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Those were the days, my friend

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

[shmaltzy Russian gypsy song popularized by Mary Hopkins in late 1968]

[Update: 2/12/10 – “Upset” my ass. Don’t be fooled by the PolitikerNJ.com headline. NJEF is still providing cover for Christie and despite Executive Orders 1-4; the DEP and Energy Transition Reports; nomination of Bob Martin; and huge budget raids, still does not have “buyers remorse”: “Environmental group that endorsed Christie is upset with budget cuts“]

The recent case of DEP politicizing the science of a Paterson air toxics study led me to reflect on how far the environmental community has fallen over the last 16 years.

Back in 1994, when an “Open for Business” Republican Governor nominated an unqualified DEP Commissioner, and then proceeded to roll back regulations (see EO 27), slash DEP budgets, and mount a public relations campaign to lie about public health science on mercury risks see this, the NJ environmental community went to war, led by the NJ Environmental Federation (full disclosure: I was forced out of DEP as a result of mercury disclosures and served as Policy Director for NJEF in 1994 -1995).

The very first battle was over the Whitman administration’s outrageous mishandling of a mercury research study in March 1994. That battle set the tone for the next 4 years of Whitman I.

I was directly involved in both the mercury 1994 and Paterson 2010 disputes, so I can say with confidence that how Whitman politicized the toxic mercury science has very strong parallels to DEP’s current efforts to downplay the health risks of air toxics in Paterson. Basically, both cases involve high level DEP managers intervening in DEP science to mislead the public and avoid taking regulatory action  (For those interested in the history, the Whitman/DEP mercury story is told with links to documents and press clips in this post – click this for the cliff notes version)

But the environmental community’s non-response in 2010 to DEP’s actions in Paterson could not have been more different than their 1994 outrage over Whitman/DEP’s handling of toxic mercury.

In 1994, Dolores Phillips was the NJEF Trenton lobbyist. Dolores was well known for knowledgeable, aggressive, and principled advocacy. She had a high profile in the media and the legislature, and she was often a harsh critic willing to call people out.

The thought that the Governor’s Office – or DEP managers – would consider Dolores an Allie or someone they could play inside games with and reach out to and spin the findings of a scientific study would be inconceivable. I was with DEP at the time (on the 7th floor) and can tell you that the bureaucrats in DEP were afraid of her.

Now, 16 later, Dave Pringle is NJEF’s Trenton lobbyist. (Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club was not on the Trenton scene yet).

In the recent case in Paterson, not only have NJEF and Pringle been completely silent, but DEP managers actually wrote Pringle into their deeply cynical PR sham “ Communications Strategy memo“, which said:

7. Prior to Feb 10 meetings, Jeanne Herb to reach out to Jeff Tittel, Dave Pringle and members of the EJ commission to brief them on the study results.

Here’s a few great comparisons quotes by NJEF staff and Board members – instructive in light of today’s silence :

This is blatant manipulation of the public, period. It reeks of contempt. If the Department were follwing the advice of its own scientists, thay would be sampling human blood and breast milk.” Dolores Phillips, NJEF 3/18/94 Trenton Times, page 1 link to press clip

We urge the Governor to read the Report. We believe that she is being ill advised. Dolores Phillips NJEFThe Press of Atlantic City, 3/3/94  link to press clip


The Governor’s comments are scientifically inaccurate. All mercury is harmful – that’s the bottom line. Dolores Phillips – NJEF 3/22/94 Star Ledger link to press clip

The science is solid enough for the Governor to take action. Both the Governor and the Commissioner are making scientifically inaccurate statements. The problem of mercury pollution is being mismanaged by the Governor. Dolores Phillips, NJEF – 3/22/94 Trenton Times link to press clip – plus Whitman scolded by academic scientists in the press,

We have a pollution problem with mercury that is serious. The public health, particularly the health of our children, should come before politics” Sharon Finlayson NJEF Board Member – Philadelphia Inquirer/AP 3/3/94 link to press clip

We need a policy call from Governor Whitman on how to warn the public and prevent further mercury contamination. By her silence on the issue, she is putting the public at risk. Jane Nogacki NJEF Toxics Coordinator –  AC Press & Trenton Times   3/3/94  link to press clip

Dave Pringle is not pleased by the current Paterson situation – instead of criticizing DEP for lying to the public, he attacks me for exposing the DEP lies and the fact that DEP managers viewed him as a lapdog and were comfortable writing him into their sham communications plan.

Here’s Dave on Governor Christie’s budget cuts, denounced by the Sierra Club as a raid on funds for clean air and clean water:

“We understand that Governor Corzine left this fiscal and environmental mess for Governor Christie to clean up. Our new governor has made strong commitments on the environment and about getting our fiscal house in order and today’s developments demonstrate there’s much that needs to be done better and fast.”

Oh my …. as they say, the facts speak for themselves.

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