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Fake “Green” Groups Are Not Only Ineffective, They Are Dangerous

[Updates below]

Today’s NJ Spotlight story on the efforts of “non-profit” groups to construct rain gardens as a tool to reduce Harmful Algae Blooms – which also “reported” on DEP’s new Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) “warning” system – was worse than traditional corporate greenwashing.

It is worse than traditional corporate greenwashing because, in this case, the anti-regulatory lies, the failure to base recommendations on science, and the political manipulation came from groups that the public considers to be credible and motivated by “green” objectives, and reported in a media outlet that purports to be “progressive” and dedicated to environmental coverage. (a reader just dubbed this “pay-to-play propaganda” – h/t JT).

I’ve written many times about DEP’s numerous and longstanding regulatory failures that have resulted in continuing declines in the ecological health and water quality of NJ’s lakes (and rivers and streams and bays and ocean and groundwater), particularly, the recent rollback of the scientific thresholds for HAB’s that trigger closure of lakes to recreation uses (swimming, etc), see:

Shortly after DEP announced it, I provided this HAB analysis to NJ Spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle and responded to one of his questions about it (he asked only who former Star Ledger outdoors reporter Fred Aun was and nothing on the substance).

So, I was stunned – but not surprised – by his failure to report the DEP rollback, while creating exactly the opposite impression with this spin and gibberish:

Their efforts complement those of the Department of Environmental Protection which has a new system for warning the public whether lakes are safe for bathing, and which is offering grants to local groups to build rain gardens. Earlier this summer, officials unveiled a color-coded warning system containing five rising stages of hazard from the blooms. Even at the lowest level, when harmful blooms are suspected, people, pets and livestock are advised not to ingest the water in that lake; at the highest level, which has not applied so far this summer, people are instructed to avoid “primary contact” such as swimming.

According to the DEP’s new interactive map on the blooms, seven lakes had algae levels at the “Advisory” levelat which swimming beaches are closed — as of July 6. Another 12 lakes had received the “Alert” designation, under which beaches remain open but harmful blooms are confirmed.

In 2019, more than 30 lakes were closed at different times because of an outbreak of harmful blooms that formed in response to warm water temperatures resulting from climate change, polluted runoff from impervious surfaces in the watersheds, and leaking septic systems in some places.

Let me break this down to elucidate why that reporting is so wrong.

First, Hurdle fails to put the rain garden “green infrastructure” non-profit program in context. Specifically he fails to report the fact that DEP recently rolled back the Statewide stormwater regulations, a move that was blasted by FEMA and State floodplain managers, specifically because, among other things, DEP rolled back prior numeric water quality standards that applied to nutrient runoff, eliminated the prior “non-structural” stormwater management requirements, and failed to make the new non-structural “green infrastructure” (including rain gardens) mandatory.

So, for non-profits to come along now – driven by DEP grant funding – and ignore all that, while touting rain gardens, is corrupt.

For Hurdle to just casually tack on the fact that DEP is funding these groups, without providing the context or explaining the significance, misleads readers and is journalistic malpractice.

But it actually gets worse.

Second, Hurdle fails to report that the DEP’s “advisory level” that triggered the 7 lake closures this year (2020) is 80,000 cells per ml.

Same problem with the 12 lakes in 2020 that

“received the “Alert” designation, under which beaches remain open but harmful blooms are confirmed.”

What this means is that people are swimming at unsafe levels – up to 80,000 cells/ml – that DEP thresholds closed beaches last year (20,000).

This “sample confirmation” inaction and delay multiple step process under DEP’s new “tiered” “warning” system reminds me of when DEP failed to warn parents and allowed a daycare center (the infamous Kiddie Kollege) to remain open for over 14 weeks until they conducted confirmatory indoor air sampling, despite knowing that it was located in a former mercury thermometer factory and that DEP inspectors were warned to wear gas masks before entering the building!

If you think I exaggerate, read the NY Times story that I blew the whistle on:

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection knew in 1994 that a building that later housed a Gloucester County day care center was so dangerous that state inspectors were instructed to use respirators when entering the building, according to an internal memo obtained by The New York Times yesterday. …

The internal memo, dated Oct. 12, 1994, said “Level C at a minimum is required for entry into the building,” meaning respirators were required, said Bill Wolfe, a former department employee who is the director of New Jersey Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group that provided a copy of the memo.

