbyists are aggressively pushing for their own industry scientists to take over control of environmental and public health science at DEP.  This move mirrors a discredited tactic of the Bush Administration, to stack EPA and FDA Science Advisory Boards with industry flacks to promote industry’s economic interest over the best science and public health protection.

There are direct consequences to protections we now enjoy, because independent science is required to establish those protections and to monitor and enforce them. Questions of science and regulatory policy are inextricably linked. Every day, DEP makes decisions based on scientific standards and protocols, from managing fish and wildlife, wetlands and endangered species protections, enforcing air and water pollution permits, to warning residents about contaminated unsafe drinking water. Science and technical issues can not be isolated from policy and implementation of programs legally put in place to protect the public and regulate harmful actions of  industry. Yet, DEP Commissioner Maurielleo misleads the public by pretending that they are:

Mauriello said he tried to defuse such suspicions through the wording of the May directive he issued to create the board. The work of the panel, according to the directive, would be “limited to specific scientific and technical issues” that the commissioner pitches its way, “not policy or regulatory matters.” Mauriello also said the board will report to the DEP’s staff of scientists, who are helping to select its membership.

Mauriello’s May 2009 Order is riddled with loopholes, but does mention the need to limit scientific bias, but falls far short of a absolute ban on conflicts of interest. This failure invites and opens the door to industry control.

To provide a sense of just how dirty the covert science war has become, consider the fact that the NJ Chemistry Council is pushing employees of Dupont and Merck pharmaceuticals, some of the largest toxic polluters in NJ. How convenient to have a Dupont employee in control of the scientific health risk assessment of PFOA, a toxic chemical that is manufactured by his employer, Dupont. Risk assessments form the basis of regulations. Control the science and you control the regulations. These industry scientists are NOT independent, they have scientific biases and economic conflicts of interest. They MUST be excluded. Yet again, DEP Commissioner Mauriello misleads the public by saying:

“I respect the fears of the environmentalists,” Mauriello said. “But it can only be a good thing to have an independent group of scientists to look at what we do. The days of thinking we don’t need outside assistance are over.”

In order to reveal this covert war to the public, I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request . It was denied by DEP. DEP is protecting the chemical industry, NJ Builders Association and Business and Industry Association who are working behind the scenes. DEP is trying hard to keep the public from even knowing about this important debate. It is not just industry that won’t release the names of individual scientists – DEP won’t even reveal documents that show the existence  behind the scenes industry lobbying! This DEP secrecy is especially troubling, because the industry’s agenda is made clear:

Business and industry advocates have long wanted an advisory panel, although one with more official power to alter regulations. They have endorsed some candidates for the new board but have not released names.

“Too often the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection has set standards which have not been reflective of scientifically, peer-reviewed studies, said Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey. “This has led to the cost of compliance for New Jersey’s manufacturers to become far higher than in other states, Likewise, remediation of sites is far more expensive and often more time-consuming than in other states, while providing little or no extra protection. Therefore, a scientific advisory board comprised of scientific experts will provide many benefits to New Jersey in how it deals with its environmental issues.”  

Former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson caved to political pressure and abolshed DEP’s Division of Science and Research, and promoted a private Science Advisory Board.

So, I was pleased to read that the Star Ledger identified former DEP Commisioner Lisa Jackson as the person responsible for this sell out of scientific integrity to political pressure by powerful polluters:

Mauriello’s directive came five months after the DEP reorganized its Division of Science, Research and Technology into an Office of Science under a director of policy and planning. That change was put in place by DEP commissioner Lisa Jackson before she left in November to head the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

David Brogan, NJBIA misleads the public about DEP science and regulatory practices.

But even though this story has been smoked out in the media, the industry hacks continue to lie. David Broagan of NJBIA KNOWS that DEP considers a broad array of scientific sources, not just DEP scientists, and that DEP routinely conducts external peer review of scientific research sponsored or conducted by DEP. Yet he lies nonetheless:

“David Brogan of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said it is time the DEP heard from scientists outside a state laboratory. …

But even in an advisory capacity, the new board will offer “cutting-edge” information that may otherwise not be available to the state or public, said Elizabeth George-Cheniara of the New Jersey Builders Association,

The only thing “cutting edge” these industry flacks will offer is the company line – which of course – “is not otherwise available to the public”!

Lautenberg Healthy Schools Amendments – Why are They Invisible?

Parents Want to Know: Why the News Blackout of This Story?

(cross post – for linked version w/photo’s go to:

http://wolfenotes.com/2009/09/…

NJ’s senior Senator, Frank Lautenberg, is not known to be shy when it comes to issuing press releases touting his legislative accomplishments for the people of New Jersey. So, I found it odd that I never saw press coverage of major, groundbreaking amendments he sponsored creating “Healthy, High Performance Schools.”  (see “In Harm’s Way”)

For the first time, that law puts EPA in the role of developing school siting and regulatory guidelines to protect children’s health from environmental pollution while at school.  

