WalMart Funding Cuts To NJ Greenwash Effort Offset By Dodge Foundation

November 23rd, 2014 No comments

Why Do WalMart and Dodge Foundation Share Similar Funding Strategies?

Last month, I was pleased to report that WalMart had cut funding – by two thirds – of their NJ corporate greenwash efforts with Sustainable New Jersey,  slashing a $450,000 contribution to just $150,000, see:

Confirming our assessment, a few days ago, a reader passed along this Grist story, saying that “Sustainable NJ must be so proud of their sponsor, Walmart these days, eh?”

Walmart has been strutting around decked out in solar panels lately. At an event broadcast from its Arkansas headquarters last month, the company’s top executives crowed about their pledge, made nearly a decade ago, to shift to 100 percent renewable power, while a video screened shots of glossy new solar panels behind them. Many reporters — even many environmentalists — have been marveling at the emperor’s new finery. The Wall Street Journal ran the headline “Walmart Doubles Down on Solar Energy Plans,” while the San Francisco Chronicle and The Motley Fool explained “Why Walmart Loves Solar.”

But look a little closer and this emperor’s outfit isn’t all that it appears to be.

Far off from 100 percent, only 3 percent of Walmart’s U.S. power is supplied by its renewable energy projects and special green power purchases, according to data the company submits to the EPA’s Green Power Partnership. And only one-third of that 3 percent comes from Walmart’s rooftop solar and other onsite installations.

Which begs the question: Where does the other 97 percent of Walmart’s power come from?

Here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we decided to take a look. And what we found is a big, filthy mountain of coal.

But yesterday, in doing research for a different story on NJ’s Green Mafia, I discovered that the WalMart funding cuts were offset almost dollar for dollar by the NJ based Dodge Foundation.

According to their website, in June, Dodge provided a huge grant to SNJ that offsets the WalMart cuts:

A $370,000 grant to Sustainable Jersey was awarded to support this municipal certification program as it continues to grow and strengthen its core priority of serving municipalities through voluntary, citizen-led actions, and to expand its reach in schools and communities, including the launch of a new Green Team Leadership Academy.

Passive voice, i.e. “was awarded”? Revealing.

We have written extensively about the flaws in the concept of “sustainability” and “resilience” and the SNJ municipal certification program and how that flawed voluntary local effort displaces and diverts focus and resources from more effective forms of advocacy and activism and regulatory oversight.

But what should be even more disturbing to climate activists and environmental advocates alike is that the Dodge Foundation shares the same corporate values, priorities, and funding strategies of WalMart.

Both WalMart and Dodge fund efforts that divert attention and activists way from issues of corporate power and democratic and governmental regulatory powers to limit that corporate power.

And that should disturb everyone.

More coming, as we do additional research on NJ’s Green mafia.

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Recent Bergen Record Coverage of Dupont Pompton Lakes Cleanup Raises Concerns

November 23rd, 2014 No comments

I tried to reconcile these two very different perspectives on the adequacy of the Dupont cleanup.

First, the official version, in a regulatory document:

As the EPA is undoubtedly aware, a significant amount of mercury-contaminated sediments will be left behind at the completion of the currently proposed removal action.” ~~~ US FWS consultation letter (11/10/14)

Second, the unofficial press interview remarks:

They are removing the vast majority of contamination, so the load in the ecosystem will be reduced,” Melissa Foster, a senior biologist in Fish and Wildlife’s New Jersey field office, said in an interview. ~~~ Bergen Record, 11/21/14

So which is it?

Is Dupont doing a great job by removing the “vast majority” of contamination?

Or is Dupont getting off the hook for leaving “a significant amount of mercury contaminated sediments” behind?

Now, I can completely understand why a biologist at US FWS would want to tone down public criticism of a powerful polluter – and implicitly a partner federal agency the EPA – in press remarks. Aggressive regulators that hold powerful corporate polluters accountable tend to suffer career setbacks.

But, why would a reporter – who had been provided and specifically advised about the significance of the US FWS regulatory documents – write a story with that quote, which he knew was in direct contradiction to US FWS official written assessment?

