Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Provided A Secret Briefing With Hand Picked Environmental Leaders On The Controversial BASF Toms River Settlement, Days Before It Was Made Public

Murphy DEP Provided A Secret Briefing With Hand Picked Environmental Leaders On The Controversial BASF Toms River Settlement, Days Before It Was Made Public

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The more I learn of the Murphy DEP’s sweetheart deal with corporate chemical giant BASF at the Toms River Ciba-Geigy Superfund site, the more it stinks to high heavens.

According to DEP documents, DEP provided a “privileged and confidential” power point briefing to select friendly environmental group leaders on Friday afternoon, December 2, 2022, just prior to the DEP’s Monday December 5 press release announcing the deal. Invited and attending the briefing were: 1) Eileen Murphy, NJ Audubon; 2) Taylor McFarland, NJ Sierra Club, 3) Dave Pringle, Consultant for Clean Water Action, 4) Doug O’Malley, Environment NJ, and 5) Stan Hales, Save Barnegat Bay and 6 of their associates. NJ Audubon and NJ Sierra were later provided quotes praising the deal in the DEP’s December 5, 2022 Press Release.

The environmentalists were invited to the briefing by a November 30, 2002 email, which explicitly demanded that the conduct and contents of the meeting be kept secret and “STRICTLY EMBARGOED” (caps in original, boldface mine):

By way of this email, you are invited to a confidential briefing on the proposed Natural Resource Damages Settlement Agreement concerning injuries to natural resources resulting from discharges of hazardous substances at the Ciba-Geigy Superfund Site in Toms River. ….

Please note that the information contained in this email and the additional details that will be provided at the briefing are STRICTLY EMBARGOED until the proposed announcement is published in the New Jersey Register on Monday, December 5.

Let’s break that down before we proceed further:

1) a DEP secret briefing with hand picked environmental leaders is flat out wrong and possibly illegal.

2) DEP conducting a secret briefing with hand picked environmentalist – after failing to consult with or involve the community and local officials in settlement negotiations – is totally unacceptable and possibly illegal.

3) it is corrupt for environmental leaders to participate in such a secret meeting.

4) it is corrupt for environmental leaders to agree to secrecy and to “EMBARGO” information and keep the briefing secret. The whole concept of an EMBARGO for environmental groups is absurd. An “EMBARGO” is a tool for media and agreed to by willing press hacks.

5) it is, at best, extreme DEP gaslighting and total manipulation, to invite environmental leaders to a secret briefing of a final NRD restoration plan after over 3 years of negotiations on and final agreement on the contents of the plan, which is to be released in final form 3 days later.

6) Obviously, environmental groups willingly and knowingly allowed themselves to be used.

[Update – a knowledgeable Trenton source writes to advise that there’s more involved than merely being used as a media cheerleader – NJ Audubon will economically benefit via consulting contracts (that explains all the emphasis in the DEP Plan on butterfly and bird habitat):

Audubon is an active participant they will do consultation on the the site and sierra knew better and wants to suck up. ~~~ end update].

I obtained the DEP briefing documents, meeting invitation, and attendance list for the briefing by filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to DEP, based upon a Trenton’s source’s heads up leak about the meeting.

As far as I know, based on news reports of criticism of the DEP’s deal by local elected officials, the Toms River community was unaware of and blindsided by the DEP’s deal, and played no role in the DEP’s settlement negotiations with BASF, which according to the briefing documents I obtained, began in 2019 and continued or over 3 years.

Repeat: DEP secretly negotiated this deal with corporate giant BASF for over three years, yet never solicited the input of the Toms River community or the public at large.

Then, after over 3 years of secret negotiation wit BASF, on the Friday afternoon before the DEP issued a Press Release publicly announcing the deal, the DEP hand picked friendly environmental group leaders, provided them a secret briefing, and literally used them as DEP press agents (EMBARGO) and quoted NJ Audubon and NJ Sierra Club praise in the text of the DEP press release!

Finally, by labelling the presentation “Privileged”, DEP attempted to skirt OPRA public record laws and keep the whole thing secret. I only got a heads up by a Trenton leaker. This is disgusting.

All this is a pattern of egregious misconduct and totally unacceptable.

We’ll post the full briefing presentation in our next post, with some initial thoughts about it soon.

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