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This Is What Lip Service, Public Relations, And Co-Optation Look Like

NJ Gov. Murphy’s DEP Commissioner McCabe Plays EJ “Stakeholders”

Smoking Gun Trump EPA Briefing Document On Rahway “Research” Reveals DEP Lies

Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe (center, with microphone) meets with EJ Staekhodlers (source, NJ DEP Press Release - link below)

Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe (center, with microphone) meets with EJ Advisory Council and Stakeholders (source, NJ DEP Press Release – link below)

Today, we go into the weeds of a Trump EPA briefing document on the controversial Rahway incinerator PFAS “research” project (provided by an EPA whistleblower, and made available upon request) to show how the Murphy DEP is flat out lying and manipulating environmental justice advocates.

See what DEP and Commissioner McCabe knew about the Rahway “research” way back in April 2020, but kept secret: (Source: US EPA Briefing):

Screen Shot 2020-09-06 at 6.19.57 AM

Unfortunately, the NJ media has completely missed this story (e.g. regarding the EPA’s deregulatory objectives; by falsely claiming that States requested it when EPA initiated it through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA); and DEP’s supporting role) despite being provided with the EPA briefing document that documents the real story. Follow.

The photo above is from a DEP January 17, 2019 press release: (my emphasis)

PUBLIC COMMENT SESSIONS SET ON MURPHY ADMINISTRATION PLAN FOR
IMPLEMENTING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IN STATE ACTIONS

(19/P005) TRENTON – Following through on Governor Phil Murphy’s pledge that New Jersey take steps to ensure all residents live in a clean and healthy environment, the Department of Environmental Protection today released a plan on how that goal will be achieved across state agencies, Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced.

The DEP will hold a 60-day public comment period to receive input on the proposal. Three listening sessions are scheduled in the northern, central and southern regions of the state for the public to comment on the plan.

“Environmental justice is a critical concern for all state agencies when making decisions that will impact communities long overburdened by sources of pollution and the resultant health impacts,” Commissioner McCabe said. “Every New Jersey resident, particularly those in our most vulnerable populations, deserves to live in a clean and healthy environment. Our quality of life depends on it.”

Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 23 on April 20, 2018, directing the DEP to take the lead in developing a plan for how all executive branch departments and agencies should consider environmental justice in implementing statutory and regulatory responsibilities.

“New Jersey’s urban communities are disproportionally impacted and overburdened by harmful effects from pollution,” said Zachary Lewis, chairman of the DEP’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “A greater emphasis must be made to provide clean and healthy environments and ensure that sound environmental policies are at the forefront in the decision-making process.”

This is public relations, news management, and blatant cynical co-optation of environmental justice advocates.

Commissioner McCabe apparently was “listening” so closely to the EJ Advisory Council’s concerns that she was shocked that the Rahway community would feel betrayed and outraged when they learned that McCabe’s DEP was working behind their backs and had secretly approved a Trump EPA plan to conduct “research” on the burning of toxic  perflourinated chemicals at the Rahway garbage incinerator that is poisoning their already over-burdened community.

After DEP blamed the community for being misinformed, then even after the intense public outrage, DEP doubled down and still supported the fiasco.

 “He [DEP’s LaTourette] said New Jersey is still interested in helping the EPA understand the science of disposing of PFAS chemicals,

This has very little to do with “science” and Mr. LaTourette and DEP Commissioner McCabe clearly know that (see below).

Going even further into the Orwellian night, here’s how McCabe’s spokesperson responded, with a boatload of even more lies and spin: (emphasis mine, NJ.com story)

“As important as the science is to us, our relationship with, our connectivity to and our investment in serving our vulnerable communities is just as strong,” LaTourette said.

Covanta had taken the lead on local outreach, according to the EPA, which added that the company had contacted “local officials, representatives of the Rahway City government and residents.”

LaTourette said the controversy has been instructive for DEP, and the state plans to try harder to maintain community engagement on sensitive issues moving forward.

“Even when we do not own the issue, whether it is a piece of research or a permit, at the federal or local level, nevertheless, we own and are invested in the relationships with the advocates and the community members,” LaTourette said.

