Home > Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics > DEP Takes Polluters “At their Word” – EPA Audit Rips State Programs

DEP Takes Polluters “At their Word” – EPA Audit Rips State Programs

 

DEP Headquarters - Trenton, NJ

DEP Headquarters - Trenton, NJ

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) broke the story that a recent EPA audit of NJ DEP environmental programs ripped DEP’s continuing poor performance and lack of effective oversight of polluters. We thank our friends in DEP for outing this bad news, that both EPA and DEP would have swept under the rug – you never  see this stuff in the avalanche of EPA and DEP press releases.

Perhaps the most shockingly unacceptable finding is that DEP takes polluters “at their word“, without conducting field inspections, sampling, or audits to verify their work:

Finding 8: None of the Site Remediation Program’s bureaus interviewed do any project assessment and/or process improvement beyond data validation, (i.e. no field audits, no split samples, no internal assessments, etc). The EPA assessment team was told that Responsible Party contractors and/or NJDEP contractors are “certified professionals and taken at their word.” (link to report here)

Here’s some of the press coverage:

EPA scolds N.J.’s DEP  - (click for complete article)

Friday, August 28, 2009

By MICHAEL SYMONS
Gannett State Bureau

An audit by the federal Environmental Protection Agency found the state Department of Environmental Protection still hasn’t made fixes promised since 2006 and detailed extensive shortfalls in New Jersey’s toxic-site cleanup [Note: and wetlands and other] program.

In a sense, the report means the EPA — headed by former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson — is criticizing the management of the DEP during the years Jackson was in charge. …

Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst who is now director of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the DEP is failing to meet minimum federal quality and performance standards.

This audit is an indictment of DEP management for failing fundamental tests of competence,” Wolfe said. “Without basic procedures for assuring the accuracy and quality of performance data a public agency cannot even be sure that its shoes are tied.”

 

EPA Criticizes NJ’s Monitoring of Contaminated Sites (listen to mp3 here)

NEW YORK, NY August 28, 2009 —The US Environmental Protection Agency is citing problems with how New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection monitors thousands of contaminated sites. WNYC’s Bob Hennelly has more.

REPORTER: The EPA Region two audit of New Jersey’s DEP says the state lacks basic quality controls to ensure the accuracy of its testing and monitoring. As a result the EPA found “potentially significant vulnerabilities in how the DEP collected data to back up its own decision making“. Bill Wolfe, is a former career DEP analyst, with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

WOLFE: The point of the audit is that the state has no basis to tell the public that they have the confidence that the decisions that they are making are really sound scientifically and actually protect the public health.

REPORTER: A DEP spokesperson says the agency is still reviewing the EPA findings. The federal review covers the time that current EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in charge of the New Jersey’s DEP. Her office had no comment. For WNYC I’m Bob Hennelly.

 

Report: ‘Significant shortcomings’ in state environmental agency
Thursday, August 27, 2009 
BY JAMES M. O’NEILL
The Record
STAFF WRITER

A federal audit of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection identified what it called “significant shortcomings” in how the DEP operates, especially in the division that handles contaminated site cleanups.

The DEP’s site remediation program doesn’t provide proper oversight of contaminated site cleanups because program officers don’t follow up with field audits or internal assessments, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency report, released Thursday.

The EPA faulted the DEP officials for failing to verify what the private contractors of polluters told them about site cleanups. The DEP officials even told the EPA during interviews that the contractors were “certified professionals and taken at their word,” the report said. (link)  

 

NJ DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello - on the hot seat

NJ DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello - on the hot seat

 This latest EPA audit follows a scathing 2008 EPA Inspecor General’s Report that prompted EPA to take over a number of toxics site cleanups due to years of failure by DEP - see EPA IG Report here.

Will DEP Commissioner Mauriello announce reforms? Will EPA have the balls to strictly oversee DEP and enforce federal laws? Will the Governor or the legislature conduct oversight? Will Chris Daggett, that alleged champion of reform and former DEP Commissioner, speak out? Will the press do additional followup stories to inform the public about the impacts of this failed oversight on public health and the environrment? Will NJ environmental community engage? 

 

More shoes to drop in this story – we will keep you posted.

 

  1. August 31st, 2009 at 23:24 | #1

    Bill, Do you know if other states in the Region have also been audited?

    Alan Muller

  2. September 1st, 2009 at 11:11 | #2

    No Alan, don’t know much about this EPA audit program at all – From what I gather, it was department wide and done on a 3 year cycle. Maybe its tied to federal funding.

    NJ has a NEPPS oversight agreement with EPA, so maybe it is part of the national NEPPS program (National Environmental Performance Partnership). This was a Clinton/Gore initiative – a concession in response to “Contract on America” – a way to back off of federal oversight of the states.

  1. September 1st, 2009 at 11:01 | #1
  2. September 18th, 2009 at 19:06 | #2
  3. October 9th, 2009 at 18:25 | #3
  4. January 26th, 2010 at 14:20 | #4
  5. April 23rd, 2010 at 10:43 | #5
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