Archive for September, 2023

DRBC Abandonment Of Adopting Water Quality Standards For Delaware Bay And EPA Assumption Of Lead Is A Disaster That Sets A Terrible Precedent

September 12th, 2023 No comments

DRBC Abdicates Leadership Of Stringent Regional Planning Based Water Quality Regulation

EPA Control Will Lead To Further Delays And Weaker Standards

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) just pulled the plug on efforts to update water quality standards for the Delaware Bay required to protect important fisheries (read the DRBC Resolution that outlines the history and basis for this abdication).

The DRBC’s move is a huge mistake and undermines the DRBC’s nationally leading regional planning water resource program.

Reputational harm is just the tip of the regulatory iceberg. The DRBC Resolution concludes with this statement which signals what is really going to happen: (emphasis mine)

3. The Commission commits, effective immediately, to working with the EPA, co-regulator states, and interested stakeholders through the Water Quality Advisory Committee to develop plans, analyses, and, if appropriate, related regulations for the implementation of new aquatic life uses and criteria in the Delaware River Estuary. Implementation measures to be considered may include, but are not necessarily limited to, wasteload allocations, effluent limitations, capital improvement schedules, and variances. The schedule for completing such plans and promulgating related regulations as appropriate will depend upon the timing of completion of EPA’s rulemaking process and will be determined at a later date.

In case you missed it, let me repeat the key phrases: “promulgating related regulations as appropriate will depend upon the timing of completion of EPA’s rulemaking process and will  be determined at a later date”.

The key words “as appropriate” eliminate any guarantee of any numeric standards or specific regulatory requirements.

The key words “timing of completion” and “determined at a later date” eliminate any deadline or even a schedule.

I guarantee that EPA will not meet the (unenforceable) 12 month schedule they recommended (read the EPA December 22, 2022 letter). A 12 month rulemaking schedule would require that EPA adopt regulations by December 22, 2023 (this year! Just 3 months from now!). That is an impossible deadline. And I strongly doubt that EPA will even meet the DRBC’s March 2025 deadline.

The EPA letter itself exposes the kind of routine delays experience in EPA’s water quality standards program. Check out the history:

In a letter dated August 15, 2016, EPA recommended that DRBC and its member states revise these WQS.15 EPA indicated that scientific information available at the time strongly supported the need for revised WQS and that DRBC should revise them expeditiously.

“Expeditiously”? EPA directed DRBC to act over 7 YEARS ago.

And, in case you haven’t been paying attention for the last 50 years since passage of the Clean Water Act, the US EPA has a long track record of delays and failures, especially in adopting strict regulatory water quality standards, which typically take over a decade!

The EPA, for decades, has effectively delegated the responsibility for developing and adopting water quality standards to state governments. EPA adoption of national water quality standards is an extremely slow, bureaucratic and inaccessible process.

EPA is a politicized, legalistic, inaccessible, and slow moving bureaucracy. Have you ever met with EPA  water quality standards staff? They don’t hold monthly meetings in EPA HQ like the DRBC does in Trenton.

The DRBC – EPA jurisdictional and regulatory issues pursuant to the DRBC Compact (which preceded the Clean Water Act) are unique nationally and legally complex. In addition, the science in the Delaware Bay is unique as well. This complexity creates massive uncertainty  – which can only mean delays. So, even without political intervention and political pressures on EPA, the pragmatic regulatory issues will force delays.

From a policy standpoint, DRBC effectively has broader legal authority than EPA, given their water supply (quantity) and regional planning powers. They have a long tradition and experience in integrating regional planning, water supply (quantity) and water quality issues, and a more professionally experienced staff and less bureaucratic structure than EPA.

Importantly, EPA promulgation of water quality standards is overseen by the EPA national WQ standards program, attorneys, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the federal Office of Management and Budget (where cost benefit analyses are used to weaken and delay EPA standards), and the EPA Administrator (which means the Biden White House). So science based staff recommendations can be over-ruled by EPA HQ in Washington DC. EPA is totally politicized. In contrast, DRBC regulations are not controlled by CEQ and OMB politics and procedures.

DRBC is accountable to State Governors, so they are more accessible and far more responsive to public opinion than EPA in Washington.

EPA assumption of the lead guarantees even more delay and weaker standards.

With the current political pressures on EPA by Congress and the federal Courts that have recently drastically weakened Clean Water Act protections, the timing alone is a total disaster.

