Archive for January, 2008

Hearing Casts Serious Doubt on DEP’s ability to Protect Public Health and Environment

January 30th, 2008 9 comments

In articulate, substantive, and at times charming testimony, DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson had the Senate Environment Committee completely under control on Monday.

The Commissioner presented her 2008 priorities, and responded to mostly softball questions from the new Committee.

[Update: link to hearing transcript:

We invited public involvement and outlined our priorities in a Sunday post What are your environmental priorities for 2008?

Lisa P. Jackson, Commissioner of NJ Department of Environmental Protection testifies before the Senate Environment Committee.

Jackson outlined 5 priorities in extemporaneous testimony:

1) climate change; 2) update of the Water Supply Management Plan; 3) strengthening the toxic site cleanup program; 4) taking care of the “green side of the house” (natural resources) and 5) smart growth and regulatory reform at DEP.

After questions by the Committee, she diplomatically added recycling as #6 in savvy deference to Chairman Smith’s recent legislative accomplishments in sponsoring laws to restore funding for recycling and development of a recycling program for electronic waste.

Committee Chairman Senator Bob Smith (D/Middlesex) listens intently.

In a breath of fresh air, instead of spinning, she honestly acknowledged that the current version of the Highlands Regional Master Plan needed work.

In a key concession, Jackson agreed with environmental critics that the science supporting the plan was not complete and inadequate.

She conceded that DEP was broken – that DEP single objective permit programs operated “in silos” and as a result, failed to protect the environment. She pledged to fix these programs and integrate cross cutting concerns.

In a startling revelation than is certain to embarrass the Governor and set the stage for the upcoming budget battle, Jackson disclosed that the DEP had been cut deeply under her tenure; that she had lost over 200 employees; and that she lacked resources to accomplish important new programs, such as global warming.

Those admissions did, however, come with some misleading statements that DEP information technologies and management reforms could “do more with less” and address the resource, funding and staff shortfalls.

In response to oversight questions about why fishing and hunting license revenues were declining – a question that could have prompted a technocratic defensive response – Jackson instead wisely offered the example of her own kids, who prefer video game versions to outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. Her personal warmth – and to be sexist, motherly worldview – effectively communicated a complex issue in human terms.

And she prompted an outburst of laughter with her “wily coyote” wildlife management comment. Her immediate comeback quip “everything you need to know comes from bugs bunny” brought the house down.

Commissioner Jackson (right) is accompanied by Assistant Commissioner Irene Kropp (left). Kropp oversees the DEP toxic site remediation and landfill closure programs that have come under sharp criticism for a series of major failures.

But on a more substantive note, paradoxically the strength of her performance undermined the DEP’s mission to protect public health and the environment.

This is because she put a very positive face on some deeply flawed policies, lack of funding, and poor DEP performance. Her testimony simultaneously disarmed critics, avoided problems that need to be fixed, and controlled and limited the agenda.

Listening closely to what Jackson said – and didn’t say – was deeply disturbing:

1) Jackson said nothing about environmental justice or urban environmental health. This silence was deeply disappointing, given that existing air quality a) violates federal standards for ground level ozone; b) exceeds EPA cancer benchmarks for a score of toxic air pollutants, and c) causes disproportionate health and environmental impacts in urban NJ;

2) Jackson dodged many land mines, including a) the need for more stringent regulation of industrial sources of pollution; b) tougher land use regulations to manage growth and stem continuing high rates of forest and farm land loses; c) stricter standards to reflect new science on cumulative impacts or children’s health; d) vigorous enforcement, or e) the need for additional funding.

3) Jackson backpedaled on the controversial Oyster Creek nuclear plant Clean Water Act permit, distancing herself from the former Administration’s draft permit that mandated cooling towers. At one point, she claimed that the ecosystem had adapted to the warm water discharge from the plant. The stage is set for DEP to fold on this permit.

