Home > Uncategorized > Environmental Standards Undergoing Internal DEP Review – Red Flag Rollback Threat

Environmental Standards Undergoing Internal DEP Review – Red Flag Rollback Threat

Martin must be asked about the purpose of involvement in standards review group

According to a May 7 DEP briefing of the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin has taken an interest in an internal DEP Workgroup to examine all current environmental standards, including drinking water, surface water quality, ground water quality, and soil cleanup standards.

Signaling heightened concerns with standards, DEP recently posted on its website – for the first time – an “electronic compendium” of all standardscurrently in effect“. Having all standards and their scientific basis in one spot is very useful, but it also provides a big target.

Martin’s intervention in the standards work group is headed by DEP Deputy Commissioner Irene Kropp.

Kropp, as Assistant Commissioner for Site Remediation under the Corzine Administration, presided over the privatization of DEP’s toxic site cleanup program under the controversial “Licensed Site Professionals” law enacted by the legislature last year. That law was strongly opposed by environmental groups.

Historically, Kropp’s Site Remediation Program (SRP) has waged internal battles with DEP scientists who conduct risk assessments and develop soil, surface water, wildlife, and groundwater standards.

Sympathizing with their “customers”, SRP managers have long viewed many DEP standards as too costly, too stringent, and a barrier to cleanup of contaminated sites. Other DEP managers, avoiding controversy, have taken steps to gag DEP scientists on risk assessment and standards related issues.

Reflecting internal opposition and industry pressure, DEP recently has delayed, weakened or abandoned several proposed standards, including: 1) wildife criteria for PCBs, mercury and pesticides; 2) impact to groundwater cleanup standards; 3) vapor intrusion standards; 4) chromium soil standards (and this too); 5) PFOA risk assessment; 6) fine particulates, hazardous air pollutants; and most recently, 7) a perchlorate drinking water standard.

So, Kropp’s control of this standards review workgroup is an ominous sign.

Despite the fact that Commissioner Martin has publicly acknowledged the work of select “stakeholder groups” to review various DEP programs (in private meetings that are industry dominated and closed to the public and press), Martin has made no public mention of the internal standards review process.

To the contrary, Martin has publicly stated – numerous times – that he has no plans to weaken standards, but only seeks to streamline the process.

Similarly, the Red Tape Review Group Report blocked 12 DEP rules, effectively killed a drinking water standard, and targeted 15 additional rules, but the Report did not explicitly target any current DEP environmental standards.

Commissioner Bob Martin has testified to the Legislature 4 times over the last 90 days, and never mentioned any internal DEP standards review.

Perhaps standards review will be the first task of Martin’s new Science Advisory Board (but that is pure speculation).

The quiet high level management intervention in an internal technical DEP standards group contradicts the administration’s public statements about their regulatory policy and is deeply troubling. It also underscores the claims by environmental advocates (and yours truly) that the Christie/Martin agenda is to rollback NJ’s tough regulatory protections.

NJ’s regulated industries have long challenged DEP standards as too stringent, too costly, and not based on “sound science”. Industry argues – without supporting evidence and contrary to much credible economic analysis – that DEP’s tough standards have destroyed thousands of NJ manufacturing jobs and discouraged new investment.

Governor Christie has bought that argument and used it as justification for his  Executive Order #2 , which established so called “common sense regulatory principles”. EO #2 requires that all new and readopted regulatory standards must be justified by a cost-benefit analysis and seeks to make NJ consistent with weaker federal minimums.

EO #2 also changed the way regulations are adopted, by requiring the agencies prepare “advance notice of rules” in order “to prevent unworkable, overly-proscriptive or ill-advised rules from being adopted.” This new process is designed to allow industry lobbyists expanded behind the scenes political access to kill onerous rules via the Lt. Governor’s “Regulatory Czar” Office.

DEP Commissioner Martin has repeatedly cited the need for “waivers” and additional flexibility from strict regulatory requirements, including environmental standards. Martin has personally criticized the DEP science supporting standards.

So there are multiple indicators on pending rollback of DEP environmental standards.

Commissioner Martin needs to be asked hard questions about the purpose of this standards review group which has been confirmed on the record at a public hearing by one of his own staff, a longtime DEP manager.

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  1. Peggy S
    May 19th, 2010 at 09:32 | #1

    Bill, Are you aware that all visitors to DEP are now required to be escorted by Department personnel to wherever they need to go? I was in a meeting yesterday and it had to keep being interrupted because the DEP folks in the meeting would have to go downstairs to walk the latecomers into the room. I am very concerned at the heavy-handedness of this approach and also concerned that it is wasting precious Department resources including the employees’ time.

  2. Bill Wolfe
    May 19th, 2010 at 09:45 | #2

    Hi Peg – yup, I’ve been escorted throughout the building, including having DEP staff wait outside the mens room! Total waste of professional staff resources. Really outrageous, when Martin talks all this private sector efficiency BS! Martin adn Kropp alos are feding certain legislators total BS thatt responding to OPRA requests is taking too much staff resources. Kropp testiufied that 25% of SRP staff time was spent on OPRA (a fact free lie). Last week, Chairman McKeon claimed it was 50% of the whole Department! So I expect that to be the upcoming excuse to rollback OPRA!

  3. Peggy S
    May 19th, 2010 at 10:01 | #3

    Bill, I brought up the OPRA issue in my meeting yesterday. I have always found it most effective to do a little research to track down the case manager for a file and then I call them directly to tell them exactly what I am looking for. It is more effort on my part but I end up with a better review and it saves the OPRA staff. I try to avoid OPRA requests at all costs because you are basically forcing the OPRA folks to do lots of legwork tracking down things they may not be familiar with. I have been told that another problem with OPRA requests is that attorneys for “clients” put in requests to have whole files photocopied when all they need is one or two documents in the file but they don’t have the time to come in and do a file review.

  4. May 20th, 2010 at 00:15 | #4

    Not only that but the files are never returned in the same order they were before the OPRA search. Case managers, the “keeper” of the case file, then have to spend hours to reorganize boxes of files. And who knows whether or not anything was left out unintentionally, let alone pilfered by a party that is in litigation? It’s absolutely indefensible to hand what may be the only hard copy of a record to someone who has a financial stake in the case. And no one really makes sure that an industry attorney doesn”t take something ala Fawn Hall.

  5. May 20th, 2010 at 00:20 | #5

    But following people around is just plain facist. A former employee is not even allowed to speak with former co-workers without being “escorted” (monitored) by a supervisor. What do they think they are going to do? It’s one thing to prevent people off the street to sneak into the building and have them running around to possibly steal employee’s money or department computer equipment. That is understandable. But to “monitor” a retiree paying a friendly visit to co-workers that they spent decades working alongside? Makes us feel like we are prisoners in an asylum.

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