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On Performative Stunts, Misinformation, Political Cover, And Grifting

August 30th, 2022 No comments

Delaware River “Activists” and NJ Spotlight Mislead Readers On Risks Of Eating Fish

While Stunt Celebrates Self Serving Federal Funding, It Ignores Regulatory Reality

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This is all part of a broad toxification of the environmental movement, which has taken a regressive turn toward collaboration with big business, wealthy donors and corporate-backed foundations. Green groups that embrace market-based initiatives, rather than stand up for sensible regulation and strict enforcement of environmental laws, are the ones that get lavish funding. ~~~ Christopher Ketcham, The Daily Beast

[Update below]

It’s hard to know where to begin to respond to today’s NJ Spotlight story on the Delaware River “Floatopia” event, see:

But let me begin by making it absolutely clear that I support political stunts. They can be great tactics to draw attention to problems and solutions, organize and expand the number of activists, and hold polluters and government regulators accountable.

But to be effective in making positive change, they need to focus on and leverage policy reality by targeting the sources of power and decision-making and making specific demands. They must avoid being an outlet for individual self expression, mis-focused attention, diversion that provides political cover, and grifting.

Unfortunately, the Delaware River “Floatopia” falls into the later category.

1. Here’s the misinformation:

Worse, it irresponsibly even generated misinformation about the safety of eating fish from the river:

Lion James, a fisherman and supporter of river-advocacy groups including Upstream Alliance, said he regularly eats catfish he catches in the river, and wants to spread the word that the river is a lot cleaner than it once was.

“It’s definitely clearer, there’s way less debris than I’ve seen in this water in the past,” said James, while fishing from his kayak away from the main Floatopia raft. “It doesn’t smell, and there’s less trash in the park. As an outdoorsman and a water sports enthusiast, you notice when a waterway is cleaner than it was before. You can always use this water as a metaphor for your backyard, so treat it like you would your own property.”

Still, he limits his consumption of freshwater fish because of lingering concerns about mercury. “This water has been cleaned up quite a bit so that eating the fish out of here, in moderation, it’s fine,” he said.

No, it is definitely not “fine” to “eat fish in moderation”. (see table above)

And the chemicals of concern and risks are not limited to “mercury”. (see below)

Not mentioned in the Spotlight story, here are the most recent (2021) NJ DEP fish consumption advisories (the table above for the lower Delaware is found on page 17):

However, certain fish may contain contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, mercury, and other contaminants from the water they live in and the food they eat. Contaminants such as dioxin and PCBs are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as probable cancer-causing substances in humans. Elevated levels of mercury can pose health risks to the human nervous system, particularly to developing fetuses. Therefore, it is a good idea to follow a few precautions in consuming recreationally caught fish and crabs, particularly if you eat them often.

The DEP advisories ignore hundreds of other chemicals, including unregulated toxic chemicals and endocrine disruptors. So, the real public health risks are even worse than DEP warns.

[Update: a reader expands:

There is a flaw on fish advisorys they use 1 in 100,000 cancer risk and not 1 in a Million. ~~]

[CORRECTION: Just checked. It’s even worse than our reader noted – see page 4, individual cancer risk level is 1 in 10,000! That’s 100 times higher than the Legislative cancer risk standard of 1 in a million for drinking water:

This means that one additional cancer may occur in 10,000 people eating fish at the advisory level for a lifetime.

Of course, ignoring these toxic risks let’s industrial and sewer plant polluters and DEP regulators off the hook.

There are also bacteria public health issues – portions of the river fail to meet water quality standards for direct contact recreation – that are misrepresented, which not only fails to warn the public but invites unsafe swimming:

“It’s important for our community to understand what a great resource this is,” said Camden Mayor Victor Carstarphen, in a shoreline interview. “Not a lot of folks know that you can swim here at certain times of the year.”

So, misinformation also diverts attention from real problems and real solutions.

2. Here’s the political cover:

Baugh said some of the federal money that’s newly available for improvements in infrastructure and pandemic relief should be used to fix or replace the combined sewer overflows, which continue to overflow into waterways and even streets in communities including Camden and Philadelphia. (NJ Spotlight)

Yes, CSO’s are a major problem. But, in addition to “federal money”, there is federal EPA and State DEP regulatory power that goes unmentioned.

So, what are DEP regulators doing about that with their regulatory powers? They are weakening clean water standards and issuing toothless CSO permits!

It is revealing that there is no Foundation or government funded events and activism on those issues. That fact tells you all you really need to know.