Each of the boldfaced text is either a false or misleading claim.

I)  Some inconvenient facts:

1. There was no “meaningful involvement” by the community, no “relationship”,  and no DEP “investment” in the DEP’s decision to approve the Trump EPA “research”.

2. “Environmental justice” was not at the forefront in DEP’s decision-making process”.

3. There was no consideration by DEP of impacts on an already “overburden” EJ community.

4. In fact, the EPA “research” had very little to do with “science” and was driven by a policy to rollback strict hazardous waste management regulations (which are costly to comply with) to allow the burning of highly toxic PFAS chemicals in local garbage incinerators.

5. Make no mistake: the Rahway fiasco is directly the result of DEP Commissioner McCabe’s failures. McCabe clearly owns the problem. Mr. LaTourette is lying.

6. DEP had no “investment” in or relationships with the community. Just the opposite.

DEP allowed a private corporate polluter- Covanta, the operator of the Rahway incinerator – to control the “public process” and “community involvement” (referred to as “local outreach”).

Get that? Covanta in control of informing the public!

7. DEP conducted their reviews of and approved the Trump EPA “research” in secret.

8. At the time this “research” was being considered by the DEP, the DEP also was reviewing the renewal of the Covanta air pollution permit, which was scheduled to expire on June 30, 2020. 

The “research” was not incorporated in the Covanta air permit and the community knew virtually nothing about DEP’s pending renewal of that permit.

II) Let me document the inconvenient facts not already documented by the media.

The Trump EPA’s objectives for conducting the “research” and the DEP role have been misrepresented my the media so badly as to suggest – absurdly –  that DEP was proactive and did the right thing by urging EPA to cancel the “research”.

When the story broke and the community was outraged, the DEP misrepresented the objectives of the EPA “research” and DEP’s support for it:

If the [EPA/Covanta] study shows that municipal incinerators are not effective at destroying PFAS, LaTourette said there would be new urgency to find new solutions to the trash problem. “If that is happening, we must know it and we must design the technology and the regulatory structure and the processes to stop it,” he said

Neither DEP or EPA were seeking to strictly regulate PFAS emissions from garbage incinerators or “stop it” (what scientifically precise language!). Just the opposite.

NJ DEP (and US EPA) have detailed technical regulatory requirements about waste incineration, including: characterizing the chemical composition of waste burned in garbage incinerators; monitoring the conditions and chemistry of combustion; and monitoring emissions from the stack. NJ DEP has expert experience and a rich history in this scientific and regulatory work, e.g. NJ DEP was one of the first, if not the first, to regulate mercury emissions from garbage incinerators.

But DEP did not conduct research and set those mercury emission standards in secret, behind the community’s back. The DEP Commissioner Scott Weiner created a Mercury Task Force (with public and ENGO members) and held numerous public hearings. Technically, DEP characterized the mercury content of municipal waste and analyzed stack emissions. They did not seek to inject mercury surrogates into the garbage incinerator.

If the EPA “research” was designed as Mr. Latourette describes (e.g. to improve public health protections and strictly regulate PFAS emissions), then the research design would have been very different and in accordance with NJ DEP requirements.

Mr. LaTourette surely knows this – as well as the EPA’s own briefing document which reveals the “research” objectives – which show that he its lying (or incompetent).

1. McCabe owns the Rahway/EPA/Covanta project. Period.

McCabe spent many years at EPA, including a stint as Acting EPA Administrator, so she knows exactly how EPA operates (DEP website bio):

She served at EPA from 2005 to 2017 as the Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (2005-2011); as a judge on EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (2011-2014); and as Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA’s Region 2 office in New York City (2014-2018). In 2017, she served as the Acting Administrator of EPA (January and February) and as Acting Regional Administrator of EPA Region 2.

McCabe surely knows – after over 100 regulatory rollbacks and a systematic massive attack on and denial of science – that the Trump EPA has a pro-corporate anti-regulatory agenda that completely ignores or denies science.

If McCabe is not aware of this reality then she is incompetent. If she is aware of it, her incompetence rises to malfeasance. Either way, she must resign.

