Archive for June, 2008

Second Edition: Quality v. schlock journalism

June 29th, 2008 2 comments

Earlier in June, we established a novel award – the purpose being to compare good environmental journalism with what we call “stenography of government spin” or what other prominent media experts have dubbed “lapdogs” or “enablers”. see:”You’re Doing a Heck of a Job, Brownie”
Today, we continue in that vein with a focus on the coverage of a story about toxic site cleanups.
Last week, we broke a major story by releasing a US EPA Inspector General’s Report that severely criticized both EPA and NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
EPA’s own IG criticized EPA for poor oversight of the NJ DEP in supervising the progress of cleanup of delegated federal Superfund cases. EPA’s hands off “flexible” “partnership” approach to traditional federal oversight failed to hold the State accountable.
The EPA IG blasted the NJ DEP for gross mismanagement and lack of enforcement of toxic site cleanups. Importantly, the EPA IG Report demolished DEP’s excuse for failure. DEP persistently has blamed lack of staff resources and thousands of cases for backlogs and delays in cleanup. But, the IG found that DEP could provide no evidence to support this claim, so the IG called BS on this DEP argument. Instead, the IG found that DEP failure was a result of lack of enforcement, priorities, mandatory cleanup timetables, and public involvement and oversight.
The story received page one coverage across NJ and generated editorials that strongly criticized the NJ DEP.
Based on that coverage, the Murrow/Orwell is issued jointly to Sandy Bauers of the Philadelphia Inquirer for this story:
Report: inaction delaying cleanup of hazardous waste
and to Matthew McGrath of the Asbury Park Press for this story:
DEP, EPA at odds over cleanup of Brick Superfund site
STATE FAULTED: Report urges EPA be put in charge
Bauers did a nice job of holding government officials accountable and presenting the key public policy issues from the IG Report. More importantly, Bauers was the only reporter to understand the significance of the IG Report and its links in undermining the justification for pending state legislation to privatize toxic site cleanup.
McGrath did an excellent job connecting the national and policy story to local conditions at the Brick landfill. His work illustrates why local officials – who have no expertise, conflicting interests in development, and cozy relationships with State DEP regulators – are the last people that should be involved in site cleanups or rendering judgement on the causes for failure and slow pace of cleanup.
The lapdog goes to Joe Tyrrell of the Star Ledger for this story:
Toxic site cleanup roles at issue – State labels report by the EPA ‘biased’
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff
Tyrrell drank the DEP Kool-Aid.
DEP claims the EPA IG Report is biased because it focuses criticism on DEP sites and not EPA sites. First, that claim is absurd, because the IG did in fact criticize EPA.
Second, and more importantly, the DEP’s bias claim is patently false, because the EPA IG was directed to conduct its review of State lead Superfund cases. Focus on State (NJ DEP) management was precisely what The IG was directed to concentrate on. This apparently was lost on Tyrrrell because he reported DEP “bias” spin as fact. How can the Report be biased when the IG was directed to look at State performance?
Worse, by relying exclusively on local officials – the least credible sources on this issue due to lack of expertise and political and economic conflicts – Tyrrell essentially provides cover and affirms DEP bias claim and excuse for delays.
It is not as if any of these facts were a mystery – they were written in the IG Report and several excellent newspapers days before Tyrrrell wrote his story.
Finally, Tyrrell – while serving as stenographer for DEP’s discredited excuses – completely missed the State level policy context and implications of the IG Report. Tyrrell failed to reach out to report other views that would balance the DEP and local perspectives he apparently accepted at face value.
Heck of a job Joe! You provided cover right on time – just when DEP needed it!

Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

The Compleat Gardener

June 28th, 2008 2 comments

Such a lovely scene greeted me this morning as I set out that I thought I’d share with readers – my neighbors had a special visitor. Gardening has always been a mystery to me – Do Gardeners have their own Way of being, akin to the classic “The Compleat Angler” (Izaak Walton)? Part One of that tale: Being a Discourse on Rivers, Fishponds, Fish and Fishing”…. Let’s take a look:

To the Reader of this Discourse, but especially the Honest Angler…I think fit to tell thee these following truths, that I did neither undertake, nor write, nor publish, and much less own, this Discourse to please myself; and having been too easily drawn to do all to please others, as I proposed not the gaining of credit by this undertaking, so I would not willingly lose any part of that to which I had a just title before I began it, and do therefore desire and hope, if I deserve not commendations, yet I may obtain pardon.”

