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DEP Science and Regulatory Standards in Disarray

Corporate Control Over New Jersey’s Environmental Science

 New Regulatory Standards Blocked – Existing Standards Prone to Rollback

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s testimony before the Senate Budget Committee last week let some very big cats out of the bag. Let me explain:

1. The Science Advisory Board is Prone to Abuse

Martin confirmed our warnings about the DEP Science Advisory Board (SAB).

Martin stated that the DEP SAB would be charged with the science regarding drinking water standards – and all other environmental standards set by DEP, including groundwater, surface water, and soil standards. We see major problems with that (see press release below from PEER)

2. The Drinking Water Quality Institute is Dead

Martin was asked about why the Drinking Water Quality Institute was no longer meeting and why DEP had not adopted scores of new drinking water standards the DWQI had recommended.

In response, Martin confirmed our prior warnings that the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute (DWQI) has effectively been killed. The DWQI has not met for over 18 months and DEP has not adopted and of its recommendations to strengthen and update scores of drinking water standards to reflex current science and protect the health of NJ residents. Martin has issued a de facto moratorium in response to embarrassing media reports on recommendations by the Health effects Committee on controversial chromium standards.

The DWQI was created by the Legislature and given the responsibility to develop science based recommendations to DEP regarding promulgation of health based drinking water standards known as “maximum contaminant levels” (MCLs).

3. The Highlands Septic Density Standard is Vulnerable

Martin raised Red Flags regarding the SAB in terms of an imminent decision he will make in litigation on the Highlands septic density standard.

In addition to the numeric standards mentioned above, there are other regulatory standards that Martin has asked the SAB to review, most importantly, the 88 acre “septic density standard” in the Highlands. That density standard is the backbone of the Highlands Master Plan and the DEP Highlands regulations.

The Highlands septic density stand is based on a modification to the DEP’s nitrate dilution model. The longstanding DEP “nitrate dilution model” was revised to reflect the Highlands Act mandate to protect groundwater from degradation, based on “deep aquifer recharge”  (see: DEP Basis and Background document).

That standard is under attack politically and by litigation filed by the NJ Farm Bureau (see: Is Bob Martin Sabotaging the Highlands Septic Density Standard?

In response to the Farm Bureau litigation, in early 2010, Martin pledged to the Court that he would take “a fresh look” at that standard.

A year later, as the DEP was about to submit briefs to the Court that would defend or jettison that standard, the SAB issued a Report to Martin on it. The SAB issued findings to Martin on the nitrate dilution model in a March 14, 2011 Report.

The SAB Report basically supported the DEP’s nitrate dilution model, specifically its use on a regional scale to support land use planning. However, the SAB was not specific in findings regarding how the model was modified and applied in the Highlands.

Given that ambiguity,  we warned:

Dangerously, the SAB findings may serve as a pretextual scientific basis to unravel the Highlands septic density standard in the DEP Highlands regulations.

The Court’s June 2011 hearing of the case was again postponed. Martin finally must respond to the Court next month – that response will determine the fate of both the septic density standard and the land use protections in the Highlands.

4.. There is a de facto Moratorium on Science Based Regulatory Standards 

Martin revealed that the science and regulatory standards development process at DEP is badly broken. There no longer is a smooth integration between DEP science and the promulgation of regulatory standards.

It is now transparently obvious that the SAB is being used as cover for an informal moratorium on DEP regulatory standards.

Basically, Martin has derailed the relationship between DEP science and the translation of that DEP science into regulations.

Our friends from PEER explain below:

Corporate Takeover of New Jersey’s Environmental Science

Hand-Picked Science Advisors Meet in Secret to Produce Un-Reviewed Reports     

Trenton — With no legislative involvement, New Jersey has handed control over key environmental and public health science to a politically-selected group of advisors, several of whom have industry ties, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  As a result, Governor Chris Christie has snuffed out independent public agency science and shelved years of important scientific work on vital topics such as risk assessment and development of standards governing drinking water safety, air and water quality, toxic cleanups, and land use planning and regulation.

The 16-member Science Advisory Board is selected by and answers to the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  In public testimony, Bob Martin, the current Commissioner, says he has charged this interdisciplinary advisory board with making scientific calls on a broad portfolio of eco-issues.  Yet, despite this outsized role, the Science Advisory Board –

  • Does not allow the public to attend its meetings, which occur mainly via conference calls;
  • Has no posted agenda or regular schedule of meetings.  The Board last met in June 2011;
  • Works only on issues put before it by the Commissioner;
  • Lacks any independent review of its work products, which may or may not be published subject to the sole discretion of the Commissioner; and
  • Allows a “confidential” screening for potential conflicts-of-interest from employers or clients, again subject to the sole purview of Commissioner Martin.

“By using an essentially private advisory board, the Christie administration has put a very tight choker leash on any genuine scientific inquiry into an array of burning environmental issues,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst.  “Scientific integrity benefits from true transparency, rigorous peer review and robust public debate – all elements absent from how this Board operates.

The stultifying shadow of the Science Advisory Board is already having big effects:

  • The state’s 27-year old Drinking Water Quality Institute, which determines the scientific basis of maximum contamination levels for chemicals in drinking water, has been virtually jettisoned.  In March 2009, the Institute issued a report recommending new or tighter standards for 13 chemicals but that report was shelved and its chair resigned in frustration;
  • The Science Advisory Board has only produced two very narrow reports.  One of those reports, on diesel emission retrofit technology, is so opaque as to be virtually useless; and
  • Commissioner Martin indicates he plans to use the board as a tool to weaken or eliminate current standards on stream buffers and aquifer protections.

“This Advisory Board is employed as a crowbar to decouple science from the development of public health and environmental standards such that regulatory standard-setting has been completely derailed – which was likely the game plan all along,” added Wolfe, pointing out that it was outgoing Commissioner (now EPA Administrator) Lisa Jackson who eliminated the DEP Science Division as part of a Gov. Jon Corzine initiative creating the Science Advisory Board.  “By politicizing environmental science, affected industry not only has a seat at the table, it controls the table and what is put on the table for consumption.”


Examine lack of transparency or process in Science Advisory Board (SAB)

See industry ties into SAB

Look at one of its few indecipherable reports

Review how Christie functionally dismantled Drinking Water Quality Institute

View how corporate pay-to-play works in New Jersey

Revisit Lisa Jackson role in abolishing DEP Science Division and creating SAB

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability 


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