Dear Climate Activists: Please Stop FERC-ing Off!

April 11th, 2021 No comments

A Focus On FERC Is A Complete Waste of Time And A Diversion

Provides Political Cover For Democrats Who Support Gas

Suspicious Timing Just Days After Biden OK’s Dakota Acccess Pipeline

A NJ friend forwarded me an appeal by Friends Of Earth (FOE), titled:

Your Signature is Needed: FERC has approved over 130 fracked gas pipeline projects in the past five years

We have a chance to stop FERC from fast-tracking permit approval. The agency is revising its process, and we need an outpouring of activists like you to demand it stop greenlighting polluting pipelines.

Are you kidding me?

I can not think of anything lamer than urging activists to sign a petition to FERC asking them to please stop rubber stamping pipelines and strengthen their regulations!

After years of watching my former NJ colleagues waste their time with FERC (something I call “FERC-ing off”), it is a disgrace to now see that same misguided waste of time and resources being replicated at the national level. (see:

So in frustration, I fired off this email to FOE and my NJ friend:

Dear FOE:

Appealing to FERC is a complete waste of time.

If activists want to change the FERC review and rubber stamp approval of pipelines, they have 3 choices:

1) amend the Natural Gas Act to put teeth in it – but that would require putting pressure on Pelosi and Schumer and all the corporate Democrats that support gas and pipelines. It is so absurd that activists can’t seem to pressure their Democratic friends; OR

2) design a campaign at the State level to target Governors and pressure them to kill pipelines via Stater power under Clean Water Act 401 by denying Water Quality Certification (or, Coastal Zone Management Act State powers, as appropriate). These State powers are NOT pre-empted by FERC and the Natural Gas Act. see:

3) Pressure Biden to use Executive power, e.g. issue an Executive Order declaring a moratorium on federal approvals and directing federal agencies to kill projects in the pipeline and strengthen regulations to assure that science based greenhouse gas emissions climate targets are met.

But Biden supports gas too! And activists won’t call him out for it or make real demands (Dems already are undermining Biden’s fake “pause” on drilling on public lands). We saw the same thing under Obama. For the pathetic state of liberals, see WaPo:

I’m expecting to see pipelines receive subsidies and “streamlined regulatory review” under Biden’s infrastructure plan. I’ve already read quotes from Sect. Transportation Buttigieg that included pipelines in the definition of infrastructure. And Biden supported the gas industry before the US supreme Court, see:

Biden loves to cut deals with Republicans from oil & gas states and pro-fossil Dems like Manchin from W. Va. FOE should be bird dogging ALL THAT.

This FERC stuff is a diversion on top of a waste of time – and it provides cover for Democrats. For example, just yesterday, did you see this from EarthJustice?

While FOE is FERC-ing off, there are also efforts in Congress that are getting zero attention, including:

  • legislation to expand gas and oil exports; (while exports should be banned)
  • legislation to strip states of power to kill pipelines under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act;
  • ignore Congressional Review Act powers to kill Trump regulator rollbacks. Democrats did nothing with this power for 4 years to block Trump rollbacks and are doing nothing with it now.
  • legislation to impose a tiny and regressive “price on carbon” in exchange for stripping EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse emissions. That’s the fossil energy industry’s “compromise”. And that’s exactly what was in the Obama first term climate bill sponsored by Congressman Markey. 

Time, resources, and the attention of activists are finite resources.

Stop FERC-ing off and wasting them!

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WaPo Does Solid Reporting On The History Of Environmental Justice Movement

April 6th, 2021 No comments

Regulatory Failures Of Key NJ Officials Not Made Explicit

Christie Whitman and Lisa Jackson Both Failed At EPA EJ

IMG_73091JPG

Father of Environmental Justice Movement Speaks At Drew

I recently cancelled my subscription to The NY Times when my monthly charge quadrupled – apparently I had been paying a low promotional offer for many years.

In order to keep abreast of national debates, in lieu of The NY Times, I shifted to a low cost promotional (1 year) subscription to The Washington Post (WaPo).

Today the WaPo published a superb story on the history of the environmental justice movement – please read the whole thing:

I just want to make 2 NJ related points that are implicit in the WaPo story, so that NJ officials who failed to implement real environmental justice policies at US EPA are held accountable and the source of the failure is traced to failure to adopt and enforce regulations.

