Archive for August, 2018

“How We Live and How We Might Live”

August 31st, 2018 No comments

Today, we run a guest post, from our friend William Morris  – remarkably fresh for our times:

How We Live and How We Might Live


The word Revolution, which we Socialists are so often forced to use, has a terrible sound in most people’s ears, even when we have explained to them that it does not necessarily mean a change accompanied by riot and all kinds of violence, and cannot mean a change made mechanically and in the teeth of opinion by a group of men who have somehow managed to seize on the executive power for the moment. Even when we explain that we use the word revolution in its etymological sense, and mean by it a change in the basis of society, people are scared at the idea of such a vast change, and beg that you will speak of reform and not revolution. As, however, we Socialists do not at all mean by our word revolution what these worthy people mean by their word reform, I can’t help thinking that it would be a mistake to use it, whatever projects we might conceal beneath its harmless envelope. So we will stick to our word, which means a change of the basis of society; it may frighten people, but it will at least warn them that there is something to be frightened about, which will be no less dangerous for being ignored; and also it may encourage some people, and will mean to them at least not a fear, but a hope.

Fear and Hope—those are the names of the two great passions which rule the race of man, and with which revolutionists have to deal; to give hope to the many oppressed and fear to the few oppressors, that is our business; if we do the first and give hope to the many, the few must be frightened by their hope; otherwise we do not want to frighten them; it is not revenge we want for poor people, but happiness; indeed, what revenge can be taken for all the thousands of years of the sufferings of the poor?

However, many of the oppressors of the poor, most of them, we will say, are not conscious of their being oppressors (we shall see why presently); they live in an orderly, quiet way themselves, as far as possible removed from the feelings of a Roman slave-owner or a Legree; they know that the poor exist, but their sufferings do not present themselves to them in a trenchant and dramatic way; they themselves have troubles to bear, and they think doubtless that to bear trouble is the lot of humanity; nor have they any means of comparing the troubles of their lives with those of people lower in the social scale; and if ever the thought of those heavier troubles obtrudes itself upon them, they console themselves with the maxim that people do get used to the troubles they have to bear, whatever they may be.

Indeed, as far as regards individuals at least, that is but too true, so that we have as supporters of the present state of things, however bad it may be, first those comfortable unconscious oppressors who think that they have everything to fear from any change which would involve more than the softest and most gradual of reforms, and secondly those poor people who, living hard and anxiously as they do, can hardly conceive of any change for the better happening to them, and date not risk one tittle of their poor possessions in taking any action towards a possible bettering of their condition; so that while we can do little with the rich save inspire them with fear, it is hard indeed to give the poor any hope. It is, then, no less than reasonable that those whom we try to involve in the great struggle for a better form of life than that which we now lead should call on us to give them at least some idea of what that life may be like.

A reasonable request, but hard to satisfy, since we are living under a system that makes conscious effort towards reconstruction almost impossible: it is not unreasonable on our part to answer, “There are certain definite obstacles to the real progress of man; we can tell you what these are; take them away, and then you shall see.”

However, I purpose now to offer myself as a victim for the satisfaction of those who consider that as things now go we have at least got something, and are terrified at the idea of losing their hold of that, lest they should find they are worse off than before, and have nothing. Yet in the course of my endeavour to show how we might live, I must more or less deal in negatives. I mean to say I must point out where in my opinion we fall short in our present attempt at decent life. I must ask the rich and well-to-do what sort of a position it is which they are so anxious to preserve at any cost? and if, after all, it will be such a terrible loss to them to give it up? and I must point out to the poor that they, with capacities for living a dignified and generous life, are in a position which they cannot endure without continued degradation.

How do we live, then, under our present system? Let us look at it a little.

(look more than a little and read the whole lecture (1884))

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“The Elite Charade” – Philanthropic Foundation Fail

August 29th, 2018 No comments

An Expose On The Workings Of What I Call “The Green Mafia”

National Public Radio (NPR) ran an interview this morning with Anand Giridharadas, author of  “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” – listen to “Generous Giving Or Phony Philanthropy? A Critique Of Well-Meaning ‘Winners’:

Giridharadas: A lot of well-meaning liberals — and it’s going to, it hurts to hear this — but a lot of well-meaning liberals paved the road for Trump. And they did so in two ways. First of all, by peddling a lot of pseudo-change instead of actually fixing the American opportunity structure, instead of actually repairing the American dream over the last 30-to-40 years — by doing that, they allowed some of the biggest problems in this country to fester for decades and not be solved.