As experience throughout NJ has shown, this is a highly controversial issue. But, curiously, I had to do a lot of Googling to find anything about the Lautenberg amendments, and finally found it reported by the small trade journal  Education Week on January 16, 2008:

“Tucked quietly into the federal Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is a section that calls for establishing voluntary environmental-health and -safety guidelines for states to consult when locating and constructing schools, and authorizes grants for states to develop programs around those standards.

The measure, which President Bush signed into law last month, marks the first time that a federal agency [EPA] will provide such guidance.”

Given several highly controversial school exposure cases reported across NJ (at schools in Paramus, Kiddie Kollege, Union, Franklin, Garfield, Camden, etc) months ago, I circulated this article to the NJ press corps to give NJ’s parents information about this issue. Strangely, Lautenberg’s office initially denied enactment of the bill I described. After providing the text of the bill to reporters, Lautenberg’s office ran away from their own law and had no comment, thus the press had no story. Thus parents had no awareness.

The 2008 Lautenberg amendments require:

”SEC. 502. MODEL GUIDELINES FOR SITING OF SCHOOL FACILITIES.

”Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this section, the [EPA] Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, shall issue voluntary school site selection guidelines that account for-

”(1) the special vulnerability of children to hazardous substances or pollution exposures in any case in which the potential for contamination at a potential school site exists; (link to full text)



The new law was enacted in January 2008, so the EPA siting guidelines were due in June of 2009. So, it is a good time for NJ press corp to ask EPA about the status of those guidelines. Has EPA adopted them? What is NJ DEP doing to implement them?

The Lautenberg sponsored federal law parallels a NJ law and programs. NJ Inspector General Cooper’s Report found that the mismanaged NJ Schools Construction Corporation – later abolished – had purchased contaminated land for schools – including a federal Superfund site in Gloucester City and a radioactive former Manhattan Project in Union City site. Governor Corzine’s SCC reforms were criticized severely for failure to address these siting and toxic land acquisition problems.  

In January 2007, Governor Corzine signed into law new requirements to set indoor air standards at schools and daycare centers. (P.L. 2007, c.1) The bill was a response to the Kiddie Kollege tragedy, where toddlers were poisoned by mercury at a day care center that previously was a former mercury manufacturing facility under an un-enforced DEP toxic site cleanup Order. The most complex and controversial requirements of the new law mandate that DHS and DEP take specific regulatory actions – both DEP and DHSS have failed to do so and are not in compliance with the Act. This inaction also could affect NJ’s ability to secure grants under the Lautenberg amendments above:

When Governor Jon Corzine signed the “Kiddie Kollege” law in January 2007 he claimed:

“This bill will help identify and remediate educational facilities and child care centers located on environmentally high risk sites,” Governor Corzine said. “This puts New Jersey at the forefront of states nationally in protecting children from environmental contaminants while at child care facilities and schools.” (full release here)

The law provides:

“1. a. Within 12 months after the effective date of this act, the Department of Health and Senior Services shall adopt rules and regulations … The rules and regulations adopted pursuant to this subsection shall be protective of the health of children and infants, and shall account for the difference in rate of the absorption, metabolism, and excretion of compounds between adults and infants and children.

[…]

b. (1) No construction permit shall be issued for the construction or alteration of any building or structure to be used as a child care center licensed pursuant to the provisions of P.L.1983, c.492, or for educational purposes, on a site that was previously used for industrial, storage, or high hazard purposes, as a nail salon, dry cleaning facility, or gasoline station, or on a contaminated site, on a site on which there is suspected contamination, or on an industrial site that is subject to the provisions of the “Industrial Site Recovery Act,” P.L.1983, c.330 (C.13:1K-6 et al.), except after submission by the applicant to the construction official of documentation sufficient to establish that the Department of Environmental Protection has approved a remedial action workplan for the entire site or that the site has been remediated consistent with the remediation standards and other remediation requirements established pursuant to section 35 of P.L.1993, c.139 (C.58:10B-12) and a no

further action letter has been issued by the Department of Environmental Protection for the entire site. (link to full text)

We”ve just seen another children’s toxic exposure disaster repeated in Atlantic Highlands Elementary School, where about 100 parents turned out on Tuesday night to win a major victory. (read here). Yet, that too received no press.

What the hell is going on?

Parents of thousands of kids in scores of potentially poisoned schools want to know.

Could the silence be due to that rumored NJ Attorney General’s opinion that interprets the law NOT to apply to existing schools? (and only new school construction)?