The WaPo reported:

After the summit, activists saw some progress in Washington. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush established the first EPA Office of Environmental Justice. Two years later, President Bill Clinton signed an executive order creating an environmental justice working group.

But there was no action from Congress. Later, President George W. Bush weakened the office, proclaiming that it should advocate for all Americans rather than concentrating on racial minorities disproportionately affected by pollution.

In 2004, the EPA inspector general took issue with Bush’s stance, and also found that the EPA had failed to incorporate environmental justice into its day-to-day decision-making. “It has not developed a clear vision or a comprehensive strategic plan,” the inspector general said.

In 2008, President Barack Obama revived the office’s original mission and put renewed focus on affected communities, though some activists argued the administration should have been more aggressive. President Donald Trump later tried to zero out the office’s budget.

There are significant issues that are ignore, obscured, and whitewashed in this overview. They must be mentioned.

I will limit my focus today on just NJ related issues.

I) Christie Whitman Failed At EPA

First of all, the WaPo fails to report that George Bush’s EPA Administrator was former NJ Governor Christie Whitman.

Whitman frisks black man in Camden during NJ State Police stunt

Whitman frisks black man in Camden during NJ State Police stunt

Whitman had her own racial problems here in NJ, see:

Second, the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report that the WaPo provides a link to was scathingly critical of Whitman’s policies and performance at EPA. I encourage people to read this whole Report, a document that I admit I was not aware of until reading it today.

Suffice it to say that Whitman implemented Bush’s diversion criticized by the WaPo, by explicitly shifting the definition and focus of “environmental justice” from poor and minority communities (targeting race and income) to “all Americans”.  

That move destroys the fundamental concept of environmental justice.

Here it is in Whitman’s own memo: (Appendix B of the OIG Report): (emphasis mine):

The Agency defines environmental justice to mean the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws and policies, and their meaningful involvement in the decision making processes of the government.

Whitman – like her predecessor and successors – completely evaded the critical issue of regulations – a remarkable evasion because EPA is a regulatory agency:

In the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), Congress could not have been any clearer when it stated that it shall be the continuing responsibility of the Federal government to assure for all Americans “safe, healthful, productive and aesthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.”

Integration of environmental justice into the programs, policies, and activities via Headquarters/Regional Office Memoranda of Agreements and Regional Office/State Performance Partnership Agreements is an Agency priority.

This language is intentionally misleading and a lie. Here’s why:

1. NEPA is a procedural statute with no regulatory teeth. It was never intended to address environmental racism. Citing it as supporting an EJ policy does nothing. And notice the “all Americans” diversion is repeated.

2. In integrating EJ into EPA “programs, policies, and activities”, note that Whitman does not even mention EPA “regulations”. Again, no teeth.

3. Note that Whitman relies on and cites “State Performance Partnership Agreements“.

Ive written many times about the origins and failures of EPA’s NEPPS program – it is not enforceable and was designed by the Neoliberal Clinton administration to skirt EPA federal oversight responsibilities as a concession to the Gingrich “Contract On America” Congress.

Whitman must be held accountable for this failure.

II) Lisa Jackson Failed At EPA

Camden EJ activist  press conference - Wolfe talks about Corzine policy on schools on toxic waste sites (2008?)

Camden EJ activist press conference – Wolfe criticizes  Corzine policy on schools on toxic waste sites (2008)

In a similar whitewash, the WaPo fails to report that Obama’s first term EPA Administrator was former NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson (who also served as Gov. Corzine’s Chief of Staff).

Jackson had little influence on NJ’s EJ policy, e.g. for an egregious example, see:

To their credit, the WaPo does suggest that Obama’s efforts were weak, by including this vague reference:

some activists argued the [Obama] administration should have been more aggressive.

So, I hit the link to see who “some activists” were and discovered a Report by the Center For Public Integrity (CPI):

Time and again, however, communities of color living in the shadows of sewage plants, incinerators, steel mills, landfills and other industrial facilities across the country — from Baton Rouge to Syracuse, Phoenix to Chapel Hill — have found their claims denied by the EPA’s civil-rights office, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NBC News shows. In its 22-year history of processing environmental discrimination complaints, the office has never once made a formal finding of a Title VI violation.