But the clueless NJ press corps and “green” groups fail to understand that, because they created the problem by filing the petition to EPA. Read the NJ Spotlight story where they praise this disaster they created.

The petition was a good idea in terms of generating oversight by EPA (and media coverage) to pressure DRBC to accelerate their regulatory process.

But it is a very bad outcome that resulted in DRBC throwing in the towel and giving EPA control. I wrote to let them know – see below:

———- Original Message ———-

From: Bill WOLFE <>

To: Maya K van Rossum <>, “” <>, domalley <>, “” <>

Date: 09/12/2023 8:04 AM PDT

Subject: DRBC – EPA

Friends – I think you’ve made a huge mistake.

The EPA assumption of water quality standards regulatory lead over the DRBC sets a terrible precedent and it badly undermines DRBC leadership.

DRBC was granted authority to and has a long tradition of broader and more stringent regulation, backed by regional planning that is integrated with water supply (quantity). In contrast, EPA has always be slower, narrower, and more lax in their water quality programs under the Clean Water Act and they are poorly integrated with water supply and lack any regional planning dimension. And then there is public accountability – DRBC is far more accessible than EPA Region 2. And there are staff issues as well: DRBC far better than the bureaucrats in Region 2.

Perhaps worse, EPA and in particular the Clean Water Act, are under political pressures from Congress and the federal Courts, and Biden has been known to undermine the EPA Administrator (examples: the recent EPA decision to abandon enforcement in Cancer alley and the WOTUS issue).

Pragmatically, EPA will never meet the regulatory schedule they have publicly claimed rhetorically (and in a letter!). Surely you know that EPA is not bound by by law or regulation (or even politically).

The positive value in your petition to EPA was to use EPA to pressure the DRBC to move faster and adopt a strict standard, not have EPA assume the lead.

Let’s hope that this is a one off case and we can get back to the longstanding effective model of DRBC lead, with EPA playing a last resort oversight role.

You’ve made a huge mess. You should think before you act.


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Murphy DEP Drinking Water Report Shows Hundreds Of Violations – Including “Forever Chemicals” Drinking Water Standards

September 9th, 2023 No comments

DEP Masks Health Effects, People Exposed, And Risk Levels For Pollutants

Waivers For Monitoring For Synthetic Chemicals Raises Red Flags 

No Mention of Over 500 Unregulated Chemicals Known To Contaminate NJ Drinking Water

No Mention of Pollution Threats To Source Water

Contrary to the spin, Lead remains a serious problem, including at schools and day care centers

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The Murphy DEP recently released the annual compliance report required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The DEP Report documents violations of federal and State drinking water regulations and standards (read the full Report here).

The DEP Report paints an exceedingly rosy, but incomplete and misleading picture of the quality of NJ drinking water and the health risks posed to consumers of that water. This is done in two ways: by omission of relevant information and by selective presentation and aggregation of data. There are no citations to the relevant science and other DEP documents or links provided to relevant sources.

Despite these omissions, perhaps the key finding that is presented in the Report was about violations of new drinking water standards (known as MCL’s, for “maximum contaminant levels”), for “forever chemicals” PFAS. Violations have more than tripled over the last 2 years and continue to increase:

For 2021 the number of MCL violations was three times what has been incurred in previous years. This was due to the newly implemented State SDWA requirements for three (3) Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). In 2022, the number of MCL violations continued to increase due to PFAS substances, as shown in Figure 3B. Of the 494 MCL violations incurred in 2022, 393 of them were for one of the PFAS chemicals.

Those violations will continue to increase when US EPA’s proposed new lower (more stringent) federal standards are adopted next year.

The DEP Report does not quantify the number of NJ residents that are drinking water that exceeds “safe” levels and threatens public health for these toxic chemicals. The DEP Report also does not mention the health effects posed by these chemicals or the risks of diseases. Those are huge omissions.

At the very end of the Report (page 43), here is how DEP – in the passive voice – vaguely describes these health risks. Note that child care centers are included (many schools are not mentioned) and yet the individual water systems in violation and the location of these systems was not provided:

These compounds have been detected in drinking water supplies in New Jersey and pose serious health threats to consumers. PFOA, PFOS, and PFNA accumulate in the human body, and exposure to low concentrations of the contaminants in drinking water increases concentrations in human blood serum that persist for many years after exposure ends. Table 17 lists the MCLs that have been established for these compounds.

