[Update: Philly Inquirer story:
“Let’s just say I’m flabbergasted by the irony,” said Wolfe, a former DEP employee and now a frequent critic.
He said Gov. Christie’s current policies, including more self-regulation of industry, “are exactly the kind of problem that caused the oil spill to begin with.”
“There are so many issues that it masks,” he added. “It leads to the appearance that the department is actively engaged and has the staff resources and leadership to respond. None of that exists.”
N.J. monitors spill, prepares action plan
DEP Commissioner Bob Martin today issued an over the top press release touting his efforts.
The spin and huge ironies force me to call BS on it all:
COMMISSIONER CREATES GULF SPILL TEAM TO CONSIDER POSSIBLE IMPACTS OF LOUISIANA OIL SPILL ON NEW JERSEY
IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Lawrence Ragonese
May 25, 2010
Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
(10/P47)TRENTON – While it is improbable the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana will have any effect on the Jersey Shore or the State’s fishing industry this summer, the Department of Environmental Protection is not taking any chances. Commissioner Bob Martin today announced formation of a special Gulf Spill Team to closely monitor the situation, to create a unique scientific model of the likely path of the contaminated waters, and to develop a plan of action if the oil should reach New Jersey. …
Scientists have told the DEP it is not likely the oil will reach New Jersey beaches, making it clear that for the oil slick to hit the Jersey coast, “it would require a sequence of unlikely events.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been the lead agency in dealing with the situation nationally, providing daily briefings to New Jersey and other states that could be affected by the spill. But Commissioner Martin has directed the special Gulf Spill Team to create a unique model of the potential course of the oil for New Jersey.
“We want to gather the best scientific data available to help guide us,” said Commissioner Martin. “We have to be fully prepared to protect the interests and residents of this state. But we expect, at this point, that our beaches will be open and we’ll have a great summer season in New Jersey.”
Martin’s press release both exaggerated the threat (in conflict with scientific advice) and created a misleading appearance of aggressive regulatory oversight by DEP.
Worse, the press statement has at least 3 glaring conflicts with Martin’s own policy:
1) Need for precaution and strict environmental regulations
If nothing else, the Gulf oil spill shines a bright light on what happens when lax regulation, cozy relationships between regulators and industry, and an emphasis on cutting costs and maximizing economic production prevails.
Taken together, this is an industry dominated and economically driven culture.
It represents the opposite of a precautionary policy (e.g. first do no harm – when in doubt, err on the side of safety) and strong regulatory culture, which views industry as an adversary, not a “customer”.
Governor Christie and Commissioner Martin have pushed exactly the same policy agenda and culture that created the BP oil blowout. Today’s press release does nothing to alter that reality.
The DEP Transition Report called for DEP “to do less with less”. From then on, it only got worse.
On his first day in office, the Governor issued a series of Executive Orders that elevated cost benefit analysis to at least the equivalent of environmental and health protection. It also put industry in the driver’s seat to block regulations they oppose as too costly or burdensome.
Lt. Governor Gudagno’s “Red Tape Review Report” and Martin targeted DEP and demonized environmental “red tape”. Martin blasted DEP culture and blamed DEP for the economic and budget crises. Martin repeatedly has demanded that DEP culture must change and treat industry – including the oil industry – as customers, not adversaries.
But now, Martin claims he’s not willing “to take any chances”.
If Martin wants to learn the lessons of the Gulf disaster and protect the Jersey Shore and Delaware Bay, he need look no further than his own back yard, which is home to major oil refineries and chemical plants that are accidents waiting to happen.
Martin surely knows that the BP Gulf oil well blowout was preceed by a deadly 2005 Texas oil refinery fire – the same thing could happen here. Martin needs to stop coddling the oil and chemical industries as “customers” and ramp up regulatory oversight and enforcement.
2) Need for State role and more stringent state standards than federal minimums.
While under most environmental laws, State’s can act to go beyond federal minumums, but for the most part, federal regulators are in charge in the Gulf.
But the Gulf blowout exposed lax federal regulatory oversight of the oil industry, which has been compounded by a less than aggressive federal spill and cleanup response effort, where BP has been allowed to call the shots.
State and local concerns have ben given short shrift in the BP dominated federal response.
Martin repeatedly has emphasized the need for “waivers” from compliance with strict NJ State regulation to promote economic development. He has said there is little need for DEP to go beyond federal minimums.
But now, Martin apparently sees the light. Martin now recognizes the need for strong and independent state regulatory power and the need to go beyond federal minimums.
Yet, under an industry supported policy seeking federal consistency so that NJ can be economically competitive, Governor Christie’s Executive Order #2 (as well as pending legislation backed by the Administration) would rollback NJ’s strict regulations in favor of a federal minimums.
3) Role of independent public science
Martin now realizes that an independed scientific capability to support government decisions – free of regulated oil industry bias – is key.
Yet, Martin just appointed an industry dominated and biased Science Advisory Board.
And Martin recently over-rode the recommendatrions of his own scientists in abandoning a proposed drinking water standard for perchlorate.
As I said, the contadictions between Martin’s press release on the gulf spill and his policy are just too great.
As we move forward, which will prevail? the precautionary rhetoric in today’s press release – or the rollback policies in Christie’s Executive Orders and Red Tape Review Report