For simply asking that question, I get accused of “trashing reporters”.

Bergen Record reporter Jim O’Neill tells me he’s tired:

Really really really really getting tired of your constant trashing of reporters. I have written more than 50 stories about the Pompton Lakes DuPont contamination .. .I’m not ignoring it, downplaying it or getting spun….  

O’Neill was lashing out in response to my private email, which did not “trash reporters”, but merely respectfully noted that he got spun in his most recent Dupont cleanup story. I provided the direct evidence explaining exactly how he got spun, with verbatim quotes from regulatory documents that contrasted sharply with quotes from his story.

Well, I’m tired too – tired of breaking the story, producing the documents the Record relies on, and then getting ignored – or worse – by the reporters and editors at the Record. It has happened so many times now it can not be random.

I’ve even been pressured by the Record’s lawyer to take down material I’ve posted – not once but TWICE. The first legal attack came for posting a Margulies cartoon without permission (see: Even the Cartoonists Are Afraid Of Christie), which I refused to take down because I felt it met fair use standards.  The second attack was for a TWEET! Can you imagine that: the Record felt the need to send out a legal attack dog for a fucking tweet that criticized Scott Fallon for stealing my ideas.

I guess my 11/13/14 Letter to the Editor about how Scott Fallon missed the story about open space diversion of parks capital budget must have burnt the last bridge at the Record.

But, I’m getting way off topic.

So, let’s take a look at how Mr. O’Neill has gotten spun in his last 3 stories on the Dupont cleanup – in fact not only spun, but his stories reported the exact opposite of what was actually going on.

I) Dupont request to weaken the Vapor Intrusion requirements

On April 25, 2013, Dupont wrote a letter to NJ DEP requesting that their vapor intrusion workplan be revised to reflect changes that DEP recently made to weaken the Vapor Intrusion (VI) standards (read Dupont’s letter).

In January 2013, leading up to the Dupont request, when NJ DEP previously had weakened those vapor intrusion standards, we broke the story and issued a press releasing criticizing that.

Of course, that should have been a huge statewide story because it impacts not just Dupont Pompton Lakes, but thousands of sites across NJ where people are being poisoned in their own homes by industrial chemicals.

But it was ignored by the Record (see our press release that went unreported)

Over 18 moths later, on August 19, 2014, O’Neill finally wrote about the Dupont VI request with this lede, under this headline:

NJ rejects DuPont request to alter plan on Pompton Lakes cleanup

State environmental officials said Tuesday they will not grant DuPont’s request to change its plan to deal with contaminated air inside Pompton Lakes homes sitting above polluted groundwater.

No room for doubt there – a reader could only conclude that NJ DEP rejected the Dupont request.

The problem is, O’Neill didn’t just ignore our statewide press release and miss the Dupont story or get spun, he got it exactly backwards.

NJ DEP did not reject Dupont’s request, in fact, just the opposite: NJ DEP approved it!.

Here is the EPA website headline for the NJ DEP response to Dupont’s request – note the word “Approval”:

Here is the pertinent text of the DEP letter - note use of the phrase “hereby approve”:


We caught DEP and EPA with their pants down, approving a Dupont request to weaken VI cleanup requirements behind closed doors.

That should have been a major scandal. Instead, O’Neill made DEP look like an aggressive regulator.

Strike one.

II) Initial Coverage of EPA Lake Dredge Plan Downplayed Weakenings & USFWS history

There is a long story I won’t go into right now on EPA’s efforts to force Dupont to cleanup the mercury contamination in Pompton Lake and downriver sediments, and the concerns of US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) about the adequacy of those cleanup plans.

For today, the key point is that we’ve been involved, have written multiple posts and press releases, and were instrumental in securing US FWS review.

So we were well prepared when EPA finally released its revised cleanup plan on  October 30, 2014.