In 2022, a total of 1,143 public water systems were required to monitor for PFAS chemicals, including 13 transient and non-public water systems that are child care center centers. Of these, 12% incurred a violation. Table 18 provides details for all PFAS violations incurred, Figure 24 shows the overall percentage of public water systems that incurred PFAS violations, and Figure 25 shows the percentage of each type of violation incurred. Further details concerning each type of violation are provided in Sections 3.9.1 and 3.9.2.

If providing basic toxicology and risk information was perceived to be too complex or beyond the scope of this Report, DEP should have provided citations and links to the science and health related information. Omission of this information is a highly misleading practice.

Doing the math (12% of 1,143), 137 drinking water systems violate these health based standards. There is no data on whether these are large or small systems or the number of people exposed.

The reader must plow all the way to the end of the Report to Appendix C on page 70 to find the names of the drinking water systems that violate standards (over 30 pages!).  The identity of schools and day care centers are buried even further in Appendix D (another 40+ pages!). Readers should go directly there to find out if your local water system is in violation.

As I’ve been arguing, these troubling data strongly support the need for an alternative “treatment based approach” which mandates available treatment technology to remove these chemicals, hundreds of them unregulated.

But these are just a small part of the important omissions in the DEP Report.

Important Omissions Downplay Risks

1. Health Effects, Exposed Population, And Level of Risk

Revealingly, the DEP Report mentions the word “cancer” exactly once (on page 38). The term is limited to naturally occurring radiological contaminants like radon and uranium.

The DEP does not use the term “cancer” to describe the heath effects of or the scientific and regulatory basis for setting MCL’s for chemicals.

As I previously explained, the DEP limits the term “cancer” to naturally occurring contaminants, because rocks don’t have lawyers and lobbyists, like the chemical industry does, see:

Note how in reporting violations of radiological MCL’s, the DEP does not report critically important information, including: the name and location of the public water supply system; the number of people exposed; the levels detected; or the aggregate or individual cancer risks posed to people drinking that water. This is a pervasive omission throughout the Report. Note also that DEP is not seeking enforcement for these ongoing and uncorrected violations:


In 2022, NJDEP issued 13 MCL violations for combined radium, gross alpha and combined uranium at six (6) public water systems. As of May 5, 2023, none of these systems have met the MCL and returned to compliance. The Division is working with these systems to assist them in returning to compliance.

2. NJ Law more stringent than federal law – basis for adopting MCL’s – status of delayed recommended MCLs

The DEP Report fails to even mention that the NJ State law directs DEP to set drinking water MCL’s that are more stringent that the US EPA under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The NJ State law sets a more stringent risk level of 1 in a million individual cancer risk, while US EPA under federal law allows up to a 100 times weaker risk range of 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 100,000 risk. The NJ State law also does not allow consideration of costs in setting MCL’s or the extent of the population exposed. The federal law allows EPA to consider costs and the extent of the population exposed.

The DEP Report does not mention any of these key differences in federal and State law. It does not define what  “safe for human consumption” means. And it vaguely describes the NJ law as “a process for setting drinking water standards.

The DEP Report also fails to provide information regarding the status of over a dozen MCL’s recommended by the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute and DEP’s failure to adopt them, see:

Hence, the DEP Report ignores science, downplays health risks, and misleads readers.

Here is how the DEP describes the basis of how MCL’s are set by US EPA and NJ DEP – and as I note below, this leaves out critical information and not just about cancer risks:


The USEPA set MCLs at the national level. An MCL is the allowable limit of a contaminant in drinking water to ensure it is safe for human consumption. MCLs ensure that drinking water does not pose either a short-term or long-term health risk. New Jersey has adopted all the federal MCLs. In addition to the national standards, the 1984 amendments to the New Jersey SDWA established New Jersey’s Drinking Water Quality Institute, along with a process for setting drinking water standards. The Drinking Water Quality Institute is responsible for developing MCLs or standards for hazardous contaminants in drinking water and for recommending those standards as well as recommendations for the implementation of the drinking water quality program to the Commissioner of the NJDEP. Additionally, the Drinking Water Quality Institute has the authority to select additional contaminants to regulate, if needed. Both the Federal SDWA and the New Jersey SDWA require that any standards adopted by the NJDEP be equal to or more stringent than federal standards.

3. Synthetic Organic Chemical Waivers

1 (313)As is usual, DEP buried the bad news at the end of the Report.