Wow, with a strong title and findings like that, it is remarkable that the CPI Report failed to name EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Again, we have not and won’t give Jackson a pass here. (see also):

And we have written about the same Title VI failure in NJ’s environmental justice policy and programs, see:

I wish I had known about the 2015 CPI Report at the time I wrote that post.

Regardless, given the EPA regulatory failure noted by the WaPo and the NJ DEP regulatory failures I have written about many times for many years, I am not optimistic about Biden’s new EJ initiatives or the current NJ EJ law.

Let’s hope that the WaPo story can encourage some intrepid NJ journalists to hold not only Whitman and Jackson accountable, but also investigate the current flawed Murphy EJ  legislation and the soon to be proposed DEP regulatory  program.

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COVID Shot Blues

April 5th, 2021 No comments

8H1A0546

Sunset In Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

[Important Update Below]

[Update – 4/13/21 – In what might be the understatement of the year, I concluded this long complex post with this:

I’m no anti-vaxxer, but I’m not confident in this either.

YIKES! I’ve had a slight headache and abdominal and kidney pain, similar in location to but not nearly as severe as kidney stones. If I stroke out, sue the bastards!

[Update – 4/10/21Jeff St. Claire nails it again:

+ In a survey of 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries, two-thirds thought that we had a year or less before the coronavirus mutates to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines are rendered ineffective and new or modified vaccines are required. Of those surveyed, nearly a third gave a timeframe of nine months or less. Fewer than one in eight said they believed that mutations would never render the current vaccines ineffective. ~~~ end update]

I got my COVID shot today – the Johnson & Johnson 1 shot version – – in southern Utah. Good to go. No adverse reaction.

The Utah health center people were very helpful and I was able to capitalize on a cancellation and walk in with no appointment and get the J&J 1 shot version, which avoids a lot of logistical problems as I go down the road. It would have been a problem if I had to hang around for 28 days to get the second shot.

As I suspected, I read the fact sheet they give you and there is a significant difference between the usual FDA approval process and the Emergency Use Authorization.

That’s an example of what I constantly disparage as “streamlined regulatory review” and privatization.

There’s a significant tradeoff under the “emergency” justification. Bottom line: the FDA’s methodological, data, scientific, and legal & regulatory standards were relaxed.

The “ongoing clinical trial” sample size was just 21,895 people.

Half got placebo, so that’s only 10,948 people who got the vaccine. If you then figure that most of these people very likely were wearing masks and taking other preventive measures, that’s a very thin scientific basis and statistical sample size to support a conclusion of safety and efficacy, no?

[Update: 4/7/21 – I was very surprised that the fact sheet distributed by the healthcare facility with the vaccine did not make any claims about efficacy. Why is that?

According to CDC: (emphasis mine)

The J&J/Janssen vaccine was 66.3% effective in clinical trials (efficacy) at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people who had no evidence of prior infection 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine. People had the most protection 2 weeks after getting vaccinated.

How much of that 66.3% is a result of masks and other preventative behaviors? Does the clinical trial examine that question?

The reason I ask this is because it is likely that the people who receive the vaccine may assume they are immune and engage in risky behavior with no mask.

On top of that, according to CDC, the protection does not kick in until 2 weeks after the shot:

laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 was 66.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 59.9%–71.8%) ≥14 days after vaccination and 65.5% (95% CI = 57.2%–72.4%) ≥28 days after vaccination.

According to the fact sheet I received, the clinical trial size was 21,895. But according to the CDC clinical trial fact sheet, it was far larger:

The body of evidence for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine was primarily informed by one international Phase III clinical trial initiated in September 2020 that enrolled approximately 40,000 participants aged 18–100 years.

What explains this large inconsistency? This does not inspire confidence.

According to the CDC link to clinical trials:

To guide its deliberations regarding the vaccine, ACIP used the Evidence to Recommendations (EtR) framework, following the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach. The ACIP recommendation for the use of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine under an EUA is interim and will be updated as additional information becomes available.

I would need to do a lot more research to understand what these frameworks are and how they compare to the standard FDA review process.

