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Pay to Play at DEP

December 31st, 2010 No comments

Christie “Reform NJ” Contributor Langan Dominates DEP Toxic Site Cleanup “Reforms”

[Update: 1/2/11: Star Ledger editorial: Gov. Chris Christie’s double standard on political money

christie7The Ledger is sounding like Wolfenotes on this one! Ledger:

“The organization calls itself Reform Jersey Now, a grand irony when you consider that its main purpose is to end-run campaign finance laws that Christie supposedly supports ….only a practiced politician would have the chutzpah to make such an implausible claim. … He understood that it’s a sleazy practice that puts both parties within winking distance of a bribe, and that it engenders widespread mistrust. … But this episode tarnished the governor’s reputation. He behaved like a perfect hypocrite.

Here’s what Wolfenotes wrote:

“Boldly oblivious to the irony and with no sense of shame, that sleazy pro Christie group is named “Reform Jersey Now”. …

The only honorable thing to do at this point - given that appearance of a conflict of interest is the legal standard in NJ - is to immediately resign from the LSP Board.

As you know, in addition to the SRRA LSP professional standards, the ethical standard in NJ law is  a “justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated.” (NJSA 52:13D-12) (see: http://www.state.nj.us/ethics/statutes/conflicts/

Check out this comment on the Star Ledgger editorial, obviously from a DEP employee:

“Langan has been given unprecedented access to DEP records and computer databases that their competitors do not have. The big “joke” at DEP is that we work for them. This despite the fact that everyone in the Site Remediation Program (hundreds of scientists and engineers) can give examples of shoddy, unprofessional, inaccurate, and even unethical product from Langan over the years.” End update]

Yesterday the Star Ledger broke the pay to play abuse story that:

Contractors paid hundreds of millions of dollars by state agencies were among the top donors to a group that has been publicly promoting Gov. Chris Christie’s legislative agenda for the past six months.

We wrote about the DEP related aspects of one of those major contributors, Langan Engineering (see this).

But there are far larger Langan links at DEP.

Today, we note that on December 9, we testified before the Senate Environment Committee on how private consultants and polluters were literally re-writing the DEP regulations governing toxic site cleanup (listen to testimony, which runs from time 1:26:00 – 1:34:00)

It turns out that Langan Engineering just happens to dominate that effort with nine (9) representatives involved!

This is in addition to Langan senior associate Jorge Berkowitz’ access and influence as an LSP Board member (see this link for the DEP SRRA stakeholder groups and their composition).

Langan’s “Reform NJ” contributions, provided at the same time Langan secured preferential access and influence at DEP, raises major ethical issues that could compromise the independence of and taint the objectivity of DEP.

So we call on DEP Commissioner Martin to respond – see letter below.

December 31, 2010
Dear Commissioner Martin:
Re: Langan and JM Sorge involvement with DEP SRRA 
As you know, I testified on December 9 to the Senate Environment Committee’s oversight hearing on DEP implementation of the Site Remediation Reform Act (SRRA).
I noted, among other things, that the composition of DEP SRRA “Stakeholder” groups was “95% or more dominated by industry” and that these groups were re-writing the technical requirements for site remediation in a way that violated the premises of and undermined commitments of the SRRA, while weakening transparency, accountability, and public health and environmental protections.

Since then, we learned that Langan Engineering and JM Sorge are two groups named in the “Reform NJ” pay to play scandal. Both are heavily represented on DEP SRRA stakeholder groups I criticized in testimony.

Remarkably, Langan has nine (9) members and JM Sorge has one.

This is in addition to Langan’s senior associate Jorge Berkowitz, who was nominated by Governor Christie and now serves on the SRRA LSP Board.
In addition to looking into state contracts with “Reform NJ” contributors, I request that you conduct an investigation into Langan’s influence on DEP SRRA, LSP Board, and LSP programs. An audit of Langan’s SRP LSP cases pending before the Department also is warranted to assure that their access has not resulted in favorable treatment.
As you know, in addition to the SRRA LSP professional standards, the ethical standard in NJ law is “a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated.” (NJSA 52:13D-12) (see: http://www.state.nj.us/ethics/statutes/conflicts/
We believe that “Reform NJ” actions, in concert with DEP SRRA and LSP Board involvement, has violated this ethical standard and that the situation warrants investigation in order to preserve the Department’s integrity.
We also request your support for calling for the resignation of Mr. Berkowitz of Langan from the LSP Board and termination of involvement in DEP SRRA stakeholder processes.
I appreciate your timely and favorable consideration of this request.
Happy New Year!
Bill Wolfe, Director,
NJ PEER
PO Box 112
Ringoes, NJ
609-397-4861
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“I Stand On My Credentials”