Mr. Giridharadas is not alone – a  few years ago Dissent published a far more critical assessment, see: “Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy”

The power relationship between grantor and grantee has always been one-sided in favor of the grantor. Sycophancy is built into the structure of philanthropy: grantees shape their work to please their benefactors; they are perpetual supplicants for future funding. As a result, foundation executives and trustees almost never receive critical feedback. They are treated like royalty, which breeds hubris—the occupational disorder of philanthro-barons. By taking over the roles of project originator and designer, by exercising top-down control over implementation, today’s mega-foundations increasingly stifle creativity and autonomy in other organizations. This weakens civil society. Some mega-foundations even mobilize to defeat grassroots opposition to their projects. When they do, their vast resources can easily overwhelm local groups. This, too, weakens civil society.

And a recent article in The Atlantic writes about the history and role of philanthropy. It’s not a pretty picture – read the whole thing: “Against Philanthropy”:

“Big Philanthropy is definitionally a plutocratic voice in our democracy,” Reich told me, “an exercise of power by the wealthy that is unaccountable, non-transparent, donor-directed, perpetual, and tax-subsidized.” …

Because big philanthropy is an exercise of power, and in a democracy, any form of concentrated power deserves scrutiny, not gratitude.”

I am pleased that this issue is finally getting national media attention. Hopefully, it will generate much needed reforms and accountability measures.

I hope it brings focus on NJs foundations, including the Dodge Foundation, the Wm. Penn Foundation, and Duke Foundation, the NJ groups they fund, what they fund them for, and how that funded work has undermined NJ’s historic leadership in grassroots activism and strict environmental regulation.

[Update – Here’s a perfect example: Penn Foundation’s “non-regulatory” Delaware Watershed initiative: GRANTS AWARDED TO IMPROVE HEALTH OF DELAWARE RIVER WATERSHED – band aid restoration projects divert resources, public and media attention, criticism, and activist opposition from Christie DEP rollback of stream buffer and Highlands protection. NJ Audubon gets funded while they log public forests in the NJ Highlands. Elite organizations, with corporate Boards and huge budgets and staff, undermine grassroots activists.]

Mr. Giridharadas is actually too kind to those he calls the “well meaning liberals”,. These are folks I’ve written about numerous times and called out as self serving and self dealing members of NJ’s Green Mafia, see:

Mr. Giridharadas is correct in his analysis of how the “well meaning liberals” are self serving and promote what he calls “pseudo change”, i.e. politically safe work intended to derail truly progressive policies, that undermines grassroots activists, and reinforces the status quo.

In my own assessment, I focus on how Foundation funded groups I call The Green Mafia, advocate a corporate agenda that is based on individual, private, market based, non-governmental, and non-regulatory window dressing feel good measures that do not threaten the status quo.

Examples range from NJ Audubon’s “corporate stewardship” and voluntary property owner programs to plant milkweed, to corporate funded frauds like Sustainable NJ and NJ Future.

As I wrote:

So when Wm. Penn Foundation and their well paid partners tout their “voluntary”, “cooperative”, “bottom up”, and “flexible” work with these nice guy small family farmers, you are hearing myths – a crock of shit in a well funded corporate campaign – that was originated by the infamous “Powell memo” – that is advancing an anti-regulatory ideological agenda. Here’s a succinct summary from today’s NY Times story on Trump EPA Administrator Pruitt:

“Since taking the helm of E.P.A., Mr. Pruitt has barnstormed the country, meeting with farmers, coal miners and local leaders and promising an end to his predecessor’s regulatory approach.

