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NJ Residents Are Still Drinking Rocket Fuel In Tap Water

Christie DEP Abandoned Proposed Standard For Perchlorate

Murphy DEP Still playing Russian roulette with the public’s health”

DEP Science Advisory Board Diverted Attention From That By Focusing On Trump EPA

NJ Spotlight reported today on important scientific work on the impacts of climate change on NJ’s coastal wetlands. The work was led by Rutgers University professor Judith Weiss, who Chairs the Murphy DEP Science Advisory Board (SAB). (we wrote about this 7 years ago, see “Ghost Trees”)

The reference to Professor Weiss and the DEP SAB sent me to the DEP SAB webpage, to read the study cited in the story. As I searched, I found a more interesting recent research Report by the SAB, which I will write about today.

While I am writing today on a different issue, I must make a few comments on today’s coastal wetlands story, first to note that it once again ignores the role of DEP regulations.

Perhaps worse, it absurdly implies that scarce Blue Acres funds be used to acquire wetlands.

The story also  essentially praises DEP Commissioner LaTourette’s “re-imagination” of Blue Acres and “managed retreat“.  This ridiculous unrelated paragraph is injected into the story, seemingly out of nowhere, to praise LaTourette:

LaTourette expanded upon his suggestion that changes could be on the way for the Blue Acres program in a recent interview with NJ Spotlight News. “The program needs to be reimagined,” LaTourette said. “New Jersey is going to have a wetter, more flooded future and making Blue Acres proactive is reflecting that reality.”

As I’ve written, DEP is denying the need for “managed retreat” and I’ve harshly criticized DEP Commissioner LaTourette’s “imagination” on that issue.

It is absurd to suggest Blue Acres as an approach to wetlands, because wetlands are regulated by DEP. DEP must strengthen those regulations to protect wetlands and limit future development, not modify them to accommodate even more destructive coastal development and dredging as suggested in the story.

For example, this is crazy:

If future development is conducted in nontraditional ways that avoid “coastal squeeze,” as the study’s authors put it, and instead allow for marsh migration pathways, the state’s wetlands might be sustained.

That approach might work for planning on where to remove current development to allow wetlands to migrate. But new development should be restricted by DEP regulations, not accommodated by “non-traditional ways” (whatever that means!).

And so is this absurd “solution” – not all “soft” non-engineering solutions make sense – which is designed to promote more dredging to benefit recreational boating:

“Soft” solutions, like the distribution of sediment dredged from navigational channels, which has been conducted in the back bay waters around the Wetlands Institute, to build up several rapidly eroding marsh islands, along with others presented in the study, represent the multi-pronged approach to sea level rise that both Tedesco and Weis say the state needs to take.

Finally, the focus of today’s Spotlight story (i.e. on DEP SAB and coastal wetlands) illustrates long-standing flaws in their news coverage.

For example, I frequently write about the DEP SAB, most recently, this:

I also sometimes write about wetlands, most recently this:

And I write about warehouse development and the need to preserve what’s left on NJ’s forests and farmland:

Of course, NJ Spotlight rarely if ever covers those kind of stories – it seems like they just don’t write about DEP regulations or any stories critical of DEP, or of donors (like PSE&G), or of powerful corporations (like Dupont).

Actually, they often write stories that give readers exactly the opposite story and impression that they should be getting, and find a way to twist the stories I write.

For example, writing a story about a Rutgers academic as Chair of DEP SAB (the first Spotlight coverage of the DEP SAB I am aware of) gives readers an impression of academic rigor, while downplaying and ignoring the corporate influence on DEP science that I write about.

Same problem with ignoring the PSE&G wetlands destruction approved by DEP, implying leadership by Commissioner LaTourette, and promoting development under the guise of protecting wetlands.

I don’t think this is just a coincidence, because it has happened so many times on so many issue and for years.

Now, to the topic of today’s post: rocket fuel in your drinking water: DEP “playing Russian roulette with the public’s health”

In scanning the SAB Reports, I noted that in August 2020, the DEP Science Advisory Board published a Report:

The chronology of scientific and regulatory developments documented in that Report is quite revealing. Follow:

The SAB Report was initiated in December 2019:

On December 24, 2019, the Public Health Standing Committee (hereafter referred to as the Committee) of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Science Advisory Board was charged with examining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA, 2019a) proposal for adopting a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for the chemical perchlorate.

Notice that the sole target was the Trump EPA proposal.