December 30th, 2010 1 comment
Jorge Berkowitz testifies in support of Licensed Site Professionals bill

Jorge Berkowitz testifies in support of Licensed Site Professionals bill (4/15/08)

“I am not a crook, … I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life I have never obstructed justice.”

~~~ (Richard M. Nixon)

Jorge Berkowitz is a senior associate with Langan Engineering. He works as a consultant to responsbile parties (polluters) in cleaning up toxic waste sites.

In 2008-09, Berkowitz testifed in support of legislation to privatize the NJ toxic site cleanup program and create so called “Licensed Site Professionals” (LSP).

At the time, we testified that an LSP program would result in gross conflicts of interest and invite corruption and abuse.

The LSP bill was signed into law in 2009 and on May 11, 2010 Berkowitz was nominated by Governor Christie to the Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board, where his conflicts of interest have multiplied vastly. The LSP Board oversees the LSPs, including enforcement of ethics, conflicts of interest and professional standards. 

The old cliche about the fox guarding the henhouse doesn’t begin to describe the swamp that Berkowitz is up to his eyeballs in. 

We wrote about all this in: Privatization of NJ Toxic Cleanup Law Reveals a Systematic Collapse“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

Well we now learn – SURPRISE, SURPRISE! - according to today’s Star Ledger - that Berkowitz’ firm, Langan, has been pumping big money into a political operation that supports Governor Christie.

Boldly oblivious to the irony and with no sense of shame, that sleazy pro Christie group is named “Reform Jersey Now” - did you get that?:

List of biggest donors to pro-Christie group includes contractors paid millions by N.J.

TRENTON — Contractors paid hundreds of millions of dollars by state agencies were among the top donors to a group that has been publicly promoting Gov. Chris Christie’s legislative agenda for the past six months.

Reform Jersey Now, a nonprofit organization, voluntarily released its list of donors Wednesday. The release came as the group simultaneously announced it was ceasing operation effective Friday. …

Among its top donors: …

  • Langan Engineering & Environmental — $25,000. The firm received about $2 million from various state government departments last year. Jorge Berkowitz, a senior associate with the company, is on the state’s Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board. “I’ve never heard of (Reform Jersey Now) before,” said Berkowitz, “I know nothing about what Langan donates. I will stand on my credentials and record.”

Jorge, you might as well stand on your credentials, because their ain’t much else left.

The only honorable thing to do at this point – given that appearance of a conflict of interest is the legal standard in NJ - is to immediately resign from the LSP Board.

The whole world is watching, Jorge.

[Update – Note also, Section 3 of SRRA provides the Governor with an ethical resolution:

 d. (1) The Governor may remove a member of the board for cause, after a public hearing.

Also, Section 16 provides

p. A licensed site remediation professional shall not allow the use of his name by a person, and shall not associate with a person in a business venture, if the licensed site remediation professional knows or should know that the person engages in fraudulent or dishonest business or professional practices regarding the professional responsibilities of a licensed site remediation professional.

[ps - here's how the game works - purely hypothetically of course - the pay-to play contribution to Christie gets a bigger payback than just a seat on the LSP Board (which amounts to immunity from license revocation or professional sanctions). Berkowitz' cleanup cases can expect to get very little scrutiny at DEP and he can use his access and influence with the Administration to stand down any negative DEP audits or hostile enforcement actions. So, similar to a kickback scheme, some of the money that polluters can save in cutting corners on cleanup costs can be plowed back to Berkowitz' firm with little risk of detection or sanctions by DEP. Just imagine having the cops, the  prosecutor, and the judge on a leash! Not bad, eh? Goes to show, you get what you pay for!] 

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A Year When Slogans Masked Policy: “Red Tape” – “Commmon Sense Regulation” – “DEP Transformation”

December 29th, 2010 No comments

We continue the 2010 year in review today, starting with a brief discussion about the ways the environmental rollback has been publicly justified by slogans used by Governor Christie, his DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, and the Red Tape Czar, Lt. Governor Guadagno.

The little media coverage there has been has mostly uncritically embraced and parroted these slogans, media thereby abdicating their role as truthtellers in favor of stenography.

So let’s start by briefly describing the Christie slogans, explore their deeper meaning, and expose the policies they mask and the special interests they benefit.

Slogans are intended to shut down thought. Slogans are a very different form of rhetoric than the traditional practice of spin.

Spin at least remains tethered to underlying reality: spin seeks to interpret reality and persuade through rational argument. But slogans are not grounded in interpretation of reality or a form of persuasion.

Slogans are empty – they displace the substance of reality, and fill it with a myth that appeals to irrational motives or fears. Slogans are designed not to seek truth or persuade, but to hide the truth and manipulate thought and emotion by creating a false perception of reality.