Mr. Baugh is well meaning (although it appears he runs an organization that relies on Baugh family nepotism), but he doesn’t seem to know anything about regulations, like the toothless DEP CSO permits and a recent DEP “variance” proposal that would create a new giant loophole in clean water standards that apply to the Delaware River, thus letting polluters off the hook.

All these Foundation and government funded astro-turfed stunts and events and campaigns and even organizations are actually serving the interests of corporate polluters and providing cover and protecting political officials and regulators.

3. And here’s the grift:

“For the last 12 months there has been a flood of federal dollars flowing to the states that we think should be available to help solve some of these problems,” said Don Baugh, president of Upstream Alliance, a nonprofit that organizes the event. “There’s never been more federal monies available; we’ve never had an opportunity like this before.

The “partners” for this project are beneficiaries of huge federal funds and Foundation grants –

Wm. Penn Foundation alone has invested $100 million in the Delaware River watershed.

They promote non-regulatory, voluntary, local, and market based initiatives: (Delaware River watershed)

The DRWI was designed and launched in the absence of any state or federally mandated watershed-wide requirement for restoration or protection of water quality. It is an NGO-led watershed protection program driven by the cumulative effort, strategic thinking, and vision of over 50 organizations…

And they openly acknowledge the top down Foundation money driven astro-turf nature of that initiative and its limited focus to non-point pollution (intentionally letting regulators and major corporate “point source” polluters off the hook) Delaware River watershed:

While the DRWI was conceived and designed in partnership with others as a William Penn Foundation grantmaking strategy, our hope is that, through the process of building and refining the Initiative with the input of dozens of participants and stakeholders, there is a framework of relationships and practice that will endure beyond our grantmaking that can methodically address nonpoint source pollution over time.

These groups lobby for federal funding for themselves:

Delaware-Watershed-Conservation-Fund-Grantees

36 Delaware Watershed Conservation Fund awards totaling $14 million, which includes $4.9 million in funds made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Of the 36 new or continuing conservation and restoration projects, thirteen will be completed by nine members of Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed.

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All these groups focus on is the money.

And the Mayor of Camden agrees: (NJ Spotlight)

“It’s important for our community to understand what a great resource this is,” said Camden Mayor Victor Carstarphen, in a shoreline interview. “Not a lot of folks know that you can swim here at certain times of the year. One of my jobs is to get more funding for cleaning up our waterways so that all the time, the river can be a resource for our community.”

I want to make it clear that there’s no problem in seeking funding for cleaning up waterways – take a look at the correct way to do so, by integrating infrastructure funding with the regulatory implementation of the Clean Water Act.

But when those efforts are done in a way that intentionally ignores major problems; ignores regulatory solutions; diverts public, activist, and media attention; misinforms the public; and funds ineffective voluntary solutions and non-profit grifters; then there is.

End Notes:

1. I don’t know if Dupont still funds organizations not to work on issues involving the toxic messes they’ve created: see the Orwellian named “Clear Into The Future”

The world’s largest toxic corporate polluter, Dupont, also funds a Delaware Estuary program – with the Orwellian title “Clear Into The Future” – and a group mentioned in the NJ Spotlightcoverage.  Of course, Dupont does not fund science and regulation to hold them accountable for the toxic pollution of the river and bay.

2. These groups don’t do real local organizing and regulatory work, but they like to play the EJ card, see:

3. Here’s another example of where elite Foundation funding, corporate interests, and “green” groups form a coalition that effectively promotes privatization and subsidies, while ignoring regulation and marginalizing critics and activists:

[Update: 9/2/22 – A fine and relevant excerpt from Jeffrey St. Clair’s column today:

a march or a demonstration of popular feeling amounts to “little more than an orgy of democratic emotion, an activist-themed street fair, a real-world analogue to Twitter hashtag campaigns: something that gives you a nice feeling, says you belong in a certain group, and is completely divorced from actual legislation and governance.” In other words, the public sphere, where politics is performed, has been largely emptied of content in terms of the exercise of power: as with fiction, it has become a forum for secular testimony, a baring-of-the-soul in the world-as-church. Politics as thus practiced is primarily an exercise in personal expressiveness.” (Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable)

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Years of Talking Dangerously

August 29th, 2022 No comments

Echoes From Polar Opposite Perspectives

Veritatem dies aperit

I got a kick out of the red hot quote from Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette in today’s NJ Spotlight story, where he basically called business lobbyists liars:

DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette rejected the business community’s objections to the proposed rule when he spoke to state lawmakers on Aug. 11. “We have to modernize our flood standards. We cannot accept developers telling falsehoods and running around with their hair on fire because DEP wants to change a rule,” he said.