Even more harshly, Chris Hedges has called such efforts “boutique activism” of a “faux liberal class“:

A faux liberal class, epitomized by amoral politicians such as the Clintons and Barack Obama, has led many disenfranchised people, especially the white underclass, to direct a legitimate rage toward liberals and the supposed liberal values they represent. Racism, bigotry, religious intolerance, homophobia, sexism and vigilante violence, condemned by liberal, college-educated elites, are embraced by those who have been betrayed, those who now speak back to liberal elites in words, gestures and acts, sometimes violent, designed to denigrate the core values of a liberal democracy. The hatred is the product of a liberal class that did nothing to halt corporations from driving tens of millions of families into poverty and desperation as it mouthed empty platitudes about rights and economic advancement….

The liberal class failed for decades to decry neoliberalism’s assault on the poor and on workingmen and -women. It busied itself with a boutique activism. It is not that cultural diversity is bad. It isn’t. It is that cultural diversity when divorced from economic and political justice, from the empowerment of the oppressed, is elitist. And this is why these liberal values are being rejected by a disenfranchised white underclass. They are seen as serving the elites, and marginalized groups, at the expense of that underclass.

NJ’s Green mafia and manipulative and self serving Foundations are excellent examples of the “Elite Charade”.

Let’s hope Chris Daggett and friends up in Morristown finally come under some well deserved scrutiny and criticism.

[Update: More relevant Chris Hedges:

A democracy is only possible when all of its citizens understand the machinery of power and have a role in the exercising of power.

Gramsci [1891-1937] would have despaired of the divide in the United States between our anemic left and the working class. The ridiculing of Trump supporters, the failure to listen to and heed the legitimate suffering of the working poor, including the white working poor, ensures that any revolt will be stillborn. Those of us who seek to overthrow the corporate state will have to begin locally. This means advocating issues such as raising the minimum wage, fighting for clean water, universal health care and good public education, including free university education, that speak directly to the improvement of the lives of the working class. It does not mean lecturing the working class, and especially the white working class, about multiculturalism and identity politics.

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Trump Administration Admits “Market Failure” In EPA Climate Rollback

August 25th, 2018 No comments

EPA Rollback Reflects Classical Welfare Economics

Trump EPA Deals A Blow To Free Market Fundamentalists

EPA Contradicts Trump Executive Order That Repealed “Social Costs of Carbon”

Self described Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders excepted, these days, it is rare to engage a public discussion of the fundamentals of political-economy, especially for government agencies or the media to expose flaws in capitalism or so called “free markets”.

Rarer still are efforts to justify government regulation based on so called “market failure” (e.g. see: The Case For Government Regulation).

Since the Reagan administration, public policy has embraced the “free market” – pursuing privatization and deregulation in favor of individual market based choices, incentives, and industry voluntary compliance (all carrot and no stick).

That ideological stance has been used to attack and restrict government intervention in markets and to dismantle regulatory mandates, particularly economic and environmental regulation. (But, hypocritically, governmental regulatory interventions that promote corporate interests or restrict public, union, or democratic interests are just fine.)

So, it is incredibly ironic that the Trump administration embraced the critique of “market failure” and laid out the affirmative case for EPA regulatory intervention in markets.

It is tragic and doubly ironic that it has done so in a deregulatory attack on the Obama administration’s EPA Clean Power Plan.

Thus far, while the media has aggressively criticized this Trump rollback, the coverage has been focused (correctly) on the implications for coal power plants, climate, and public health – not the theoretical foundations.

But deep in the technical weeds of the EPA proposal, the astute reader can find an incredibly ironic and significant critique of “free markets” and justification for EPA regulation.

Even more ironic is the fact that EPA has exposed the lie of President Trump’s Executive Order that repealed EPA consideration of the “Social Costs of Carbon” in regulatory policies.

Here’s the relevant text from the EPA proposal (@ page 13-14):

While recognizing that optimal social level of pollution may not be zero, GHG emissions impose costs on society, such as negative health and welfare impacts, that are not reflected in the market price of the goods produced through the polluting process. For this regulatory action the good produced is electricity. If a fossil fuel-fired electricity producer pollutes the atmosphere when it generates electricity, this cost will be borne not by the polluting firm but by society as a whole, thus the producer is imposing a negative externality, or a social cost of emissions. The equilibrium market price of electricity may fail to incorporate the full opportunity cost to society of generating electricity. Consequently, absent a regulation on emissions, the EGUs will not internalize the social cost of emissions and social costs will be higher as a result. This regulation will work towards addressing this market failure by causing affected EGUs to begin to internalize the negative externality associated with CO2 emissions.