Slogans are made necessary because of the strong public support for protecting public health and the environment.

Obviously, a DEP Commissioner is not going to simply say we are going to make it easier and more profitable for developers to rape the landscape and reduce the pollution control cost of oil and chemical companies so they can dump more toxic crap in your air and water while making record corporate profits (all while emulating Dupont, who according to the Associated Press is off shoring US jobs, disinvesting in the US, and massively investing in third world countries:

“Take the example of DuPont, which wowed the world in 1938 with nylon stockings. Known as one of the most innovative American companies of the 20th century, DuPont now sells less than a third of its products in the U.S. In the first nine months of this year, sales to the Asia-Pacific region grew 50 percent, triple the U.S. rate. Its stock is up 47 percent this year.

DuPont’s work force reflects the shift in its growth: In a presentation on emerging markets, the company said its number of employees in the U.S. shrank by 9 percent between January 2005 and October 2009. In the same period, its work force grew 54 percent in the Asia-Pacific countries.

“We are a global player out to succeed in any geography where we participate in,” says Thomas M. Connelly, chief innovation officer at DuPont. “We want our resources close to where our customers are, to tailor products to their needs.”

So instead we have slogans, founded on either false premises or outright lies.

The worst false premises and outrights lies that Christie has manufactured to mask and support his agenda are that:

  • environmental and public health protections are related to the economic recession, unemployment, and State budget crisis (Slogan: “Common sense regulation“);
  • that regulations drive companies out of NJ and create barriers to new investment (Slogan: “Red Tape“); and
  • that DEP bureaucracy is preventing the private sector from creating jobs and improving NJ’s environment (Slogan: “DEP Transformation“)

These slogans serve a dual purpose.

In addition to being used to mask and justify a rollback agenda, slogans are deployed to redefine problems and pre-empt alternative real solutions by diverting attention from the real underlying causes of serious problems:

  • instead of environmentalists going on offense and talking about ways to respond to global warming; cleanup air, water, and land pollution; or preserve remnants of vanishing open space, our collective focus, resources, and advocacy efforts are diverted. We are forced to play defense and defend existing weak and ineffective protections and programs from rollback and attack;
  • instead of putting the flawed policies and those responsible for creating problems on the defensive and talking about the greed of Wall Street financial institutions and the failures of lax regulatory oversight, Christie scapegoats DEP and environmental protections (more subtly, but basically the same way he attacked the teachers union); and
  • instead of conducting campaigns to shut down coal plants and make a rapid transition to renewable energy, we are consumed responding to straw men arguments are used to change the conversation and frame false choices like the need to reduce energy costs by ending subsidies to renewable energy and eliminating the Societal Benefits Charge.

So the use of slogans provides the business community a twofer: they dodge accountability for creating huge problems AND are provided “regulatory relief”.

Viewing developments through this lens, we present stories from the second quarter of 2010:

April

May

June

Tomorrow we’ll try to close out the year – and if space and time permit, highlight expectations and priorities for 2011.

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Year of Rollback, Retreat, and Appeasement – Christie Worse Than Whitman 1994

December 28th, 2010 No comments

The year 2010 began with low expectations for environmental progress.

We started in the wake of Obama’s disaster at the global warming treaty collapse at Copenhagen; with deep disappointment with Congressional Democrats’ inability to enact real reforms despite huge majorities in both Houses; and under a dark cloud cast by the election of  NJ Governor Chris Christie.

But remarkably, events actually were worse than anticipated, while we broke new ground on the appeasement front.

Needless to say, we have been very closely following the Christie Administration – and we’ve exhaustively documented a monstrous record.

In sum, we see 5 deeply disturbing trends:

  • Christie is engaged in systematic environmental rollbacks and attacks on regulation and government. There are indications that Christie’s policy and politics have become a model for fellow Republican Governors and Tea Party extremists;
  • the environmental community’s largest groups are asleeep or in retreat (with the exception of Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club, Environment NJ, and, more recently, the Highlands Coalition);
  • the NJ Environmental Federation is engaged in appeasement;
  • the press hasn’t even scratched the surface or tried to hold the Governor accountable;
  • the Democrats in the legislature either support the Governor or don’t have the spine to take him on (with the exception of Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono).

So here is the NJ 2010 year in review – a monthly calendar of major events followed by Wolfenotes.com (for national issues, visit the DC PEER site).

Our first installment covers the campaign, transition, and first quarter of 2010.

We set the stage for 2010 and begin with 2009 campaign and post election transition lowlights:

Campaign issues