(the last DEP Commissioner I recall that got into a public pissing match in the media with the NJ Builders Assc. was Brad “Big Map” Campbell, and that didn’t turn out too well. But at least Campbell backed up his words with regulatory action.)

DEP Commissioner LaTourette talks a good game – I emphasize, he talks. And talks. And Talks. And Tweets – he’s the first DEP Twitter in Chief! And he Zooms (using a ridiculous selfie-background). And issues the usual over the top spun DEP press releases (and gaslights gullible EJ advocates). But sometimes LaTourette is humiliated and is forced to walk back his talk.

But thus far, no action. As in “all talk, no action“.

Aside from the “falsehoods” he accused those developers of – and they were legally correct in their criticism of LaTourette’s “emergency rule” idea) – I heard an echo of that same “hair on fire” metaphor that I myself used, but from a completely different perspective.

I used that phrase during an interview in the award winning 2014 Showtime and National Geographic documentary “Years of Living Dangerously” – Episode 5  – which focused on Superstorm Sandy and Gov. Christie’s failed response.

Episode 5 of the documentary compares NJ Gov. Christie’s response to Superstorm Sandy with Washington State Gov. Inslee’s climate policies and NY Gov. Cuomo actions post Sandy.

My interview provided harsh criticism, and I spoke about how prior warnings from DEP experts were ignored and how Gov. Christie and his DEP Commissioner Bob Martin had dismantled existing climate programs (watch, staring at time 40:06 – 42:35):

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Mark Bittman: Were those warnings becoming shriller, more harsh, more worrisome than they were  20, 30, 40 years ago?

Bill Wolfe: Absolutely. It was almost as if the planners were running around with their hair on fire.

Folks might want to watch that whole Episode for historical context.

Because while some may be running around with their hair on fire, nothing real is being done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or adapt to climate chaos.

PS – and environmentalists are again dead wrong to support an emergency rulemaking procedure.

As I warned, that is a failure by design that will set back efforts another decade.

And what’s left of my hair is on fire.

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Dead Vultures In The Woods Of Jersey Reveal Dark Secrets

August 28th, 2022 No comments

The Letter “Z” Is For “Zoonotic”

A Wall Street Vulture Funds DEP Staff Junkets And DEP Logging

But No Money To Clean Up Infectious Dead Birds

A zoonosis (zoonotic disease or zoonoses -plural) is an infectious disease that is transmitted between species from animals to humans.

[Update: 8/29/22 – Bob Hennelly does some good accountability journalism, see:

NJ media reports that over 100 dead vultures are rotting in the forests of northwest NJ, but DEP lacks adequate staff to dispose of their carcasses so they are being left to rot – and infect other birds and wildlife:

The DEP is aware of over 100 black vulture deaths that have been occurring since early August off the Sussex Branch Trail in Lafayette, Sussex County, New Jersey. USDA has confirmed the cause as Avian Influenza (bird flu).

This is a phenomenon that has been observed in many states along the East Coast. Black vultures are seemingly very susceptible to Avian Influenza, and they tend to scavenge the carcasses of dead vultures, which can prolong the duration of a local outbreak such as the one being seen in Sussex County. The birds have been left to decompose on site due to rough terrain causing accessibility issues and a lack of personnel in the State certified to handle infected birds. Improper handling can lead to further spread of disease.

The risk of avian influenza being transmitted to people is extremely low. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture and NJ DEP Fish and Wildlife are monitoring the situation.

As a result, it appears that the DEP has closed the Sussex Branch Trail  – I assume due to disease risks.

But don’t you feel comforted knowing that some unidentified source (likely DEP) claims – with no supporting facts or science – that the risk of transmission to humans is “extremely low” and that DEP is “monitoring the situation”?

But that risk may not in fact be “extremely low”, depending on the specific virus involved (COVID has shown just how quickly virus’ can mutate, and the dead bird carcasses and spread to other wildlife provides a larger “reservoir” of virus that will accelerate the rate of mutation):

Avian influenza viruses can cause infection in birds and humans.The classification of avian influenza viruses as ‘low pathogenic’ or ‘highly pathogenic’  is defined either by the composition of the cleavage site in the haemagglutinin (HA) gene or by the intravenous pathogenicity index in six-week old chickens in accordance with the criteria listed in Council Directive 2005/94/EC and the OIE International Health Standards. Highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses (HPAIV) cause high mortality in infected chicken, while low pathogenic viruses (LPAIV) result in mild disease or asymptomatic infection.