Not surprisingly – I won’t go into details (read the whole Report) – the DEP SAB Report was highly critical of the Trump EPA proposal as insufficiently protective of public health.

The SAB found:

The Committee concluded that perchlorate in drinking water is a significant health hazard, and that it should be regulated and an MCL is an appropriate tool. (p. 28)

In light of this SAB conclusion that perchlorate is a “significant health hazard” and that an MCL is warranted – considering that NJ DEP has legal authority to adopt an MCL and had previously proposed one back in 2009 – why would a legitimate DEP science investigation designed to protect public health target exclusively the Trump EPA?

Why would a legitimate SAB review ignore the fact that back in 2009, the outgoing Corzine DEP proposed a drinking water standard (MCL) for the chemical perchlorate, which is actually found in, among other things, rocket fuel (thus the title of this post).

Obviously, Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe was playing political games, pointing the finger at the Trump EPA, and diverting from her own failure to act. And the scientists on the SAB went right along with that corrupt game.

McCabe issued the “charge question” to the SAB and she limited their review to EPA, thereby intentionally excluding the DEP’s prior 2009 MCL proposal and, by definition, obscuring her own failure to act. Repeat: the scientists on the SAB went right along with that corrupt game.

This could not have been an accident, because McCabe dissembled on the MCL issue during her Senate Confirmation hearing (a misleading abuse I protested at the time in a letter to Senate Environment Committee Chair Bob Smith (see point #2).

Prior to Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe’s testimony, I specifically flagged the issue and requested that the Senate ask McCabe:

23. Will the Murphy DEP revive and adopt drinking water MCL for perchlorate proposed by the Corzine DEP and killed by the Christie DEP, as well as 14 other hazardous drinking water contaminants previously recommended by the Drinking Water Quality Institute?  ~~~ See:

So let’s get back to the regulatory history, because it is relevant to where we are today.

Before the Corzine 2009 DEP perchlorate MCL proposal could be adopted, in 2010 the incoming Christie Administration imposed a moratorium on regulations and then Christie DEP Commissioner Martin killed the Corzine proposal.

The Christie DEP was harshly and visibly criticized for this irresponsible action. Harsh criticism came from all quarters, including negative media news coverage, editorials, environmentalists, and legislators, see.

A huge part of the 2010 Christie controversy focused on the relationship between EPA and DEP responsibility to regulate perchlorate. Christie DEP Commissioner Martin justified his killing of the Corzine DEP proposal by falsely claiming that EPA would soon regulate perchlorate, a lie that I exposed and wrote about at the time, see:

My claim was validated by a killer 4/25/10 Bergen Record story and an April 30, 2010 highly critical editorial titled “Cleaner Water”. The Bergen Record editorial hammered Martin’s lie:

Cleaner water 

[DEP Commissioner] 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.

Let that sink in: the Bergen Record editorial board [correctly] accused the Christie DEP of “playing Russian roulette with the public’s health”

Here’s how Commissioner McCabe’s directed SAB Report whitewashed all this, without even mentioning the prior DEP proposed MCL, which the DEP Commissioner McCabe’s “charge question” intentionally ignored:

On June 18, 2020, as the Committee was finalizing its report, EPA announced its decision not to regulate perchlorate in drinking water. While this possibility was included as an alternative in the EPA’s proposal, NJDEP’s charge questions did not ask the Committee to evaluate this issue and the committee proceeded under the assumption that regulation of perchlorate in drinking water is protective of public health.[…]

The Committee was not charged with recommending an MCL and did not quantitatively evaluate occurrence data. The Committee concluded that EPA should not have abandoned the regulation of perchlorate in drinking water.

You have to get all the way to the small font fine print of a complex spreadsheet on page 38 of Appendix 1 to even find mention of the DEP’s 2009 MCL proposal. It was buried there so few could find that crucial fact. That’s a classic whitewash technique.

So here’s a “charge question” for the SAB: should the Christie NJ DEP have abandoned its own proposed State MCL? Should the current Murphy NJ DEP propose an MCL?

A decade later, while DEP is still “playing Russian roulette with the public’s health“, the dispute re-emerged in the news – a one day story that has since fallen off the radar again – in a May 2020 story by NJ Spotlight:

So, here we are, over a decade after the Corzine DEP proposed an MCL and the Christie DEP killed that proposal, and current DEP Commissioner LaTourette is still “playing Russian roulette with the public’s health“.

But where are the media, environmental groups Democrats and SAB members who were so critical of the Christie Administration and the Trump EPA?

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