Archive

Archive for December, 2012

Year In Review – Cliff Notes Version: Two Numbers Provide Perfect Illustration of The Christie DEP’s Priorities

December 30th, 2012 No comments

Two Number Speak Volumes – 2 and 171

I’ll do a more thorough year in review post, but I thought I’d take a moment on a cold Sunday morning after a brisk walk to post these two numbers that popped into my head.  DEP Commissioner Martin loves metrics, so here are 2 metrics he  can chew on.

Nothing new here – this is no secret.

But I think these two numbers provide a perfect illustration of the Christie DEP’s priorities and MO, particularly when contrasted with each other:

Not only is that number pathetically low compared to DEP’s regulatory adoption record over the last decade, but the measly two new policy rules adopted are rollbacks: the waiver rule and the public access rule.

BOTH rules were attacked by lawsuits by environmental groups.

Over the last decade, DEP has adopted from 6 – 12 new policy regulations per year, and all of them were strongly supported by environmental groups.

In putting these numbers together, I eliminated rule adoptions that exclusively or primarily merely readopted an existing rule scheduled to expire, with no significant policy change. I counted only those adoptions that made new policy (rules mandated by new legislation were rejected as well, as they do not necessarily reflect the policy of the Governor or DEP Commissioner. For 2012, that eliminated new legislatively mandated rules for electronic waste management and Licensed Site Professionals Program).

[Note: And I did not include Commissioner Martin's Order that deregulated rebuilding of public infrastructure destroyed by Sandy; of Martin's Guidance that waived solid waste permit requirements for debris removal, transport and disposal; or DEP Division of Land Use  permit exemptions - each of which rolled back environmental protections.]

The 2012 horrible regulatory record builds on bad years in 2010, when DEP adopted 2 new rules (1 bad) and 2011, when DEP adopted 3 new policy rules (2 bad, and the only good rule a product of the Corzine DEP).

At a rate of almost 1 per day, that’s another DEP record –  both for volume and for spin. It contributes to and breaks a prior record set last year

The Christie DEP record is unparalleled, both in low numbers and the rollback directionality.

So there it is – record regulatory rollbacks that generate lawsuits by environmental groups, accompanied by record levels of Press Office spin.

Satisfied with your Orwellian Christie DEP?

[Endnote: Having written several of both documents while at DEP, I can assure you that it is a LOT harder to write a rule than a press release.]

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Lisa Jackson’s Departure From EPA Getting The Spin Cycle Treatment

December 28th, 2012 No comments

[Update: 1/5/13: Bill McKibben was asked point blank about the Tittel spun reason for Jackson's departure. Watch him dismiss it. Below is the transcript, but watch the video, it is more revealing - McKibben was very uncomfortable and he clearly refused to validate that story. McKibben led the XL Pipeline protest movement, so he would know if Jackson really cared:

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, I want to ask you something, since you raised Keystone XL. Do you think the announcement by Lisa Jackson of her retirement or her resignation from Environmental Protection Agency is partly due to her opposition to moving forward with Keystone XL?

BILL McKIBBEN: I don’t know. Look, the Keystone thing has been, for me, sort of crazy from the beginning, Amy. The 20 most important climate scientists in the U.S. all wrote the president a letter saying this is not in the country’s national interest. Our most important climatologist, James Hansen, said if you burn all that tar sands oil on top of everything else that’s being burned, it’s game over for the climate. We have indigenous people from one end of the continent to the other now powerfully, in this Idle No More movement, pointing out that tar sands is a perfect example of the sort of exploitation they’ve had to live with for hundreds of years. There’s no reason to do this, except that it helps rich oil men. And I can’t, for the life of me, understand why it’s been so hard to block it. We’ve done everything we can think of. We were able to delay it for a year with the largest civil disobedience action in 30 years in this country. Let’s hope that we can keep the pressure on. That’s what this President’s Day thing is all about. And if you go to 350.org, you’ll see the—all the information you need about how to get there and be a part of it.