We’ll keep you posted at Wolfenotes.com

 

EPA audit scolds DEP for “significant shortcomings”

The DEP is under fire from the results of a routine audit by the EPA.

A federal audit of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection identified what it called “significant shortcomings” in how the DEP operates, especially in the division that handles contaminated site cleanups.

The DEP’s site remediation program doesn’t provide proper oversight of contaminated site cleanups because program officers don’t follow up with field audits or internal assessments, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency report, released Thursday.

The EPA faulted the DEP officials for failing to verify what the private contractors of polluters told them about site cleanups. The DEP officials even told the EPA during interviews that the contractors were “certified professionals and taken at their word,” the report said.

You can view the full report from the EPA here. That wasn’t all they were critical of:

In the report, the EPA also criticized the DEP because several programs, including site remediation and the wetlands program, operate outside the department’s quality assurance system. The audit noted that many site remediation staff and managers didn’t even know that the DEP has an Office of Quality Assurance.

While the report was critical of short comings, it wasn’t all negative:

Some positive highlights were noted during EPA’s closing meeting with Department’s senior managers. Among the highlights were that the Office of Quality Assurance’s Laboratory Certification Program has improved the frequency of laboratory audits since our last assessment of the program in 2005. Also, the Bureau of Surface Water Permitting, the Bureau of Technical Services, and the Bureau of Environmental Radiation were found to be in compliance with the NJDEP Quality Management Plan and have functioning quality systems.

Environmental groups took the report as confirmation of many of the points they have been making. It’s an odd situation to have, but such is the case with the latest EPA audit:

A 2005 EPA audit identified many areas for DEP improvement, which the DEP responded to in 2006 with a list of corrective actions it would take. This new audit notes that “many of the corrective actions identified … were never completed” by the DEP.

Those corrective actions had been outlined in a plan issued by then-DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson, who took over the EPA earlier this year. The audit and its critique of DEP performance provide an awkward instance of the agency Jackson used to run coming under criticism by the agency she heads now.

The DEP said they would need time to review the whole report before commenting. It’s only 32 pages. The Governor touted many of his administrations efforts recently on Blue Jersey radio, but this report says there is much more that needs to be done.

One response to the backlog of contaminated sites has been the recent creation of the Licensed Site Remediation Program to “help streamline the process”, but some including environmental groups have been very critical of that effort and have raised concerns. It’s clear by the backlog of contaminated sites that the DEP didn’t have the resources to handle the problem even before cuts over the last few years, the question has always been what to do about it?

Lisa Jackson’s EPA Blasts Lisa Jackson’s Management of NJ DEP

 News Releases

For Immediate Release: August 27, 2009

Contact: Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Jeff Ruch (202) 265-7337

EPA AUDIT RIPS NEW JERSEY DEP PERFORMANCE – Corrective Actions Never Implemented for Toxic, Wetlands and Other Programs

Washington, DC – A new audit by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency faults the quality and consistency of New Jersey programs for cleaning up toxic wastes, preserving wetlands and other key functions, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Many of the defects were first identified in a 2006 audit but Lisa Jackson, then head of the New Jersey agency and now EPA Administrator, neglected to put in place most of the corrective steps she had pledged to implement.

The new EPA audit of “Quality System Assessment” reviews whether the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) can measure what it does, whether its data is reliable and how it tracks results over time. While EPA found that DEP had made some progress, the federal agency concluded that several major DEP components suffer from “significant shortcomings” and fail to meet minimal federal standards for management quality and performance. Among the findings are –

The state program for cleaning up toxic wastes operates on an honor system and does not check industry claims: “None of the Site Remediation Program’s bureaus interviewed do any project assessment and/or process improvement beyond data validation, (i.e. no field audits, no split samples, no internal assessments, etc). The EPA assessment team was told that Responsible Party contractors and/or NJDEP contractors are ‘certified professionals and taken at their word'”;

The state wetland protection program lacks any quality assurances that its permit, land use and inventory of rare species habitat is accurate; and

Many of the steps that EPA identified in a previous audit to improve departmental performance, including data collection, tracking and training, were still absent three years later despite a Corrective Action Plan submitted in April 21, 2006 by then-DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson laying out an implementation schedule. Jackson remained Commissioner for the next two and a half years after submitting that plan and was confirmed to lead EPA this past January.

This audit is an indictment of DEP management for failing fundamental tests of competence,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. “Without basic procedures for assuring the accuracy and quality of performance data a public agency cannot even be sure that its shoes are tied.”

This audit is just the latest failing grade issued to DEP management. In 2008, for example, EPA was forced to intervene and assume control of several state-supervised Superfund clean-ups, following a scathing Inspector General report decrying inordinate delays and mismanagement. Ironically, Jackson’s prior EPA experience before she came to DEP had been in Superfund.