Bird flu is caused by a type of influenza virus that rarely infects humans. More than a dozen types of bird flu have been identified, including the two strains that have most recently infected humans — H5N1 and H7N9. When bird flu does strike humans, it can be deadly.

Regardless of the risk of transmission to humans, here’s a suggestion: the DEP bureaucrats in Trenton should get off their asses and out in the “rough terrain” woods and dispose of the infectious dead carcasses.

The DEP Division of Fish and Wildlife has plenty of staff available to work to promote hunting and logging of State lands, including nearby Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area.

Maybe nearby Wall Street Vulture billionaire Peter Kellogg, who provided $4,850 per head to several DEP managers and staff to attend a weeklong junket and $330,000 to NJ Audubon to prepare a plan to log nearby Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area could cough up the dough to bury the dead birds.

I mean, Kellogg’s buddies at NJ Audubon care about the birds, right?

It is possible they could infect the birds his elite hunters slaughter at his Hudson Farm hunting grounds. We can’t have that! Those birds must be shot! (not killed by a virus!)

Maybe Kellogg could reciprocate for the environmental excellence award he was given by NJ Gov. Murphy – another Wall Street Vulture.

Seriously, the DEP’s problems here stem from the interaction of several factors that are now exposed by these dead birds. Let’s break that down:

1) There have been decades long bi-partisan State budget cuts and underfunding of the DEP, particularly in natural resource and scientific functions. This implements the right wing anti-government corporate agenda of “starve the beast” and make government small enough to “drown in the bathtub”.

2) DEP has adjusted to these budget cuts by laying off staff (downsizing) and shifting from reliance on Legislative appropriations to reliance on permit fees, under the guise of  a “polluter pay” policy. This slogan has masked the horrible impacts of shifting funding sources.

3) As a result, the only programs at DEP that are adequately funded are the permit programs, where DEP collects permit fees to fund the programs.

4) The shift in funding under “polluter pays” creates two really bad results:

a) the permit programs are captured by corporate polluters (who pay the permit fees) and they crank out permit approvals in 99% of permit applications;

b) the non-permit functions at DEP are starved for resources and staff, including science and natural resource activities that don’t serve permit programs.

5) This dynamic has forced the natural resource programs to emulate the permit programs and expand reliance on funds from user groups, like hunters, fishermen and logging.

6) In turn, this reliance on user group funding produces the same results as the polluters’ capture of the permit programs – the hunters and anglers and loggers who fund DEP staff determine policy and priorities in managing public lands and natural resources.

7) Finally, the DEP managers who have overseen this corruption of DEP are so immersed in it and captured that they’ve lost sight of true public interests and they have sold out their duty to manage “public trust” resources.

And all these secrets are now exposed by 100 dead black vultures.

But only if people, the NJ media and Trenton policymakers open their eyes.

[End Notes:

Laurie Garrett’s 1994 book The Coming Plague predicted the current zoonotic viral climate disaster.

Looks like the USDA takes the avian flu disease issues seriously.]

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Groundhog Day: Chemical Industry Lobbying Forced NJ DEP To Abandon Proposed Water Quality Standards For PCB’s And Other Toxic Chemicals

August 26th, 2022 No comments

Murphy DEP Bowed To Same Political Pressure In Current Proposed “Variance” Loophole

Monsanto Is Not The Only One Flat Out Lying About PCB’s

Smoking Gun Industry And DEP Documents Expose Corruption

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(Source: NJ Chemistry Council Powerpoint Presentation To NJ DEP On Proposed Water Quality Standards For Toxic Chemicals PCBs, Mercury & DDT. These standards were known as “wildlife criteria”. Links to documents provided in text below.)

This post drills down to better explain my initial post on the Murphy DEP’s proposed “variance” loophole,  see:

Today’s post provides some relevant history of DEP’s failed attempts, back in 2002, to regulate PCB’s and later to propose a “variance” loophole.

It then links that history to the current DEP proposed “variance” loophole and to the recent DEP PCB lawsuit against Monsanto.

The chart above is from a powerpoint presentation to the DEP by the chemical industry, sewer authorities, and NJ business community on DEP’s 2002 proposed water quality standards that would have set strict limits on industry and sewer plant discharge of the toxic chemicals PCB’s, mercury and DDT. These standards were known as “wildlife criteria”.