But according to CDC, here’s the data, factors and criteria they evaluated:

Within the EtR framework for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, ACIP considered the importance of COVID-19 as a public health problem, as well as resource use, benefits and harms, patients’ values and preferences, acceptability, feasibility, and equity. After a systematic review of available data, the work group used the GRADE approach to assess the certainty of evidence for outcomes related to the vaccine, rated on a scale of 1 (high certainty) to 4 (very low certainty) (4). Work group conclusions regarding certainty of evidence for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine were discussed at public ACIP meetings (3).

Here are the CDC’s findings with respect to those methods:

From the GRADE evidence assessment, the level of certainty for the benefits of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine was type 2 (moderate certainty) for the prevention of symptomatic COVID-19. Evidence was also type 2 (moderate certainty) for the estimate of prevention of COVID-19–associated hospitalization and death. Evidence was type 3 (low certainty) for the estimates of prevention of SARS-CoV-2 seroconversion. Regarding certainty of evidence for possible harms after vaccination, evidence was type 1 (high certainty) for reactogenicity and type 2 (moderate certainty) for serious adverse events. Data reviewed within the EtR framework supported the use of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. ACIP determined that COVID-19 is a major public health problem and that use of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine is a reasonable and efficient allocation of resources. Although there was variability in how populations value receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine, it was determined that for most populations, the desirable effects outweigh the undesirable effects, making the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine acceptable to implementation stakeholders. The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine is feasible to implement, requiring only a single dose and refrigerator temperatures (36°F–46°F [2°C–8°C]) for transportation and storage. These characteristics will allow for expanded availability of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in most community settings and mobile sites when this vaccine becomes more widely available. In addition, persons who want to complete their vaccination schedule quickly or who might have difficulty returning for a second dose might prefer a single-dose vaccine. The feasibility of administering the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in a wider variety of settings provides an opportunity to improve equitable access to an effective COVID-19 vaccine. However, advancing health equity, particularly in populations who experience disproportionate COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, requires engagement with community leaders to identify and remove barriers to COVID-19 vaccination, including those related to vaccine access and vaccine confidence. Community engagement and education will be important as new COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for use. The GRADE evidence profile and supporting evidence for the EtR framework are available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/recs/grade/covid-19-janssen-vaccine.html and https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/recs/grade/covid-19-janssen-etr.html.

These conclusions sounds very subjective, ambiguous, non-transparent, and uncertain to me. It will take a lot more work to review the GRADE & EtR frameworks.

One thing is clear, however, and the public is not being informed about it. The FDA is making “policy” decisions, not purely “science” decisions. 

The GRADE framework makes that clear:

The policy question was, “Should vaccination with Janssen COVID-19 vaccine be recommended for persons 18 years of age and older during an Emergency Use Authorization?” The potential benefits pre-specified by the ACIP COVID-19 Vaccines Work Group were prevention of symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 (critical), hospitalization due to COVID-19 (critical), all-cause death (important), SARS-CoV-2 seroconversion (important), and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection (important). The two pre-specified harms were serious adverse events (critical) and reactogenicity grade ≥3 (important).

Here’s how CDC describes their scientific and policy judgments.

For the critical outcomes, the certainty of evidence was moderate for prevention of symptomatic COVID-19 and for prevention of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, and moderate for serious adverse events. For important outcomes, the certainty of evidence was moderate for prevention of all-cause death, low for prevention of seroconversion, and high for reactogenicity.

This is the most important CDC document, yet it took me over an hour chasing links to find it!

I wish someone would do a side by side comparison of the FDA standard review process with the Emergency Use Authorization so people could understand the trade-offs and how FDA weighed multiple factors.

Chasing links and digging deeper into the science, we find an Appendix 1  titled: “Studies Included in the Review Of Evidence”

The Appendix raises questions. It looks like efficacy was tested with 43,783  people (just one study, conducted by Jansen, the manufacturer), but serious adverse effects were only 840 people.

What explains that?

CDC did include this caveat:

Post-marketing surveillance will be critical to detect any rare serious adverse events which were not identified in the clinical trial.

