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Archive for February, 2012

Christie DEP Adopts T&E Rollbacks – Sanitizes Criticism

February 24th, 2012 1 comment

Christie DEP Press Office Grows More Orwellian by the Day

New Species of “Special Concern” Provides Cover to Deregulate Habitat

[Intro Note: we wrote about this back in Jan. 2011 when the rule was proposed – see: DEP To Abandon Habitat Protections To Promote Economic Development – DEP CEO Martin Approves Controversial Plan Before Public Review]

We’ve already documented that the Christie DEP Press Office has set records for the most press releases issued by any former DEP Press Office (see: DEP Wins Press Prize).

But we now must note that the spin meter rates that same group the worst ever (and to exceed Brad Campbell’s spin and volume is a real “accomplishment”).

The most recent and egregious DEP Press office spin comes on DEP’s recent adoption of new T&E listing rules.

Those rules weaken protections for rare, threatened, and endangered species and remove previous regulatory protections for habitat and thereby open up over 31,000 acres of land to development.

We warned about mounting political pressure on the Corzine Administration to make these kind of listing changes and explained the regulatory implications for habitat protections back in October 2009, focusing on cooper’s hawk (see: DEP Will Delist Threatened Cooper’s Hawk To Promote Development).

And keep in my that the context for the Christie Administration’s new T&E listing rules include

  • failure by DEP to move forward with T&E habitat protection rules recommended by scientists several years ago (during the McGreevey Administration);
  • Christie Administration “Red Tape” attacks on the Landscape Project and regulatory protections for habitat;
  • Christie DEP elimination of habitat protections in the water quality management planning rules
  • Christie’s State Economic Development Plan proposes to eliminate the State Plan policy map and all linkages with DEP functional plans and maps, like the Landscape project maps and WQMP maps.
  • Christie Executive Order #2 attacks on regulations and policy to inject economic considerations into rules and rollback state rules to not exceed federal standards

With that policy backdrop in mind – which should trigger a high degree of skepticism of any DEP claim to be improving T&E protections – and before we lay out some of the substance, let me now show the bureaucratic games DEP plays to spin the impacts of the new rules and sanitize the huge public opposition.

This spin includes attempts to sanitize the huge criticism that was provided by over 2,700 critical public comments, one of the largest volume of comments opposing a DEP rule.

Of course, as is standard practice, DEP’s press release itself makes all sorts of incomplete, exaggerated, and misleading favorable claims.

But, more subtly, DEP’s press release provides a link to the DEP Endangered Non-game Species webpage, where it is almost impossible to find the rule (I couldn’t), instead of a direct link to the rule adoption and response to public comment, and rule proposal documents.

Those key documents are not linked to by the Press Office because that’s where you can see the heavy criticism by thousands of people.

The rule adoption and response to public comment document shows that over 2,700 people and most environmental groups raised strong objections to the rule proposal. Read that document and see how DEP dismissed and now suppresses public criticism.

Similarly, the rule proposal document included key information.

By the DEP’s own admission in the proposal document, the rule changes would dramatically reduce protection of thousands of acres of currently protected habitat, opening up that land for development.

The DEP created a new category of species of “special concern”, but provided no regulatory protections for them or their habitat. This is the fig leaf cover used to fool some conservation groups into supporting the proposal (see comment #22 below, with which I agree).

According to the economic impact statement in DEP own Jan. 18, 2011 rule proposal: (@ page 17-18)

Current mapping of endangered and nongame species habitats used by the Department in administering the above land use rules includes threatened and endangered species occurrences in the Department’s database as of May 2008. The proposed amendments would result in approximately 43,400 acres currently presumed to comprise endangered or threatened species

habitat no longer being presumed to comprise threatened or endangered species habitat. The addition of several species to the endangered species list and/or additions to species assigned threatened status results in approximately 12,400 acres not currently presumed to comprise endangered or threatened species habitat being added to the area of presumptive endangered or threatened species habitat therefore potentially requiring greater protection under the above land use rules. The overall result of the amendments to the lists proposed herein is a net decrease of approximately 31,000 acres of land presumed to comprise habitat for endangered or threatened species.