There are two highly revealing points the industry makes in that chart that are directly relevant today:

1) the industry is explicitly opposing a DEP regulatory proposal to establish strict water quality standards for PCBs and other toxic chemicals due to the costs of compliance with them; and

2) the industry is explicitly threatening to seek “variances” (i.e. a loophole) to avoid the costs of complying with those strict standards.

Importantly, the Clean Water Act does not allow consideration of costs in developing water quality standards, which are required to be based exclusively on the best available science. According to EPA: 

  • Criteria must be based on sound scientific rationale.
  • Factors such as technological feasibility, social and economic costs, and the benefits of achieving criteria levels are not considered in criteria development.

The Act also provides authority to State’s to set more stringent standards than federal minimums:

As recognized by section 510 of the Clean Water Act, States may develop water quality standards more stringent than required by this regulation.

This industry powerpoint presentation – made in a secret meting with DEP managers – was successful. The DEP abandoned the 2002 proposed regulation (see smoking gun DEP email and this followup smoking gun DEP “Hot Issues” briefing memo to Commissioner Campbell.

We disclosed not only this industry powerpoint presentation, but a smoking gun letter from the chemical industry to the DEP that documented a private meeting with the DEP Commissioner and thanked DEP for abandoning those costly regulatory standards.

(Full disclosure: I was employed by DEP at this time as an advisor to DEP Commissioner Campbell and initially was the manager of the DEP workgroup that drafted the rule proposal, which was proposed with the DEP’s first round of “Category One” stream upgrades. That’s how I got these astonishing smoking gun documents.)

At the time, we released these smoking gun documents publicly, along with EPA letter to DEP and US Fish and Wildlife Biological Opinion documents, but they were largely ignored by NJ media and lame environmental groups, see:

Trenton — Abandoning a standard nearly ten years in the making, the
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has quietly walked away
from proposed reductions in the discharge of mercury, PCBs and DDT into the
state’s waterways, according to documents released today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The abandoned standards were designed
to protect the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and other river-dependent species
from the effects of toxic buildup.

Due to industry opposition, DEP has dragged its feet in ratcheting down water
pollution discharges, despite repeated entreaties from federal agencies and
strong support from DEP’s own scientists:

  • In a June 26, 1996 Biological Opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    found that New Jersey’s surface water quality standards would not protect
    bald eagle and peregrine falcon populations from bioaccumulation of mercury,
    PCBs and the pesticide DDT. As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection
    Agency directed DEP to develop new wildlife criteria to minimize adverse effects
    on species federally listed as threatened or endangered;

Internal DEP emails and memos reveal that Commissioner Bradley Campbell’s
personal off the record meeting with chemical industry lobbyists doomed the
standards initially proposed by the DEP in November 2002. That proposal was
allowed to expire. But instead or re-proposing the standards, DEP has been working
behind-the-scenes with the chemical industry on a “variance” loophole
that would shield polluters from the toxic standards in the event that the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency federally imposed the proposed standards on
New Jersey. The DEP’s original proposal did not include the variance loophole.

Trenton — New Jersey’s latest stab at water quality standards does not pass federal muster because it leaves bald eagle, peregrine falcon, freshwater mussels and other aquatic life vulnerable to the effects of mercury, the pesticide DDT and the toxic effects of PCB’s, according to formal comments filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition to the recently proposed Murphy DEP variance, this history is directly relevant to DEP’s recently announced lawsuit against Monsanto for damage caused by PCBs.

Although the DEP lawsuit against Monsanto outlines the scientific and regulatory history going back to the late 1930’s, not surprisingly, the Murphy DEP omits the above directly relevant scientific and regulatory history from the legal complaint against Monsanto on PCBs and omits it from the regulatory variance proposal.

 The industry and DEP smoking gun documents are relevant today because:

1) the Murphy DEP just proposed to expand the same “variance” (i.e.”regulatory relief”, or loophole) that the chemical industry threaten to use to avoid compliance with DEP’s water quality standards for toxic chemicals including PCB’s (if adopted and finalized) (read the DEP proposal); and

2) the Murphy DEP and AG just announced a lawsuit against Monsanto on the damage caused by PCB’s, in which they flat out lie in the legal complaint.

In the Monsanto legal complaint, the DEP makes this extraordinary claim, which is not only false, but a flat out lie.

First, DEP claims that they were misled by Monsanto: (@p.2-3)

2.  [….] For decades, Old Monsanto knew that its commercial PCB formulations were highly toxic and would inevitably produce precisely the contamination and human health risks that have occurred. Yet Old Monsanto misled the public, regulators, and its own customers about these key facts, maintaining that its PCB formulations were safe, were not environmentally hazardous, and did not require any special precautions for use or disposal.