“Recent DEP Commissioners, including Lisa Jackson, have been far more concerned with political appearances than reality,” added Wolfe, noting that an agency review commissioned by Jackson in 2008 did not mention a single issue tagged by the new EPA audit. “In order to effectively protect New Jersey’s environment, we need to let public servant specialists do the job they are supposed to do.”

###

Read the EPA audit on Quality Assessment

Look at the scathing 2008 Superfund audit

Review Lisa Jackson’s record at New Jersey DEP

Revisit Jackson’s DEP efficiency review

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability

 

If we build it – We will win

          NJ needs to build Electric Cars. (.) We can do it.  We have every thing that we need – including demand – right here. What we do not have is  people who want NJ business to prosper – will capital find its way to a state so blue?

         Building an Electric car here in NJ – be it ford, gm,  honda (or our own company) can, and must be done. We need to get every one on the same page here.

         We need to force this issue to the front. We need the Gov to appoint a Car Czar to get it rolling.

NJ Court Rules Exxon can’t limit damages

Frank Brill over at EnviroPolitics sent out a tweet about the news of a loss for Exxon in NJ Superior Court in their effort to limit damages for harming natural resources at two refinery sites in Elizabeth and Bayonne. Here’s the background:

In 2007, the Appellate Division held that the state Department of Environmental Protection had authority under the state Spill Act to seek damages for the loss of use of natural resources adversely affected by the discharge of hazardous substances.

ExxonMobil claimed that the law defines “natural resources” as land owned, managed, held in trust or otherwise controlled by the state.

Exxon tried to argue that their land was not classified as “natural resoures” and also tried to say that that no other NJ court had ruled that the Public Trust Doctrine would apply. But the court rejected Exxon’s arguments:

But in his July 24 decision, Judge Ross Anzaldi wrote: “This court will continue to read the Public Trust Doctrine expansively. Therefore natural resource damages are recoverable under the Spill [and Compensation Control] Act and the Public Trust Doctrine does not bar such recovery.”

The ruling is a clear victory for the DEP.  It appears this is a pretty significant ruling from the court with many implications. Back in 2007, the state sued 120 companies and expected to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental resource damages. Exxon was one of those companies and doesn’t seem pleased at all with the court ruling:

A company spokeswoman, Kristin Hellmer, issued a statement that said it disagrees with Anzaldi’s holding “that the state holds a ‘public trust’ interest in perpetuity in private property it does not own, manage or control. This decision was based on an unprecedented interpretation of the Public Trust Doctrine that departs from more than a century of settled New Jersey law. ExxonMobil believes this decision undermines private property rights within New Jersey and raises serious constitutional issues.”

That would seem to signal that the decision will be appealed by Exxon. You can see the other companies served back in 2007 and their corresponding documents here.

Widening the Turnpike and the Parkway

I watched this video put out by the Governor’s office after sitting in the traffic heading south on the turnpike over the weekend, where they talk about what is being done to widen the Turnpike and Parkway:

Here’s more about the Turnpike section of the project:

State officials broke ground Thursday in East Windsor on a $2.7 billion project that will widen the New Jersey Turnpike, one of the nation’s busiest highways.

The project will increase the number of lanes from 6 and 10 to 12 and keep the lanes divided along a 25-mile stretch of the roadway between Cranbury and the Pennsylvania Turnpike interchange near Mansfield. Another 10 miles of roadway will be expanded from 10 lanes to 12 between Cranbury and East Brunswick.

Presently, traffic frequently backs up along the stretch that will be widened as 12 lanes are reduced to 10 and than 6. The turnpike carries an average 680,000 vehicles daily and is a major East Coast link between New York and Boston in the north and Philadelphia and Washington in the south.

The project will add 170 miles of new roadway. Construction is expected cause traffic delays until the widening is completed in 2014 but actual work will not begin until August.

That would be where I enjoyed virtually parking momentarily. But the Sierra club came out with what has become a regular release criticizing the Turnpike widening:

“This project in its current form is the opposite of smart growth; it is dumb growth and a huge waste of money,” NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.

And not to be left out, the Parkway as well:

“All we’re doing is turning the Parkway into a bigger, more expensive parking lot,” NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. “This project will create two 50 mile long ribbons of asphalt, which will pave over the Pinelands and environmentally sensitive coastal areas, will make sprawl and traffic worse and take money away from the areas that actually need it.”

As much as I’d like to take a train sometimes, it’s just not possible from where I am. I’ve said before, I can’t get a direct train to New York from South Jersey. I couldn’t even get to the Hudson Tunnel line they’re building (which the Sierra Club opposed) without driving north first. So while people debate the merits of the projects and until there is expanded train service or widened roads, you can learn about where the traffic is because the state operates the 511 service and you can see live video on the web.