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Lisa Jackson spins in response to EPA audit

Check this story out – Herb Jackson of the Bergen Record calls out EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the Record gets the headline exactly right [link to story]:

EPA chief’s spin on DEP audit

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


New Jersey can improve the way it checks the quality of information it gets from contractors cleaning hazardous waste sites, but the program is not badly managed, the nation’s top federal regulator said Monday.  

An audit released Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criticized the state’s Department of Environmental Protection for failing to implement improvements it promised to make in 2006. It also said officials in the DEP office responsible for hazardous site cleanups were not doing enough to check the work of contractors.

“The EPA assessment team was told that responsible party contractors and/or DEP contractors are ‘certified professionals taken at their word,’ ” the audit said.

Let’s repeat EPA’s audit finding:

“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)

What is Jackson’s alleged factual basis for that claim that EPA audit found that DEP programs are not badly managed? According to Jackson:

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator. Photo taken when she was NJ DEP Commissioner

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator. Photo taken when she was NJ DEP Commissioner

“The audit came out, that’s a good thing. I read about it like other folks did,” Jackson said. “My understanding of this audit was it was about data quality, not about program management. Here’s an opportunity to strengthen that.”

First of all, the audit didn’t just “come out“. It was NOT released by EPA or DEP. Negative audits are always buried. The audit was leaked. I received a copy and publicly disclosed it. 

Jackson is wildly spinning the EPA audit findings by trying to distinguish poor data quality and lax oversight of the polluters’ consultants, from competent program management and failure to honor her written commitments to EPA. 

Last week’s EPA audit was not the first documentation of management problems at DEP.  A PRIOR 2008 EPA Inspector General’s Report found that the DEP site remediation program was so poorly managed that EPA had to take over control of many NJ sites where DEP had allowed cleanups to flounder.

As a chemical, engineer (with a Master’s from Princeton) surely Jackson knows that poor data quality leads to flawed analysis and poor decisions that jeopardize people’s lives and the health of the environment. 

Perhaps Jackson never took a management class? Surely she knows that a manager is responsible for data quality, verification, and program design? Failing to inspect site to field verify toxic site cleanup compliance is a management issue. Taking a consultant for a polluter “at his word” is a program design issue. Environmental programs are designed to reflect policy goals. Lax DEP oversight and enforcement are not accidents. They are built into the design of programs to reflect a a hands off policy.

Jackson, who spent 16 years in the EPA toxic site cleanup program seems to have forgotten history as well.

Surely she knows that DEP’s lax oversight and deference to private sector consultants reflects a hands off policy at DEP that began in 1993 with the few dozen sites in the Florio administration’s “developer’s track” program. That program was designed to prioritize sites with investment backed bona fide redevelopment that was ready to go at the local level. These sites still were subject to strict DEP oversight and enforcement, but were pushed to the front of the DEP review line to expedite decisions so that real developments would be built. That small program was greatly expanded by Whitman in 1995 to several thousand sites in the “voluntary cleanup program“. Whitman’s policy was designed to privatize decisions, cut cleanup costs, and reduce DEP oversight and enforcement powers. Whitman no longer required a bona fide redevelopment. The pace and extent of cleanup was set by the economic interests of the polluters and redevelopers, not environmental and health risks. This is the logic of “brownfields” program enacted into law in 1997. That policy has now come to its logical conclusion in the completely privatized “Licensed Site Professionals (LSP) program, where polluters are now  “taken at their word” and government oversight is practically non existent..

Perhaps Jackson also forgot she championed the LSP program while at DEP? Maybe she forgot that she testified to Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer during her Senate confirmation hearings that she would NOT pursue her lax LSP oversight policy while at EPA?

Perhaps Jackson is spinning so hard because the EPA audit was critical of Jackson’s own management performance and because EPA criticized Jackson’s own failure to make the changes she pledged to EPA in writing to make? Let’s get back to that excellent Bergen Record story:

“EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who had promised to make improvements when she was New Jersey’s DEP commissioner for two years until late 2008, would not comment at a news conference when asked why they had not been made.

Jackson said she agreed when she took over the EPA to recuse herself from involvement with any actions she took as New Jersey’s commissioner. A spokesman said the recusal is designed to prevent Jackson from influencing EPA employees to act one way or another regarding New Jersey.”

That’s more spin – recusal is like pregnancy. You can’t be partially and selectively recused. If Jackson was recused from NJ, then why does she choose to make this very selective and misleading comment which was clearly intended to say there was no managment problem at her own DEP?:

“The audit came out, that’s a good thing. I read about it like other folks did,” Jackson said. “My understanding of this audit was it was about data quality, not about program management. Here’s an opportunity to strengthen that.”

As I’ve said, poor data quality is a management issue. Failure to meet your commitments to EPA is a management issue.

Lisa Jackson’s spin doesn’t change any of those inconvenient facts.

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