[Updates below]

I never thought I’d praise the NY Times’ coverage over an alternative media/blogosphere  story driven by Jeff Tittel.

But, surprisingly, the Times gets the story far better  - the lede is suggestive:

Lisa P. Jackson is stepping down as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after a four-year tenure that began with high hopes of sweeping action to address climate change and other environmental ills but ended with a series of rear-guard actions to defend the agency against challenges from industry, Republicans in Congress and, at times, the Obama White House.

The most important measures of effective leadership at EPA are to push back – publicly – against the politics, to advocate the science and law, and to defend the integrity and independence of EPA as a regulatory agency. Without them, the policy agenda is doomed.

Jackson failed badly on all those fronts. And it is not the first time, but part of a sad pattern I’ve personally been involved in and watched for many years.

So, I gotta say that I just threw up in my mouth after reading Jeff Tittel’s quote in a story on Lisa Jackson’s resignation: (from Buzzfeed Politics – a rag that should be called Bullshit Politics)::

Jackson “left as a matter of conscience,” said Jeff Tittel, the director of New Jersey’s Sierra Club chapter and a longtime friend of Jackson’s. The EPA Administrator “has too much principle to support [the pipeline], between the climate impacts of it and the water quality impacts of it.”

A “matter of conscience”? Jackson had “too much principle”?

Are you kidding me? On its face, that doesn’t pass the straight face test. Maybe Jeff is too close a friend to be credible (especially after this glowing endorsement).

[Note: I especially liked this pathetic sycophantic Tittel apologia, concluding with this alliterative attack, attack, defending his BFF Lisa:

"Her critics are the naderite nabobs of negativity," said Tittel. "They are part of the loony lemming fringe of the environmental movement."

And then there are similar Obama global warming and water quality policy issues -each itself worthy of resignation - that didn't seem to bother Jackson's conscience or principles for the last 4 years, things like promoting fracking, failure to stop mountaintop mining, and pushing for more off-shore drilling (just weeks before the BP Gulf blowout), all of this while bragging about record oil/gas/coal production. Or the Climate Sellout at Copenhagen, or cooling tower collapse, failures on coal ash and impoundment regulation, huge industry sponsored loopholes in greenhouse gas air regs(e.g. "Tailoring rule" or new power plant NSR),  or The Regulatory Tsunami That Wasn't,  expanding industry access and influence on rule making by cutting deals behind closed door meetings at OIRA, a record level of attacks on whistleblowers, failure to deliver on scientific integrity, et cetera (see more here).

Jackson had "so much principle" that she loyally served a complete 4 year term and just couldn't manage to mention the issues that purportedly troubled her conscience so much that she had to resign.

How does one get praise for resigning in principle without even taking a public position on the issue? (read her resignation statement where she praises Obama and keeps her "conscience" and "principles" to herself).

Just last week, Mike Catania praised Jackson as a "loyal soldier". Mike was on to something, because Jackson's own resignation statement is that of a loyal soldier, not a conscientious objector or principled public servant following her conscience.

[Prequel: quote from Star Ledger story, Jan 18, 2009 sounds familiar:

We needed someone who was going to fight for environmental policies based on sound science. What we got was a soldier for Corzine."  Bob Spiegel, Edison Wetlands Association (discussed in my NJ Voices blog post "Soldier for Obama? Or Environmental Regulator?")

And how do you go from "loyal soldier" to "too principled" in just one week?

While  I disagreed with Catania's take, I did not take issue with the basic truth of his characterization.

To me, what Catania values in Jackson as a "loyal soldier" willing to "take one for the team" are not characteristics of leadership, integrity, and independence needed of a EPA Administrator (see Ruckelshaus), but  evidence of flaws that I criticized in Jackson's NJ tenure, when we opposed her EPA nomination as a "pliant technocrat" (see: Why Lisa Jackson Should Not Run EPA):

“In our experience, Lisa Jackson is cut out of the same professional cloth as the current administrator, Stephen Johnson – a pliant technocrat who will follow orders,” Ruch added. “If past is prologue, one cannot reasonably expect meaningful change if she is appointed to lead EPA.”

