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Blowing Toxic Smoke On Brownfields – What You Don’t Know Can Kill You

Once Again, Murphy Administration Elevates Economic Development Above Environmental Protection

Once Again, NJ Spotlight Not Only Gives Them A Pass, But Cheerleads For It

NJ Toxic Site Cleanups Are Privatized And Exempt From “Historic” Environmental Justice Law

The view from Paulsboro High School. Would you want you kid to attend this school?

The view from Paulsboro High School. Would you want your kid to attend this school?

Once again, the Murphy administration has launched an initiative that allocates resources, subsidizes, and elevates private economic development interests above protection of public health and the environment.

NJ Spotlight today reports that the Murphy DEP, Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Department of Community Affairs (DCA) have created a program designed to promote economic development of toxic sites, see:

The story is highly misleading, starting from the title (and using a photo from Paulsboro is visually misrepresenting the story too. I somehow don’t think that’s an accident, as I recently used Paulsboro as an illustration of exactly the opposite narrative that NJ Spotlight writes).

First, these are not “neglected sites” – they are toxic waste sites.

Second, you can’t redevelop a toxic site until the site is cleaned up.

Third there are many important issues that are totally ignored or grossly misrepresented.

Let’s start by asking a basic question:

1. Why is DEP allocating expert staff time, using sophisticated GIS systems, and spending public money to inventory and create maps of toxic sites designed to provide important information to investors and developers, when there are many people who live nearby that are not provided similar maps and information and know virtually nothing about risks to their health or property values?

NJ Spotlight cheerleads that:

The sites are identified in a new layer of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping application.

But they fail to report on all the critical information DEP buries from public awareness and provides no public GIS maps or public information or promotional programs for, see:

Here’s another basic question:

2. Why, 45 years after the 1976 passage of NJ’s Spill Act (the NJ State toxic site cleanup law that preceded and was a model for the 1980 federal Superfund law), are there over 500 sites that have not been cleaned up yet? And why hasn’t DEP taken effective enforcement action to force cleanup?

Instead of framing it that way, NJ Spotlight feeds us this crap:

Many industrial sites have lain fallow for years because their owners have not had the funds to clean them up and return them to productive use, said Elizabeth Limbrick, the EDA’s director of Brownfields and Sustainable Systems.

“Lain fallow”? Are you kidding me? An agricultural field lies fallow, not a toxic waste site.

[Full disclosure and admission: sadly, I had a role in making this problem worse. I was a member of Senator McNamara’s Stakeholder group that drafted the 1997 Brownfields Act. That was one of the biggest mistakes in my career. Where was Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette back then? Was he even in high school yet?]

Here is another basic question:

3. Why is DEP subsidizing basic “due diligence” and market research work for private real estate firms and development corporations, work required for traditional land assembly?

DEP is not a real estate agency or development firm.

Why are there no DEP subsidies for communities or activists who work in the public interest to force corporations to cleanup their toxic mess? No information, no GIS maps, no DEP staff support, and no money for public interest work (I know that first hand).

In addition to failing to even consider these kind of basic public policy questions, the story actively misleads readers by both not including critical information about gaping loopholes in NJ laws and using DEP spin to cover up those flaws.

Very few people know that the cleanup of toxic sites in NJ was privatized by the legislature.

As a result, people have virtually no knowledge of or any role in the cleanup of these toxic sites – including such basic due process rights like being able to review and comment on proposed cleanup plans through the normal public notice and comment process.

A homeowner installing a deck, swimming pool, or small addition provides more public notice and opportunity for comment to the community than the cleanup of a toxic waste site by Dupont.

Just let that sink in. You have more power and influence and are provided more opportunity to review and comment on your neighbor’s deck construction or landscaping than a corporation conducting a toxic site cleanup across the street (including groundwater and subsurface chemical “vapors” that could be migrating into you basement or drinking water well).

But there is a double wammy in shutting out the public from the toxic site cleanup process.

Very few people know that the cleanup of toxic sites was explicitly exempted from the recent “groundbreaking” “historic” environmental justice law.

That means that poor and minority communities that are overburdened by pollution and the location of the majority of these toxic site have no role in their cleanup.

That means that the cleanups are not reviewed by DEP under the stricter standards of the environmental justice law.

But NJ Spotlight not only ignores these massive flaws – they actually cover them up, with this misleading garbage:

By creating a central inventory of the 513 sites, officials hope they will encourage investors, developers, and local officials to redevelop the sites and return them to productive use. They are located in 12 poor cities that belong to the state’s Community Collaborative Initiative, an existing program that aims to coordinate environmental cleanup, community revitalization and efforts to improve public health.

That misleads readers into thinking the the voluntary. Community Collaborative Initiative is equivalent to and a substitute for the DEP oversight of the toxic site cleanup program and the local community’s ability to participate in environmental justice law reviews.

There is no way the Community Collaborative Initiative closes those loopholes and exemptions in the EJ law or can fix the problems created by privatization of NJ’s toxic site cleanup laws.

This initiative makes it obvious that the Murphy administration is far more interested in the economic interest of investors and developers, as opposed to the public health and environmental quality of the people living in communities that are burdened by these toxic sites.

And it is shameful that NJ Spotlight covers all that up and instead cheerleads for it.

[End Note: This program is another illustration of what I recently wrote – add it to this list:

At DEP, Gov. Christie’s DEP Commissioner Bob Martin’s “customer service” initiative has become full on “Corporate service”.

The big developers and corporate polluters are given full access to DEP staff via a panoply of administrative procedures, from secret permit pre-application conferences, to ongoing meetings and communications on permit applications, to “Dispute Resolution” procedures to negotiate  things like enforcement fines, natural resource damage assessments and compensation, and “grace periods”.

Corporate interests also get undue access by representation on DEP’s Science Advisory Board.

Corporate interests dominate DEP “Stakeholder” processes.

Corporate lawyers and engineers dominate and even draft DEP “Technical Manuals” and “Best Management Practices” BMP guidelines or issuing permits (they literally write their own ticket).

Corporate polluters, via permit fees, fund DEP staff salaries: so, as the say, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

“Polluter Pays” has become “Polluters Invest and Own”

Across the board, DEP has gone way beyond “corporate capture” and has become a corporate service agency.

(and how could we forget that the current DEP Commissioner is a former corporate lawyer!)

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