Post Election transition: 

January

February

March

Come back tomorrow, when we present the second quarter of 2010.

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EPA Administrator Jackson Has Longstanding Spotty Record On Toxic Chromium

December 27th, 2010 No comments

Last week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a study that found widespread toxic hexavalent chromium in the drinking water in 35 US cities.

Curiously, NJ – a State with the worst chromium contamination in the country, a favorable precedent setting federal appeals court decision,  and a leader in the risk assessment science - was not part of the EWG study.

That’s like doing a study on the dairy industry and ignoring Wisconsin (aside from the fact that EPA Administrator Jackson was involved with chromium for 8 years in NJ, including direct involvement in a chromium whistleblower case.)

shocked, simply shocked to find chromium....

shocked, simply shocked to find chromium....

The EWG Report got great media play. The Washington Post story: Study finds probable carcinogen in tap water of 31 U.S. cities had a big impact, forcing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to meet with 10 US Senators and issue a statement that EPA would develop standards and put in place interim protections (see: EPA urges testing for chemical in tap water

The press coverage of Jackson – or Jackson’s spin – seemed like a Claude Rains Casablanca redux:”I’m shocked, just shocked, that chromium is in drinking water”.

So, I thought I’d remind folks of Jackson’s extensive experience in New Jersey with chromium - PLEASE HIT THE LINKS BELOW – let’s hope that her NJ record is not repeated at EPA.

 

News Releases

For Immediate Release: December 27, 2010
Contact: Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA’S JACKSON HAS CHECKERED CHROMIUM RECORD -  New Jersey Tenure Marked by Stifling Health Warnings on Deadly Substance

Washington, DC – Three days before Christmas, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson promised swift action on the presence of hexavalent chromium (or chromium-6, the substance made famous by Erin Brockovich in California) in drinking water after meeting with 10 U.S. Senators. During her tenure as the top environmental official in New Jersey, however, Jackson stalled or minimized health warnings on chromium-6, including those from her own staff, according to materials posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Despite being seemingly taken by surprise by the Environmental Working Group findings of chromium in drinking water, from her very first until her last days as Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from 2005 to 2008, Jackson wrestled with increasingly dire scientific findings that raised big questions about how protective her department’s policies were, including:

  • A DEP risk assessment that found current New Jersey standards for chromium 6 in soil are more than 200 times laxer than needed to protect public health. While this assessment was about soil, it pointed to risks from ingestion in water and recommended review of stomach cancer rates near contaminated sites. That assessment has yet to be translated into standards;
  • A DEP scientist-whistleblower who revealed state sampling data showing that individual cancer risks from continued presence of airborne chromium may be as high as 1 in 10 at some sites the state has declared to be clean. Nonetheless, Commissioner Jackson lifted the moratorium on chromium cleanups, thus allowing more inadequate site remediations to proceed;
  • A 2008 DEP health assessment that found heightened risks of lung cancer from exposure to airborne chromium in the Jersey suburbs of the New York metropolitan area; and
  • Newspaper exposes documenting that scientific fraud by consultants and improper industry influence led to relaxed DEP cleanup standards for chromium, saving corporate polluters hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced cleanup costs.

None of these developments were met with substantive reforms, however. “For years Lisa Jackson has reacted to blaring chromium alarms as if each one was news to her,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to cities like Garfield. Thousands of people in New Jersey remain as vulnerable to chromium risks as they ever were. Compounding the problem was that Jackson and her top deputies took actions to cut off the flow of new scientific information rather than addressing underlying risks, such as:

  • Abolishing the DEP Division of Science & Research which produced the chromium risk assessments and replacing it with an advisory body with industry representation;
  • Removing the DEP whistleblower, Zoe Kelman, from chromium-related assignments and denying her meaningful work. Kelman eventually resigned in disgust; and
  • Issuing “gag” orders prohibiting scientists from disclosing agency data to any outside parties until it is “ready for public distribution.â”

“Chromium in water is a concern but it is also of concern in the air and soil. We need a comprehensive national response to chromium in all media,”added Ruch. “Our fear is that we will see the New Jersey pattern of promises but no follow-through repeated at EPA.”

###

View the 12/22/10 Lisa Jackson statement on chromium

Peruse delayed 2009 DEP chromium risk assessment

Look at Jackson lifting chromium site work moratorium

Examine 2008 airborne chromium risk warning 

Revisit DEP chromium whistleblower isolated by Jackson

Read unanswered PEER letter to Jackson on DEP whistleblower 

See Jackson chromium-inspired gag order

Review industry influence on chromium limits in New Jersey

Trace New Jersey chromium policy impasse

 

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