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“The Surge” on the Environment

Countless fiasco’s show that voluntary compliance, privatization, deregulation, subsidies, and reliance on private consultants failed

Lisa P. Jackson, DEP Commissioner.

In testimony before a rare April 15 joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commisisoner Lisa P. Jackson presented the Corzine Administration’s plan to reform the “broken” toxic site cleanup program. The “cornerstone” of the plan is privatization. Jackson opened by invoking the definition of insanity:
it’s foolish to believe that doing things same way will make things change… it’s a curse to expect a different result by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting success”. (for Jackson’s written testimony, see: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/srp/stakeholders/testimony20080415.pdf
We agree with Jackson – and therefore suggest that the Commissioner is either insane of she has caved in to political pressure by the Governor’s Office.
Does she really believe that corporate polluters are chomping at the bit to spend billions of dollars to clean up 20,000 toxic sites now backlogged at DEP? Does she think DEP staff are preventing polluters from cleaning up sites? That all we need to do is get DEP bureaucrats out of the way and let the private sector solve the problem?

If insanity is doing the same wrong thing over and over and expecting success, then more privatization and deregulation policies are insane – that is exactly what we have been doing for the last 15 years that is causing the problem. Here’s why:

Assembly and Senate Environment Committee Chairs John McKeon (D/Essex, left) and Bob Smith (D/Middlesex, right).H

Senate Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D/Middlesex) opened the hearings with remarks about Earth Week. Smith touted recent progress on the environment, noting the passage of the Highlands Act, diesel particulate controls, updating of DEP’s environmental enforcement powers, and enhanced electronic waste recycling. Smith’s examples were ironic because the common thread of all these laws are based on traditional regulatory controls, NOT on privatization and voluntary compliance.
Senator Gordon’s (D/Bergen) – burned by major cleanup breakdowns from Hoboken’s Grand Street Mercury poisoning, to Ford in Ringwood, to Paramus toxic schools, to Encap – observed that paperwork was being pushed between DEP and consultants, yet no real cleanups were being completed.
Assemblyman Rooney (R/Bergen) testified that the existing DEP private consultant certification program known as “Cleanup Star”, was “an abject failure”. He repeatedly warned that current widespread use of politically connected pay to play cleanup consultants must stop. “The program has been broken for a long time” Rooney concluded.
Assistant Commissioner Kropp testified that last year, – after 15 years of voluntary compliance and virtually no enforcement – a new DEP enforcement initiative found that more than 80% of sites were violating DEP cleanup rules.

DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson (right) and Assistant Commissioner Irene Kropp (left) present privatization and deregulation plan for toxic sites.

In stark contrast to the recent progress that rely on a traditional regulatory approach that was emphasized by Chairman Smith’s introductory remarks, since the Whitman Administration, the thrust of toxic site policy has been to shift from disparaged “command and control regulation” to voluntary compliance, privatization, and deregulation. Cleanup laws were amended in 1993 and again in 1997 – at the request of industry. Those changes privatized cleanup decisions, allowed partial cleanups (caps), weakened DEP oversight, expanded the use of tax credit subsidies and market mechanisms, gutted DEP enforcement, and eliminated public participation in the cleanup process.
Ten to fifteen years later, experience has shown that the current flaws in the DEP toxic site cleanup program can be traced back to these policy changes.
Specifcally, these are the failed Whitman era policies that: 1) promote what Commissioner Jackson herself referred to as partial “pave and wave” cleanups that cover up pollution with caps; 2) allow the private sector to set priorities based on real estate markets and economic investment preferences, instead of risks to the community; 3) set cleanup standards based on development and land use of the site instead of protecting public health and the environment; 4) rely on private market “buyer beware” mechanisms such as deed restrictions instead of regulation; 5) to walk away from costly groundwater cleanup requirements (“classification exception areas”); 6) to vest the critical choice to select the cleanup plan solely with the polluter, with no alternatives presented to the public or local oversight; and 7) to allow private contractors to control the cleanup process. All these policies have proven a disasterous failure and directly led to the current backlog.
Why would anyone promote more of the same of these failed policies??
That’s why we conclude that Jackson must be insane to be proposing expansions in the very same policies that have created the problems. After all, it is insane to repeat the same mistakes over and over again and expect success. Either that, of course, of Jackson has caved into the pro-economic development agenda of certain influential members of the Corzine Administration (ahem, Gary Rose).

Roy Jones, South jersey Environmental Justice Alliance testifies. Urban and minority communities are disproportionately impacted by toxic sites and other environmental health threats.

