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Upcoming Lead In Drinking Water Report – Issues To Watch Out For

Murphy Administration Essentially Outsourced Policy Role To Private Group

Report on lead likely to provide platform for privatization & dodge key issues

Lead issue tip of iceberg in a collapsing water infrastructure & regulatory framework


Back in January, a private Foundation created and/or funded group who claims exactly 544 members called Jersey Water Works publicly announced – in a press release – that they would:

produce report of best practices and recommendations for eliminating lead from drinking water statewide.

So, at a critical time, this private group basically took on the challenge of developing State policy, as the Murphy administration and Democratic legislature abdicated the policymaking role and dodged accountability for multiple failures. Accordingly, the Murphy administration was glad to assign DEP staff to support this private group, instead of having to do the heavy lifting in developing a real response to the multiple crises involved.

[Update – 10/8/19: Just 2 days after I wrote this, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that NJ Senate Democrats held a press conference stressing what the stenographic media called a “sense of urgency“. They are especially desperate to avoid any discussion of the privatization issue and their lead role in supporting it. But just like I said, it’s all BS:

Sweeney said New Jersey needs money to fix its water issues but he doesn’t want to raise fees. It’s something, he said, that could knock him out of office. ~~~ end update]

Jersey Water Works is another classic in NJ’s long history of allowing self selected, unaccountable, private sector special interest groups to frame the issues and dominate the public policymaking process. These groups are not subject to any public process, transparency, scientific peer review, or ethical restrictions. This is not only undemocratic, poor policy development, and ideologically biased, but it reeks of self dealing and conflicts of interest.

These “Stakeholder” groups typically form when a huge public controversy overwhelms state policymakers, exposes government negligence or failed regulatory oversight, and creates the need for political cover. Typically, the stakes are large: a huge pot of public money, deregulation, privatization, and/or economic opportunity is about to be created by government. Everyone then jumps on the gravy train.

Accordingly, following NJ longstanding pattern, JWW’s membership is dominated by a melange of those with huge economic interests in water: private water companies, consultants, banking & finance,  engineering and construction firms, real estate, and developers.

This economic development oriented private group is provided a veneer of legitimacy, “diversity”, “balance”, “building consensus”, and cover by the corrupt “transactional” planning and environmental groups that feed at the trough of government grants and Foundation funding (i.e. Sustainable NJ, NJ Future, American Littoral Society, Clean ocean Action, Clean Water Action, Environment NJ, et al).

Individuals and groups with an independent orientation (those groups that are membership funded and/or not dependent on in NJ state foundation funding) and those with a critical approach or what is viewed as a “radical” policy agenda (e.g. Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, local grassroots community groups fighting for clean water, against privatization & toxic pollution, and active private citizens – i.e. anyone that works contrary to Neoliberal corporate interests) – are not invited and their views are marginalized.

So, with that said, first, let me set the policy context for this JWW Report.

The announcement came after increasing focus on: 1) longstanding multi-billion dollar water infrastructure deficits; 2) failure by State policymakers to enact a new revenue source to fund these deficits; 3) a series of drinking water crises across the state; 4) eight years of regulatory rollbacks and under investment by the Christie administration, and 5) passage of controversial privatization legislation by the Democratic legislature that deregulated and stripped voters of their rights to vote on whether or not to privatize their local water system.

The implications of how the privatization law stripped voters of their formal approval role was brought to light recently in Edison, where voters overwhelming rejected a proposed privatization plan, by over 84%, see:

As I’ve previously written, the JWW Report is very likely going to provide a platform for privatization (look for the euphemisms “public-private partnerships” and “asset management” to provide cover for privatization.)

But here are some important issues that I suspect that the Report will downplay or ignore completely (I’ll provide supporting text and links to these bullets over the ext few days. In the meantime, intrepid readers can word search Wolfenotes – I’ve posted stuff on almost all of this).

  • Scientific flaws, gaps, and loopholes in current drinking water regulations and how they are monitored and enforced, including the federal EPA lead and copper rule and corrosion control that NJ DEP relies on
  • Inadequate oversight, negligence, and lax enforcement by NJ DEP
  • What really happened in Newark – what DEP knew and when they knew it
  • Lack of resources and professional expertise & capacity at NJ DEP
  • A specific new funding mechanism to adequately finance infrastructure upgrades (water tax)
  • Regulatory mandates to consider environmental justice in DEP policy, rules, and decisions
  • a regulatory based new Source water protection policy
  • a new “precautionary” public health approach to DEP regulation, MCL’s, and “risk assessment”, including cumulative impacts, multiple chemical exposures, and multiple exposure pathways
  • New regulatory restrictions on industrial polluters & sewage treatment plants
  • New regulatory restrictions on land use and development
  • New regulatory restrictions mandating retrofit of existing development
  • Real enforceable timetables and milestones in combined sewer overflow permits
  • New regulatory restrictions on agriculture and forestry (including bans of toxic pesticides and water quality based regulatory limits on fertilizers)
  • Addressing over 500 “unregulated contaminants” in drinking water via what DEP has recommended as a “treatment based approach” (including new treatment requirements for drinking water plants AND wastewater discharges)
  • Limits on surface and groundwater withdrawals – maintenance of river and stream flows
  • Regulatory consideration of Climate change impacts on water resources and infrastructure
  • New mandatory water conservation requirements
  • Regulatory consideration of ecological impacts
  • Enhanced DEP and State role in water supply planning and regulation
  • Specific recommendations for new legislation and regulation

All of these issues in some way touch upon drinking water and the lead issue.

Frankly, the lead issue is the tip of the iceberg in a collapsing water infrastructure and regulatory framework.

More to follow when the Report is released.

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