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DEP Backpeddling on Dupont Cleanup Permit Deal

DEP move to “streamline” cleanup oversight opposed by Pompton Lakes residents

You can read today’s Bergen Record  story by Leslie Scott: Public hearing for DuPont permit will be scheduled soon – or get the real story below. Your choice.

On July 25, 2010, DEP quietly published a notice in the fine print of the legal section in the back of the local Pompton Lakes paper, Suburban Trends.

The DEP notice was written in legalese, with an overlay of bureuacratic jargon about a “permit by rule” for a “NJPDES discharge to groundwater permit” for Dupont’s DEP approved “remedial action workplan”.

Totally transparent, consensual, above board, and understandable move. Right. But, bureuacracy for $1000: just what the hell is a “permit by rule“? (see below for detailed answer!)

The DEP notice was discovered by watchdog residents. After 25 years of delay, manipulation, lax oversight, and deception by Dupont AND DEP, they’ve had enough and are paying close attention and monitoring cleanup efforts.

For those not following this case, a brief recent history is in order:

In the summer of 2008, it was “discovered” that the polluted groundwater plume had migrated further off the Dupont site and was under about 450 homes, where toxic vapors were seeping into homes and poisoning people.

Residents organized, began asking key questions, and demanding answers from Dupont and DEP (see this for the history).

Shortly thereafter, a State report found elevated cancer rates. A firestorm ensued and all hell broke loose.

Residents demanded that the cleanup be taken away from DEP and asked Senators Lautenberg and Menendez and Congressman Pascrell to have the Dupont site listed as a Superfund site under federal EPA control.

Earlier this spring, EPA rejected the Superfund option, but pledged to work closely with the community, hold both Dupont and DEP accountable, and expedite and improve the cleanup. Importantly, as an alternative to Superfund, EPA pledged to manage the cleanup under federal RCRA – the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

So that quiet DEP notice came as a big surprise, given the new commitments to transparency and more aggressive oversight.

On August 6, Jim O’Neill of the Bergen Record wrote the story and exposed the behind the scenes move: “Residents skeptical of DuPont’s bid for permit change in Pompton Lakes cleanup

DuPont has asked the state to alter a key permit for its cleanup of contaminated groundwater in Pompton Lakes, a move that some residents and environmentalists say could reduce the public’s oversight of DuPont’s cleanup efforts. …

But some are alarmed because the change would eliminate the regular five-year renewal as an opportunity for public involvement. “The proposed change would eliminate the public’s ability to review, comment and seek modifications of DuPont’s pump-treat system,” said Bill Wolfe, head of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “This is a significant change.”

Other say the move reinforces a lack of trust in DuPont that many residents have had for decades. “All aspects of the cleanup have been extremely controversial and of vital concern to residents. The lack of trust we have had requires transparency from DuPont and the DEP,” said Ed Meakem of Pompton Lakes Residents for Environmental Integrity. The group will ask the DEP for a public hearing on the proposed change.

Lisa Riggiola, head of Citizens for a Clean Pompton Lakes, agreed. “Instead of weakening what already exists to regulate environmental cleanup, the citizens deserve and are in dire need of action to strengthen the monitoring of work being performed by DuPont.”

DEP initially tried to downplay the permit change as purely administrative and implementing minor rule changes made in 2005 to “streamline” the cleanup program.

After pressure from residents and a request for a public hearing, a week later on August 13 DEP agreed to extend the public comment period.

But strangely, DEP did not grant the request for a public hearing (see Bergen Record: NJDEP  exteends comment period for new Dupont permit“.

Residents reiterated their demand for a public hearing. Again, one week later, DEP was forced to concede and agree to hold a public hearing , which has not yet been scheduled (see today’s Bergen Record Public hearing for DuPont permit will be scheduled soon

Now, back to the bureuacracy for $1000 question: just what is a “permit by rule”?

You can read DEP’s “NJPDES Discharge to Groundwater Technical Manual“, and applicable DEP cleanup regulations (see also cross reference to NJPDES @NJAC 7:14A-2.5(a)) and  EPA RCRA regulations (@40 CFR 265.121) – or you can just take our word for it:

WORD: The move would violate both DEP’s own regulations and federal RCRA requirements because it would eliminate RCRA required meaningful community involvement and would not meet minimum federal “enforceable document” requirements.

Since this is a long post already, more to follow this week on the federal RCRA compliance issues.

Oh, and Happy Labor Day! If you’ve gotten this far, you sure deserve it!

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