Home > Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics > Hostile Takeover of DEP Science – Industry Seeks to Stack Board with Cronies

Hostile Takeover of DEP Science – Industry Seeks to Stack Board with Cronies

I woke up with wood turtles on my mind and was going to write this morning about DEP’s abandonment of wood turtle habitat protections, but that story will have to wait.

A huge shot was fired today in what has been a dirty and expanding covert war on science at DEP – today’s Star Ledger reports:

 Scientists line up to join DEP’s controversial new advisory panel (click for complete story)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More than 100 scientists have applied to join the Science Advisory Board, a panel being created by the state Department of Environmental Protection to provide expert opinions on several environmental questions. ….

Faced with ongoing budget cuts and staff reductions, [DEP Commissioner] Mauriello contends the advisory board is a natural fit for lean times. …But critics claim the board will be a tool for pro-development and industry forces that want to roll back tough pollution standards and circumvent the DEP’s own scientific staff.

DEP Commissioner, Mark Mauriello

DEP Commissioner, Mark Mauriello

This thing was created because the science and research people inside the DEP are perceived at top levels as out of control because they did not let politics and the wishes of the administration get in their way of recommending such things as a tougher chromium clean-up standard in Jersey City,” said Bill Wolfe of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER….

“For 20 years this has been the goal of business and industry: to dismantle the DEP’s Division of Science and the extensive research they have done to protect the public health and environment from developers and polluters,” said Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club.

Behind the scenes, powerful chemical and pharmaceutical lobbyists are aggressively pushing for their own industry scientists to take over control of environmental and public health science at DEP.

This move mirrors a discredited tactic of the Bush Administration, to stack EPA and FDA Science Advisory Boards with industry flacks to promote industry’s economic interest over the best science and public health protection.

There are direct consequences to protections we now enjoy, because independent science is required to establish those protections and to monitor and enforce them.

Questions of science and regulatory policy are inextricably linked. Every day, DEP makes decisions based on scientific standards and protocols, from managing fish and wildlife, wetlands and endangered species protections, enforcing air and water pollution permits, to warning residents about contaminated unsafe drinking water. Science and technical issues can not be isolated from policy and implementation of programs legally put in place to protect the public and regulate harmful actions of  industry. Yet, DEP Commissioner Maurielleo misleads the public by pretending that they are:

Mauriello said he tried to defuse such suspicions through the wording of the May directive he issued to create the board. The work of the panel, according to the directive, would be “limited to specific scientific and technical issues” that the commissioner pitches its way, “not policy or regulatory matters.” Mauriello also said the board will report to the DEP’s staff of scientists, who are helping to select its membership.

Mauriello’s May 2009 Order is riddled with loopholes, but does mention the need to limit scientific bias, but falls far short of a absolute ban on conflicts of interest. This failure invites and opens the door to industry control.

Hal Bozarth, Chemistry Council lobbyist is pushing industry flacks.

Hal Bozarth, Chemistry Council lobbyist is pushing industry flacks.

To provide a sense of just how dirty the covert science war has become, consider the fact that the NJ Chemistry Council is pushing employees of Dupont and Merck pharmaceuticals, some of the largest toxic polluters in NJ. How convenient to have a Dupont employee in control of the scientific health risk assessment of PFOA, a toxic chemical that is manufactured by his employer, Dupont. Risk assessments form the basis of regulations. Control the science and you control the regulations. These industry scientists are NOT independent, they have scientific biases and economic conflicts of interest. They MUST be excluded. Yet again, DEP Commissioner Mauriello misleads the public by saying:

“I respect the fears of the environmentalists,” Mauriello said. “But it can only be a good thing to have an independent group of scientists to look at what we do. The days of thinking we don’t need outside assistance are over.”

In order to reveal this covert war to the public, I filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request . It was denied by DEP. DEP is protecting the chemical industry, NJ Builders Association and Business and Industry Association who are working behind the scenes. DEP is trying hard to keep the public from even knowing about this important debate. It is not just industry that won’t release the names of individual scientists – DEP won’t even reveal documents that show the existence behind the scenes industry lobbying! This DEP secrecy is especially troubling, because the industry’s agenda is made clear:

At least 2 Dupont employed scientists are being considered by DEP Commissioner Mauriello for appointment to the Science Advisory Board

At least 2 Dupont employed scientists are being considered by DEP Commissioner Mauriello for appointment to the Science Advisory Board

Business and industry advocates have long wanted an advisory panel, although one with more official power to alter regulations. They have endorsed some candidates for the new board but have not released names.

Too often the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection has set standards which have not been reflective of scientifically, peer-reviewed studies, said Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey. “This has led to the cost of compliance for New Jersey’s manufacturers to become far higher than in other states, Likewise, remediation of sites is far more expensive and often more time-consuming than in other states, while providing little or no extra protection. Therefore, a scientific advisory board comprised of scientific experts will provide many benefits to New Jersey in how it deals with its environmental issues.” 

Former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson caved to political pressure and abolshed DEP's Division of Science and Research, and promoted a private Science Advisory Board.

Former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson caved to political pressure and abolshed DEP’s Division of Science and Research, and promoted a private Science Advisory Board.

I was pleased to read that the Star Ledger identified former DEP Commisioner Lisa Jackson as the person responsible for this sell out of scientific integrity to political pressure by powerful polluters. According to the Star Ledger:

Mauriello’s directive came five months after the DEP reorganized its Division of Science, Research and Technology into an Office of Science under a director of policy and planning. That change was put in place by DEP commissioner Lisa Jackson before she left in November to head the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Dave Brogan, NJBIA lobbyists, misleads the public about DEP science and regulatory practices

Dave Brogan, NJBIA lobbyists, misleads the public about DEP science and regulatory practices

But even though this story has been smoked out in the media, the  industry lobbyists and hacks continue to lie. David Brogan, an NJBIA lobbyist KNOWS that DEP considers a broad array of scientific sources – not just in house DEP scientists – and that DEP routinely conducts external peer review of scientific research sponsored or conducted by DEP. Yet he lies nonetheless:

“David Brogan of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association said it is time the DEP heard from scientists outside a state laboratory. …

But even in an advisory capacity, the new board will offer “cutting-edge” information that may otherwise not be available to the state or public, said Elizabeth George-Cheniara of the New Jersey Builders Association,

The only thing “cutting edge” these industry flacks will offer is the company line – which of course – “is not otherwise available to the public“!

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  1. George-Therese Dickenson
    September 20th, 2009 at 12:36 | #1


    Thanks, Wolfe, for staying on top of this!

    The most troubling image I am left with after reading is that of a path leading straight from the polluter- & developer-controlled NJ DEP to the White House.

    If this began in NJ while Jackson was at the helm, is there any reason to think it won’t happen in Washington with the same woman at the helm?

    wasn’t part of Obama’s plan & promise that science would be resuscitated and brought back into the nation’s dialogue about the future, front & center, at the core of the discussion, an essential part of the conversation, & **the** basis for decision making? true science, as objective as possible, science based on empirical study & not on the whims of the ‘decider'; science that doesn’t promote the bible as a scientific document or bow to corporate greed as the final arbiter of the truth.

    this is truly frightening, and as upsetting as it on a beautiful day like today, I’m glad you’ve scared us. we should be scared. we are being sold down the river again, here at home and in the heart of the country. from ‘death panels’ and the disappearance of the public option in the health care bill to the word ‘independent’ meaning its opposite.

    keep us honest, Bill, pull down that veil and connect the dots. maybe this blog can make a difference. I’m sure at least a few people still know how to read.

  1. September 29th, 2009 at 11:32 | #1
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