(for details, see also: Ten Questions the Senate Should Ask Lisa Jackson]

Hate to say it, and wish we were wrong, but the record shows: we told you so. 

She showed that multiple times as DEP Assistant Commissioner for Enforcement (full disclosure: I had first hand personal experience, observing Jackson from within the DEP Management Team from 2002-2004); as DEP Commissioner from 2006-2008 and as Gov. Corzine’s Chief of Staff.

Let me offer just one example that captures the essence – just one:

Jackson trained as a chemical engineer, receiving a Master’s degree from Princeton. Her first job after college was with a Washington DC beltway chemical industry funded “think tank”, working on Superfund “reform”. She left that job to work for EPA in the Superfund program. So, Jackson was well versed in the cleanup program.

On October 23, 2006, after multiple cases of lax regulatory oversight were exposed in media coverage and legislative oversight hearings on the DEP toxic site cleanup program, DEP Commissioner Jackson was called before the Senate Environment Committee to propose reforms (see this for her full Senate testimony)  -

Jackson’s primary point was that DEP’s power and role had to be strengthened, because the law had been weakened over time, amended to give too much power and control over cleanups to the private sector. Jackson testified:

First, we need to provide the DEP with a greater role in the selection of remedies at sites.       [...]

With the changes in ISRA enacted at that time, the remedy selection process was put in the hands of those charged with the actual cleanup, whether they are third party developers or responsible parties. The DEP was precluded from denying approval for the remedy selection unless we could demonstrate that the remedial action was not protective of the environment or public health. It is very hard to prove that capping contaminated sites which eliminates the risk of exposure is “not protective” even if the contaminants below the cap are at high levels.

Many would argue that the downside of those amendments is that quality of the remediations is poor – contaminated materials left under a cap that could erode and that developers pursue the cheapest solutions in order to quickly get a profit from the property they remediate. Although these types of remedial action require institutional and engineering controls, which is most often a cap and a deed notice, long term maintenance and monitoring of the effectiveness and integrity of these controls as the property is transferred is problematic. The use of these caps by developers and the subsequent transfer of responsibility for their upkeep have become so prevalent that a slang term of art has been developed and they are known as “pave and waves.” 

But shortly thereafter, bowing to political pressure, Jackson did a complete U-Turn capitulation.

She went from advocating the strengthening of cleanup laws to increase DEP’ role in order to stop “poor cleanups” driven by shortsighted real estate development profits, to calling for the total privatization of the DEP cleanup program.

Jackson  went from seeking more DEP control in order to prevent abuses by greedy developers, to supporting a new law to give private consultants paid by those same greedy developers 100% control over the complete cleanup process, with no DEP oversight.

When this NJ record was probed by US Senate Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer during her EPA confirmation hearing, Jackson dissembled. Upon close questioning, Jackson repudiated her prior NJ privatization advocacy and pledged that she would NOT bring privatization to EPA cleanup programs.

(read the excerpts of the Boxer exchange on NJ LSP program from Jackson’s confirmation hearing here – with links to full transcript).

So, she was against privatization, then she championed it, then she opposed it. Real principle and conscience operating there.

But of course, as that sage and bastion of political credibility Dave Pringle reminds us in the Star Ledger story, it was never Lisa’s fault, On No! It was always all Jackson’s boss’ fault – from DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell, to Gov. Corzine, to President Obama.

“Overall she did a great job,” David Pringle, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, said. “And the vast majority of places she didn’t it was due to circumstances beyond her control, primarily her bosses – the governor and the president — overruling her.” 

Not only did the media get the politics wrong, but they got the policy history wrong as well.

Jackson was no champion of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Just the opposite.

