Home > Uncategorized > What Explains Sierra Club, NJ Chapter’s Radical U-Turn On Ciba-Geigy Cleanup?

What Explains Sierra Club, NJ Chapter’s Radical U-Turn On Ciba-Geigy Cleanup?

What A Difference Leadership Makes

DEP Commissioner Manipulates Sierra’s Inexperienced Poorly Trained “Leader”

 Anjuli Ramos-Busot , Sierra Club Director on right, stranding next to DEP Commissioner LaTourette

Anjuli Ramos-Busot, Sierra Club Director on right, standing next to DEP Commissioner LaTourette

[Update Below]

Something deeply disturbing is going on at Sierra Club’s NJ Chapter. Let me explain.

I strongly criticized former NJ Audubon CEO Eric Stiles for his U-Turn on forestry policy, when Stiles went from advocating for the protection of large blocks of contiguous NJ Highlands forest and maximizing canopy cover, to supporting logging those forests to reduce canopy cover, see:

Sadly, I see something very similar happening at the Sierra Club’s NJ Chapter, where I worked as Policy Director for almost 7 years and maintain a friendship with recently retired Director Jeff Tittel.

Just two years ago, Sierra issued a scathingly critical press release, blasting the inadequate cleanup at the former Ciba-Geigy Toms River Superfund site, see:

The underground pollution plume from the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site has been cut in half after 24 years of pumping and treating polluted groundwater. Over 10 billion gallons of polluted groundwater have been treated to remove contaminants and then recharged onto land in the property’s northeast corner.

“After 24 years, one of the worst superfunds (sic) sites in the country is still bad, if only half as bad. It just shows that they need to do a lot more and get it done quicker. The people of Toms River have been suffering from the contamination coming from this site for too long. It is ridiculous that only half of the pollution has been cleaned up in over two decades. They have treated over 10 billion gallons of contaminated groundwater, which means that there are at least another 10 billion gallons that still need to be treated,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.“Cleaning up only half of the pollution is only half a loaf, but the half a loaf is still too toxic to eat. There is still a lot more that needs to be done to protect the people of Toms River.”

In direct contradiction of that analysis, just 2 weeks ago, Sierra, under the leadership of new Executive Director Anjuli Ramos-Busot – in a DEP press release no lesspraised the DEP for the cleanup and recovery of “natural resource damages” (NRD):

“The Ciba Geigy historic settlement is great news for open space and preservation in Toms River,” said Taylor McFarland, Conservation Manager for the Sierra Club, New Jersey Chapter. “More importantly, it is a step in the right direction for the people who have been suffering from the contamination of The Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site for decades. This site has been on the Superfund List since the 1980s and it is still one of the most contaminated sites in the state if not the country.  We strongly support holding polluters accountable and we applaud NJDEP for moving forward with this historic 1,000-acre restoration project.”

Can you imagine Jeff Tittel praising DEP in a DEP press release? I don’t think he ever did that, even when he was supporting his friend former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

Tittel, from his retirement perch, correctly blasted the DEP dirty deal (NJ Spotlight):

Given the size of the site, there is a potential NRD claim of hundreds of millions of dollars, but no such claim is in the draft settlement, Tittel said.

“They are not putting up any money at all to help the people around them or restore the environment in Ocean County,” he said. Tittel called the draft a “sellout” that is unique in converting contaminated land into open space and fails to meet the usual standards of NRD suits.

Embarrassingly, even the Mayor and Town Council of Toms River opposed the DEP deal, directly contradicting Sierra Club’s assertions! How can a local governing body be more aggressive than Sierra Club?

What explains this radical U-Turn?

Sierra Club is a democratic and deliberative organization: there are lots of extremely knowledgeable volunteers, semi-autonomous and active local groups, and an engaged Executive Committee. I strongly doubt that Sierra members approved of this U-Turn to now support DEP.

Did Anjuli get Sierra ExComm approval of this U-Turn?

Why did Anjuli – exactly like Carleton Montgomery of PPA – have Taylor McFarland, a subordinate do her dirty work for her?

I suspect that could be because Anjuli is a former low level DEP staffer and might have felt some conflict of interest. Or it could have been pure cowardice, to avoid personal reputational harm for corruptly supporting such a dirty deal.