Only after wading through 40 pages do we learn that DEP issued waivers for toxic synthetic organic chemicals. These include highly toxic chemical pesticides and herbicides. (see Table 15)

And in revealing the issuance of these waivers, DEP also highlighted a key omission of the DEP Source Water Assessment Reports that reveal the vulnerability and susceptibility to pollutants for all NJ drinking water systems:

Synthetic Organic Compound Sampling Waivers are based on the use of the synthetic organic compounds in New Jersey and/or the susceptibility of the water sources to contamination. In accordance with criteria established in New Jersey’s USEPA-approved synthetic organic compound waiver program the majority of the water systems subject to the synthetic organic compound monitoring requirements were considered participants in the waiver program and were not required to monitor during 2022 while evaluation of vulnerability and screening sampling were underway. Only 20 water systems were required to monitor for one or more SOCs during 2022 based on prior detections or vulnerability.

DEP states that “evaluation of vulnerability and screening sampling [are] underway”.

Yet DEP conducted Source Water Assessments – which specifically include vulnerability and susceptibility analysis – almost 20 years ago, see:

The DEP and the drinking water systems know about these threats and knew long ago. There is no excuse for delays in mandating compliance and the basis for the waivers is dubious, at best.

Only 20 water systems were required to monitor for synthetic organic chemicals in the Garden State (a significant agricultural use of chemicals) – a State that pioneered the electronics (PCB’s) and chemical and pharmaceutical industries and has thousands of toxic hazardous waste sites and air and water pollution discharges of these chemicals?

How can that be?

4. Over 500 Unregulated Chemical Contaminants Ignored

The DEP Report also fails to mention the fact that there are hundreds of unregulated chemicals with no MCL’s present in NJ drinking water – for details on that set of problems, see:

5. Unexpected High Compliance With Volatile Organic MCL’s

Finally, I found these data, showing just 4 violation of MCL’s for volatile organic chemicals, almost too good to be true, given NJ’s extensive number of toxic waste sites and other contaminated sites (including gas stations, dry cleaners, “brownfields”, et al) and former and current petro-chemical industries.

Those industrial chemical contaminated site is why, the DEP Report notes (p. 37):

In New Jersey, 153 systems have treatment installed for volatile organic compound removal.

That means that at least 153 water systems were polluted by volatile organic chemicals. If 153 systems have been required to install treatment to remove VOC’s, that shows that NJ has an extensive problem. SO are we to believe that DEP has discovered virtually all of the toxic contamination and drinking water systems are accurately monitoring such that just 4 violations occurred, statewide?


In 2022, the NJDEP issued four (4) MCL violations for exceeding the State limit for tetrachloroethylene at two (2) public water systems. These systems did not exceed the federal limit (5 μg/l) for this compound. As of May 5, 2023, one system has returned to compliance. Four (4) additional MCL violations were issued to one (1) public water system, two (2) of which exceeded the State limit for benzene, and two (2) exceeded the federal limit for benzene (5 μg/l). As of May 5, 2023, this system has not met the State or federal MCL limit and remains out of compliance. All the remaining volatile organic compound MCLs were met in 2022.

Just 4 violations? For hundreds of systems? Really?

For comparison, of the just 20 water systems that are required to monitor for synthetic organic chemicals, there were 13 MCL violations and 144 monitoring violations, for a total of 157 violations (at just 20 systems)

What is the source of this data and does DEP independently sample and rigorously conduct QA/QC of this data?

6. Lead remains a huge problem, including at schools and day care centers

The DEP and the NJ media constantly report good news and progress on addressing the lead issue. But the facts are deeply troubling.

The DEP Report found that 25% of systems violate lead standards:

In 2022 a total of 1,228 public water systems were required to comply with the Lead and Copper Rule, including an additional eight (8) transient noncommunity water systems and two (2) non-public systems that are child care centers. Of these systems, 25% incurred a violation under the Lead and Copper Rule.


Who will ask these questions?

Who will tell the people?

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Despite Record Breaking Heat, Murphy DEP Quietly Delays Extreme Heat Action Plan

September 7th, 2023 No comments

Despite the spin, measures to mitigate extreme heat will be delayed another year

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In February 2023, to much fanfare and self promotional press releases, the Murphy Administration presented its Climate Resilience planning strategy adopted under Gov. Murphy’s Executive Order #89. The Strategy is being managed by an “Interagency Council On Climate Resilience”, a cynical bureaucrat game to avoid accountability, parading under the slogan of a “whole of government” approach.

