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Why Am I Not Surprised?

July 31st, 2011 No comments

(Privatization) + (Deregulation) + (Lax Oversight) = Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

[Update 8/15/11 - Defending the indefensible, DEP Commissioner Martin pens an Op-Ed in defense of the DEP Brownfield program: Turning N.J. brownfields green again.

I wonder if its mere coincidence that the Martin Op-Ed ran on the same day DEP proposed major new rules that dismantle the existing toxic site cleanup program and replace it with a privatized scheme. - end update]

Expressing Claude Rains caliber shock and outrage, the Star Ledger reports today that DEP and EDA failed to track where $281 million in “brownfields” toxic site cleanup money went, what it was used for, if the sites were cleaned up, if they were redeveloped, or if polluters should have paid for the cleanup.

N.J. officials didn’t track the $281M spent from brownfields fund to clean polluted properties

 

Since 1994, New Jersey has doled out $281 million from the fund to investigate and clean up contaminated land, but in what would seem a fairly monumental oversight, state officials acknowledge they have never kept track of whether the roughly 1,600 sites were actually developed and are now on the tax rolls.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which certified that the dirty sites qualified for the fund, also concedes it never checked to see if those who caused the pollution in the first place should have picked up the tab.

And the Economic Development Authority, which processed applications and cut the checks, failed to follow up to determine whether its investment actually turned barren wastelands into taxable townhomes, restaurants and shopping centers. …

Under state law, polluters are liable to clean up their toxic sites. Some go belly-up and can’t pay, forcing the state to step in and use public dollars to clean up the mess. But others who may be able to pay walk away, and state officials concede they don’t know which ones should have been forced to pony up.

Why am I not surprised?

Because I’ve been blasting the broken DEP cleanup program for years now, watching toxic sites across the state poison communities, while advocating a specific policy reform agenda.

Because high profile sites like EnCap and Dupont and Ford and many others have exposed systemic and management problems at DEP  for years (thanks for Bergen Record coverage).

Those criticisms have been ignored in all policymaking and media quarters (again with the exception of the Bergen Record).

For the last 17 years, the Legislature, current Governor Chrisitie, and prior Governors Corzine, McGreevey, and Whitman (and their DEP Commissioners) have done nothing but rollback DEP oversight, weaken laws and regulations, cut budgets, and slash DEP staff.

It is well known in Trenton policy circles that:

All these problems have been repeatedly documented, in dozens of cases, and for many years.

So in 2005, largely in response to the “Kiddie Kollege” daycare poisoning of 60 toddlers, the media finally started reporting in detail on how and why the DEP cleanup program failed because of all this.

But instead of fixing it, the politicians and media blamed regulatory oversight itself as the cause (not lax, understaffed, no enforcement oversight) and passed legislation to privatize the cleanup program (a law developed by Gov. Cozine, DEP Chief Lisa Jacskon, and a Democratic Legislature).

HELLO! Have Assemblyman McKeon and the Star Ledger been in a cave the last decade or so? If you vote for it, you bought it.

So if the Star Ledger and Assemblyman McKeon now have their panties in a bunch over DEP’s failure to oversee $281 million, just think about the human health and environmental consequences of the same failures to oversee toxic cleanups!

If DEP can’t track the easy stuff, like dollars and whether a site is redeveloped and on the tax rolls (at 1,600 sies), how can they monitor private cleanup contractors (at 25,000 sites)?

Maybe they all shoud have thought about beefing up DEP oversight and the failed cost recovery program BEFORE they privatized the cleanup program and turned it into an economic development tool and corrupt pay-to-play patronage mill.

Just maybe.

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History Dumped On

July 30th, 2011 No comments

Illegal Paint Dumping at History Farm – Immoral Budget Dumping at Trenton Barracks

[Update: 8/2/11 - Trenton Times covers the story - but they left out the fact that the initial cleanup was limited to the puddle. The initial cleanup left over a 300 feet long, 2 foot wide paint gully remaining (see photo below). I had to go back to the site and basically threaten to get a DEP HazMat team to the site before I could convince the Park supervisor to direct the contractor to cleanup all the stained soil. As written, the Times story makes it appear that the Hopewell cops, DEP and the park supervisor were diligent. That is just not true. The cops were there for just minutes, issued no violations, and left before the half assed initial "cleanup" of just the puddles was done. Neither DEP (who deferred to Hopewell cops) nor the Park supervisor actually monitored the cleanup and neither verified that it was done right. I had to do that. Given this omisssion, my quote in the story makes it appear that I am only interested in taking credit, instead of the fact that I had to do so because others in positions of authority failed to do so. See: Contractor cleans up paint spill at Howell Living History Farm - end update]

Headed out for a lunchtime walk with my new pup Buoy to Baldpate Mountain yesterday, but ran into some trouble and never got there (see this for some Baldpate pics).