But the DEP Press Office wants no reporters or the public rummaging around in those documents. They wouldn’t want a reporter to see stuff like this:

2. COMMENT: Several commenters expressed concern about removing species from the endangered and threatened status categories because that will result in a net reduction in acreage that could be subject to other Departmental regulations, particularly land use regulations that make reference to habitat for endangered and threatened wildlife. The commenters noted that these lands serve as habitat for other wildlife, enable ecosystems to function and are important to quality of life of New Jersey citizens.

3. COMMENT: The proposed amendments are inappropriate as they place opening lands to economic development before the protection of critical habitat and preservation of the biodiversity of New Jersey.

4. COMMENT: The proposed amendments would promote more sprawl and overdevelopment, and jeopardize some of the most sensitive areas in the State.

5. COMMENT: The proposed rules fail to approach the conservation of critical species from a landscape context, instead focusing on individual species. The Department should instead be looking at preserving specific habitat types and ecosystems that are or could potentially be habitat for species of concern, threatened and endangered species.

6. COMMENT: The proposed amendments must be stronger to ensure potential habitat is available to species, and that regulatory protections are extended to all species in serious decline.

7. COMMENT: DEP should adopt strong rules that will not only protect existing endangered, threatened and special concern populations, but promote (wildlife) population growth by preserving critical habitat in the State.

8. COMMENT: Instead of weakening the rules, the Governor and the Department should be proposing a law to extend protection for plants.

9. COMMENT: Thirty years after the Endangered Species Act was passed, the State still does not have regulations to protect upland forest and grassland species.

11. COMMENT: The rulemaking process was not transparent: who was involved, what documents were reviewed and how were these decisions made?

12. COMMENT: The commenter received no notice of a stakeholder process or invitation to participate in this process in any way. Governor Christie’s Executive Order 2 is very specific about the need for common-sense regulatory practices, including the requirement for stakeholder input

13. COMMENT: Some commenters used the form letter referenced as commenter letter #48 to make additional comments. Comments received in this manner included comments advocating for preservation of habitats and New Jersey’s natural resources for the benefit of people and their quality of life, for wildlife, and to preserve clean air, clean water and watershed integrity. Further, some of those commenters expressed their concern that development and corporate interests would benefit from the amendments more so than natural resource conservation that is in the public interest.

22. COMMENT: The proposed special concern category is not strong enough to protect populations that are declining in the State because it simply recognizes that those populations are susceptible to increased loss of habitat without affording the species any regulatory protection to prevent further decline. These species should be identified as threatened. The Department should make available the data and threshold levels used to qualify species as special concern rather than threatened.

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Two Headed Trout Outs A “Highly Contested” Toxic Debate

February 23rd, 2012 5 comments

trout

Idaho Case Echoes US Fish & Wildlife Service and EPA Decisions in Dupont Cleanup

[Update: 2/27/12 – Record’s Suburban Trends writes the story – headline sucks, but the content is not bad:

US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends more testing in Pompton Lakes

Bill Wolfe, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said, “This is a highly significant move on the part of the FWS and it completely undermines the prior approval because of the statements it makes about the DuPont science, which it calls ‘antiquated and not adequately protective.’

“DuPont has consistently told the public that its cleanup plans reflect sound science and the DEP (NJ Department of Environmental Protection) rubber-stamped that cleanup plan despite the fact that a DEP scientist raised objections,” said Wolfe.

“It is very important that the FWS recommendations be incorporated in the new cleanup plan that the EPA is going to be drafting and that the cleanup plan completely cleans up the site,” Wolfe added. ~~~ end update]

The New York Times ran an important story today about a dispute in Idaho – a complex science and regulatory policy story made possible only by the visibility and public outrage associated with the discovery and photographs of two headed trout (see: Mutated Trout Raise New Concerns Near Mine Sites (please read the whole thing).