Second, DEP claims that had they known that PCB’s were so toxic, that they would have done something to protect human health and the environment:

271. Had the State been warned about the likelihood of contamination of its natural resources with PCBs, it would have taken steps to limit, restrict, prevent, or control such contamination.

“The State”, specifically the DEP, was warned by scientists – including EPA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service – and they knew “about the likelihood of contamination of its natural resources with PCBs” decades ago.

In a 1996 formal Biological Opinion, USFWS also criticized DEP water quality stands for failure to protect wildlife. EPA relied on this BO to direct the DEP to upgrade State water quality standards. USFWS blasted DEP for their failure to adopt protective standards (e.g. see USFWS 2007 comments on DEP proposed water quality standards:

The ongoing national criteria consultation referred to above pertains to all listed species, both wildlife as well as aquatic life and additionally includes the National marine Fisheries Service as a federal participant. Our agencies jointly developed protective  Wildlife Criteria for DDT, PCBs and mercury that were to be implemented as part of the Biological Opinion’s Terms and Conditions. Staff from the Service, USEPA, and NJDEP worked together closely in the derivation of the wildlife criteria and agreed that the end product, a set of three protective and defensive criteria based on the best and most appropriate science available, should be adopted by the state.

These criteria, derived on Buchanan et al (2001) have not been implemented by the State of New Jersey and have not been promulgated by USEPA. The NJDEP should address this protection deficiency, since existing numerous State of New Jersey Water Quality Standards remain unprotective for mercury and DDT. Total PCB criteria adopted in 2006 have closed the gap from previously unprotective criteria,…. attainment of New Jerseys PCB standard is stalled  due to implementation issues that need clear and decisive resolution, regardless of the actual numeric criteria.

Based on these scientific warnings, the DEP proposed strict water quality standards explicitly designed to protect wildlife from PCB’s and other toxic chemicals.

But the DEP abandoned those proposed standards as a result on industry pressure.

The DEP is flat out lying (by material omission) and denying the full scientific and regulatory history about what they knew, when they knew it, and what they did or didn’t do with the knowledge.

And, aside from the half truths and flat out lies, the following DEP claims especially disgust me, because this is exactly why the DEP prosed strict water quality standards back in 2002:

9. On a statewide basis, Monsanto’s PCBs have caused significant, long-term damage to New Jersey surface waters, sediments, ground water, fish and other aquatic life, birds and other wildlife, soils, and air. Hundreds of waterbodies covering over 6,000 river miles and over 14,000 lake acres, as well as over 400 square miles of bays and estuaries, are known to be impaired due to PCB contamination.

10. Defendants’ responsibility for such statewide contamination is punctuated by Old Monsanto’s longstanding practice of recommending that its customers dispose of liquid PCB wastes directly into sewers despite knowing that this would directly introduce PCBs into surface waters. Old Monsanto also urged customers to vent PCB vapors to the atmosphere despite knowing that this would directly introduce PCBs into air, soils, and surface waters.

11. In addition, Defendants owned, operated, or oversaw activities at the Bridgeport Site, where Old Monsanto used PCBs as part of its manufacturing operations. As a result of Defendants’ practices at the Bridgeport Site, important New Jersey natural resources near the Bridgeport Site have been damaged. Such damage includes contamination and pollution of surface waters (such as the Delaware River and Birch Creek), fish and other aquatic life, birds and other wildlife, ground water, sediments, soils, and air in the vicinity of the Site. These resources are contaminated by PCBs, as well as by pollutants such as benzene and chlorobenzene, toluene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and many others. […]

60. New Jersey’s ecosystems, however, are vulnerable to pollution, degradation, and destruction from the discharge of hazardous substances, contaminants, and pollutants. Contamination from the discharge of hazardous substances, contaminants, and pollutants is one of the major causes of biodiversity loss in New Jersey. {…]

104. In addition to being highly toxic to humans, Monsanto’s commercial PCB mixtures are highly toxic to fish and wildlife.

The following DEP legal claim is galling, in light of the fact that, way back in 1996, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a Biological Opinion that found that NJ DEP’s surface water quality standards were lax and did not protect fish and wildlife from PCB’s:

141. The Committee worked to formulate a response to growing concerns over PCBs, including those reflected by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (which found PCBs in dead eagles and marine birds)

Finally, to the sophisticated reader, DEP implicitly admits that abandoned PCB water quality standards in this legal claim about the cost and need for a “variance” from strict “point source controls”:

196. As the [DEP] Integrated Report notes, “Bioaccumulative toxic pollutants are the cause of fish consumption use impairment; however, many of these pollutants, such as PCB and DDT and its metabolites, are no longer manufactured and are considered ‘legacy’ pollutants for which point source controls . . . are not effective restoration strategies.”