It was hot, so I thought we’d begin with a refreshing visit to the Creek that runs behind Howell Living History Farm before heading out (a Delaware tributary that runs parallel to Pleasant Valley Road) (see photo’s of the lovely history farm, a great place to bring the family!).

The Creek was bone dry, so Buoy scampered across and was headed for liquid refreshment from what I could see was a puddle. I grabbed him before he got there – a good thing - because the puddle was filled with a milk white substance I initially thought must be milk. The puddles had filled and drained off to the nearby dry steam bed.

I followed the stream of white fluid back up the hill towards its source on the farm. But about 300 feet later I came across painters, not cows. 

A general contractor (from Pennsylvania with a PA crew) told me he had washed out his equipment there – paint cans, brushes, etc. He told me not to worry, it was only latex paint. He had total disregard for the place – a County park – or the environment. When I told him that it was illegal to do that, he said: ”What else was I supposed to do with it (the paint)”.  Take a look at the white paint gully he created – it that ran for 300 feet or so:

dumped paint cuts a gully as it heads down the road towards the creek

dumped paint cuts a gully as it heads down the road towards the creek

I called the DEP Hotline to report illegal dumping (1-877-WARNDEP) and then headed over to the Delaware River so Buoy could get a much needed drink of water.

I returned to the scene of the crime about an hour later, and spoke with a Hopewell police officer.

Hopewell cops are known to be the law and order type (especially if you’re driving while black, if you know what I mean.) 

The cop advised me that the dumping had not reached the stream, that it was only latex paint, and that the contractor was going to clean it up and never do it again. That sounded like the Wall Street enforcement policy to me.

I guess assaults on the environment are no big deal to Hopewell cops – but better watch that speedometer in those 25 mph speedtraps that dot that upscale town.

So, I drove Buoy home, had lunch, and did a little Googling on the composition and toxicity of latex paint. Couldn’t find much, but did come across this:

Interior latex generally has low toxicity; exterior latex may still contain mercury-containing biocides. Any latex may contain mercury-containing biocides if manufactured before 1991. Some states do consider latex paint a hazardous waste.

and this, which particularly gave me pause, as ethylene glycol is the cause of death for thousands of dogs and cats, who find its sweet taste irresistable:

Latex paint was touted as the safer alternative to oil-based paint. But there are very harmful solvents used in latex paint that are hard to detect. Ethylene Glycol is one of the most commonly used latex solvents; it’s also used in anti-freeze, known for its toxicity. Common Latex paint is not as safe as many would like you to believe.

So about an hour later, I went back with my camera to document the cleanup.

The contractor had only dug out the puddles. Over 300 feet of white paint stained soil remained.

So, I complained again to the Mercer County Parks manager (Gary?), who then asked the contractor to do a complete cleanup of all paint stained soil. The contractor reluctantly agreed. It was now almost 4 pm, so I stressed the need to do it before Friday night’s rain. Greg agreed and suggested that the contractor tarp the soil he scraped up until he could remove it on Monday.

I’m headed back today (on bicycle) to see what was done. As I warned, it did rain heavily last night, so if there is no tarped soil pile, it may have all washed away into the creek and then the Delaware River. Just another non-point source pollutant. No big deal, right? WRONG. 

In other news, coincidentally, in metaphorical dumping on history, today’s Trenton Times reports that Governor Christie’s line item budget vetos include defunding the historic Trenton Barracks. The place survived the Revolutionary War, but not Christie’s attacks.

It survived the Revolution, but Christie budget reductions may cause Trenton barracks to close

TRENTON — The fate of the Old Barracks Museum, stripped earlier this summer of $375,000 in state funding, remains in limbo.

The museum, one of the few significant buildings remaining from the 1776 and 1777 Battles of Trenton, was one of five cultural institutions to lose direct funding after Gov. Chris Christie cut $900 million from the Democrats’ budget through line-item vetoes in late June.

This is not Governor Christie’s first assault on Trenton’s history. See: Christie Buries Trenton’s History – Kills 1730’s Petty’s Run Restoration

Just like that painter, Christie has no regard for the place or its history. The Governor has a warped view and perverse priorities. 