The Times‘ two headed trout selenium story has numerous parallels and direct relevance to the Dupont Pompton Lakes NJ site and proposed mercury cleanup plan (and there is selenium in addition to mercury and lead present in Pompton Lake sediments).

In a stunning coincidence, the Times’ story was released just days after we wrote about some of those same issues and the US Fish & Wildlife criticized the science supporting the Dupont cleanup plan, see:

Maybe the Times’ reporting can embolden an intrepid NJ journalist to write the story here.

So let’s tee that story up for them and look at the parallels:

I) Bending the Rules – abuse of waivers and exemptions

At the outset, we need to keep in mind that this debate was triggered by the mining industry’s bold attempt to circumvent compliance with regulatory standards via an exemption, falsely claiming that selenium was safe:

… the company’s report concluded that it would be safe to allow selenium – a metal byproduct of mining that is toxic to fish and birds – to remain in area creeks at higher levels than are now permitted under regulatory guidelines. The company is seeking a judgment to that effect from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Industry false claims and waiver and exemption abuse are rampant in NJ, especially under the anti-regulatory Christie Administration who has proposed a total waiver rule.

II) Scientific Integrity – Biased Industry Studies Corrupt Science

Industry has mounted a systematic attack on science and the regulatory process.

We have written in detail about how that game is played in NJ, e.g. see:

Just last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a major must read report outlining industry’s strategy and tactics: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense.

The NY Times writes about how that occurred in Idaho:

The service’s review, released last month, was scathing, describing the study as “biased” and “highly questionable.” Joseph Skorupa, the service’s selenium expert, cited a “lack of valid field controls” and the absence of any analysis of the selenium’s impact on reptiles, birds or the 12 other types of fish in the creeks’ waters. Most troubling, he wrote, was that the researchers systematically undermeasured the rate of serious deformities in baby fish, which were pictured only in an appendix.

Dr. Skorupa wrote that the Simplot report did not provide raw data that would enable him to independently calculate deformity rates. He estimated, however, that the level of selenium that Simplot says causes a 20 percent rate of deformity actually causes a deformity rate of a minimum of 70 percent of all fry. Asked about the wildlife service’s findings, Alan L. Prouty, Simplot’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs, declined to comment beyond saying that the agency’s review was “totally outside the regulatory process.”

That last quote by Mr. Prouty is highly significant: it shows that industry is trying very hard to keep US FWS objectives, science and experts out of EPA regulatory decisions. We experienced the same thing in Dupont case. Efforts were made to keep US FWS in the dark and then limit the scope of their review. EPA still has not decided how to respond to USFWS recommendations and incorporate them in RCRA permit decisions at the Dupont site.

III) Sensitivity of Wildlife to toxics

I don’t have a photo of a two headed trout to drive the story, but there is mounting evidence regarding adverse impacts of toxics on wildlife.

Confirming the point I wrote about just days ago about wildlife being far more sensitive to toxic chemicals at lower levels, the Times reported:

The metal can also affect human health, with symptoms including hair and fingernail loss and numbness in fingers and toes. It has been regulated in drinking water since the 1970s.

But the metal is far more dangerous to aquatic egg-bearing animals like fish, birds and reptiles  – a fact revealed in the early 1980s when excessive selenium in agricultural runoff resulted in fatal deformities in waterfowl at the Kesterson Reservoir in California, including missing eyes and feet, deformed beaks, legs and wings, and protruding brains.

Adverse effects occur at extremely low levels. There are numerous chemical pollutants that are not currently regulated that raise toxic concerns and many of the toxic effects of those chemicals are not considered in setting regulatory standards (e.g. endocrine disruption; developmental, reproductive, and behavioral effects).

So there are major gaps in the regulatory protection fabric.

IV) Implications for regulatory standards

The Times story highlights a huge regulatory debate going on behind closed corporate and government doors.