That is exactly what the chemical industry successfully argued back in 2003 in the chart above.

And that is why the Murphy DEP just proposed a “variance” loophole from strict “point source controls”.

Importantly, the “variance” would also allow polluters to avoid compliance with the “TMDL” program DEP highlights in paragraphs 210-216 of the Monsanto legal complaint.

So there you have it.

It’s Groundhog Day In Chinatown, Jake!

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Ethics Complaint Filed Against Murphy DEP Assistant Commissioner John Cecil

August 25th, 2022 No comments

Cecil Violated State Ethics Law Mandatory Recusal Regarding Work Prior To Joining DEP

If Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette & Senator Smith Will Impose No Checks On Revolving Door Abuse, Perhaps The State Ethics Commission Will

[Intro: This is a followup to my prior “bogus argument” and  “Junk Science” and Junk Ethics posts.]

Today DEP responded to my OPRA public records request for the ethics review documents for Assistant Commissioner John Cecil. I requested the following:

1. The ethics disclosure documents submitted by Assistant Commissioner John Cecil upon his joining DEP.

2. The DEP ethics officer review and guidance documents provided to Assistant Commissioner Cecil.

3. The recusal documents for Assistant Commissioner Cecil.

DEP’s reply stated that Cecil’s ethics disclosure documents are confidential personnel records that are exempt from OPRA and that Cecil had not filed any recusal documents. (DEP reply provided upon request)

The NJ State ethics law mandates recusal: (Source: State Ethics Law, as conveyed in DEP Ethics Officer May 5, 2021 memo to Cecil – provided upon request. Emphasis mine)

a state official must recuse from an official matter if he or she had involvement in that matter, other than on behalf of the State, prior to commencement of State service.

Cecil was directly involved in many “official matters” (e.g. “regulated activity” subject to DEP regulatory jurisdiction or funding) at NJ Audubon that he is currently directly involved with at DEP, yet, according to the DEP OPRA response, Cecil has not filed any recusal documents.

Given what appears to be a direct violation of that ethics law recusal mandate – as well as violation of the “appearance” standard in NJ ethics laws – I filed the following ethics complaint with the State Ethics Commission. (I sent a copy to Commissioner LaTourette, Assistant Commissioner Cecil, DEP’s Ethics Officer, Senators Smith and Greenstein, the Smith Legislative Forestry Task Force Co-Chairs, as well as a NJ Spotlight reporter and editor).

The Commission does not publicly reveal complaint jurisdiction, acceptance, investigation information or status, but does post the resolution of the complaint on the website at the conclusion of their review:

Dear Ethics Commission:

I bring the following potential ethics violation to your attention, with concerns limited to the ethical parameters of institutional integrity, public policy, and science, with no allegations of any personal financial gain or corruption of the individual involved.

At the outset, I want to make it clear that although this complaint involves a policy dispute, it is based on State ethics laws and standards.

The complaint regards John Cecil, currently Assistant Commissioner For Parks and Forestry at NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

I understand Mr. Cecil joined DEP sometime around May 2021.

Prior to his work at DEP, Mr. Cecil was employed by NJ Audubon Society (NJA), where he managed various NJA programs related to forestry, “stewardship” (including a “Corporate Stewardship Council”), and land management activities. see:

https://njaudubon.org/stewardship/

Many of the activities Cecil managed at NJA were DEP “regulated activities” and/or involved management of NJ DEP State lands, DEP permit or regulatory “mitigation” requirements, or receipt of various DEP funds.

I’ll offer specifics to illustrate the conflicts of interest (there are many additional examples, including Cecil’s management of DEP regulated activities with the specific corporations that are members of the “Corporate Stewardship Council”):

1) While at NJA, Cecil prepared a DEP approved “Forest Stewardship Plan” for Sparta Mountain Wildlife Management Area (DEP public lands). The conservation objectives, DEP regulatory oversight, and scientific basis for that plan are an ongoing public controversy. see:

https://www.thedailybeast.com/forests-are-being-destroyed-and-nature-lovers-are-helping?source=twitter&via=desktop

2) The primary focus of the controversy is over the science and public policy of “active forest management” and creation of “young forests”, which many believe are pretext’s to promote commercial logging on public lands. Cecil has been a leading proponent of this controversial “active management” and “young forests” and a critic of what he deems to be misguided public perceptions of beneficial forestry work.

