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Whitewashing The Dismantling Of NJ’s Toxic Chemical Laws

NJ Spotlight Op-Ed An Exercise In Gaslighting, Evasion, And Cowardice 

Narrow Focus On Benefits Of Disclosure Obscures DEP Regulatory Failures

Vague Allusions Allow Polluters, Legislators, And DEP To Dodge Accountability

Jeanne Herb

Jeanne Herb

Former DEP manager Jeanne Herb, now at Rutgers (beware the revolving door), authored an Op-Ed in today’s NJ Spotlight that serves as a near perfect example of many of the failures that have allowed corporate interests to dismantle environmental and public health protections and block needed stricter regulations, behind the scenes and with no public awareness or accountability. Read the whole thing:

Writing from an academic institution imposes a huge intellectual responsibility on the author to write with complete honesty and integrity – pursuit of truth, advance the public interest, hold the powerful accountable, and all that jive. It also provides a great deal of freedom to tackle controversial issues head on (instead of skirting them) and hold the powerful accountable, without fear of retaliation (which is something I learned – the hard way – that one can not do as a DEP employee).

Ms. Herb fails miserably by those measures.

In fact, although the Spotlight Op-Ed does not disclose Ms. Herb’s bio, she managed DEP’s Pollution Prevention Program and is not sharing the location of all the skeletons she knows are buried in DEP’s closet, or fingering those who killed and buried the bodies.

I agree with and also shared Ms. Herb’s expectation that the East Palestine toxic train derailment would spur public outrage, media coverage, and political pressure on legislators and DEP regulators to strengthen NJ’s chemical safety laws, regulations and programs.

I share Ms. Herb’s disappointment that that has not happened.

But, unlike Ms. Herb, I’ve written honestly about the history of what Ms. Herb’s misleading celebrates as a NJ’s “national leadership”:

New Jersey has provided national leadership [on] disclosure of hazardous materials and chemicals in our communities and workplaces and promoting the reduction in use and generation of those materials at their source. 

I have a very different take on NJ’s “national leadership” and explain in detail how that leadership has eroded, see:

Unlike Ms. Herb, I’ve written with specificity about the DEP’s failure to enforce the provisions of the Pollution Prevention Act that authorize DEP to mandate implementation of Pollution Prevention Plans in DEP air, water & waste permits. (See NJSA 13:1D-43 “Authority of the Department”  c. & d.):

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The DEP has NEVER used that authority. Not once in 32 years in DEP’s issuance of thousands of air, water, and waste permits.

Repeat: DEP NEVER “required a more stringent emission or effluent limit” based on a Pollution Prevention Plan. That failure is astonishing and tells you all you need to know about DEP and the political power of the chemical industry (and the failure of Ms. Herb, the media and environmental groups).

Unlike Ms. Herb, I’ve written critically and with specificity about laws and DEP regulations that were weakened, gutted and must be strengthened, see: (be sure to hit this link to read Whitman DEP Assistant Commissioner Nagy’s memo we leaked about the deadly risks of rolling back DEP TCPA and RTK regulations):

Unlike Ms. Herb, I’ve written to hold the petro-chemical and pharmaceutical industries accountable – including naming corporate names, see:

Unlike Ms. Herb, I’ve written in ways that link broad policy objectives to specific DEP regulations and lack of enforcement.

Instead of regulatory specifics, Ms. Herb obfuscates. She supports “measures society should take to protect the residents” and, by focusing solely on disclosure and right to know, actually undermines arguments for stricter regulation. Disclosure of information is important, but it can not replace government regulation (as some like current Murphy DEP Commissioner LaTourette seek to do, e.g. his press remarks about the benefits of disclosure of climate risks in real estate transactions in lieu of DEP land use regulation). Herb fails to mention that DEP has reduced and eliminated issuing the kinds of Reports that enhance disclosure, see:

Unlike Ms. Herb, I’ve written to hold legislators and DEP accountable and to highlight the importance of the role of and the need for stricter regulation.

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Unlike Ms. Herb, I’ve not lied to the public and deployed the smokescreen of “bipartisanism”:

New Jersey’s laws reflected leadership on the part of Republican and Democratic governors.

Ms. Herb’s bipartisan recollection is highly selective: she seems to forget or lack the integrity to note that Republican Governors Whitman and Christie rolled back DEP chemical regulatory programs and protections, something I’ve written extensively about and sacrificed my DEP career fighting.

Executive Orders, deregulation, privatization, suppression of science, crony management appointments, intimidation of DEP professionals, and deep budget cuts – it was an across the board assault over a 16 year period. How could Ms. Herb conveniently forget all that?

And, in an Op-Ed that focuses primarily on NJ’s Right-ToKnow law, is it possible that she is not aware of pending legislation to close massive loopholes exposed by the Passaic City fire?

How could Ms. Herb possibly ignore that controversy?, see:

That bill is stalled in the Senate Budget Committee and likely quietly killed by the chemical industry.

Ms. Herb tellingly alludes to certain failures to implement the Pollution Prevention Act:

the law calls for the establishment of a Pollution Prevention Advisory Board, which was never created, to, among other things: 

  • Review current science to assess risks posed by industrial hazardous substances; 
  • Assess the feasibility of reducing industrial hazardous substances without reducing employment opportunities; and 
  • Conduct research, hold hearings and prepare recommendations on prohibiting or further restricting use, production, manufacture, discharge or disposal of hazardous materials in the state. 

So, expect fake reform legislation to be introduced very soon (likely sponsored by Senator Bob Smith) to revitalize the Pollution Prevention Advisory Board. That bill will provide cover and continue the toothless implementation of the Act.

Notably left out of Ms. Herb’s mention of what has never been under the Pollution Prevention Act is DEP’s failure to enforce the provisions of that law that authorize DEP to mandate implementation of Pollution Prevention Plans in DEP air, water, and waste permits.

DEP has the authority to mandate exactly the kind of initiatives Ms. Herb supports:

to ensure that we are maximizing use of their authorities and provisions to safeguard our own neighborhoods, workplaces and communities … and [to] reduce overall consumption of hazardous materials in our society.”.

But, if Ms. Herb truly supports those objectives, how could she ignore mentioning specifics on how to achieve those objectives and tell the people exactly who is blocking those efforts? 

[End Note: Amazingly, Ms Herb also ignores the fact that a toxic train derailment occurred in NJ in Paulsboro and forced evacuation of the community – maybe a photo will help jog her memory:

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