Many regulatory standards are outdated or based on flawed science and do not protect public health and the environment. EPA is reluctant to enforce federal standards on States and State programs do not have the resources or incentives to set their own standards given lax and lagging federal standards.

Yet, industry has a virtual political blockade on new regulations:

The implications extend beyond Idaho. Selenium is a pollutant at 200 of the 1,294 locations designated by the federal government as toxic Superfund sites. And even though its effects on wildlife have been known for decades, federal agencies have not been able to agree on what level should be prohibited. The E.P.A. is currently reviewing federal selenium rules.

In 1987, the E.P.A. recommended that states set limits for selenium at five parts per billion as measured in the water. (States may adopt tougher limits, but if they prefer less restrictive standards they must submit studies and seek approval from the agency.)

Since then, scientists have recommended that stricter limits are needed, but the rule has not been reset. While federal agencies agree that measuring levels of selenium in fish tissue is more telling than the amount in water, after that the consensus breaks down on what level constitutes a safe standard.

Industry is blocking updating standards to reflect current science in order to reduce their compliance costs for polluting activities.

It’s as simple as that.

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Living in the Toxic “Threat Zone”

February 23rd, 2012 No comments

“Our well water was really excellent,” Frances Penza said. “But we don’t drink it anymore.” Press of Atlantic City  2/23/12

VI

Toxic "Threat Zones" Have Been Mapped by DEP at Thousands of Sites

The Press of Atlantic City ran a story today with excellent reporting on the recent PEER disclosure that identified  27 NJ sites that qualify for Superfund based on risk, but were left off the Superfund list (see: Group finds site of former Hammonton dry cleaner overlooked for Superfund designation

This kind of media spotlight and warning to people in harm’s way is exactly why we sued EPA to force public disclosure of the Superfund documents.

The Press story tells an all too typical tale in NJ, where residential wells in thousands of homes have been polluted by toxic and cancer causing chemicals. Scores of municipal well fields across NJ have been poisoned and closed as well.

Often, the people drinking that water are the last to know about it.

And in addition to the health risks, they also pay the economic costs as well – either directly, or indirectly through water rates, local property taxes, and lost equity in the resale value of their home.

Polluters rarely pay – and DEP’s anemic “cost recovery” program collects about 5 cents on the dollar from polluters to reimburse taxpayer monies spent cleanup up pollution. This is a scandal waiting to be uncovered.

And now the press is slowly learning and beginning to educate the public that those all too familiar drinking water well problems also include seepage of toxic vapors into their homes.

That process is called “vapor intrusion”. So far, this statewide problem at hundreds of sites has been written about in only a handful  of sites. The Dupont Pompton lakes site is the poster child for vapor intrusion, where 450 homes have been poisoned.

The press has to warn the public, because the polluters and government agencies who know of the statewide scope of the problem are suppressing the information.

DEP is sitting on a keg of dynamite up in Trenton – see the above map. There are thousands of groundwater pollution cases that are mapped like that.

Yet DEP is telling no one about it.

Who will be the intrepid award winning journalist to write this story about living in the toxic “Threat Zone”?


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Pompton Lakes Gets the Sound Science Treatment

February 22nd, 2012 1 comment

Which Statement Do You Think Got Reported?

[Update: 2/27/12 – I eat crow. Better late than never, the Record’s Suburban Trends writes the story – headline sucks, but the content is not bad:

US Fish and Wildlife Service recommends more testing in Pompton Lakes

Bill Wolfe, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said, “This is a highly significant move on the part of the FWS and it completely undermines the prior approval because of the statements it makes about the DuPont science, which it calls ‘antiquated and not adequately protective.’

“DuPont has consistently told the public that its cleanup plans reflect sound science and the DEP (NJ Department of Environmental Protection) rubber-stamped that cleanup plan despite the fact that a DEP scientist raised objections,” said Wolfe.

“It is very important that the FWS recommendations be incorporated in the new cleanup plan that the EPA is going to be drafting and that the cleanup plan completely cleans up the site,” Wolfe added. – end update

The media pro’s likes to think that they are fair and balanced and objective (the Fourth estate abandoned the concept of “adversarial” long ago – and the search for “truth”? fahgetabouwdit, they are all Pilate’s now).