3) Last spring (March 2021), just before he left NJA to join DEP, Cecil, made an important forestry presentation to the NJ Pinelands Commission’s Climate Committee.

Cecil’s NJ Audubon presentation was titled: Forest Conservation – NJ Pinelands, see:

https://www.nj.gov/pinelands/home/presentations/NJ%20Pinelands%20Forests%2017Mar2021.pdf

That Cecil presentation advocated “active management” and “young forest” policies, while criticizing public perceptions.

4) NJ Audubon accepted grant funds ($330,000) from the private Hudson Farm Foundation to prepare the forestry plan for Sparta Mountain WMA (DEP public lands) that Cecil wrote, oversaw, and managed at NJA. see:

https://hudsonfarmnj.com/hudson-farm-foundation/

5) While at NJA, Cecil also prepared forestry plans for Hudson Farm private property – I am not sure if this consultation work was directly funded or funded via Hudson Farm grants to NJA. see

https://hudsonfarmnj.com/ruffed-grouse-population/

6) Hudson Farm recently was recognized by Gov. Murphy for “environmental excellence”. [***corrected] NJA bragged about their role in securing that award, see

https://njaudubon.org/nj-audubon-conservation-projects-help-hudson-farm-win-2021-governors-environmental-excellence-award-for-healthy-ecosystems-habitat-category/

7) Hudson Farm is owned by Peter Kellogg, a billionaire. Kellogg recently funded ($4,850 per head) several DEP employees and NJ conservation group staffers to attend a week long “conservation leadership” retreat. Attendees may have included Cecil (documentation provided upon request).

8) Hudson Farm is involved in a private sector “carbon sequestration credit and trading” program that involves forestry work Cecil was involved with, see:

https://simplizero.com/projects/hudson-farm-improved-forest/

9) NJ Law (RGGI) authorizes millions of dollars in funding to DEP for “carbon sequestration” projects from forestry management.

10) It reasonably can be assumed that both NJA and Hudson Farm currently are or soon will be involved and receive financial benefits for DEP RGGI, carbon sequestration, and forests programs.

11) The forestry management controversy, among other things, sparked the formation, by Senate Environment Committee Chairman Smith, of a Legislative Forestry Task Force. NJ Audubon representative, the former Director of DEP’s Division of Science and Research, is a Co-Chair of the Task Force. The Task Force is currently deliberating.

12) On April 28, 2022, in his capacity as DEP Assistant Commissioner, Cecil made a powerpoint presentation to the Smith Forestry Task Force, see:

http://www.wolfenotes.com/2022/04/forestry-task-force-kicks-off-deliberations/

13) Most of that April 28 2022 Cecil presentation was almost verbatim rehash of the controversial forestry policies he advocated at NJA, including the March 2021 presentation to the Pinelands Commission.

14) In a June 2022 presentation to Senator Smith’s Forestry Legislative Task Force, NJ DEP staff who report to Cecil publicly stated that they are developing forest “carbon sequestration” credit and trading programs, as authorized and funded by NJ RGGI law.

As the above facts strongly suggest, Mr. Cecil’s work at NJA overlaps his current work at NJ DEP. He was directly involved with the same forestry management activities at NJA and DEP.

That appears to violate the SEC regulations that require that a state official must recuse from an official matter if he or she had involvement in that matter, other than on behalf of the State, prior to commencement of State service.

I filed an OPRA request to DEP to obtain Cecil’s recusal letter and was told by DEP that no such records exist. (OPRA request and DEP reply provided upon request).

There are also many other potential conflicts that may arise from Cecil’s work with corporate members of the NJA “Corporate Stewardship Council”, for whom Cecil provided consulting services and/or received funding for. This work also involved complain with DEP regulatory and permit oversight.

I filed an OPRA request to DEP to obtain Cecil’s ethics disclosure documents and was told by DEP that those records are confidential personnel records exempt from OPRA.

As such:

a) the reality of Cecil’s overlapping work;

b) the lack of any recusal; and

c) the lack of transparency by DEP regarding Cecil’s ethics disclosure,

all serve to undermine the public’s trust and confidence in DEP’s independence, objectivity, and application of independent science in the public interest, as well as create a reasonable appearance of conflicts of interest, all in violation of State ethics laws and standards.

I urge your favorable consideration and timely reply.

Respectfully,

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