That analysis is straight out of classical welfare economics on “market failure” and “externalities”  and “public goods” – almost verbatim the theory I learned in Economics 101 way back in 1975:

Market Failure

In economics, market failure is a situation in which the allocation of goods and services by a free market is not efficient, often leading to a net social welfare loss. Market failures can be viewed as scenarios where individuals’ pursuit of pure self-interest leads to results that are not efficient – that can be improved upon from the societal point of view.


In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.[1] Economists often urge governments to adopt policies that “internalize” an externality, so that costs and benefits will affect mainly parties who choose to incur them.

Public Good

In economics, a public good is a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others.

Who would have thought that the Trump administration would make a classical welfare economics based case for government regulation?

Freidrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and James Buchanan are rolling in their graves.

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This Is What “Regulatory Capture” Looks Like

August 22nd, 2018 No comments

“Industrial Stakeholders” Hollow Out DEP Air Permit & Enforcement Programs From The Inside

Corruption, right out in the open

[Intro Note: If readers think I exaggerate in my criticism, please check out the rigorous review conducted by US EPA for conflicts of interest, and appearance of conflicts, for membership on an EPA Science Advisory Board Panel.

Then ask yourself in ANY DEP Stakeholder or ISG participant meets the EPA standards – and note that the NJ DEP conducts no such review – none at all.]

I’ve previously written about how a “by invitation only” “Stakeholder” group of major polluting corporations co-wrote NJ DEP guidelines for pipeline reviews, as well as the technical contents of the DEP’s site remediation program, see: The Oil and Gas Industry Wrote NJ DEP Pipeline Review Guidelines

Today, we take a brief look at how similar abuses occur in DEP’s air quality program.

Importantly, that program not only is supposed to protect public health and environment from the emission of traditional and toxic air pollutants, but – because greenhouse gases are defined as air pollutants under NJ state law – it also has responsibility for climate change mitigation, i.e. regulation of emission sources and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (a regulatory power DEP has failed to implement or enforce).

I) The Origins of Institutionalized Corruption

Initially during the “Open for Business” deregulatory Whitman administration (1994 – 2002), DEP mangers formed what is now called the “Industry Stakeholders Group” (ISG). During the Whitman DEP, Commissioner Bob Shinn euphemistically called this a “re-engineering” initiative, whereby private corporations and their consultants were given carte blanche to literally re-design the air permit and enforcement programs and write the technical content of DEP air programs (this was where later DEP initiatives like “Technical Manuals” and “Permit Efficiency” came from).

(Skeptics can read Whitman’s STARR Report (see p. 46 summary) “Strategy to Advance Regulatory Reform” (Department of State, Office of Business Ombudsman, July 1995) and read Whitman’s first State of The State address for examples of her no holds barred assault on DEP and regulation. Whitman abolished the Office of Environmental Prosecutor via Executive Order #9 and created the anti-regulatory Business Ombudsman’s Office via Executive Order #15) Whitman sought to roll back stricter NJ state standards to federal minimums via Executive Order #27. These are just a few of Whitman’s attacks that have been expanded upon by Gov. Christie and embraced by Gov. Murphy.)

II)  What Is The Industrial Stakeholders Group?

Currently, the DEP air quality permit and enforcement staff regularly meet with the ISG.

The ISG meetings are comprised exclusively of major polluting corporations in NJ and their paid consultants, including:

  • Dupont (Chemours)
  • Merck
  • PSEG
  • Corning Glass
  • South Jersey Industries (South Jersey Gas)
  • NAES Corp.
  • Covanta

Although the ISG meetings are technically “open”, there are no public, environmental group, or academic participants on the ISG (the sporadic Rutgers participant is a compliance officer, not an academic expert).

I could find no evidence of agenda items or public attendance at or participation in ISG meetings. I suspect that the ISG meetings are not widely advertised or promoted by DEP and that the media and environmental groups are not even aware of the ISG.