They also tend to think that the dirty hippie bloggers are not credible; are poisoning public debate with misinformed opinion; have caused the destruction of professional journalistic standards; and the internet has caused the economic collapse of the newspaper industry.

The standard criticism illustrating the absurdity of that institutional mainstream media illusion is the storyline quip “some say the earth is flat, scientists disagree”.

So, here are two diametrically opposed statements. Direct quotes.

One is true and one is false. Only one was reported.

So, which one do you think  got reported in today’s news coverage?

Send your answer in in comments.

Statement #1 – by Dupont spokesman Bob Nelson:

All our remedial activities will be based on sound science.

Statement #2 – by US Fish and Wildlife Service:

[Dupont’s remedial plan’s] thresholds to evaluate risk to both fish and avian fauna are antiquated and not protective

[Of course a major corporation like Dupont cares about their integrity and would never mislead the public and has no incentive to do so.]

And while we’re on the topic of sound science, I heard the Pompton Lakes planning board voted last night to spend taxpayer dollars to hire experts in esoteric public health and remedial fields like truck vibration.

My goodness, the Bergen Record tells us that Dupont Puppet Mayor Cole is on the case:

“Mayor Katie Cole said, “If there are safety concerns then by all means we have to address them and take it one step at a time. We were just hoping to see the process move along but if there is a question or a concern then it has to be addressed.”

The clear intent is to derail the Dupont Lake cleanup plan – just what Dupont ordered.

This is the same group of local officials who never hired experts to protect the health of their own people from the chemical poisons emanating from the Dupont site.

And the same group of residents and local officials who covered for Dupont for years now seem to have their panties in a bunch about all the hazards that will be created by the cleanup.

In the Bizarro Orwellian World of Pompton Lakes (and the Bergen Record’s coverage of same), it’s the cleanup that’s the problem, not the Dupont pollution!

IF Stone’s body lies a mouldering in the grave.

(on second thought, maybe I should have titled this post: “Why the mainstream media deserves to fail”)

Oops, now did I just bury the lede?

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Close to the Edge

February 21st, 2012 No comments

yes

This is wild – I simply hit the button on the Youtube and I’m transported back to 1972 and high school days.[Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3

Am I smoking a joint in Mike’s room, surrounded by superb fidelity, with the window fan on and the towel under the door?

Or am with Steve getting ready for another Saturday night?

Or are we cruising in my big yellow Buick down Gory Brook Road with the 8-track blasting and beers and joints flying?

Or are we all walking through Hackley and the Crest pool, sharing joints with gloves on our right hand to grasp the freezing beer cans?

Or in Robby’s blue Chevy Nova wagon, electric cool-aid acid test and all that jive?

Or parked down by the Eagle – down by the river?

Or loaded in Setback Inn at 4 am closing time?

Why is Steve A. driving Skip’s Mustang so fast? I think I gotta puke.

Or skinny dipping with drunk young girls?

Or at Skip’s still partying at 6 am? Where’s Johnny Stiloski?

I can’t recall, but I can still hear the lyrics:

On the hill we viewed the silence of the valley,

Called to witness cycles only of the past.

And we reach all this with movements in between the said remark.

Close to the edge, down by the river.

Down at the end, round by the corner.

Seasons will pass you by,

Now that it’s all over and done.

Called to the seed, ride to the sun.

Now that you find, now that you’re whole.

Seasons will pass you by,

I get up, I get down.

I get up, I get down

Yup. I’m Roundabout and it is a long distance runaround.

Emotion revealed is the ocean made. And I’ve seen a lot of good people turn their heads to what is right and surround themselves with themselves.

And you and I climb over the sea to the valley and reach out for reasons … a mood for a day or for Heaven?

"The Eagle" - close to the edge, down by the river

"The Eagle" - close to the edge, down by the river

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