[Under Commissioner Brad Campbell], the NJ DEP adopted regulations that defined greenhouse gases as air pollutants under State law in 2005, before the US Supreme Court directed Jackson’s EPA to do the same thing (i.e. the Court essentially mandated that EPA issue the Clean Air Act “endangerment finding” that Jackson boasts as an accomplishment. First, that finding was mandated by the Supreme Court, but, more importantly, while at EPA, Jackson never implemented regulatory controls on existing emission sources that would produce ANY reductions. So, that is hardly something to brag about).

While Jackson was Commissioner of NJ DEP, she did nothing to implement this regulatory authority. Instead of regulation of emissions, Jackson supported a market based approach under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  (RGGI). Worse, she negotiated and signed off of a weak RGGI agreement (cap 30% above then current emissions) and a weak loophole riddled piece of state legislation implementing the regional agreement.

So, there you have it.

Hey Dave: if Corzine was the problem, why did Jackson leave DEP Commissioner job to go work for him as Chief of Staff?

If Obama was the problem – and Jackson had “too much principle” to stay and was following her conscience – why did she never criticize the Obama policies or mention them in her resignation statement?

I’ll tell you why – because she didn’t want to face the harassment of a House investigation into her private email abuse and because she is a loyal soldier who looks out for #1 – the classic careerist pliant bureaucrat.

[Update #1 – And here’s a plausible angle on the story that hasn’t been spun:

Suppose this is more like the “thrown under the bus” cases of Susan Rice and Van Jones – as I suggested in a prior post – and Obama doesn’t want to waste any of his second term fiscal cliff political capital in a protracted and embarrassing battle with House Republicans over Jackson’s secret email abuse.

That is plausible, no?

[Update 1.1 - 12/30/12 – here’s the right wing view, aspects of which with I agree, so it is clearly plausible: “Richard Windsor’s” Departure from EPA ia a Victory for Transparency

[Update #2 - the Bergen Record story reports these Jackson accomplishments as DEP Commissioner:

In New Jersey, Jackson wrote the state’s climate-change laws and developed an energy master plan as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

First of all, the Corzine Energy Master Plan was written and adopted by BPU, not Jackson and DEP.

And they left out the fact the the “state’s climate change laws” Jackson negotiated were first, the Global Warming Response Act, which I wrote about in this Star Ledger Op-Ed: No Teeth in “Tough” Pollution Law:

The law — contrary to widespread media coverage — does not legally cap greenhouse gas emissions or mandate emissions reductions on any major pollution sources. As a result, the law’s theoretically “mandatory” goals are unenforceable and therefore a fiction. They amount to the same voluntary approach backed by the Bush administration.

The other law Jackson negotiated was the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative bill – a law I’ve criticized numerous times and even the RGGI program’s backers recently just admitted was seriously flawed.

Of course, the Record story also fails to tell readers that Jackson did nothing with her regulatory power while at DEP to regulate GHG emissions – nothing at all – and instead supported a market based alternative to regulation.

But, reporters and stories are only was good as their sources – and in this case, the reporter was reliant on friends of Lisa for the facts she got so  wrong.

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Season’s Greetings Disintegrating

December 23rd, 2012 No comments

[Update 12/31/12 - Mainstream media waits for and follows State Climatologist – only official government sources – and Jeff Tittel – seem to matter to them. Echoing everything we’ve been saying:  2012 Hottest Year Ever in Jersey

What really pushed up the average for the year was winter, with February temperatures coming in 7.4 degrees above normal statewide and March nearly 10 degrees higher than usual.

But, the story lazily and timidly repeats the standard line on deniers:

While some scientists continue to dispute the notion of global warming, most climate experts say the evidence is now overwhelming — and the trend in New Jersey echoes the pattern nationally and globally.