Among other things, the scoping document for the strategy called for a Draft Extreme Heat Resilience Action Plan to be released for public comment in the “summer” of 2023. (see above chart from the February scoping document’s planning strategy and schedule). The Final Plan was to be released in the “Fall”.

The summer of ’23 has come and gone, and it was a summer of record breaking and extreme heat.

Despite this record breaking extreme heat, the Murphy DEP just quietly revised the schedule and delayed release of a draft until Spring of next year.

Look at how DEP made this revision via an update of the DEP website with no fingerprints or notation that the plan schedule was delayed. Compare the schedule above (summer 2023) with the DEP updated version (spring 2024):

Screenshot 2023-09-07 at 4.20.40 PM

This is a dishonest tactic to hide planning delays.

But at least the Pinelands Commission documented this delay in their August Monthly Report:

  • Interagency Council on Climate Change (IAC): The monthly meeting of the Senior Staff representing all agencies on the Council was held on August 8, 2023. NJDEP staff provided a revised schedule for completion of the Extreme Heat Resilience Action Plan by spring 2024.

The Commission also spilled the beans and exposed the upcoming PR strategy of the Murphy administration:

  • Finally, ways to recognize the upcoming two-year anniversary of the IAC’s release of the state’s Climate Change Resilience Strategy were discussed. All agencies have been asked to draft descriptions of recent actions taken related to the Climate Change Resilience Strategy so that a document highlighting the collective accomplishments of IAC members can be released.

Of course, there will be no accountability because the media and the environmental groups don’t get into the technical weeds and the don’t hold the Murphy DEP accountable. Period. Instead, they cheerlead.

So, the extreme heat will get even more extreme, and measures to mitigate that heat will be delayed another year.

And you can be sure that the mitigation measures adopted in the plan will lack regulatory teeth and funding required to implement them and that they will be delegated to local government and reliant on the voluntary actions of the private sector.

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Legislators Urged To Conduct Oversight On Whatever Became Of DEP’s Drinking Water “Treatment Based Approach” To Remove Hundreds Of Unregulated Chemicals

September 5th, 2023 No comments

People Unknowingly Drinking Hundreds of Unregulated Chemicals 

DEP Admitted Flaws And Proposed A Far More Protective Alternative Over A Decade Ago

DEP is allowing politically powerful corporations to block much needed reforms

Last week, I filed a petition for rulemaking to force DEP to either finally implement major reforms to current drinking water protections DEP scientists recommended over a decade ago, or to explain to the public why their own recommended protections are no longer scientifically valid.

Today, I wrote to NJ Senate Environment Committee Chairman Bob Smith to urge him to conduct legislative oversight hearings to find out what became of DEP’s own recommended reforms (see letter below).

Those huge reforms were proposed under Corzine Administration DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.

Jackson later led the Obama EPA to recommend the identical reforms on a national level.

The Jackson EPA clearly explained why the current approach to drinking water protections was seriously flawed, outlined the rationale for reforms, and found there would be huge public health benefits of those reforms:

“The current approach to drinking water protection is focused on a detailed assessment of each individual contaminant of concern and can take many years. This approach not only results in slow progress in addressing unregulated contaminants but also fails to take advantage of strategies for enhancing health protection cost‐effectively, including advanced treatment technologies that address several contaminants at once. The outlined vision seeks to use existing authorities to achieve greater protection more quickly and cost‐effectively.” ~~~ (US EPA, March 2010)

Very few people are aware of the fact that DEP documented the presence of over 500 unregulated chemicals in NJ’s drinking water.

I’ve been trying to warn the public and force DEP to adopt drinking water standards and treatment requirements for the last 15 years, see:

It currently takes several years for DEP to adopt drinking water standards for each individual chemical. One chemical!

During this delay, people are unknowingly and needlessly drinking hundreds of chemicals, many of which are likely to cause sickness, disease, and cancer. For the implications of this, recall that the Toms River cancer cluster was caused by unregulated chemicals in drinking water (and air).

Read the NJ DoH Toms River Cancer Cluster Report:

“The study found that prenatal exposure to two environmental factors in the past were associated with increased risk of leukemia in female children. These exposures were: 1) access to drinking water from the Parkway well field after the time that the well field was most likely to be contaminated, and 2) air pollutant emissions from the Ciba-Geigy chemical manufacturing plant.”

Current technology is available that can cost effectively remove virtually all of these chemicals.