Fundraising at Barracks - Welcome to Christie-World
Fundraising at Barracks – Welcome to Christie-World

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Gov. Christie, Asthma, and Elephants in the Room

July 29th, 2011 No comments

Christie Becomes a Victim of His Own Policies

[Update: 7/31/11 - today's Star Ledger finally covers the air pollution angle, but greatly downplays it, blaming primarily "heat and humidity" (the self serving Christie spin). The Ledger story also does not even mention global warming, which greatly exacerbates heat, humidity and pollution, and fails to connect the dots to Christie policy. Note to Star Ledger, report that the Governor is a victim of his own policies! - end update] 

Yesterday afternoon, the Star Ledger reported that Governor Christie was hospitalized for difficulty breathing. 

Today we learn it was the result of an asthma attack (see: Christie released from hospital after asthma attack).

Once again, our tabloid media reports only the most superficial and political aspects of the story, while missing the proverbial elephants in the room (no pun intended, despite the Governor’s morbid obesity).

As they say, the personal is political. 

In this case, there is a perverse direct connection between the Governor’s personal health crisis, and the “regulatory relief” policies he is implementing. (see also: Christie DEP Slashing Air Pollution Enforcement

Despite the golden opportunity to educate the public provided by the Governor’s misfortune, the media fails to report that NJ has the highest rate of asthma in the country.

Asthma is triggered by air pollution, specifically ground level ozone.

Global warming is increasing the number of bad air days when NJ fails to meet the ozone standard.

The entire state of NJ is not in compliance with public heath based federal ozone standards. Here is DEP analysis of the ozone risks:

“The Department estimates that attaining the Federal 1997 8-hour NAAQS for ozone in New Jersey would eliminate about 40,000 asthma attacks each year and substantially reduce hospital admissions and emergency room visits among children and adults with asthma and other respiratory diseases (NJDEP 2006 ozone report). As such, implementing the proposed RACT rules would not only yield greater air quality benefit, but also would save lives and money and provide better living conditions for the people of New Jersey, especially the susceptible populations. Based on an article in the April 2007 of Harvard Center for Risk Analysis’ newsletter “Risk in Perspective,” the Department estimates that ozone exposure results in increased deaths per year in New Jersey (“Relationship between Exposure and Mortality Risk,” Risk in Perspective, Vol. 15, Issue 2, p.1 (April 2007); available at http://www.hcra.havard.edu/perspective.html).

Additionally, other air pollutants, like fine particulates, trigger and worsen asthma attacks, leading to hospitalization and risks of death.

As I wrote, praising DEP’s adoption of a clean air rule:

Despite multi-billion record profits in the oil industry, these giant corporate polluters don’t want to spend money to reduce the death rate their products cause in NJ.

The public health stakes are huge – thus the inflammatory but accurate headline. But there really are lives at stake. Here’s why DEP is requiring that sulfur be reduced: (see page 18-20 of the DEP proposal)

The health effects associated with exposure to fine particles are significant, mainly due to the fact that particles of this size can easily reach into the deepest regions of the lungs.

Significant health effects associated with fine particles exposure include:
• Premature mortality;
• Aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular disease;
• Decreased lung function and difficulty breathing
;
• Asthma attacks; and
• Serious cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and cardiac arrhythmia.

The USEPA estimated that attainment of the 1997 annual and daily fine particles standards nationally would prolong tens of thousands of lives each year and prevent hundreds of thousands of hospital admissions, doctor visits, absences from work and school, and respiratory illnesses in children. Individuals particularly sensitive to fine particles exposure include older adults, people with heart and lung disease, and children. The elderly have been shown to be particularly at risk for premature death from the effects of particulate matter. Health studies have shown that there is no clear threshold below which adverse effects are not experienced by at least certain segments of the population. Some individuals who are particularly sensitive to fine particles exposure may even be adversely affected by concentrations of fine particles below the revised 2006 annual and daily standards. (72 Fed. Reg. 20586-20587 (April 25, 2007), Clean Air Fine Particle Implementation Rule) The USEPA is currently reconsidering those standards based on recommendations of its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC).

According to the most recent Federal and State estimates, 765,125 New Jersey residents have asthma. In 2004, asthma sufferers in New Jersey accounted for 15,679 hospitalizations, which represents approximately one out of every 50 hospitalizations. Of these asthma hospitalizations, 5,175, or about one-third, were children. There were 1,838 deaths due to asthma between 1989 and 2003 in New Jersey. The risk of death from asthma increases considerably with age, with the over-65 population having the highest rates. (see: Asthma in New Jersey Annual Update 2006. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, August 2006 (click on this for document)

SO2 causes a wide variety of health and environmental impacts because of the way it  reacts with other substances in the air. SO2 reacts with other chemicals in the air to form fine sulfate particles. When these are breathed, they gather in the lungs and are associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death. Peak levels of SO2 in the air can cause temporary breathing difficulty for people with asthma who are active outdoors. Longer-term exposures to high levels of SO2 gas and particles cause respiratory illness and aggravate existing heart disease. (Sulfur Dioxide: Health and Environmental Impacts of SO2/Six Common Pollutants/Air & Radiation/USEPA. (click on this for document).