Categories: Family & kids, personal Tags:

Builders Plan to Escalate Assault on Environment

June 27th, 2008 7 comments

Builders Taunt: “See You in September”
Environmentalists: “Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money”

Bulldozers destroy Highlands forests for more single lot McMansion sprawl

With Governor Corzine about to hand the NJ Builders Association a major legislative and political victory in the War on the Environment (TM), the development lobby is laying plans for an even larger assault come September.
Corzine is expected to sign “The Permit Extension Act“, following lopsided votes of support in both Houses of the Legislature – see: A2867[2R]/S1919[2R])

DEP Commisioner Jackson and Governor Corzine consult at NJEF conference in Newark back in April 2008.
It appears that DEP Commissioner Jackson’s influence on Corzine is waning, as pro-economic development factions gain momentum

Environmentalists vigorously opposed the bill and now are asking Corzine for a Conditional Veto. Good luck with that, as Corzine obviously green lighted the initiative months ago, when he slammed the brakes on various DEP regulatory initiatives and when he refused to back DEP and rein in Joe Doria in an internal war with the Department of Community Affairs Commissioner. DCA is working closely (and secretly) with the Builders Association.
DEP Commissioner Jackson initially opposed the bill, a brave act we applauded. In hindsight, it looks like that applause was premature and undeserved, because Jackson managed to co-opt environmental opposition and negotiate what has been reported as a “compromise” (see:
“The votes in the Senate and Assembly send the bill to Gov. Jon Corzine, who is expected to support it after his environmental protection commissioner helped shape a compromise between developers and environmentalists last week.”
Both houses clear compromise that grants extensions for permits
“Last Thursday, builders and environmentalists reached a compromise that resulted in the two measures that passed Monday.”

The War on the Environment (TM) was publicly kicked off on May 1, 2008, when Builders swarmed to attack new DEP clean water and toxic site cleanup regulations (See: Builders Gone Wild

Builders attack DEP clean water and toxic cleanup regulations before Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on May 1, 2008.

Prior to that public battle, the Builders achieved a series of behind the scenes major victories in winning loopholes in DEP clean water and toxic site cleanup regulations, creation of a DEP “Permit Efficiency Taskforce”, and with control over DCA.
Combined with the huge victory on Permit Extension Act, they now have the wind strongly behind their back.
Attempting to capitalize on that momentum, the Builders are now planning another major assault in September that will make Permit Extension Act seem like a minor skirmish. Most recently, the Builders boldly announced the upcoming battle:
“The Permit Extension Act is the first of a dozen bills of a legislative package put together by the business advocacy group, the Smart Growth Economic Development Coalition, aimed at making New Jersey more “business-friendly.” Nearly two years in the making, that package was rolled out publicly in early June.
“It’s now time to turn our attention to the incentives bills in our package,” Zangari says. “We want to be ready to hit the ground running in early September.”
Environmentalists have described the Builders radical agenda as an all out assault on local land use planning and environmental protection. The “Dirty Dozen” elements of the Builders Assault are summarized in an Op-Ed here:
With both sides gearing up for a major battle and little support for the environment in a pro-business legislature, the only brake and obvious critical question becomes:
which side are you on, Governor Corzine? – which photo is NJ’s future?

Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Corzine asked to prevent schools from being built atop pollution

June 25th, 2008 11 comments
Roy Jones, South Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance speaks at Trenton news conference on Toxic Schools. (sorry, Star Ledger deleted this photo from my NJ Voices column)


Today’s Star Ledger reports:

Corzine asked to prevent schools from being built atop pollution
by Dunstan McNichol/The Star-Ledger
Wednesday June 25, 2008, 1:46 PM

“Environmentalists and community activists today called on Gov. Jon Corzine to order studies to ensure New Jersey schools will not be erected on dangerously polluted properties.

“You should not allow a situation to occur where your children are in jeopardy,” said Algernon Ward, a Trenton activist who led the campaign to tear down a partially built elementary school that was built atop contaminated fill, at today’s Statehouse press conference. “It’s a tragedy.”

Demolishing and rebuilding the Martin Luther King Elementary School in Trenton has cost the state’s school construction program about $27 million.

Participants in today’s press conference said it is among hundreds of millions of dollars in school funds that have been spent because of pollution on the school sites chosen by the state’s $8.6 billion school building program.