4) On the issues she chose to discuss, Jackson made absolutely no substantive commitments (she did not commit to any firm dates for mandated reports, plans, regulations, funding, or permit decisions, etc). For example, the Global Warming Response Act signed by Corzine last July mandates an important plan on how to meet the emission reduction goals be submitted to the legislature by June of this year. Jackson not only failed to discuss the elements of that plan, she failed to commit to a date for completion or even acknowledge that the plan was to be submitted to the legislature (she mentioned the Plan being developed for the Governor). But here’s the law the Committee allowed her to tap dance around:

b. No later than June 30, 2008, the department, … shall prepare a report recommending the measures necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to achieve the 2020 limit. The report shall include specific recommendations for legislative and regulatory action that will be necessary to achieve the 2020 limit. The report shall be transmitted to the Governor, to the State Treasurer, to the Legislature pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1) and to the members of the Senate Environment Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee., (emphasis supplied. P.L 2007, c. 112)

Some of the most interesting legislative oversight concerns were expressed by Senator Andrew Ciesla (R/Ocean) who criticized the lack of coordination and took a swipe at Corzine’s toll plan. Ciesla suggested that DEP and the Administration look to Europe for leadership on how to better plan and integrate transportation, land use and environmental concerns.

Senator Ciesla (R/Ocean) suggests Jackson look to Europe for leadership, and asks why costly roads are built without consideration of land use, environmental and transportation planning.
Senator Jeff Van Drew (D/Cape May), new Vice Chair of the Committee, prepares a question.

New Vice Chair VanDrew’s approach was disappointing, as he chose to focus on predictable narrow district or special interest concerns, including fishing and hunting fees; the need for a better “dialogue” between DEP and the business community; and beach replenishment.

As usual, listening to the environmental community testimony was like watching the herding of cats.

Mike Pisauro, NJ Environmental Lobby, recommends the Precautionary Principle.

They were all over the map on dozens of individual organization based issues.

Armed with the strong support of the public and motivated by the public interest, nonetheless they lacked a coordinated strategy or coherent message.

The few new ideas and policy recommendations came from Mike Pisauro of the NJ Environmental Lobby, who praised the new ocean ecosystem based management policy; suggested the Committee explore legislation to implement the Precautionary Principle; and consider implementation legislation and DEP oversight to breath life into the NJ Constitutional guarantee of a right to a healthy environment for all citizens.

Chemical industry lobbyist – a former DEP employee and example of the revolving door between corporate polluters and DEP regulators – testifies in favor of even more private access to DEP decision-makers, less public oversight, and more profits from pollution.

In contrast to the environmentalists, the usual suspects – lobbyists from the Chamber of Commerce, Business and Industry Association, and chemical – were far better prepared and on message.

NJ Business and Industry Association lobbyist testifies in favor of less environmental oversight by DEP, lower fees, and weaker pollution standards
Here are links to the NJ press coverage and a statement by Chairman Smith:
Open-space skimping assailed
NJ Chamber of Commerce lobbyist calls for less regulation, lax enforcement, and more subsidies to corporate polluters.

Smith – Environmental Panel Hearing Offers Solid Direction For State

DEP chief outlines her goals, without funds to realize them Jackson says she must ‘do more with less’

What Are Your Environmental Priorities for 2008?

January 27th, 2008 2 comments

*** Apologies – NJ.Com took down the photos, which were originally published on my “NJ Voices” column at NJ.Com. I was able to save the text, but not the photos. What assholes.

Tomorrow (Monday, January 28, 2008) Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson will present her priorities for 2008 to the Senate Environment Committee.

In an ideal world, that presentation would have been preceded by a statewide series of public hearings – along the lines of the Governor’s toll plan – to solicit the public’s preferences regarding clean air, clean water, global warming, toxic site cleanup, stopping the loss of forests and farms, reversing declines in ocean health, and a host of serious challenges DEP faces in protecting public health and the environment.