I guess DEP lives matter! (someone needs to ask DEP Commissioner McCabe is she would let her grandkids swim at levels Upton 80,000 cells/ml, while DEP conducted confirmatory sampling).

[Full disclosure: I was forced out of DEP as a whistleblower back in 1994, when I exposed a DEP coverup of high levels of mercury in freshwater fish and refusal to publicly release the science, to act to regulate mercury sources, to warn the public, and to issue public health fish consumption advisories. So, as the Wall Streeters like to say, I’ve got “skin in the game”.]

Hurdles then compares the 7 closed so far this year with 30 lakes closed last year (2019), but fails to report that last year, DEP issued these warnings and lakes were closed when levels exceeded 20,000 cells per ml.

So, he not only failed to report a HUGE rollback in the HAB thresholds – from 20,000 to 80,000, a four fold increase – but creates the impression that the HAB problem is being alleviated (i.e. reduction of 30 HAB closures last year to just 7 so far this year).

Of course, if DEP increases the HAB threshold from 20,000 to 80,000, then the number of closures will be smaller!

If DEP ever tried to do this with the air quality ozone standard that triggers bad air day warnings – explicitly to increase the number and make air quality seem to be improving –  they would be pilloried by environmental and public health groups and the media.

Question: Why are the non-profits not criticizing this egregious DEP rollback?


Disgusted, I fired off this note:

Jon – your story today is a perfect example of why many NJ “green” groups are so misguided and downright dangerous.

They promote ineffective, feel good, individual, site specific “solutions”, that provide cover for DEP statewide failure to implement and enforce regulatory programs, all while receiving funds from Foundations with a policy (ideological) agenda and DEP. This not only provides cover for failure, it diverts media, resources, and citizen activism from real State solutions to failed individual non-threatening “solutions” (like the Clean Water Act’s TMDL & Clean Lakes Programs, and numerous other regulatory tools and programs DEP has than actually work (but impose costs on corporations, towns, homeowners, and limit growth).

I’m curious how you could report about DEP’s new “color coded” system (rehash of Bush political manipulation of terror warnings) without reporting the fact that DEP rolled back the threshold (standard) to warn and trigger lake closures by 400% – particularly after I told you specifically about it and provided 3rd party traditional journalism reporting on it (Fred Aun story). For documentation of that again, see:

Murphy DEP Rolled Back Toxic Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB) Standards by 400%


BTW, Mr. Souza and coastal groups have been milking DEP grants for Deal Lake restoration for over 15 years. Take a look at Souza’s work, submitted to DEP back in 2008


It’s all about consultants getting funded and green groups getting Foundation and DEP grants.

Meanwhile, water quality and ecological health continue to decline and go unreported.


[Update #1: Green ghouls.

I am so disgusted by the total frauds that parade around NJ as “environmental groups”.

At  a time when climate catastrophe and increasing nutrient pollution loads are destroying the ecological health of NJ’s waters, and a deadly public health epidemic is raging, these bastards only care about funding their organizations.

Here’s the latest creepy and corrupt BS from the Highlands Coalition – just give them money when you die:

Naming the New Jersey Highlands Coalition as the beneficiary of an account is a simple way to give and doesn’t cost you any money. As part of your estate planning, you can name a charity as the beneficiary of any of the following accounts

[Update #2NJ spotlight reporter Jon Hurdle didn’t only ignore my analysis and the prior report by Fred Aun.

He ignored other news coverage and an Op-ed that addressed what NJ Spotlight and their fake green sources intentionally suppressed.

His flawed reporting was no accident – powerful forces want to keep the facts and science from the public, because, just like closing the economy to slow the spread of COVID – science requires that we reduce economic activity.

First, as NJ TV mis-reported, here is the NJ DEP’s Chief of Staff openly revealing DEP’s abdication – with no explanation of what this means, by a NJ TV news reporter:

“So at that first level and that middle level you can take a swim if that’s your choice, you can boat. Be aware though that there could be a risk,” LaTourette said.

Second, here is Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club’s Op-Ed, which exposes the DEP fraud, see:

end update.]

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