I guess this is the bottom line – FDA is relatively confident of the science, with caveats:

GRADE Summary

The initial GRADE evidence level was type 1 (high) for each outcome because the body of evidence was from randomized controlled trials (Table 4). In terms of critical benefits, the available data indicated that the vaccine was effective for preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and for preventing hospitalization due to COVID-19; these were each downgraded one point for serious concern of indirectness related to the median two months follow-up (type 2, moderate). The certainty in the effect estimate for the important outcome of all-cause death was downgraded one point for serious concern of indirectness related to the median two months follow-up (type 2, moderate). The certainty in the estimate for seroconversion was downgraded two points due to very serious concern of indirectness because the efficacy against seroconversion based on day 71 serology may not be a direct measure of efficacy over a relevant period of time for an emergency use authorization and the subset of 6.8% with serology data likely differed substantially from the total population of interest (type 3, low). The certainty in the estimate of the effect for serious adverse events was downgraded one point due to serious concern of indirectness related to the median two months follow-up (type 2, moderate). No serious concerns impacted the certainty in the estimate of reactogenicity (type 1, high) (Table 4).

I encourage readers with expertise to weigh in and drop me an email.

But, one thing is clear: the data are not complete and this is an ongoing experiment, i.e. “EUA is interim” and “will be updated as additional information becomes available”.  ~~~ End Update]

Of course, there are virtually no press reports about these scientific and regulatory issues.

I’m no anti-vaxxer, but I’m not confident in this either.

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Murphy DEP Misleading The Public About The Science of Toxic Water And Seafood Bacteria Vibrio

April 1st, 2021 No comments

DEP Falsely Claims Bacteria Vibrio Is NOT Related To Pollution

DEP Ignores Role of Climate Change – Another Glaring Case of Climate Denial

Real Estate, Tourism, And Shellfish Money Trumps Science

Screen Shot 2021-04-01 at 6.06.54 PM

(Source: NJ DEP –  Areas in red are “prohibited”)

It was later than I thought
When I first believed you
Now I cannot share your laughter
Ship of fools. ~~~ Grateful Dead

As the warm weather approaches and NJ residents head for coastal waters and coastal seafood, DEP just very quietly publicly released its 2021 “Vibrio Control Plan” (no press releases, public statements, or shore events. The Plan was distributed via DEP email to an unknown audience).

Vibrio is a family of toxic bacteria that pose increasingly significant public health threats:

A Vibrio infection, called vibriosis, is a serious illness that infects thousands of people each year. Vibriosis can occur when a person eats tainted shellfish or swims with open wounds in contaminated waters.

DEP acknowledges these risks:

Vp has become a significant problem for both regulators and the shellfish industry. Despite the implementation of VpControl Plans by States and industries, as well as diligent efforts to implement such plans, shellfish-related illnesses continue to occur and are on the increase, specifically in the northeast and northwest States.

no-fish

But DEP denies the causes and more aggressive remedies. So let us explain the real science and suggest real solutions.

The Vibrio bacteria level (and risk) is directly related to water temperature and the level of algae in coastal and estuarine waters. According to the US EPA Chesapeake Bay Program:

“While Vibrio occurs naturally in the Chesapeake Bay, the increase in recent years is a direct result of climate change and pollution. As Bay temperatures rise and nutrient pollution from urban stormwater, agricultural runoff, sewage and animal waste continues to increase, algal blooms become more frequent. …

Vibrio bacteria loves to attach itself to tiny particles in the water, such as loose sediment or plant matter. Once it has attached itself to these particles, Vibrio hitches a ride on native microscopic animals called copepods, which feed on the Bay’s supply of algae. As more algae is produced in the summer time, copepods enter a cycle of rapid reproduction, death and decomposition, releasing large amounts of Vibrio directly into the waterways in the process. About 80% of Vibrio infections occur between May and October, when Bay temperatures are at their warmest and algae is most abundant.

Clearly, the level and risks posed by Vibrio are related to abundant algae levels and warm water temperatures.

Algae levels are related to water pollution from nutrients. While nutrients naturally occur, in most NJ waters they are present in excess levels that are the result of man made pollutants (sewage treatment plants, septic systems, fertilizers, atmospheric deposition from combustion sources, etc).

Water temperature is impacted by climate change. Warmer water exacerbates nutrient pollution and accelerates algae blooms.

But the DEP Vibrio Plan not only fails to even mention these fundamental causes related to climate change, it actually misrepresents the science by flat denying the role of water pollution.