The opportunity for public input exists.

The new Senate Environment Committee will meet at 10:00 am in Committee Room 10, Third Floor, State House Annex, Trenton. The Committee invited the public and theCommissioner to discuss environmental issues for 2008.

The Committee has new membership and a new Vice-Chair, Jeff VanDrew (D/Cape May)

It will be interesting to see if this hearing is covered by the press and if so what they choose to emphasize and write about. It will also be interesting to see how Jackson puts her cards on the table – will she duck and do the typical dog and pony show; or will she engage substantive issues and generate some controversy at a time when the Governor is struggling to defend his toll refinance plan? How will the new Committee choose to conduct oversight?

What will be the priorities of the new members and new Vice Chair?

So, with that in mind, here’s my list and challenge to Commissioner Jackson – what’s yours?

I will report Jackson’s testimony tomorrow.

1. Implement the Global Warming Response Act

The legislature directed DEP to submit a Plan – by June 2008 – for meeting Governor Corzine’s much touted aggressive green house gas emissions reduction goals. A package of new laws, regulations, investment, incentives, and programs will be required. The Commissioner should lay out a detailed programmatic vision, which includes a binding commitment to re-negotiate the goals of the RGGI bill just enacted; to provide a deadline for the new Energy Master Plan being developed by BPU; and to present policies towards decisions on various controversial major energy projects, such as Oyster Creek nuclear plant cooling towers, Exxon ocean LNG, and off shore wind.

I would hope that some inquiring Senator would conduct oversight and ask questions about how the Governor’s toll plan will comply with federal Clean Air Act ground level ozone standards and achieve the emission reduction goals just adopted in the GWRA.

2. Adopt and fund a long over due Water Supply Management Plan

Water supply deficits currently exist and more are projected in light of expected growth.

Global warming will impact rainfall, with more severe and prolonged droughts likely. Existing infrastructure is very old, often in need of billions of dollars of investments in repair or upgrade to meet ever tightening health standards, as needed to respond to NJ’s toxic legacy. DEP is years behind in revising the current plan which is over a decade old and out of date in light of new science. DEP must commit to a plan that assures a sustainable and healthy water supply, with strict limits on new development and mandatory water conservation for all users.

3. Strengthen the Highlands Regional Master Plan

The current plan about to be adopted would allow far too much development in the region, which is why many environmental groups oppose it and why three Highlands Council members voted against their own plan. Governor Corzine has final say on all actions of the Council – so the buck stops with the Governor. Jackson needs to weigh in with Corzine to counter pro-growth and parochial local interests on the Council to protect the water supply for half the state..

4. Adopt mandatory chemical plant safety measures

Corzine – as US Senator and Gubernatorial candidate – pledged to enact mandatory chemical
plant safety laws. He has failed to do so. Current regulations are voluntary and allow the chemical industry to control decisions to adopt critical public safety protections. The Legislature needs to mandate current voluntary guidelines, especially requirements to adopt technologically feasible “inherently safer technologies”. Current rules allow the chemical industry to reject them based on cost, which puts communities needlessly at risk.

5. Protect urban communities from air toxics

The entire state of NJ fails EPA cancer risk health benchmarks for air toxics. Urban and disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted due to concentrated nearby polluting industries and loads of trucks and car emissions. Newark kids have the highest asthma rates in the world. Admissions at urban hospital emergency rooms soar on bad air days, leading to premature death and disease. This is a compelling moral and environmental justice issue. Jackson must speak out.

