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Why Christie DEP Commissioner Martin Shut Down The Drinking Water Quality Institute

Christie Administration Has Zero Tolerance For Criticism

Corporate Polluters Exercise Veto Over Policy

A Sad Tale of Abdication of Regulatory Responsibility

[Update below]


In a refreshingly honest and blunt article critical of the Christie DEP’s failure to protect public heath, NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle wrote: (see: DEP ACCUSED OF DELAYING CHEMICAL REGULATION A YEAR AFTER SCIENTISTS ADVISED LIMIT)

Bill Wolfe, a former DEP staffer who now monitors the department’s work on water quality, called the PFNA case “just the tip of the iceberg of neglect” by the DEP that he said did not adopt the DWQI’s recommendations for MCLs on a number of other chemicals that were under consideration before a four-year hiatus in the panel’s work starting in 2010.

“The Christie DEP has abdicated the DEP’s regulatory role in protecting public health and the environment — whether via failure to adopt standards or failure to monitor and enforce them,” Wolfe said.

Senator Ray Lesniak

Senator Ray Lesniak

On that same day, Senator Lesniak introduced a long overdue bill (see S2468) that would require DEP to adopt the recommendations of the DWQI within 180 days, see:

The Lesniak bill is a broader and expanded version of a bill first introduced last session by Assemblyman Conaway, growing out of contamination of drinking water wells in Moorestown with the known carcinogen tri-chloropropane (TCP)

The introduced version of the Conaway bill (See A3954) would have required that DEP adopt a drinking water standard (MCL) for TCP recommended by the DWQI way back in 2009.

At the request of DEP, Conaway amended his bill to delete the DEP mandate (see A3954 [1R]).

Despite Conaway’s compromise, Governor Christie still conditionally vetoed the bill (see the NJ Spotlight story)

I’ve been urging legislation exactly along the lines of the Lesniak bill for years, and testified to the DWQI and before both Assembly and Senate, Environment Committees, see:

But the problems began at the outset of the Christie Administration, and got very personal and very nasty, very fast, triggered by Gov. Christie moratorium on regulations under Executive Order #1.

The Christie moratorium killed the Corzine DEP’s proposed drinking water MCL for perchlorate. (see:

In response to criticism, Martin spun and defended the Governor, but he went over the line and lied. We caught and called out Martin for that lie, and the Bergen Record agreed and editorialized and rubbed Martin’s nose in it, see:

Martin’s new opinion came about after he was embarrassed publicly. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released e-mails sent to Martin from the EPA that made clear that even if the agency imposed a limit, 6 1/2 years could elapse before the rule was in place, Staff Writer James O’Neill reported. Martin would have been playing Russian roulette with the public’s health.

After that embarrassment, Martin later shut the Drinking Water Quality Institute after the September 2010 meeting, when we again exposed Martin’s failures. 

You can see the specific reasons why Martin shut the whole thing down, from the September 10, 2010 minutes of the Drinking Water Quality Institute (better do a screen grab or download of that document – the link is sure to disappear very soon):

6. Public Comment

B. Wolfe of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: He noted that he is an advocate of “the public interest,” and the quarterly meetings of the DWQI [Ed. Note: scheduled as needed, so they may or may not be quarterly] result in many issues for him to cover in the public comment period at each meeting.

First, B. Wolfe wished to follow up on the May 7 presentation (posted on the NJDEP website June 28) of a “white paper” on unregulated contaminants. Research conducted by NJDEP found over 500 unregulated drinking water contaminants among the supplies tested, most of which had no toxicological data. Wolfe stated that it is not feasible to deal with this number of unregulated contaminants one at a time, when a technically and economically feasible approach of grouping contaminants by treatment approach is available. S. Krietzman responded that the document distributed May 7 was not a “white paper,” but rather a summary of NJDEP work on this topic to date. It was written in response to a request from the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators prompted by USEPA’s new contaminant policies. G. Post added that reports of some of the studies on unregulated contaminants mentioned in the document are posted on the NJDEP Office of Science website. These reports could be linked to the DWS summary document posted on the DWQI website. B. Wolfe expressed concern that NJDEP is not being more proactive on this issue. Current NJDEP projects which will evaluate treatment removal of synthetic organic chemicals were discussed by L. McGeorge and A. Dillon.

Second, B. Wolfe urged that the DWQI write and send to the NJDEP Commissioner the letter mentioned in its February minutes to request swift adoption of the recommended perchlorate Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), rather than acquiesce in the Commissioner’s decision to defer action until the USEPA decides whether to regulate perchlorate.

Third, B. Wolfe asked whether the DWQI has any concern that its MCL recommendations of March 2009 were not being implemented by NJDEP, and if yes, why not write a letter to the Commissioner expressing those views?

Fourth, B. Wolfe urged publication of public information about the radon MCL recommended by the DWQI which has not yet been proposed. J. Klotz noted that the DWQI is working on that issue with regard to private wells, while the MCL recommendation was for public water supplies.

Fifth, B. Wolfe noted that the current drought watch had water quality implications, such as nitrates in surface waters. P. Cohn said that this was a concern to several DWQI members and others, and that it would be valuable to look at this issue more closely, even if it is hard to plan for drought. L. McGeorge observed that the Health Effects Subcommittee is considering adding nitrate to the DWQI workplan.

Sixth, B. Wolfe asked about the status of the Water Supply Master Plan, and S. Krietzman noted that it is under review.

Seventh, B. Wolfe noted that the NJDEP request to the new SAB to evaluate the nitrate dilution model is another issue of concern that overlaps with the DWQI’s responsibilities.

Point #7 is timely in light of the current Highlands septic density standard rollback.

The Christie people do not provide platforms for knowledgeable critics.

[End note: Senator Lesniak has a rich imagination and sense of humor – just like he did on the Exxon NRD settlement and the Flood Hazard rule veto.

I give 50-1 odds against Senate passage, given Senate President Sweeney, who is likely to block it and a virtual certain veto by Christie, again with Sweeney failure to over-ride: (Spotlight)

He [Senator Lesniak] predicted “huge” support in the legislature for the bill, and predicted it would be on Christie’s desk by the end of the year. Lesniak said he didn’t know whether Christie would sign it, but predicted that support for the bill could be enough to overturn any veto.

Do they think we are stupid?

[Update: 9/9/16 – The Senate Environment Committee released a bill (S-2468) to mandate DEP adopt DWQI MCL recommendations, see NJ Spotlight story:

I’ve been writing about and working on this issue for years, so it is heartening to see the bill move, but passage in questionable but Gov. Christie’s veto is certain. An over-ride is very unlikely. Incredibly, even conservative Ocean County Republican and Christie tool Senator Thompson voted for the bill!

This shameful legacy of Chris Christie and Bon Martin will have to wait until the next administration to repair.  ~~~ end update]

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