That why DEP scientists recommended that every drinking water system install this treatment, known as activated carbon.

But DEP never followed through on these recommendations.

The private corporate water companies opposed and quietly killed those protections before the public even was aware of the problems of unregulated chemicals, the unknown health risks, and the availability of treatment technology to remove them.

The corporate polluters who are responsible for poisoning our drinking water joined this opposition, because they knew they would be forced to pick up the tab for this treatment technology.

DEP is allowing politically powerful corporations to block much needed reforms to establishing protections for our drinking water.

Further delay is intolerable. Contact Gov. Murphy, Senator Smith and your legislators to demand that DEP act.

The Biden EPA will never get around to doing this at the national level.

And the problems in NJ – the nation’s most densely populated state with the most Superfund sites (and 25 times more hazardous waste sites ) and a huge petro-chemical and pharmaceutical industrial complex – are far worse.

———- Original Message ———-

From: Bill WOLFE <>

To: senbsmith <>, sengreenstein <>, asmmckeon <>, “” <>

Cc: “” <>, “” <>, “” <>

Date: 09/04/2023 7:29 AM PDT

Subject: EPA/DEP Drinking Water Treatment based approach

Dear Chairman Smith:

NJ media recently reported on the presence of unregulated chemicals in NJ drinking water, many with unknown but suspected adverse health effects (for the implications of that, please recall that the Toms River cancer cluster was associated with an unregulated chemical in drinking water).

Accordingly, you might want to conduct Legislative oversight on what became of this important EPA drinking water regulatory reform initiative. It was former NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson’s initiative at the Obama EPA and it parallels a prior NJ DEP scientific Report with very similar findings and recommendations:

“The current approach to drinking water protection is focused on a detailed assessment of each individual contaminant of concern and can take many years. This approach not only results in slow progress in addressing unregulated contaminants but also fails to take advantage of strategies for enhancing health protection cost‐effectively, including advanced treatment technologies that address several contaminants at once. The outlined vision seeks to use existing authorities to achieve greater protection more quickly and cost‐effectively.” ~~~ (US EPA, March 2010)

Details and petition for rulemaking to NJ DEP is here:

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A Labor Day Weekend In America

September 3rd, 2023 No comments

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[Updates below]

Chris Hedges has a powerfully moving and meaningful column today – I particularly liked the allusion to Hayek’s  “Road To Serfdom“, the ideological origin of our current Neoliberal Nightmare – – so please read the whole thing:

The core traits of psychopaths — superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception, manipulation and the inability to feel remorse or guilt — are celebrated. The virtues of empathy, compassion and self-sacrifice, are belittled, neglected and crushed. The professions that sustain community, such as teaching, manual labor, the arts, journalism and nursing, are underpaid and overworked. The professions that exploit, such as those in high finance, Big Pharma, Big Oil and information technology, are lavished with prestige, money and power.

“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane,” Eric Fromm writes in The Sane Society.

In a remarkable case of synchronicity, less than an hour after I read that column I witnessed the trauma and repression first hand, ironically on a trip to the local sustainable organic farm to table vegan diverse feminist rainbow Food Co-Op.

In fact, it is possible that the Food Co-Op itself made the complaint call to the police that prompted the traumatic episode, as I’ve noticed that the Food Co-Op’ers have become increasingly hostile to the handful of homeless that frequent the pocket park adjacent to the Co-Op.

For example, they recently installed a fence between their outdoor food court and the park to screen their upscale organic foodies from the local rif-raff that frequent the park.

The letter below to the Mayor, Manager, legal Counsel, and City Council of the lovely liberal town of Port Townsend, Washington describes the scene.

This letter was a followup to the prior letter and public testimony I gave to City Council regarding posting of the harassing signs (see above) in City parks just before the 4th of July holiday weekend:

———- Original Message ———-

From: Bill WOLFE <>

To: John Mauro <>, “” <>

Cc: David Faber <>, Thomas Olson <>

Date: 09/03/2023 2:04 PM PDT

Subject: Arrest of homeless today

Dear Mayor Faber and Council:

This afternoon, at approximately 1:15 pm, as I parked my bicycle at the Food Co-Op to shop, I witnessed two of your police officers detaining, arresting, handcuffing, and removing to a police vehicle a middle aged woman, presumably homeless, as I’ve seen her in this pocket park adjacent to the Co-Op before.

I did not observe the events that led up to the arrest, so I will not speculate.