At the request of Suburban Trends reporter Leslie Scott, we rapidly reviewed the EPA plan and provided initial review comments to her and Mr. O’Neill later the afternoon of October 30 (see:

Ignoring most of that, particularly the ecological issues, here is what O’Neill wrote about the revised EPA plan:

Well, there was a lot more than hot spots – just days later, the Record published a far more critical story by Leslie Scott. In that a story, EPA was forced to go on the record and admit that the cleanup was scaled back:

Bill Wolfe, director of New Jersey PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), said the EPA is letting DuPont off the hook for potentially millions of dollars in natural resource compensation damages.

He said, “While the EPA is not legally responsible for assessing and collecting natural resource damages … an ERA is a critical scientific study that documents, among other things, the need for additional cleanup and the need to compensate the public for injuries to natural resources. The 2014 version leaves it up to EPA to decide, at some future point, based on future monitoring and sampling, whether an ERA is required.”

Wolfe added that DuPont has had the benefit of closed-door negotiations that allowed a reduced cleanup size, delayed the cleanup by two years, and changed the cleanup standards to be “flawed and lax.”

Wolfe said abandoning the older standard “puts more control over cleanup in DuPont’s hands, which raises oversight and enforcement concerns.”

Strike 2.

III) Coverage of US Fish and Wildlife consultation with EPA

The day after EPA released the Dupont cleanup plan, on October 31, 2014, we joined Pomtpon Lakes residents at CCPL in a letter to EPA Regional Administrator Enck to request an extension of the comment period, and notified press of that request.

There were two specific reasons for our request for additional time: 1) to review US FWS review comments; and 2) to determine the status of US FWS Feb 2012 commitment to pursue a Natural Resoruce Damage Assessment (NRDA) against Dupont.

We also threatened to issue a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the US FWS documents, see:

The request was ignored by the Record. To do a story about it would have had to involve PEER and raised concerns about Dupont’s science, which had been seriously criticized by US FWS back in 2012.

On November 12, 2014, US EPA issued a press release to announce that they approved our request:

(New York, N.Y.) In response to requests from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will extend the public comment period for the proposed plan to remove mercury contamination from areas of Pompton Lake in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey from December 18, 2014 to February 2, 2015

That newsworthy US EPA announcement also was ignored.

Again, to cover the issue would require mention of PEER and a would have had to discussion of WHY we requested an extension of the comment period, i.e. the ecological and US FWS issues.

On November 18, 2014, PEER issued a press release which broke the story about two things: 1) USFWS was pursuing NRD claims, and 2) US FWS had submitted critical comments on the proposed EPA cleanup plan. In that press release, we released US FWS documents that had not been released previously or reported on – in other words, they are highly newsworthy, see:

Again, that press release was ignored.

But the US FWS documents PEER released were used. Our letter to EPA RA Enck is what prompted EPA to post the USFWS comment letter, our press release is what made those documents public, and out FOIA threat is what prompted the Record’s awareness of the US FWS NRDA.

I had always assumed that reporters credited their sources, inserted of creating the appearance of doing investigative work.

O’Neill finally did write about the US FWS conners, but again, he got it exactly backwards.

As I had written in a series of detailed emails to O’Neill, there were two things of significance in the US FWS documents:

a) US FWS had completed a screening, found natural resource injuries, and was pursing a NRD claim against Dupont; and

b) US FWS had submitted critical comments, but had significant backed off from their prior criticism issued in the Feb. 2012 comment letter to EPA.

There were several obvious signals in the most recent US FWS comments that showed that they backed off the 2012 criticism, which I outlined to O’Neill in detail based on a comparison of the 2012 US FWS letter with the 2014 version.

Those obvious signals in the 2014 version of US FWS comments included:

  • using the wrong baseline to compare the EPA’s revised 36 acre cleanup. USFWS used 26 acres, instead of 40 acres from the final EPA permit Dupont challenged. This comparison masks the fact that the cleanup was scaled back;
  • no mention of the NRDA issue in the 2014 version
  • no mention and apparent withdrawal of severe criticism of Dupont’s ecological analysis

I encourage readers to compare the 2012 US FWS letter with the 2014 version to observe how USFWS backed away.

