Christie Executive Order Killed Proposed Drinking Water Standard for Perchlorate
DEP Commissioner Martin Denied It, Attacked Critics, and Then Lied About It
When Facts Emerged, Martin Then Betrayed Promise To Propose Standard
Five Years Later – No Accountability
Senator Buono, Senate Majority leader (R) and Lt. Gov Guadagno at Red Tape hearing in Montclair (March 23, 2010)
To the news media, this is all ancient history, but the 2010 controversy over a proposed drinking water standard for the chemical perchlorate provides a perfect illustration and casebook study of the reckless rot within the Christie Administration.
It shows a pattern of: 1) reckless policy; 2) the use of spin, lies, and deception to defend the policy; 3) a practice of blaming others for mistakes when the policy is exposed and criticized; 4) an attack on critics; 5) all followed by failure to correct the problem, even after admitting a mistake and promising to do so.
Here’s the blow – by – blow, in a chronological nutshell (interested readers and fellow wonks can hit the links for the documents).
1. Christie Issues Reckless Executive Orders, Based On Slogans Not Science
Governor Christie’s first official act, taken in the first hour of his first day in office, was to issue a series of four Executive Orders designed to block and rollback State regulations.
The Whereas clauses of the Executive Orders read like press releases, relying not on traditional lawyerly rhetoric and clear legislative standards, but on political slogans like “common sense” and ”red tape“, suggesting – with absolutely no factual or legal support – that proposed rules were “unworkable, overly-proscriptive or ill-advised“.
Typical Christie – Shoot first, aim later, facts and the public interest be damned. That’s how an ideological and political agenda works.
Leading the pack, Executive Order #1 established a moratorium on new regulations and blocked scores of proposed regulations then in the rulemaking pipeline (see the list of proposed DEP rules impacted by Red Tape Review).
One of those proposed rules was a 2009 drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion for the chemical perchlorate.
According to DEP scientists, a drinking water standard was required for perchlorate because:
Health Effects: The adverse health effects of perchlorate arise from inhibition of iodine uptake into the thyroid gland, which may lead to disturbances of thyroid function at sufficient doses. Pregnant women and infants are considered to be sensitive subpopulations to the effects of perchlorate, as ingestion of elevated levels of perchlorate can cause hypothyroidism which can have serious consequences on neurodevelopment.
Christie’s EO#1 and subsequent review by his “Red Tape Commission” established by Executive Order #3 killed the DEP’s proposed drinking water standard (legally, rule proposals expire 1 year after proposal. Team Christie allowed the rule to quietly expire – a huge fact buried in the weeds of the DEP’s proposal archive), see:
2. DEP Commissioner Martin Shows Loyalty to His Boss, Not the Science, and Attacks DEP Scientists
Under EO#1 and the Red Tape Commission’s review process, proposed rules in the pipeline were not automatically killed. The proposed rules were reviewed
to assess their potential or actual effects on New Jersey’s economy, to determine whether their costs and other burdens on businesses, workers and local governments outweigh their intended benefits
DEP Commissioner Martin refused to defend the proposed DEP perchlorate standard. He let the red tape review process effectively kill it.
This did not pass un-noticed by us or the NJ press corps
3. Martin Is Called Out
In an April 25, 2010 story, the Bergen Record reported: New Jersey backs off plans to test water supplies for a chemical found in rocket fuel and fertilizer
The Christie administration has backed off plans to require testing and treatment of drinking water for a chemical ingredient of fertilizer and rocket fuel that has been found in some private and public wells in North Jersey and which poses health risks for pregnant women and infants even with short-term exposure. [...]
“Best case is that if the EPA decides later this year to regulate perchlorate, it will be another two years before they come out with the rule,” said Bill Wolfe, New Jersey director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “In the meantime New Jersey homeowners could be drinking contaminated water and not know it. Three years is the key development life of a child.”
Here at Wolfenotes, we were harsher in our assessment.
Echoing the Saddle River Board of Health and US Senate Environment Committee Chairwoman Boxer, we called Martin’s actions an “Immoral Failure to Act To Protect Mothers and Infants” - we excerpted the Bergen Record story:
Support for rule
Duncan Carpenter, president of the Saddle River Board of Health, wrote to the DEP last month supporting the proposed perchlorate rule. He called it “an important public health protection that should be provided not only to the affected residents in our area, but also to residents in the rest of the state who may not be aware that their water supply is affected by this contaminant.”
In 2008, the EPA recommended that water suppliers treat for perchlorate if levels are above 15 parts per billion, but it didn’t make it a requirement. During her confirmation hearing to become EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, the former head of New Jersey DEP was questioned closely by Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on perchlorate. Boxer described the EPA’s failure to act on the perchlorate issue as “immoral.”
4. Martin Flat Out Lies
Christie DEP Commissioner Bob Martin
We were on top of the situation and immersed in the weeds and fine print, and noted that Martin claimed, in the Red Tape Review Report, that he had not adopted the proposal because he had consulted with EPA and was told that EPA would propose a national standard during the summer of 2010:
“pending the issuance of federal standards from EPA this summer“. (Source: Red Tape Report, Appendix G, @page 113 HERE.]
That was a lie – and we had the EPA emails to prove it.
So, on April 26, 2010, we called Martin Out: DEP Commissioner Martin Lied About EPA Perchlorate Standard
The next day, April 27, 2010, Martin appeared before the Senate Budget Committee. He got probing questions from Senator Buono.