Additionally – and very relevant – is the fact that McCabe is a longtime leader in a group called “ECOS”, for Environmental Council of The States. McCabe is EPA Region 2 representative (representing the states of NY & NJ and territory of Puerto Rico).

The reason that ECOS is key is because the EPA PFAS “research” was coordinated with States via the “Environmental Council of States” (ECOS).

According to EPA ECOS briefing documents (provided upon request), the EPA held a PFAS Bimonthly conference call with ECOS on April 27, 2020, titled: 

USEPA PFAS THERMAL TREATMENT & METHODS RESEARCH – OPPORTUNITIES FOR COLLABORATIVE INCINERATION FIELD TESTING

EPA’s objectives in this “research” was targeted at allowing local garbage incinerators to burn PFAS. EPA wrote:

Hazardous Waste Incinerators and cement kilns may well be effective, but what about Municipal Waste Combustors and Sewage Sludge Incinerators (lower temperatures)?

That EPA objective is scientifically absurd from the get go, because EPA knows that “lower temperatures” lead to “incomplete combustion” and the formation of highly toxic “products of incomplete combustion” (PICs).

EPA”s own PFAS Action Plan (Feb. 2020 Update) focuses on “high temperature incineration“, not the much lower temperatures present in garbage incinerators:

Treatment and Disposal Research

The agency also has numerous PFAS treatment and disposal research projects underway, including on high temperature incineration and other methods. The agency is collaborating with other federal partners, including the Department of Defense, on efforts to increase the agency’s understanding and availability of treatment technologies for PFAS, including analytical methods. Under the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2020, EPA will work to publish interim guidance on the destruction and disposal of PFAS within one year and publish revisions every three years after that.

The EPA’s real “problem” is driven by the facts that:

a) “Hazardous Waste Incinerators and cement kilns” are far more effective in PFAS “destruction and removal efficiency” (DRE), but they cost significantly more than garbage incinerators; and

b) PFAS are required to be managed as hazardous waste under current EPA regulations.

Trump EPA “friends” in the Pentagon and corporate polluters like Dupont have tons of PFAS wastes to dispose of and face billions of dollars in disposal costs if they are required to manage PFAS as hazardous waste under current EPA regulations. At the same time, other Trump EPA corporate friends that burn garbage, like Covanta, would profit from a huge new market in burning millions of tons of PFAS as their dinosaur garbage incinerators.

EPA’s ECOS call briefing reveals that the “research” is intended to “support” EPA regulatory programs (i.e.EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) and Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) and was paid for by and targeted at the Pentagon:

EPA ORD is supporting OAQPS and OLEM to provide incineration guidance as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Rollback of EPA’s hazardous waste management regulations to allow burning PFAS at garbage incinerators would be a twofer: it would provide billions in profits to corporate polluters like Covanta, while reducing billions of dollars in corporate polluter and Pentagon disposal costs.

The EPA regulatory objectives are made clear in there conference call to ECOS:

PFAS emission measurement methods are needed to inform regulatory decisions

EPA makes clear and states the regulatory objective multiple times in their ECOS briefing:

field characterization would help inform this process and provide a fundamental opportunity to better understand PFAS thermal treatment behavior in sources of regulatory interest.

Specifically, these tests would seek to:

  • • Investigate how well thermal disposal processes such as hazardous waste and solid waste incinerators work for PFAS waste.
  • Investigate whether surrogate Principal Organic Hazardous Constituents (e.g. CF4, C2F6) be used in emission tests to ensure PFAS compounds would be adequately destroyed. If so, what demonstrated Destruction and Removal Efficiency would be required?

The EPA ECOS PFAS initiative is led and coordinated by EPA. But it is NOT a science driven exercise, as demonstrated by EPA’s own briefing document and the fact that the EPA Office of Research and Development is coordinating the project with EPA’s regulatory programs.

DEP Commissioner McCabe knows all this – and more.

She owns it.

And for her betrayal, denial of responsibility, co-optation and manipulation of the EJ community, and outright lies, McCabe must resign.

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