Or perhaps it was guilt, because she knows she elevated her own loyalty to the DEP over the truth and the public interest (or was manipulated into doing so).

Anjuli’s former role as a low level DEP technocrat explains a lot. She has a narrow technical academic background and just a few years of low level DEP experience in air quality modeling.

When I left DEP to join Sierra in 1995, I left as a whistleblower and harsh critic. I had 10 years of broad and high level policy experience within DEP (including working with the Gov.’s office and the legislature), and a broad planning, public policy, and science academic background.

(even with this critical whistleblower and planning/policy/science background, there were volunteer leaders at Sierra that either did not trust me as a former DEP staffer, or felt that my background was too Trenton and government policy focused, as opposed to local grassroots activist). So I’m absolutely dumfounded how they could hire someone like Ms. Ramos-Busot).

Sadly, Anjuli lacks that kind of training and experience, particularly the critical sensibility that comes with the experience of being a whistleblower and knowing how corrupt DEP can be and often is.

Despite a lack of any training or background in forestry, Anjuli was named Co-Chair of Senator Smith’s Forestry Task Force.

Friends are now sending me emails, expressing outrage over how Anjuli also sold out in that role, stuff like this:

Why I will not be renewing my membership with Sierra Club

After many years,  I will not be renewing!  Please read why…

Your NJ chapter under the new Executive leadership of Anjuli Ramos, has failed to protect NJ public forests from logging. …

I and others expected the NJ Sierra Club to strongly defend and advocate for no removal of public lands timber.  Instead the NJ Sierra Club adopted to join in alliance with the pro-logging push. This is truly unacceptable and it would appear that the current ED of your NJ chapter chooses to remain “friends” with her former DEP colleagues -which is another group that is also pushing to log NJ public forests !   We expected more from Ms. Ramos and unfortunately she has let many down in the environmental community of NJ.

Upon her appointment last February, I reached out to her to congratulate her, provide mentoring, guidance, and warn of likely controversies she should be aware of.

She didn’t even give me the professional courtesy of a reply. And that pretty much sums things up – just take a look at who she’s standing next to in this revealing photo:

[End Note: I just came across another really weak Sierra position with respect to DEP an corporate polluters.

This involves whether industrial air polluters who emit hazardous air pollutants that cause cancer should be allowed to conduct “risk screening” on a voluntary basis by themselves (as an “option”), or whether these screening should be mandatory and conducted by DEP, not the polluters.

Obviously, I advocated the latter in written comments to DEP:

3. The permit applicant should not be allowed to conduct a “Refined Risk Assessment”. That analysis should be conducted only by the DEP professionals, who are objective and do not have a profit driven motive to manipulate the analysis.

Sierra Club’s Taylor McFarland supported DEP’s “optional” and conducted by the polluter (DEP response to comments document):

12. COMMENT: The NJDEP should continue to provide facilities with the risk screening worksheet as an optional screening tool. However, the Department should ensure the responsible use of this screening tool so that refined risk assessments are conducted when necessary. The proposed sulfuryl fluoride long- and short-term reference concentrations should be incorporated in the evaluation of all air permits that present a risk of sulfuryl fluoride exposure to the public. (5)

Of course, DEP agree with this lame garbage.

In my comments, I also raised 10 other critical science and regulatory policy issues that the Sierra completely ignored.

I can guarantee that DEP’s response will not be to agree with any of them (if they even respond).

Shamefully lame that Sierra Club supports a from of voluntary privatized permit review for hazardous air pollutants.

(procedurally, our comments were on different DEP technical proposals, but the issues are the same)

[Update – 12/22/22 – I’m going to have to post another piece on this, because people are sending me information documenting that the problem is even worse than I imagined – Sierra did similar U-Tunrs on the bear hunt and logging.

But here’s another one I just happened to find. Again, Ramos-Busot made a fool of herself by praising a bill that was absurd because DEP had already conducted the research the bill called for over decade ago, as I documented in this post.

NJ Spotlight reported:

Anjuli Ramos-Busot, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, welcomed the legislation as an important step toward lowering a potent public health threat.

“Understanding PFAS toxicity even on a category basis, not individually, would provide the NJDEP the ability to truly regulate PFAS pollution from the source and not just clean it when it has already contaminated all environmental media,” she said.

She doesn’t know what she is talking about. ~~~ end update


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