Martin repeated the lie, but went further, with a bigger lie that attacked DEP scientists and called their work
“shoddy, poor, not organized, and anecdotal” and that “there was little data and science to back it up”.
The next day, Martin went further over the top and issued an unprecedented DEP press release attacking Senator Buono.
It is a good thing I wrote about that at the time ( see: Martin Attacks Senator Buono) and excerpted text from the DEP press release, because it has been taken down from DEP’s Press Office website (another down the memory hole tactic this administration frequently uses to cover their tracks – they take down links all the time!)
IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Lawrence Ragonese (609) 292-2994
May 5, 2010 Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
COMMISSIONER MARTIN REFUTES STATEMENT BY SENATOR BUONO – WANTS GOOD SCIENCE TO BE BASIS OF PERCHOLRATE RULES
(10/P35) TRENTON – Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin today refuted a statement by Senator Barbara Buono, who contended he has done an “about face’‘ on setting drinking water standards for the chemical perchlorate in New Jersey.
“I have not changed my position at all,” said Commissioner Martin. “From the start, I have insisted we need good, reliable data and scientific information before making such an important decision on water standards. We anticipate getting that information this summer, when we expect the federal EPA to share with us the results of research they have done and their direction on perchlorates.”
EPA never proposed a perchlorate MCL standard that summer as Martin stated. DEP’s science was not “shoddy”. Martin never proposed a standard in the absence of federal EPA inaction.
When a problem emerges: Deny, lie, blame others and attack critics for valid criticism. Then cover up the facts when you’re proven wrong. The Christie MO.
5. Martin Is Humiliated In A Bergen Record Editorial – Promises to Reverse Course and Propose Standard
Because we had the documents to support our arguments, we convinced the Bergen Record editorial board to write a scathingly critical editorial: “Cleaner Water”
Sadly, sensible does not always win the day, and it didn’t with perchlorate. Until Thursday, when Bob Martin, the new commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection, did an about-face and said yes, in fact he would consider implementing restrictions on the chemical found in some drinking-water wells in New Jersey, one also found in fertilizer, rocket fuel, lubricating agents, matches and airbags. ….
Martin made a smart decision, and his willingness to change his mind is to be commended. Early last week he said he was waiting for more sound science from the EPA before deciding anything, and called the DEP research “shoddy.” That was not a smart decision.
Martin’s new opinion came about after he was embarrassed publicly. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released e-mails sent to Martin from the EPA that made clear that even if the agency imposed a limit, 6 1/2 years could elapse before the rule was in place, Staff Writer James O’Neill reported. Martin would have been playing Russian roulette with the public’s health.
One would think that the Bergen Record, after being duped ike that – both news and editorial -, would want to hold Martin accountable, 5 years later.
At the time, I relied on Martin’s “willingness to change hisw mind” and declared victory.
I rubbed Martin’s nose in it - and encouraged DEP leakers to come forward confidentially, something I’m sure that really pissed him off.
In a May 3, 2010 “Note To DEP Readers” I wrote:
Ideally, while the editorial makes it crystal clear that Martin was wrong on both the science and the policy, we also would have liked to have forced an apology by Martin for his smear of DEP science, but that is unrealistic.
To obtain the documents that supported our arguments that led to this victory, we had to file both NJ OPRA and federal FOIA requests.
Commissioner Martin denied our OPRA requests to prevent us from getting this information.
So thank goodness for federal FOIA or it would have been impossible to document the abuse that occurred here.
Without credible documentation, it would have been impossible to hold Martin accountable, brief legislators to conduct oversight, and provide media with the factual basis for writing strong news stories and editorials that forced the Commissioner to reverse a bad decision.
We can repeat this success! But I can’t do it alone.
I need DEP documents! Absolutely confidentiality provided to sources.
So, I am asking that you help provide similar documentation to prevent the advance of bad policy or future bad decisions. (for examples, take a look at this prior PEER survey of all DEP employees: N.J. DEP EMPLOYEES SAY WHITMAN ADMINISTRATION SOFT ON POLLUTERS – One in Four Report Orders to Ignore Violations
6. Five Years Go By, Martin Does Nothing, Not Held Accountable, It’s All Down the Memory Hole
Despite his statements to the Bergen Record editorial board, the Martin DEP never proposed the perchlorate standard – or more than a dozen other drinking water standards recommended by scientists.
Instead, Martin banned the Drinking Water Quality Institute from even meeting for over 4 years to block these kind of inconvenient scientific recommendations that embarrassed him and Governor Christie.
All those prior DWQI recommendations are Down the Memory Hole.
Where are all those mom’s with kids in strollers when you need them?
So, there it is – we have all the elements of the Christie Administration in action:
- reckless policy based on slogans that ignores science and the public interest
- incompetent managers willing to lie to protect the Governor
- incompetent managers will to attack their own staff to cover their asses
- dishonorable managers who fail to honor their commitments
- accountability free zone – the buck never stops
That pattern has been repeated in countless episodes over the past 5 years.
And that should be the focus of denunciations by press, Democrats, and environmentalists.
But, except for a few quarters, the silence is deafening.
[Update: A reader just sent me Todd Bates’ Asbury Park Press blog post: N.J. drinking water limit delayed
Take a look at the juxtaposition of the two closing quotes – which my reader correctly called “priceless”. ~~~~ end update]