But climate deniers have zero credibility:

end update

 

Season’s Greetings, from NOAA

Scenes from the rapidly changing past: (and I’ve lost all these photos - and these too! – due to hard drive crash, so can only post links)

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Paulsboro Has a VOC Problem As Well as a VC Problem

December 23rd, 2012 2 comments

EPA vinyl chloride data is 1,000 times lower than the Unified Command data

Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Levels Of Concern Ignored

[Update #2 - 3/19/13 - In Paulsboro, a blue-collar town wrestles with industry

Bill Wolfe, head of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said he doesn't think the companies or the state will install air monitors around town.

"They don't want to open that door, to go for fence-line air monitoring," said Wolfe, a former DEP employee. "That would open Pandora's box." - end update

[Update #1: 12/24/12 - Philadelphia Inquirer coverage - they needed to find a professor to validate what I was telling them, but yet still missed the federal and state regulatory side of the story and failed to even mention the PEER investigation request, see:  Some responders say Gloucester County was unprepared for Paulsboro chemical emergency -

But according to readings provided by officials leading the cleanup, the chemical level at 11:59 p.m. that day in non-evacuated areas was 9.4 parts per million, nearly 1 part per million more than in the evacuated area.

That "calls into question the science behind the evacuation zones and how they were delineated," said Bill Wolfe, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a former policy analyst at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Similar qualms were expressed by Paulsboro residents at community meetings. Nevertheless, local officials have hailed the performance of the workers who led the response.

But, as I discuss below, EPA claims that all air monitoring results were below 1 part per BILLION, 9,400 TIMES LOWER that Unified Command reported data.  ~~~ end update]

There has been significant media attention focused on the Paulsboro toxic train wreck.

The chemical of concern is vinyl chloride (VC), a highly toxic and carcinogenic gas – 180,000 pounds of VC  was released from the derailed tanker car.

According to EPA monitoring data, at no time was there an unacceptable health risk.

EPA levels are reported in parts per billion:

EPA’s sampling results were compared to screening values designed to protect people’s health and developed for this incident based on an assumed exposure for vinyl chloride of 350 days for one year. All of the detected values were within or below the EPA’s acceptable cancer risk range of one in one million (.0877 parts per billion) to one in ten thousand (8.77 parts per billion).

How – at the same time – can EPA conclude “all values” were below EPA screening values when they previously found air monitoring data exceeded “levels of concern”:

Results of the mobile TAGA and stationary instrument readings showed that levels of vinyl chloride fluctuated. From November 30 to December 5, EPA monitoring found periodic exceedances of the level of concern. When the level was exceeded, EPA immediately informed the NJDEP and the U.S Coast Guard so that decisions could be made to protect the responders and the nearby community. Because the monitoring results showed some levels above the level of concern, the EPA supported the county and the town in their decision to evacuate residents within a defined area. The EPA continued its TAGA bus work until the train recovery operation was completed.

But, in addition to internally inconsistent conclusions, the EPA data and conclusions conflict with the Unified Command data.

According to the Unified Command website monitoring data - data were reported in parts per million.

VC levels ranged as high as 9.4 ppm (12/4/12) – over 1,000 times HIGHER than EPA data:

Source: Unified Command website (link above)

 

What explains this huge difference?

Maybe an intrepid reporter might ask EPA why the EPA is reporting values in parts per billion but the Unified Command is reporting data in parts per million?

Why is TAGA bus data is 1,000 times lower than the Unified Command hand held monitoring data?

Also ask EPA about their health screening value, which looks to be 1 ppb (part per billion).

As I previously wrote, the ATSDR set an “Minimal Risk Level” (MRL) as a screening value to consider potential health effects for acute exposure (1-15 days).

The ATSDR MRL for VC is 0.5 ppm (parts per million) or 500 ppb. The intermediate duration MRL was 0.03 ppm – or 30 ppb.

That would make the EPA 365 day health sreeening level 30 – 500 times LOWER than ATSDR.

What health effects is EPA basing the screening level on? What populations? Waht exposure periods? What risk ranges? Why are these key critical assumptions not standardized or coordinated with the Unified Command data reporting?