Regardless, as I’ve previously written to you, situations of this kind are not police matters and should be dealt with via social services agencies.

The arrested woman was distraught, and cried as she was escorted away.

Her dog was even more distraught, and howled in pain and terror as his owner was hauled away.

It was an inhumane – even obscene – scene that made me sick to my stomach.

You should be ashamed for allowing such incidents to occur in your fine city.

Minutes later, as I proceeded to the Key City fish market, I passed an ambulance parked in the Port. There did not appear to be any medical emergency they were responding to.

If necessary, as a last resort, medics staffing that ambulance should have responded to the scene, not 2 police officers with handcuffs.

Please act to revise the ordinances, management, and police policies and procedures regarding such situations for humanely and decently responding to situations involving homeless and/or mentally troubled people.

Current practice is intolerable.


Bill Wolfe

Amazingly, in less than 20 minutes, the Chief of Police responded – we’re just doing our jobs:

———- Original Message ———-

From: Thomas Olson <>

To: Bill WOLFE <>

Cc: John Mauro <>, CityCouncil <>, David Faber <>

Date: 09/03/2023 2:23 PM PDT

Subject: Re: Arrest of homeless today

To all that are concerned,

The person that was arrested was in violation of a court ordered No Contact Order, this is a mandatory arrest. The purpose of the arrest is for the safety of all parties involved. She may have been very emotional because she was highly intoxicated, with a .283 blood alcohol content (test taken with a portable breath test machine).

These situations are very unfortunate. Port Townsend police officers perform their duties with professionalism and compassion. This incident involved a highly intoxicated person who didn’t agree with the consequences of her actions, we cannot control that.


Thomas Olson

Chief of Police

Port Townsend Police Department


[Update: Here is my reply to the Chief of Police:

Dear Chief Olson:

Thank you for a timey reply.

I’d like to add a few facts and perspectives to your assessment of the situation:

1. Regarding the alleged basis for the arrest – i.e. “a court ordered No Contact Order, this is a mandatory arrest.” – please be advised that just yesterday, at the Food Co-Op, I spoke with a man on a bicycle who had been questioned by police. I (mistakenly) initially thought that perhaps he was questioned for a bicycle infraction, so, as a cyclist, I was interested. When I asked him why he was questioned, he said it was about his violation of a No Contact Order. Yet, he was not arrested and the police apparently exercised enforcement discretion.

2. Regarding your speculation about this woman’s emotional state and causal attribution to intoxication, please be advised that I witnessed the woman being questioned by your officers, before she was handcuffed and hauled away. Initially, she was quiet and reserved and seemed coherent. Only when she was taken away, when her dog started howling, did she start loudly sobbing. So, from my vantage point, perhaps her reasonable emotional pain originated in the suffering of her dog.

As I wrote, regardless of circumstances, this arrest was inhumane. And it is both uncaring and unprofessional for you to speculate a cause for her suffering – that is blaming the victim.

3. I never made any claim about the professionalism of your officers. In my limited experience with them, they have been highly professional.

But they are enforcing inhumane laws and policies, and these must change.

4. I do not understand and disagree with your claims that this woman “didn’t agree with the consequences of her actions,” and that “we cannot control that.”

Although I am not an attorney and have not read Washington law regarding mandatory enforcement of Court orders, the police have enormous enforcement discretion. So, to claim that your officers had no control over this situation is more a means of dodging responsibility than is necessary.

Finally, people with alcohol and homeless problems generally have diminished capacity to cope and control their behaviors – this is a medical set of issues that warrant empathy and compassion, not a law enforcement problem that justifies handcuffs and jail.

Bill Wolfe

[Update #2 – 9/4/23 – Police Chief followed up – sounds like there was a serious incident that, if true, warranted arrest:

Mr. Wolfe,

I very much appreciate your concerns for the citizens of our community. You are also entitled to your opinions of the laws of the state of Washington.

I looked a little deeper into the incident and received a briefing from the supervisor that was on scene. Prior to the officer’s arrival, witnesses observed the woman knock a disabled man to the ground and punch him in the face. These were the two parties named in the protection order. The prosecutor was contacted and consulted with prior to the officers booking her into the jail. The woman was also taken to the ER to be screened prior to being booked into the Jefferson County Jail.

I encourage my officers to use discretion whenever it makes good sense, but today the officers on scene did what they were obligated to do by law.

Thank you,

Thomas Olson

Chief of Police
Port Townsend Police Department
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