According to DEP: (emphasis mine):

Vp occurs naturally in coastal waters. It is not related to pollution, which means that traditional controls for shellfish sanitation related to growing water classification are not effective. Instead, the occurrence of this pathogen in elevated levels generally appears to be related to water temperature and post-harvest handling. Vp levels increase rapidly. Scientific studies have determined that when shellfish are exposed to temperatures greater than 60 degrees Fahrenheit the doubling of Vp occurs within 7.24 hours.

This is simply false and misleading and not science based.

DEP’s Vibrio Plan does not even mention the words climate, pollution, nutrients, water quality, regulations, or standards.

Shame on DEP.

I wish this were an anomaly, but it is part of a longstanding pattern of denial by DEP, see:

Historically, the DEP lies were propagated primarily by the press office. It is deeply disturbing to see the lies now presented in DEP science and regulatory documents.

DEP repeatedly misleads the public because a full public understanding of the science would depress NJ’s billion dollar coastal tourism and seafood industries and force a regulatory crackdown on sources of nutrient pollution, like coastal development and sewage treatment plants.

I warned NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle of this falsehood – let’s see if he reports it straight or parrots DEP’s lies:

Jon – DEP is misleading the public about vibrio – Vibrio is related to algae and nutrient levels. This DEP statement from the DEP vibrio plan flat out denies the role of nutrients, (which are pollutants) and climate change:

https://www.nj.gov/dep/bmw/docs/nj2021vibrioplan.pdf

“Vp occurs naturally in coastal waters. It is not related to pollution, which means that traditional controls for shellfish sanitation related to growing water classification are not effective. Instead, the occurrence of this pathogen in elevated levels generally appears to be related to water temperature and post-harvest handling.”

For real science, see this:

“While Vibrio occurs naturally in the Chesapeake Bay, the i ncrease in recent years is a direct result of climate change and pollution. As Bay temperatures rise and nutrient pollution from urban stormwater, agricultural runoff, sewage and animal waste continues to increase, algal blooms become more frequent. “

https://www.chesapeakebay.net/news/blog/five_facts_about_vibrio

Please expose this misleading garbage “science” by DEP.

My prediction is that NJ Spotlight won’t report the science or hold DEP accountable for these lies. Instead, IF they write a story at all, they will parrot DEP lies. Just like they did when DEP misled the public and weakened standards for Harmful Algae Blooms in freshwater.

The Foundations and corporate donors don’t pay NJ Spotlight to report inconvenient  facts.

I can’t see DEP, a NJ academic, or any NJ press outlets putting out this bad news on the shore. They’re all just afraid of the tourism and development monsters! Just wait and see when they do their annual tourism State of the Shore stunt kicking off the summer beach season and see!

If this is going to get out there, it will have to come from coastal groups (are there any that can speak the truth and aren’t funded by and beholden to DEP?) or people just shaming DEP publicly for denial of science –

This is exactly the kind of shit that got us into the fucking COVID pandemic!

[this post has been updated with additional excerpts from the DEP Vibrio plan]
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Corporate Members Of Murphy DEP Science Advisory Board Must Be Replaced

March 31st, 2021 No comments

Terms Expire – Time For Dupont And Corporate Hacks To Go

SAB Appointments A Test For Acting DEP Commissioner LaTourette

Let me first put this important NJ DEP story in a national context.

Biden EPA Administrator Michael Regan recently dismissed 40 Trump political appointees, mostly members of EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), see EPA Press release (my emphases):

“Scientific integrity is one of EPA’s foundational values – and as Administrator, I am committed to ensuring that every decision we make meets rigorous scientific standards,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Resetting these two scientific advisory committees will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment. Today we return to a time-tested, fair, and transparent process for soliciting membership to these critically important advisory bodies.”

A prior Washington Post story reported:

The move was designed to restore EPA’s scientific integrity, reduce undue corporate and political influence on science and policy, and rebuild EPA staff moral and public trust in EPA.

Regan’s move was widely praised.

In a letter to EPA staff, Administrator Regan wrote that

when politics drives science rather than science informing policy, we are more likely to make policy choices that sacrifice the health of the most vulnerable among us.” 