Existing schools, meanwhile, feature poor ventilation, contamination and pollution that barrage students with dangerous toxins, said Jane Nogaki, of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

On Monday, lawmakers approved another $3.9 billion in borrowing for the construction program, prompting the activists to demand an executive order from Corzine that would set up a commission to analyze the problem and solutions for what they called “toxic schools.”

“We need to make sure the dollars are spent to protect the healthof children, not put them at risk,” said Roy Jones, co-chair of the South Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. “There is no rule, no standard, no regulation to protect the health and safety of children.”
[end Ledger story]

For photo essay, see:
Polluted land and urban schools – A photo essay


For analysis, see:

Calling Out Scott Weiner on school reforms

School funds must be linked to reforms

NEW JERSEY SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION REFORM GETS FAILING MARKS — No Environmental Reviews Prior to Building More Schools on Toxic Sites

NEW JERSEY LEAVES DOOR OPEN FOR MORE SCHOOLS ON TOXIC SITES — Governor’s “Working Group” Dodges Question of Acquiring Toxic Land for Schools

RADIOACTIVE SCHOOL SITE IS TIP OF NEW JERSEY TOXIC ICEBERG — Over 100 School Site approvals expedited under Secret Deal

The Third set up story on today’s EPA Passaic Cleanup Plan

June 23rd, 2008 No comments

The THIRD fact free set up story in today’s Ledger on EPA’s “cleanup plan” for the dioxin laced Passaic River prompts me to repost the below (in which I took exception to the SECOND story.) See: Feds are expected to announce limited Passaic River cleanup
There are multiple substantive news stories to report on in a set up piece – probably the best is to lay out EPA alternatives for a complete cleanup to ask why they are proposing only “hot spot” removal. There are also big State NJ DEP issues (see below). Why not explore those issues instead of rehashing rumors from state officials and spinmeisters?
Spin detection meter pinned on Passaic River cleanup story
Posted by Bill Wolfe June 21, 2008 12:29PM
The Star Ledger reports today – the second story actually – that EPA plans to announce a cleanup plan for the Passaic River on Monday.
‘Hotspots’ targeted in first phase of Passaic River cleanup
Two Star Ledger set up stories and the details of the EPA plan have yet to emerge – Senator Lautenberg is praising the plan – yet how do we know that it’s a positive development???
My spin detector meter is pinned.
What happened to the NJ DEP cleanup plan announced a few years back because EPA was too slow and too soft on the big polluters? See: NEW JERSEY SUES THREE COMPANIES FOR DISCHARGING AND DELAYING CLEANUP OF HIGHLY TOXIC DIOXIN IN THE LOWER PASSAIC RIVER – Directs Companies to Fund Cleanup Plan for Most
Concentrated Areas of Dioxin Contamination in the River
The pictures in the Ledger story also mislead readers. Very few places where DEP has issued fish and shellfish consumption advisories are actually posted with warning signs.
Similarly, many toxics sites are not fenced and posted with warning signs.
I smell a cover story to avoid criticism of NJ DEP walking away from their own state level Passaic River cleanup plan and litigation strategy. See 2007 State Budget:
Passaic River Cleanup Litigation
To pursue the cleanup of toxic dioxin contamination in the Newark Bay Complex, the Fiscal 2007 Budget will provide an amount sufficient to cover legal and expert services,investigative expenses, and other associated costs. For more than 20 years, Occidental Chemical and its predecessors knowingly discharged a highly toxic form of dioxin, pesticides, and other chemicals into the Passaic River from their Newark facility. The environmental and economic damage this pollution has inflicted on the state includes increased cancer risks from consuming blue claw crabs and higher costs to dredge the New York Harbor’s navigational channels.
The timing of this is also very suspicious.
Both EPA and NJ DEP need good news to recover from the recent damning Report by the EPA Inspector General – a story than ran page one across NJ this week: see:
EPA REPORT BLASTS NEW JERSEY TOXIC CLEAN-UPS — State Failures to Enforce Law Lead to Worst Delays in the Country
By way of illustration: suppose newspapers covered a scathingly critical National report on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) failures on airline safety, and just a few days later the local FAA office announced a safety plan at Newark airport. Obviously, everyone would connect the dots and see the spin and manipulation.
Why that is not the case on this EPA “cleanup plan” is puzzling.
I have no details of the EPA plan, but here is a link to a local briefing on EPA cleanup alternatives and options: