Archive for June, 2009

DEP Compromises Scientific Integrity And Public Health

June 2nd, 2009 7 comments

DEP issues a “gag order” on internal review and restrictions on public release of scientific studies

[Update – 6/5/09 – The Star Ledger editorial board shares my concern: New Jersey keeping environmental records under wraps ~~~ end update

Today’s Star Ledger reports:

Environmentalists rip DEP proposal as a ‘gag order’
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Star-Ledger Staff

The state Department of Environmental Protection proposed restrictions yesterday on the public release of its scientific studies and reports, which environmental groups lambasted as a sweeping “gag order” spurred by a controversy over chromium pollution in Hudson County.

The commotion surrounds written guidelines from Jeanne Herb, the DEP’s director of policy, planning and science, against employees disclosing technical and scientific reports — even if they are the subject of an Open Public Records Act request — until they are approved by upper management and the press office. The directive follows the April release of a report by DEP scientists concluding a new, stricter soil cleanup standard is needed for hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium-6, because the cancer-causing substance is riskier than previously believed.

The Washington DC based watchdog group PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) blew the whistle on this DEP attempt to suppress and politically control science. In a press release, PEER disclosed the leaked DEP memo, written by Jeanne Herb who works in the DEP Commissioner’s Office as Director of Policy, Planning and Science:

The DEP memo can be read here:

I will be writing more on this and providing examples that can illustrate why this is so corrupt and how it allows polluters to benefit at the expense of public health.

But for now, I’d like to make a few points:

The DEP press flack defends the Order with the following deeply cynical pack of lies:

“This department is completely transparent. What is being discussed here are copies of draft reports that come out before they are finalized or even peer reviewed,” said DEP spokeswoman Elaine Makatura. “What is wrong with suggesting that scientific reports, with the material they contain, be finalized before they are released? It’s not to say that the information won’t come out.”

First of all, the Gag Order itself is not transparent because it is stamped “deliberative”. This is done to exploit a loophole in the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) that exempts “deliberative” documents. The word “deliberative” has a legal meaning related to documents intended to support agency decisions. The Gag Order was not “deliberative” and it supported no decisions. Instead, it directed DEP staff to comply with specific requirements before scientific documents are released to the public. For the same reason, corrupt tobacco industry managers used to copy lawyers on scientific studies that proved that smoking caused cancer, to keep those studies secret under the “attorney client” privilege. The asbestos and chemical industry did this as well. Now a public agency, DEP, is engaging in these same transparently corrupt practices.

Second of all, the whole purpose of the Gag Order was to restrict public release of scientific information and allow DEP press office and political appointees to review, modify, and suppress science that did not fit the policy or political agenda of DEP or the Governor. Until and unless a DEP scientific document met their political, media and management approvals, it remained “draft” and was prohibited from release and exempt from OPRA. DEP managers could sit on a study virtually forever. The whole point of the Gag order was to reduce transparency and frustrate public right to know, which are the purposes of OPRA. To now claim that DEP is “completely transparent” is beyond Orwell, and a lie so large that it should be grounds for dismissal of any public servant.

Third, this has nothing to do with scientific peer review. The Gag Order established specific procedures for internal DEP political, press office, and management review. To claim that this is related to scientific peer review is another egregious lie.
Fourth, reminiscent of Pontius Pilate, Makatura cynically asks:

“What is wrong with suggesting that scientific reports, with the material they contain, be finalized before they are released?

The answer is that there is PLENTY WRONG.

When a report is written by a research scientist, and then “finalized” by a group of DEP press officers, political appointees, and managers, it destroys scientific integrity. The Bush administration was pilloried for how they allowed political hacks to tone down the findings and revise scientific reports on global warming to fit the Bush political message and policy. The

DEP Gag Order actually is worse than the Bush Adminstration’s corrupt practices.

For specific examples of the michief allowed under the DEP Gag Order, consider this:

“* In September 2002, the [Bush] Administration removed a section on climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) annual air pollution report. This report had contained a section on climate change for the past five years.

* The New York Times reported that the White House tried to force the EPA to substantially alter another report on climate change in 2003. Interviews with current and former EPA staff revealed that the Administration demanded a number of amendments including the insertion of a discredited study of temperature records which was funded in part by the American Petroleum Institute.”

For Full Report, see:

More to follow on this story. Let’s hope this story has legs, and inquisitive journalists start asking DEP tough questions about specific studies that are impacted by the Gag Order. For startes, here are some examples from the Bush Administration:

* Full disclosure: I worked with Jeanne Herb while at DEP from 2002-2004 and with PEER as NJ PEER Director from 2005-2008.

[End Note: can’t seem to post this comment reply to mcmid, so I will put it in the body of the post:

mcmid – I share you concern about how the NJ environmental groups endorse political candidates. They set the bar way too low and then withhold criticism of those they endorse. This allows politicians to enjoy a “green” image without earning it and sometimes allows then to be hostile to the environment without accountability.

But the blame for all of Corzine’s environmental failures can’t be lain at their feet. The business community and the legislature exert constant pressure on DEP to be more “business friendly” and to not enforce environmental laws.

Plus, DEP has been under miserable leadership and management for years, and had budgets persistently slashed.

I assume that Corzine is not aware of DEP’s Gag Order, so it is tough to blame him for it. The media should ask him if he supports it or will order its revocation and replacement with real transparency and public right to know, as mandated by OPRA.

In terms of who the enviro’s will back in November, that seems obvious because the Republican candidates are bashing DEP and have no environmental platforms.

Last, I am not affiliated with any environmental group, have not endorsed Corzine, and have written extensive criticism of his policies here. So, I don’t know who you are referring to when you say “you” have no one to blame but yourself. I assume you are not targeting me.


(this post was reformatted on 2/15/22 – I haven’t checked them, but assume that the links are dead.)


June 1st, 2009 3 comments

What is going on in this picture?
Prize for the first correct answer.
Or click on link and view the slide show – second picture provides the answer:
(or for the long answer, read the book: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared M. Diamond
[June 2, 2009 Update: The pictures below are unrelated to the above picture. They are posted in response to 14yrbumpkin’s comments. Thought I should post some NJ structures! Bumpkin’s answer was a good one though (i.e. collapse caused by sinkholes) especially in light of recent DEP proposals to create a sinkhole loophole in the stormwater management regulations (I’ll find a link to that). That loophole will encourage new construction on top of unstable karst geology prone to sinkholes. The result will be similar to the collapse depicted above, but with modern buildings sinking into the ground.

Titusville, NJ
Riegelsville, NJ