For additional details – see PEER testimony, see: http://www.peer.org/docs/nj/08_14_4_wolfe_testimony_and_exhibits.pdf
NEW JERSEY TO PRIVATIZE POLLUTION REGULATION TO SAVE MONEY — Outsourcing Clean-Ups Is Recipe for More Toxic Disasters, Legislature Told
To listen to the April 15 hearing: https://edit-blog.advance.net/cgi-bin/mte/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=1035091&blog_id=2882&saved_changes=1

  1. nohesitation
    June 1st, 2008 at 09:16 | #1

    A must read parallel argument by Chis Hedges:
    “How did we get here? How did this happen? In a word, deregulation–the systematic dismantling of the managed capitalism that was the hallmark of the American democratic state. Our political decline came about because of deregulation, the repeal of antitrust laws, and the radical transformation from a manufacturing economy to a capital economy. This understanding led Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 29, 1938, to send a message to Congress titled “Recommendations to the Congress to Curb Monopolies and the Concentration of Economic Power.” In it, he wrote:
    “The first truth is that the liberty of democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism–ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way to sustain an acceptable standard of living.”
    The Corporate State and the Subversion of Democracy

  2. unprovincial
    June 1st, 2008 at 12:50 | #2

    How true! Good posting, Bill. I might add that anyone who wants an example of what privatization has wrought at DEP has only to look at the Publicly Funded Site Remediation program. DEP staff once did all the investigation and cleanup from A to Z. Then about 10 yrs ago, they had the not so bright idea to hire consultants to do the work with DEP oversight. DEP staff would have to monitor and correct the consultant’s product to the point that it would have been much more cost-effective and timely to just do it ourselves. Complaints to mgmt went ignored. The chosen consultants, one of whom didn’t even have an office in NJ (except maybe a phone hooked up in a storage locker) until getting the contract, must be politically “connected” (as in paying off someone somewhere). DEP mgmt would rave about what staffers knew to be shoddy and incomplete work. Who knows, maybe the consultants bought the project managers a steak dinner every Friday. What I do know is this: DEP staff would write the Scope of Work (SOW) and then the consultant would take the DEP product and copy it word for word, slap their company cover on it, and then charge DEP thousands of dollars for what DEP’s own staff had written.

  3. isbjorn1
    June 2nd, 2008 at 14:38 | #3

    Thx, Wolfe, as always!
    Glad you brought up the point that minority and urban communities are disproportionately affected by the toxic sites the DEP has ignored, but I think it’s important to add that the poor–whether urban or rural, viz, Ringwood–are also strangled by large corporations.
    Companies run ripshod over these communities, thinking that because the residents are so exhausted from overwork and the challenges of daily survival they are less likely to attempt to protect themselves (via protests, lawsuits, demanding legislation, etc.).
    Minorities and the urban and rural poor have however taken on major corporations, often with successful outcomes–though many people have had to die from contamination along the way–e.g., the Lenne-Lenape tribe in rural Ringwood (tho their community has lost many to strange illnesses and the case, while now again on the Superfund list, has not yet come to trial), Rev. Fletcher’s group in urban NJ areas, etc.
    Also when we think about this issue, it’s important to consider the mindsets (“mental models”) that allow school sites, woods, and the like to become contaminated.
    The corporate culture is a toxic culture–toxic for those who work in it as well as for those physically harmed by contamination. But it doesn’t have to do be. “Consumerism,” the consumer mentality, allows this. “The alienation of everyday life,” “the reification of consciousness,” in which commodities rule over all else.
    People would rather have their Fords available in a score of colors (e.g., the toxic blue sludge still appearing in lawns and woods in Ringwood) than scale back a bit, or buy soft plastic animals for their children instead of refusing to buy products w/ bisphenol-A (an endocrine disrupter mimicking the body’s own hormones and entering every child that chews on a soft plastic toy or possibly even sucks on the nipple of a bottle that contains it).
    As long as people remain willfully ignorant and chose ease over insight and intelligence, our world and our health will degrade.
    As long as activists fight one-issue struggles, rather than looking at the political underpinning and mindsets that allowed that which they are struggling against to come into being, we will only be putting band-aids on the issues.
    Winning one fight for one stream is great; trying to “fix” the DEP is even better; but trying to change the consumer greed and willful ignorance that allows every indecent and damaging activity we find ourselves fighting every day is the only way we will ensure a more viable world for our children and grandchildren.

  1. October 25th, 2014 at 00:25 | #1
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