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Clean Air Council Looks Forward – Ignores Elephant in the Room

The New Jersey Clean Air Council held it’s annual public hearing today – this year’s topic was “Vision for the Next Decade: Air Quality and Air Pollution Control in NJ”.

The Clean Air Council, since its creation in 1954, serves in an advisory capacity to make recommendations to the DEP regarding air matters. It consists of eighteen members, fourteen of which are appointed by the Governor. Members serve four-year terms, and include the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, Commissioner of Community Affairs, Secretary of Agriculture, and Secretary of Board of Directors, NJ Commerce Commission, ex-officio.

The Council heard some good testimony about the need for DEP to develop more effective air pollution control strategies, especially to protect public health, address global warming, and promote environmental justice.

Policy experts and scientists traced NJ’s history and enormous progress by NJ DEP in reducing air pollution. This progress was a result of enforcing strong Clean Air Act mandated State Implementation Plans (SIP’s) via traditional regulatory controls. Scientists provided specific recommendations, urging DEP to do far more to address global warming, ratchet down on emissions of hazardous air pollution, incorporate environmental justice in DEP permit reviews, and strengthen regulations, monitoring, and pollution emissions inventories.

Arthur Marin, Ex. Director, NESCAUM

Arthur Marin, Ex. Director, NESCAUM

Arthur Marin, Director of NESCAUM (Northeast States For Coordinated Air Use Management) had the boldest vision, his talk was titled: “Planning for transformative change in an incremental world“.

Highlighting the growing scientific understanding of serious negative public health effects of small particles and hazardous air pollutants, for which there is no “safe” exposure level, he stressed the need to “eliminate pollutants to zero levels, not just reduce emissions”. He emphasized that the urgency of global warming required that we must “fundamentally change the way we produce and use energy, plan our built environment, and live our lives.”

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin briefly addressed the Council. Let’s be generous and just say he failed the test of the transformative vision thing.

And there was a universal reluctance to note the policy elephant in the room.

So, with absolutely no sense of irony, Martin touted NJ’s leadership on clean air by noting that that the 1954 NJ Air Pollution Control Act was enacted and NJ was regulating air pollution almost 20 years before the federal Clean Air Act.

But it seems Martin forgot all about Governor Christie’s Executive Order #2, which stands 56 years of NJ clean air leadership on its head by seeking to rollback NJ state standards to federal minimums. Oops!

NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin talks to Clean Air Council

NJ DEP Commissioner Bob Martin talks to Clean Air Council

Martin also pledged his strong support for “green energy” and wind, shamelessly ignoring the contradiction that Governor Christie’s budget cuts over $300 million from renewable energy funding. Oops!

Martin repeated his stale talking point that DEP decisions should be made based on science, yet he conveniently forgot that just weeks ago he reversed and over-rode the recommendations of his own scientists in killing the perchlorate drinking water standard. So much for science. Oops!

In a flurry of rapid fire talking points, without any recognition that there might be competing policy objectives, Martin also stressed the importance of cost benefit analysis, seemingly unaware that the science almost always conflicts with the economics (and politics). Oops!

Martin also said he would appoint a Science Advisory Board in the “next few weeks”, but he didn’t say anything about the Court Order requiring he disclose SAB candidates. Martin also said that the SAB would include not only academic (Rutgers) scientists,  but “real world experience” – the latter being code for putting regulated industry scientists and private consultants on the SAB, thereby raising troubling issues of potential conflicts of interest, bias, balance, objectivity, and lack of fidelity to the public interest. Oops!

Martin said that clean air would be a priority. Yet he somehow forgot about the facts that in his first 10 weeks in office, he already killed DEP’s proposed Green House gas monitoring rule, eliminated funding of the DEP Office of Climate Change at the critical moment when they need MORE resources to develop programs to implement the Global Warming Response Act plan, and provided the oil industry with another opportunity to kill the sulfur in fuel oil rule. Oops!

Of course, Martin failed to tell the Council about his wrecking ball role on the Christie “Red Tape Review Group“. Oops!

In direct contradiction of the recommendation of most air quality experts of the need for more integrated planning to move beyong single pollutant “silos”, Martin ignored the fact that he decapitated the DEP Office of Policy and Planning, the small group in DEP tasked with doing integrated, multi-objective planning. Instead, he will replace this Office with an Assistant Commissioner for Economic Development. Following the “know nothing”  recommendation of the Christie Transition Team, Martin seeks to return planning functions back to individual DEP regulatory programs, where they can operate in silos.

It was as if I were in the Twilight Zone – the sense of denial was surreal.

Of course, I tried to bring these contradictions out in my testimony -  but this time Martin was unable to deploy the State Police to shut me up!

I briefed the Council and urged them to review and make recommendations to DEP Commissioner Martin on:

1) the Paterson air toxics study; especially the recommendations on reforming the air permit program, emissions inventory, risk screening, and addressing cumulative risks and disproportionate burdens;

2) the Global Warming Response Act Plan including a request that DEP develop a workload analysis, staffing, resources, and implementation time frames;

3) Executive Order #2- specifically federal consistency policy and cost-benefit analysis methodology;

4) Assembly bills A-2464 and A-2486;

5) support adoption of the sulfur in fuel rule as proposed – oil companies are seeking to kill it;

6) the Environmental Justice Advisory Council cumulative impact report;

7) and support a State level FACA law to assure that all DEP advisory groups operate openly, transparently, objectively, ethically, and provide access to the public.

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