So, after ignoring our request to extend the comment period; EPA’s approval of that request; and the PEER disclosure of the US FWS comments and pursuit of NRDA again t Dupont, O’Neill finally wrote about the US FWS concerns, in an November 21, 2104 story, he ignores us again:

The story  not only ignores our analysis – it presents the issue of the adequacy of the cleanup in the wrong light.

The focus on the need for a thicker cap ignores the critical point, which is that the EPA plan is deficient because it allows Dupont to leave a lot of mercury behind.

The US FWS has repeatedly raised concerns about the fact that the EPA would allow a “significant” amount of mercury to remain in the environment – that is why US FWS decided to pursue NRDA injuries back in 2012.

Despite having the US FWS documents, which PEER forced public release of, O’Neill quoted US FWS expressing exactly the opposite concern:

They are removing the vast majority of contamination, so the load in the ecosystem will be reduced,” Melissa Foster, a senior biologist in Fish and Wildlife’s New Jersey field office, said in an interview. “But some will be left, and we want to make sure it’s not getting into the food chain.”

But here is what US FWS letter actually said:

“As the EPA is undoubtedly aware, a significant amount of mercury-contaminated sediments will be left behind at the completion of the currently proposed removal action.”

“Significant amount of mercury-contamaitned sediments left behind”?

Or “removing the vast majority of contamination”.

Glass of mercury half empty or half full?

Is there a pattern here in O’Neill’s coverage, both in terms of ignoring PEER and downplaying criticisms of Dupont’s cleanup  efforts?

You decide.

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Keeping the Backyards of the Landed Gentry Green – With Public Funds Stolen From State Parks and DEP Environmental Programs

November 22nd, 2014 No comments

A Tale of Blood Money & The Green Mafia


As I had my first coffee and opened the news clips, the story read as if I’d written it as an Onion parody – either that, or it was a whole new genre in blue blood New Jersey noir.

I really can not imagine a story that included virtually every single abuse I warned about in the Open Space diversion disaster – and then some.

And the more I looked into the situation, the more incredible and worse it got.

Follow me here as I go down the rabbit hole.

(to be continued: settle for the photos for now – the incredible full story and text coming soon)





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On Open Space and Clean Water

November 21st, 2014 No comments

A Look At An Amazing Propaganda Campaign

Source: USEPA

Source: USEPA

Let’s start with a few basic facts:

  • According to US EPA and NJ DEP water quality monitoring data, NJ’s streams, rivers, lakes, bays, and groundwater currently do not meet water quality standards set under the federal Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts to assure that all waters are fishable and swimmable and safe to drink;
  • there are a multitude of pollution sources that cause these pollution problems;
  • there must be deep reductions in current pollution if NJ is to achieve clean water goals;
  • there are a set of State regulatory programs designed to protect and restore water quality by limiting pollution discharge that either are not being aggressively implemented, rolled back, not adequately funded, or not enforced

These water pollution problems, their causes, and the regulatory programs designed to reduce pollution were recently discussed in a NJ Spotlight opinion piece by Dan Van Abs, as well as my critique of that analysis.

With that in mind, consider that the core claim of the Keep It Green Coalition’s support for the opens space funding ballot question recently approved by voters was that open space improves water quality and protects clean water.

Yet with very few exceptions (e.g. NY/NJ Baykeeper, some watershed groups), land trust & conservation member groups of the Keep It Green Coalition do virtually no work  - NONE – on the clean water and safe drinking water issues and programs outlined in the NJ Spotlight piece and expanded upon in my critique. 

Instead of actually working on clean water issues , KIG spent over $700,000 promoting this pack of lies:

On November 4, 2014 Vote YES on Public Question 2 to ensure dedicated state funds are available to protect New Jersey’s clean drinking water, open spaces, farmland and historic sites, as well as to improve water quality and clean up polluted sites.

Let’s be clear about some basics:

1) Open space preservation is merely the legal change in ownership in land.

A forest owned by NJ Audubon, or the State of NJ , or a developer provides the same ecological and water quality services.