6. Repair broken toxic site cleanup program

NJ’s toxic cleanup program is broken. Polluters have been allowed to walk away and leave toxic pollution behind under “caps” – again mostly in urban, poor or black communities. The laws were weakened to cut costs and stimulate development. That approach has failed. Its now time to restore prior protections and reorient the program back toward protecting communities, not developers. –

7. Adopt standards for schools and daycare standards to protect children

The legislature mandated that DEP approve the cleanup plans for sites where schools and daycares are built. Will DEP mandate complete cleanup??The law also mandated the new rules be proposed by January 2008 to set safe indoor standards at schools and daycare centers – at low levels that will protect children. This law was enacted in response to the “Kiddie Kollege” fiasco – where 60 children were poisoned by mercury vapors in a daycare center. The daycare was located in a converted industrial thermometer manufacturing facility that ignored a 12 year old unenforced DEP cleanup order. Jackson should brief the committee on this children’s health program for schools and day cares.

8. Show me the money – Restore DEP Budget and invest in critical green infrastructure

Governor Corzine has spoken a lot lately on the need to invest billions in roads. But DEP still has not recovered from the Whitman Administration’s staff and budget cuts. The Corzine budget cuts and hiring freeze have made historical resource problems worse. They have led to attrition and vacancies in key staff positions. DEP receives the large majority of its budget from polluters fees and federal grants, only a very small percentage is the burden of NJ taxpayers – less than 1/2 o 1% of the $34 billion total state budget. Any further cuts at DEP help polluters and developers, not taxpayers. Jackson must draw the line on budget and investment issues..

9. Transparency, open government, and ethics reforms

DEP must disclose publicly – on their website – all meetings with industry lobbyists and all pre-application permit meetings. The public right to know is paramount and DEP must operate as an open public agency, and not a consulting firm for the polluters and developers. DEP must not hire private contractors that have conflicts of interests. The public confidence and trust is jeopardized by current practices.

10. Fix & adopt proposals in the pipeline – honor prior commitments

DEP has several important regulatory proposals in the hopper that have yet to be adopted, including the “water quality management planning rules (sewer rules) and the stream encroachment rules (flood prevention) [*correction: SE rules were adopted by DEP in November 2007 – I meant to refer to proposed rules to upgrade 910 miles of streams to “Category One”]. DEP recently has begun to solicit input on how to strengthen current coastal management and storm water rules. DEP has long promised to enact rules to protect the disappearing habitat of threaten and endangered species, and criteria to protect wildlife from bio-accumulative toxic water pollutants, like mercury, PCBs, and pesticides. DEP has proposed a controversial cleanup plan on the Passaic River (TMDL) and needs to develop one for Barnegat Bay and hundreds of other polluted waters that fail Clean Water Act standards. Jackson needs to speak clearly and fight for the resources and political support to make these long overdue stronger protections happen.

Pave Paradise: Put up a Parking Lot

January 23rd, 2008 3 comments

Baldpate Mountain in Hopewell Township, Mercer County is one of my favorite still relatively wild areas to ramble.

The State DEP just began construction of new roads and parking areas to provide access to this hilly and forested landscape. Check out the photo’s – you decide if the improved public access to this special place is worth the destruction. I don’t think so – and even if justified, the design is poor, the engineering wildly out of scale, and the level of forest destruction avoidable.

Green Acres Project – Baldpate Mountain, Hopewell Township, Mercer County.Baldpate is a magnificent forested tract of approximately 1,000 acres. It is the highest elevation and largest natural area in Mercer County, along the Delaware River, just north of Trenton.

(photos continued)

Sixty foot wide access road to parking lot punctures mature ash ash, oak, and tulip forest.
Rural roads in the area are just 16 feet wide.
An additional large parking lot is under construction in an a far less environmentally sensitive disturbed farm field.
Scores of mature ash, oak and tulip tress were cut down to make way for the access road and parking lot..
More trees cut down to make way for a parking lot on former forest.
Men and machines create stumps where mature trees once stood tall.
Hard to distinguish the destruction by a typical development project from a DEP Green Acres funded project
View from the trail – imagine my surprise coming across this while hiking a remote section of the park.
Towering Tulip Trees Transect Tranquil Trail.
Classic rustic hunting cabin is hidden by grasslands.
Delaware River (looking south) peeks through the hardwood forest.
Estate and several outbuildings provide architectural and historical features.
Miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails await the rambling spirit.