Here’s how DEP describes the mission of the ISG:


The Industrial Stakeholders Group or ISG focuses on Air Quality Permitting in the State of New Jersey.  The group is composed primarily of DEP air quality permitting staff, DEP air quality enforcement staff and representatives of regulated industries.  Attendance is open to anyone with an interest in Air Quality Permits.  The group meets quarterly to discuss ways of promoting effective and consistent permits that are protective of the environment and consider the concerns of the regulated community.

Note that the co-equal purpose includes to “consider the concerns of the regulated community.”

The DEP staff provide ISG participants briefings on regulatory issues – including interpretation of existing and development of any new regulations. That regulatory briefing affords crucial strategic opportunities for industry to intervene in, kill, and shape the design and technical content of regulations and how they are enforced.

Consider also how the ISG regulatory briefings integrate seamlessly with Gov. Christie’s Executive Order #2, where industry is given “advance notice of rules” explicitly to provide industry an opportunity “to prevent unworkable, overly-proscriptive or ill-advised rules from being adopted.”

Gov. Murphy and his DEP Commissioner McCabe have retained and promoted the same abuses initially advanced by the deregulatory Whitman DEP and the anti-regulatory Christie DEP’s.

The DEP staff also provide technical assistance to ISG members on how to comply with DEP regulations. In essence, public employees effectively work as consultants to corporate polluters. Again, this practice allows industry to manipulate or skirt compliance obligations. (hit this link to see ISG agendas and participants)

I am not aware of any DEP “Stakeholder” group comprised exclusively of public, community, scientific and academic community experts and advocates that work on developing much needed new regulations or enforcement of existing regulations to protect public health and the environment and address climate change (i.e. mitigation, or reduction in greenhouse gas emissions). 

So, I sent the DEP ISG program manager the following question:

Hank – I note from the DEP ISG website you provided a link to that the mission of the ISG is:

“The group meets quarterly to discuss ways of promoting effective and consistent permits that are protective of the environment and consider the concerns of the regulated community.”

Is there a DEP air permit group that meets regularly to consider the concerns of the public, climate science, and public health communities?

Appreciate your timely reply,

III) How Far We’ve Fallen: From Polluters To Customers

When I began as a DEP professional in 1985, there were institutions and Offices (e.g. the Bureau of Community Relations, numerous workgroups and Advisory Committees) and initiatives that were well staffed by DEP and expressly designed to solicit public concerns, inform and listen to the public, and serve the public interest.

In contrast, there was an arms length, and often adversarial, relationship between DEP and industrial polluters.

But since then, public oriented DEP institutions have been dismantled and efforts to advance the public interest have been abandoned.  Worse, what were once considered polluters became called “the regulated community”.

Continuing down that path, “the regulated community” are now called “customers” that are to be provided “customer service” by DEP staff and “Stakeholders” that must be listened to and coddled with “stewardship” and “voluntary compliance”, not subject to “command and control” “red tape” regulation and “Soviet style” “enforcement sanctions”.

The dominance and “regulatory capture” of DEP by polluting corporate industries has gotten so bad that DEP professionals are not even aware of it and don’t try to hide it.

It’s corruption, right out in the open.

[End note: the dismantling of DEP public interest focus and rigorous regulatory regimes parallels the rise of NeoLiberalism, and can be explained by many things, including the Powell memo, the rise of Public Choice theory, The Chicago School, The Federalist Society, the Koch Brothers and failures of the Liberal Class to defend New Deal values and government institutions.]

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Lessons for NJ Legislative Taskforce Developing Natural Resource Damage Standards

August 20th, 2018 No comments

Corruption Of Environmental Agency Regulation Not Limited To Trump EPA

Dear Chairman Smith and Members of The Senate Environment Committee:

I am writing to convey recommendations for consideration by Senator Smith’s Task Force on developing Natural Resource Damage [NRD] standards.

As you know, I have long worked on various aspects of NRD policy, before the legislature and NJ DEP and other arenas.

My recommendations below seek to assure that the NRD Task Force considers not only methodologies to monetize NRD injuries, but broader aspects of an effective regulatory policy, including media specific DEP regulatory standards for NRD; ecological standards and wildlife criteria; removal of current legislative barriers to DEP’s adoption of such regulatory standards; and scientific integrity and ethical standards to limit undue influence on  and improper access to DEP.