Increased ozone concentrations severely affect the quality of life for susceptible populations – children, the elderly, and asthmatics – and present health risks for everyone. Exposure to ozone for several hours at relatively low concentrations significantly reduces lung function and induces respiratory inflammation in normal, healthy people during exercise. This decrease in lung function is generally accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, sneezing, and pulmonary congestion. (The Green Book Nonattainment Areas for Criteria Pollutants, United States Environmental Protection Agency, as updated August 17, 2007. Click on this for document)

NOx, as a precursor for both fine particles and ozone, will contribute to the health impacts associated with both fine particles and ozone. Ozone exposure can cause several health effects, including irritation of lungs. This can make the lungs more vulnerable to diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis, increase incidents of asthma and susceptibility to respiratory infections, reduce lung function, reduce an individual’s ability to exercise and aggravate chronic lung diseases.

Attainment of ozone, fine particulate, hazardous air pollutant, and other public health based air quality standards will require a strong DEP and aggresssive enforcement of environmental regulations.

Yet Christie is slashing both! He’s become a victim of his own policies!

For details, see: “Big Oil Mounts Shameful Attack on Clean Air and Public Health”

The Governor needs to start listening to DEP scientists and abandon his attacks on environmental and public health protections.

As he now knows from personal experience, they are not “Red Tape”.

[Update: Just read the Bergen Record story - Predictably, the Governor tries to blame humidity and allergies. Either he intentionally avoided any links to air pollution, knowing that would expose a political vulnerability, or he’s in deep denial:

Christie uses an inhaler for asthma. He said his breathing problems were likely the result of humid weather and summer allergies.

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Tonight’s The Night

July 28th, 2011 No comments

They don’t make ‘em like this anymore (listen!)

neil

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NJ Turnpike Officials Blame Trees – Not Cars – For Safety Risks

July 28th, 2011 No comments

The Fault Lies in Our Cars – Not in Our Trees

[Update: 8/16/11 - Sandy Bauers at the Philly Inquirer reports similar problems along Pennsylvania Turnpike: Highway agencies' tree cutting raises practical questions]

We’ve been following developments in ”The Great Tree Massacre” along the Garden State Parkway (see this and this and this).

Frankly, I thought we hit an absurd low when we revealed that Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) global warming funds were used to expand the NJ Turnpike and increase our carbon footprint. 

As I noted, from an environmental perspective:

Ripping off clean energy money to pay for projects that make our carbon footprint even bigger is warped

But today’s Press of Atlantic City story reveals that NJ Turnpike Authority officials have broken even more absurd new ground.

They are blaming the trees - not the cars, drivers, excessive speed, alcohol, congestion, weather, texting, or failure to use seatbelts - for roadway safety risks:

Garden State Parkway tree clearing caused public outcry, but state says it could save lives

 

The Garden State Parkway was designed to exhibit the natural beauty of the area it travels through, but dozens of people have died in recent accidents after striking trees that line the roadway.

That is an absurd statement – the large majority of highway fatalities are caused by a combination of factors that have little or nothing to do with trees (trees technically are a subset of what highway engineers call “roadside obstacles“).

Obviously, the Turnpike Authority is reacting to the huge public outcry against ”The Great Tree Massacre”.

They probably are doing this gross PR initiative in an attempt to minimize tree replanting requirements and to get out in front of expected huge public opposition to ANOTHER plan to Massacre 12 more acres of roadside trees. The AC Press reported:

The SJTA continues to clear trees to make room for its own ongoing highway widening from mileposts 8 to 31, planning to cut down more than 12 acres of trees along that length. Donelson said the authority submitted a plan in June to the Department of Environmental Protection that calls for planting new trees on 7.5 acres of SJTA-owned land and replanting the remaining acreage in adjacent properties.

Meanwhile, DEP Larry Hajna said the department is still reviewing a revised plan by the Turnpike Authority that would detail exactly how many trees must be replanted or how much money the agency must provide to the DEP in their place.

Will DEP rubber stamp this tree massacre plan too?

I grew up nearby and often travelled on the Taconic and Saw Mill River Parkways in Westchester County NY. The design of those roads is lovely – and corridor trees are the most important element in keeping the “park” characteristics in the “Parkway”.

It is simply mind boggling that NJ highway officials are being allowed to Massacre trees along the Garden State parkway.

The car is perhaps the single worst cause of multiple land use, environmental, energy, and public safety catastrophe’s.

So when state officials start blaming trees for our problems, you know we’ve truly entered The Twlight Zone.

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