The legal ownership of the land does not alter current conditions; e.g. the groundwater recharge,  infiltration of rainwater, pollution runoff,  drainage, wetlands characteristics, stream vegetation, or pollution filtration of the land.

I trained in environmental science and regional planning, so I understand the value of open space in PREVENTING POTENTIAL FUTURE NEW SOURCES OF POLLUTION via land development.

But preventing future potential pollution sources does nothing to reduce current pollution and will do nothing to restore water quality and make our waters fishable, swimmable, and safe to drink. Nothing at all.

And with NJ’s willing seller approach to land acquisition, we get the 100 acre parcel preserved across the street from the corporate office park or housing development. So even FUTURE benefits are often wiped out by the failure to plan and regulate on a regional basis.


2) And the lies get worse.

Exactly the opposite of what KIG claims, they are not only not protecting water quality, they are making current problems worse because the KIG ballot question slashed current funding for water resource protection programs that actually protect drinking water, improve water quality, and cleanup polluted sites.

The actual way water pollution is reduced and water quality protected and restored is via a) regulatory standards and permit limits on pollution discharge sources; b) mandates to reduce pollution loadings from current pollution sources; c) mandates to install pollution control technology treatment requirements; d) requirements to cleanup pollution sources like toxic waste sites and underground storage tanks, and e) restoration field work: things like installation of best management practices, construction of CSO controls, stream buffer restoration projects, or retrofit of storm water infrastructure.

Those DEP programs actually limit and reduce current pollution discharged to our waters.

Those DEP programs require water quality monitoring networks to collect data; scientists, engineers, and planners to analyze that data and set water quality standards and permit limits; inspectors to monitor and enforce compliance with standards and permit limits; and experts to design and install field restoration projects.

Those programs and professionals cost money.

But KIG just slashed about $45 million from DEP water resource programs and the funding source that supports the salaries of 266 DEP staffers who actually protect water quality and drinking water.

And all for the change in ownership of land (and fund their own organization’s budgets).

So, let’s recap:

1)  currently water quality is poor and programs to protect water quality are being rolled back and defunded;

2) so called environmental groups that do no work on clean water justify spending $100 million of public money on open space on the basis of protecting clean water;

3) the open space program does nothing to protect current water quality;  and

4) the open space program diverts funds from programs that actually protect water quality.

Only Orwell could imagine something like that.

[End note: our KIG friends never seem to mention these requirements, which I helped develop at DEP, that impose (at no cost to the taxpayer) protections on about 200,000 acres of the most environmentally sensitive high quality open space there is: riparian corridors. According to DEP:

Category One waters are protected from degradation through the implementation of a 300-foot buffer (on each side of the waterway) known as the Special Water Resource Protection Area in the State’s Stormwater Management rules (N.J.A.C. 7:8). Such waters are also protected through the implementation of the State’s Flood Hazard Control Act Regulations, which require a 300-foot riparian zone immediately adjacent to Category One waters and upstream waters within the same HUC14 sub-watershed. These buffers are often coincident with wetlands that are protected in permanent conservation restrictions through the NJDEP’s permitting program.  (@ page5)



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A Mess of Pottage

November 19th, 2014 No comments

All… for a mess of pottage:

Esau Sells His Birthright for Pottage of Lentils, a 1728 engraving by Gerard Hoet.

Esau Sells His Birthright for Pottage of Lentils, a 1728 engraving by Gerard Hoet.

A story of Esau and Jacob

Esau and the Mess of Pottage, by Jan Victors.

Esau and the Mess of Pottage, by Jan Victors.

Thoreau’s “Life without principle” (1854)

“ If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down!  …

Perhaps I am more than usually jealous with respect to my freedom. I feel that my connection with and obligation to society are still very slight and transient. Those slight labors which afford me a livelihood, and by which it is allowed that I am to some extent serviceable to my contemporaries, are as yet commonly a pleasure to me, and I am not often reminded that they are a necessity. So far I am successful. But I foresee that if my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for. I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.”

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