Does EPA consider health effects on children? Children are more susceptible to VC, as EPA’s IRIS database states: (@ p. 35)

As discussed above and in Section 5.3.5.1, several studies provide evidence for increased sensitivity to VC-induced carcinogenesis in early-life and prenatal exposures in experimental animals. Early-life data on humans, however, are lacking because most exposures have been limited to occupational groups. Nevertheless, many of the factors likely to be responsible for early-life sensitivity in animals are present in humans. Recommended adjustments to quantitative risk estimates to account for early-life sensitivity are given in Section 5.3.5.1. 

The children’s health issue is key, given the proximity of schools, and the prior work done under EPA’s National School Outdoor Air Toxics Program.

As we’ve noted, Paulsboro High School was 1 of 63 schools in 22 states selected by EPA nationally.

According to EPA:

In 2009, as part of a new air toxics monitoring initiative, EPA, state and local air pollution control agencies monitored the outdoor air around schools for pollutants known as toxic air pollutants, or air toxics.  The Clean Air Act includes a list of 187 of these pollutants. Air toxics are of potential concern because exposure to high levels of these pollutants over many decades could result in long-term health effects.

EPA selected schools after evaluating a number of factors including results from an EPA computer modeling analysis, the mix of pollution sources near the schools, results from an analysis conducted for a recent newspaper series on air toxics at schools, and information from state and local air pollution agencies.

As we’ve also noted, (see: EPA School Air Toxic Data Misleading) - the issue of children’s health risk due to exposure to volatile organic chemicals remains unaddressed by EPA.

Here are the prior EPA Paulsboro High School data.

Note that the benzene levels range from 0.6 ug/cubic meter (ppb) to 1.5 ug/cubic meter, well below the EPA 30 ug/cubic meter screening value (which, frankly, is difficult to believe, given proximity to the refinery and other chemical facility emission sources.)

So, in addition to conflicting data on actual vinyl chloride levels and health effects, virtually none of the media coverage has mentioned the volotile organic chemicals that have been detected at high levels in the community during the VC air monitoring.

According to the Unified Command:

Real-time air monitoring was conducted for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lower explosive limit (LEL), vinyl chloride, and oxygen using stationary AreaRAEs and/or hand-held instruments such as the MultiRAE and colorimetric detector tubes. Analytical air sampling was conducted at 7 stations for volatile organic compounds using EPA method TO15. Table 1 and Table 2 below display data summaries for AreaRAE and hand-held instrument data, respectively.

Look at the last line above – VOC on 12/4/12 were 868 ppm- this was the highest and not a sustained level.That is 868,000 ppb!

Here are more typical VOC results, from 12/3/12:

VOC is a term for a number of chemicals, unfortunately, individual VOC chemical specific data were not reported.

However, a likely significant component of VOC’s is benzene, which is highly toxic and carcinogenic. (Benzene is a Class A carcinogen, like VC, a known human carcinogen. There are very few Class A carcinogens.)

To put the VOC data in context, the DEP screening value for acute air exposure (inhalation) to benzene is 1,300 ppb.

1 ppm is equal to 1,000 ppb

So if just 1% of the VOC detected (500 ppm = 500,000 ppb VOC detected) was benzene, then there are significant health risks are presented by the VOC levels detected in Paulsboro.

(Example: if benzene were just 1% of 500,000 ppb VOC values detected, that equates to 5,000 ppb, or nearby 5 times DEP screening value and is over 150 TIMES higher than EPA’s 30 ug/m school screening value!)

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

“I Took Off To Find The Sky”

December 22nd, 2012 No comments

 

Oh, I’ve got something inside me,
To drive a princess blind.
There’s a wild man, wizard,
He’s hiding in me, illuminating my mind.
Oh, I’ve got something inside me,
Not what my life’s about,
Cause I’ve been letting my outside tide me,
Over ’till my time, runs out.  ~~~ Taxi – Harry Chapin (1972)

 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: