Home > Uncategorized > DEP “Science” – Behind Closed Doors

DEP “Science” – Behind Closed Doors

Secret Meeting Starts New DEP Science Advisory Board Off on the Wrong Foot

[Update 2 – 9/10/10 – On October 10, 2009, I wrote to then DEP Acting Commissioner Mauriello to request that the SAB be subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA):


I want to follow-up on your remarks on the new Science Advisory Board (SAB) at yesterday’s NJBIA panel discussion. This is especially important because you referred several times to my blogging on that issue and stated that my criticisms were off base.

First, you stated that the NJ DEP SAB was modeled on the EPA SAB. This may be the case. However, you failed to mention a few important facts that are relevant to that modeling exercise:

1. The EPA SAB is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). In contrast, your Administrative Order guides DEP SAB. There are significantly different and stronger legally enforceable technical standards under FACA that are not in your AO, particularly with respect to composition, balance, ethics, transparency, and public involvement. Here is a link to FACA so you can do a side-by-side comparison. I would support State counterpart legislation to replace your AO, if you’d like to pursue that option.

More recently, On April 13, 2010, I wrote to Commissioner Martin that the SAB should be subject to the requirements of FACA:

In light of this episode, I ask for your support towards reforms to make all DEP advisory group deliberations are open and accessible to the public, transparent, accountable, objective, and subject to ethical standards, as provided by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

The next day, on April 14, I testified to the Clean Air Council and made the same request:

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.

Given this history, it is baffling why the SAB’s first meeting was in secret – they should have gone out of their way to be open and transparent to avoid this criticism and to protect ther own integrity. ]

Update 1: once again, DEP is playing dishonest games. First, the chronology: I learned of this morning’s SAB meeting at 11:39 am via an email passing on the WHYY report. This post went up at 12:20 pm today and was distributed to press at 12:30 pm via email. DEP issued a press release in response to that criticism at 3:28 pm.  If DEP cared at all about public involvement, they would have issued the press release BEFORE the meeting and conducted an open meeting.

Second, upon returning home, at 5:45 pm today, I learned that DEP had posted the list of 17 issues on the SAB page DEP website. So I just check it out – the document is dated September 8 (yesterday) and the website dates it as September 8 as well (falsely creating the appearance that it was posted BEFORE today’s meeting). But right click, hit “properties” and note that the document was created TODAY and 9:31 am.That means it could not have been posted before the meeting today. So DEP again back dated a document and the website.

I later will provide a detailed analysis of each of the 17 topics selected, but will note one thing for now: while several of the topics appear to be valid scientific questions, there is NO DOUBT, that this issue is a flat out attack on the Highlands regulation’s 25-88 acre septic density standard:

Verify nitrate dilution models. What level of nitrates is acceptable in groundwater in order to protect stream water quality and ecological values? Because septic density is based on zoning while the nitrate standard is based on a watershed, can those standards be effectively implemented? Does proximity to a receptor matter? Does it matter from a development standpoint if the land being developed is currently used as agricultural or forested lands?

The controversial new DEP Science Advisory Board (SAB) met today for the first time – behind closed doors – not open to the public or the press.

That move obviously seriously undermines their credibility, right out of the box.

It also validates criticisms we have made for months about the composition and role of the SAB, industry influence on the SAB, and politicization of science at DEP.

Dupont, one of the world’s largest polluters with billions of dollars of toxic cleanup liability in NJ, is on the SAB. Obviously, Dupont is keenly interested in DEP science that backs cleanup standards and risk assessments.

Science, by definition, is an open and transparent process that welcomes engagement.

It is shocking that the SAB failed to realize this, especially given the public policy and regulatory nature of their deliberations.

DEP Commissioner Martin apparently gave the SAB a list of 17 issues to work on.

How did Martin develop that list? Who are the SAB and what is their role?

The arrogance is stunning.

The WHYY report is sketchy:

N.J.’s new science advisory board meets

Thursday, September 9th, 2010
By: Kerry Grens

A new board that will advise New Jersey on everything from ground water contamination to air quality convened for the first time today. It was closed to the public, but WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens got a debriefing on what issues the board will address.

The 16-member advisory board, appointed by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, is made of university professors, environmental engineers, and industry scientists.

At the meeting DEP handed members a list of 17 major environmental issues, just to get them started. One is the nutrient-overloading problem in Barnegat Bay — which is the subject of a controversial bill in New Jersey’s senate that would restrict lawn fertilizer. Another is how to protect ground water when cleaning up contaminated soil sites.

DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese says the issues will be divided among sub-committees.

Ragonese: They’ll work on a lot of these issues, bring them to the full board, and then the full board will consider them and make recommendations to the DEP, to Commissioner Martin, to either support proposals that we might have on board or to debunk them.

 The next meeting is in October.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
You must be logged in to post a comment.