DEP Does Quick U-Turn on Barnegat Bay Delisting
After Scathing Criticism Disclosed, DEP Says Proposal to be Withdrawn
[Update: 7/30/12: Kick ass editorial in the Asbury Park Press:
The DEP proposal is so monumentally wrong-headed, it is simply flabbergasting. It is a combination of bad policy and bad science.
Gov. Chris Christie and the DEP say Barnegat Bay is a priority and are committing in excess of $100 million toward fixing the bay. Calling the bay “unimpaired” flies in the face of that commitment.
Aside from not giving credit to the source of the story (i.e. PEER), the editorial does make one important mistake.
The water monitoring methods and regulatory standards for dissolved oxygen that DEP used are developed and adopted by DEP, not EPA.
The NJ DEP has attempted to point the finger and blame EPA for this.
But a DEP spokesman said, essentially, that EPA rules are EPA rules. The state is following the rules. Therefore, the bay is not impaired.
The editorial printed that lie un-rebutted and by doing so, got that issue badly wrong. – end update]
Update: 7/29/12 – Kirk Moore writes Asbury Park Press story that nails it, including printing my quote calling DEP out on their attempt to blame EPA:
Scientists raise alarm as state considers dropping parts of Barnegat Bay from pollution list
Why do New Jersey officials want to take northern Barnegat Bay off their list of troubled waters?
That’s the question raised by science advisers to the bay restoration effort. Moves to drop part of Barnegat Bay and its tributaries from a list of New Jersey polluted waters has raised alarms from the group, warning the state is using inadequate water test results to justify the change. …..
“They got caught cherry-picking” the oxygen data, said Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst now with the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “The sampling criteria is DEP’s, not the EPA’s.” …
Wolfe called the proposal to take the bay off the list “a regulatory sleight of hand” to delay firm limits on nutrient pollution, called total maximum daily loads or TMDLs, that the EPA wants for Barnegat Bay.
“This administration just doesn’t like regulation,” Wolfe said. Nutrient limits “would make the towns do more, it would force DEP to do more on stream buffers and open space, it would force them to pull back sewer-service areas” for development, he said. – end update]
Amazingly, just days after DEP formally submitted to US EPA a proposed delisting of Barnegat Bay from NJ’s “impaired waters” list, yesterday DEP did a U-turn and apparently has decided to withdraw the proposal.
Our disclosure of scientific criticism of that move surely forced DEP to avoid another huge embarrassment – as EPA was sure to reject the DEP’s proposal.
The DEP argued that the issue is more complex than that, saying the proposal was submitted to the EPA based on two years of “grab’’ samples which showed the portions of the bay designated for delisting were meeting federal standards. Still, the DEP is expected to gather more data on the bay’s health, according to Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the agency.
“In all likelihood, this proposal will be withdrawn,’’ Hajna said.
Note that DEP did not admit error, acknowledge that the Bay is “impaired”, and agree to reverse course and support a TMDL by placing the Bay on the 2 Year TMDL Priority List. Waters on that list are the State’s top priorities.
The fact that Barnegat Bay is NOT on that list proves that cleanup of the Bay is NOT a DEP priority.
Instead, DEP attempted to blame “grab sampling” methods and EPA federal standards for the DEP’s mistake.
But DEP is responsible for the sampling methods and water quality standards, not EPA.
DEP has known for many years that current NJ State water quality monitoring methods and standards are flawed, particularly the dissolved oxygen standard and how compliance with that standard is measured in the field.
Yet, DEP has failed to fix those known problems – despite being provided a mechanism to do so under the federal Clean Water Act, known as the “Monitoring and Assessment Methods” document. DEP submits this document to EPA for approval every two years, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.
As we’ve written here countless times, if DEP were serious, they would take the following steps:
1) place existing Bay impairments on the 2102 “2 Year TMDL Priority Schedule”;
2) revise water quality monitoring and assessment methods to address biological indicators. Then formally adopt these revised methods as either a Technical Manual and/or submit them to EPA for approval under the Clean Water Act.
3) revise the existing sediment, nutrient, and eutrophication surface water water quality standards to reflect biologically based and enforceable numeric thresholds for impairment
4) fund and initiate a TMDL on the Bay and throughout the Bay watershed.
But DEP is not serious and they are playing regulatory and political games.
In this case they were caught red handed – a move that illustrates incompetence in high places and a total disregard for science and environmental law.
But despite being caught and agreeing to withdraw the impairment delisting proposal, they have not changed their disastrous course set by Governor Christie’s 10 Point Management Plan.