But restoring the status quo is not nearly enough, as Obama’s EPA made bad decisions  that thankfully were exposed by SAB recommendations.

All of this brought back memories of the work I did criticizing NJ DEP’s Science Advisory Board, including filing a successful lawsuit to make the SAB appointment process more transparent, see:

Over the years, we’ve written many times about the DEP SAB and issues of scientific integrity and undue corporate and political influence and shown how this undermines and weakens protections of public health and the environment, see:

Those efforts have resulted in some reforms at the DEP SAB, but DEP initiated reforms have not gone nearly far enough.

Corporate influence must be eliminated. Any role in regulation must be strictly prohibited. And far stronger scientific integrity, conflict of interest, transparency, public involvement, and ethical standards must be imposed on the SAB.

That’s why it’s important to note that several members of the NJ DEP SAB terms expire on May 14, 2021, including Dupont’s corporate representative John Gannon.

Remarkably, Gannon is not the only Dupont man on the DEP SAB. He is joined by Gerald Kennedy, a “risk assessment” expert whose term also expires

The SAB term of John Dyksen, also expires on May 14, 2012. Dyksen is a corporate man, who serves as Director of United Water’s corporate engineering and planning group.

The term of  Paul Bovitz also expires. Bovitz is a corporate consultant for Weston.

Another corporate dirty water consultant, Tom Amidon’s of Kleinfelder term also expires.

All five of these current corporate SAB members whose terms are expiring must be replaced by Acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.

We will write a letter urging that to happen and we urge our readers to weigh in as well.

Of course, this is newsworthy and deserves press attention – just like EPA Administrator Regan got.

To give just one illustration of the implications and just how corrupt things are, see how we criticized the joint work of Dupont’s Gannon and United Water’s Dyksen:

DEP Commissioner Martin asked his hand picked Science Advisory Board to provide recommendations on whether and how to regulate these chemicals. Here’s how the SAB framed Commissioner Martin’s “charge topic” in their Final Report;

Issue

Numerous chemicals, some of which may be a potential risk to human or environmental health, are used every day in New Jersey (NJ) for industrial, commercial and household purposes. Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CEC) are those that present a concern for both hazard and exposure. A number of these chemicals may find their way into the State’s wastewater treatment facilities, receiving waters, aquifers and drinking water treatment facilities and other chemicals may be released to air or deposited in soils. CEC have raised concern around the world, as once released, these products pose a potential threat to biota and the environment. To address this issue specifically in New Jersey, the NJDEP Science Advisory Board (SAB) formed the CEC work group which was asked to investigate this issue.

With that set of issues in mind, here is a key recommendation from the DEP SAB Final Report on Contaminants of Emerging Concern:

It is recommended that the hazard assessment be conducted using a platform called METIS (Metanomics Information System) developed by DuPont. METIS is a chemical informatics platform that provides a screening level view of potential environmental fate and effects, human health concerns, andsocietal perception concerns.

Did you catch that?

The DEP SAB recommended a chemical hazard assessment method developed by Dupont, a chemical manufacturer that would be subject to the regulations of those chemicals.

But it gets worse.

The SAB Final Report was conveyed to DEP Commissioner Martin from a Rutgers University Professor, on Rutgers letterhead.

The Rutgers transmittal letter emphasized and implicitly praised the role of sub-committee Chair John Dyksen, who just so happens to be a corporate official with United Water and of John Gannon, who just so happens to be a corporate official with Dupont.

We’ve been exposing lack of scientific integrity, undue corporate and political influence, and lack of transparency.

Will Acting Commissioner LaTourette do the right thing and terminate these five SAB members?

[End Note: A reader sent me an email asking why would I expect LaTourette to terminate these corporate hacks, when Gov. Murphy still has not purged Christie political appointments at the Pinelands Commission (including Executive Director Wittenberg) and Highlands Council.

That is really bad – what the heck are Pinelands Preservation Alliance and the Highlands Coalition doing about that? They have lots of resources, including from Wm. Penn and Dodge Foundations! Is that Foundation money handcuffing their advocacy?

I consider myself the only DEP watchdog and I know of no group or individual in NJ who works on scientific integrity or the SAB – and of course, I take no Foundation or government money. It show, no? ~~~ end]

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