The NY Times has done a series of superb investigative journalistic reports that document the total corruption of the Trump EPA’s entire regulatory apparatus, particularly under former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt, who was forced to resign in disgrace, was so corrupt that industry virtually took over EPA.

But even after Pruitt’s departure, the corruption continues.

Yesterday, the Times told the story of former oil and gas industry lawyer William Wehrum, who now heads Trump EPA’s air office, see: As Trump Dismantles Clean Air Rules, an Industry Lawyer Delivers for Ex-Clients

WASHINGTON — As a corporate lawyer, William L. Wehrum worked for the better part of a decade to weaken air pollution rules by fighting the Environmental Protection Agency in court on behalf of chemical manufacturers, refineries, oil drillers and coal-burning power plants.

Now, Mr. Wehrum is about to deliver one of the biggest victories yet for his industry clients — this time from inside the Trump administration as the government’s top air pollution official.

But such corruption is not limited to the Trump administration or the US EPA.

I’ve long documented similar corruption of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s regulatory policy – under both Democratic and Republican Administrations.

Here’s one particularly timely example, where we produced a smoking gun letter from the Chemical Industry Council to the NJ DEP.

The CIC letter openly thanks Commissioner Campbell and Assistant Commissioner Hahn – two DEP officials with stellar reputations in environmental policy circles – for killing proposed toxic water quality standards, commonly referred to as “wildlife criteria”.

Take a look at the chemical industry’s thank you letter:

Earlier this week, industry groups met with the Commissioner, as part of our on-going quarterly meetings to discuss issues affecting industry. When this topic came up, the Commissioner stated that the Department will likely re-propose the criteria to incorporate an implementation plan, pending USEP A’s approval. With Natural Resource Damages (NRD) implications and the uncertainty as to how these criteria will translate into permit limitations, this news is encouraging. Now more than ever, it is important to know and understand the impact these criteria will have on the regulated community. As we highlighted at our meeting, the costs for compliance with such low standards would be astronomical with very little environmental benefit gained.

Interested readers can get complete background information in this press release and linked documents.

Of particular importance and relevance right now is the industry’s reference toNatural Resource Damages (NRD) implications”.

The CIC industry lawyers knew that DEP’s adoption of “wildlife criteria” (i.e. water quality standards for toxic chemicals that harm wildlife) would have huge impacts on NRD enforcement, i.e. numeric regulatory standards would quantify and thereby make it far easier for DEP to determine whether NRD injuries had occurred, how widespread those injuries were, and how much the chemical industry would have to pay to restore natural resources and compensate the public for those injuries.

Simply put, a violation of a very low DEP regulatory standard in water, sediments, soil, fish or bird or wildlife tissue would trigger and facilitate enforcement of NRD damages.

Recall the Christie Administration’s controversial $225 million settlement in the Exxon case. The Corzine DEP had sought $8.9 billion in NRD damages.

Widespread criticism of the Christie settlement of the Exxon case prompted Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith to establish an NRD work group to make recommendations of how to calculate the economic value of NRD injuries.

As NJ Spotlight recently reported:

Another problem with the [NRD] lawsuits is the state lacks any objective standards to monetize damages to New Jersey’s natural resources. Sen. Bob Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, set up a legislative task force of industry experts and environmentalists to try and come up with a framework to establish such standards.

The abandoned “wildlife criteria” and similar other numeric regulatory standards to trigger natural resource injury are a crucial part of the framework under consideration.

Therefore, in light of this history, we urge the “task force of industry experts and environmentalists, in addition to economic methods to “monetize” NRD injuries to:

1) include reconsideration of wildlife criteria previously abandoned by DEP;

2) the scientific methodology  and eco-toxicology DEP relied on to develop those standards;

3) update, expand the scope of, and promulgate current DEP Ecological Screening Criteria as enforceable regulatory standards to trigger NRD injuries;

4) consider necessary legal and regulatory changes required to remove current legal barriers and enable DEP to adopt those kind of ecological standards to hold toxic polluters accountable for NRD; and

5) scientific integrity and ethical standards to restrict undue and/or improper industry influence on DEP.

For additional background on those issues, see:

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