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Pay to Play at DEP

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,
PO Box 112
Ringoes, NJ
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