A Tale of 2 Jersey Farmers

January 19th, 2008 8 comments
A local property tax subsidized Gentleman Jersey Farm.
A real working Jersey dairy farm
Categories: Family & kids, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

In Harm’s Way

January 18th, 2008 7 comments

Would you send your child to this school?

*** Apologies – NJ.Com took down the photos, which were originally published on my “NJ Voices” column at NJ.Com. I was able to save the text, but not the photos. What assholes.

Paulsboro High School in the shadow of the Valero refinery. The plant emits tons of toxic air pollutants and has a record of upsets that have coated the community in oily residues.)

[Update: 11/30/12:   Toxic Chemicals Released In South Jersey Train Accident Force Evacuation – end update]

I stole my headline from the Houston Chronicle’s award winning investigative seriesIn Harm’s Way” here’s a taste of what that was all about:

“The results of the Chronicle’s investigation show that the region’s refining and petrochemical industries are in some places contributing to what leading experts on toxic air pollution would consider a risky load of “air toxics,” substances that can cause cancer, kidney and liver damage, or other serious health effects in places where people live and work, and where children play.”.

The NJ DEP does not require chemical plants that emit tons of cancer causing hazardous air pollutants to monitor actual ambient concentrations at the fence line of the plant.

This data is required to understand the health impacts of those emissions on surrounding homes, schools and people. DEP does not require health risk assessment before granting air pollution permits that allow industries to release these toxic chemicals to our air.

Current DEP air permit rules make risk assessment and air modeling voluntary – of course no chemical company has volunteered to study the health impacts of its pollution on the surrounding neighborhood kids. Impacted communities are kept in the dark and DEP is flying blind – no data, no health effects monitoring, and no science.

THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS- where is NJ’s Houston Chronicle?

We sure have Texas sized pollution problems here. NJ is the most densely populated place on earth where schools and residential neighborhoods are virtually right on top of chemical plants and refineries.

Would you want your kids to play hockey right next to chemical plants?

Youth hockey rink directly adjacent and downwind of chemical plant. Kids literally were hyper-ventilating and inhaling hydrocarbons at unknown exposure and safety levels.)

Would you want your son playing football or your daughter cheer-leading downwind of organic chemicals?

Athletic fields and a school are adjacent to and directly downwind of chemical plant. DEP regulations do not set ambient health standards or require that the plant monitor “fence-line” emissions impacts.)

How would you like to live here? Would you sleep at night?

House and residential neighborhood within feet of chlorine rail tanker cars. Tanker cars were easily accessible and unprotected. Chlorine gas release would be deadly.)

Would you like to drop off your child at this day care center in the morning?

This location injects new meaning to parental fear of their children’s “exposure (my kids went to day care and this risk sure transcends pink eye, strep throat, and flu I worried about as a parent).

Day care center shoe horned within feet of deadly chlorine rail tanker cars (pictured above) and chemical facility (below)

Entrance gates to Dupont chemical plant. Photo shot from in front of day care center (left) and approximately 300 feet from homes and chlorine tanker cars (above))

Most homes near chemical plants are occupied by poor, black, or working class residents. Would you like a plant in your neighborhood? Shouldn’t the plants do more to eliminate or reduce toxic chemical emissions and monitor to assure protection of health and the environment?

Homes across the street from the Dupont Chambers Works chemical plant (below), one of the largest in the world. The plant emits tons of chemicals to air and water that have unknown human health and environmental impacts.)

Dupont is one of the largest polluters and one of the most profitable corporations in the world. Shouldn’t they be required to prove that their operations are safe BEFORE they are allowed to pollute?

Entrance to the Dupont Chambers Works plant – note house in background. Dupont discharges tons of toxic pollutants is not required to monitor ambient conditions in adjacent residential neighborhoods or track community health.)