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Trump’s Attacks On Science And Regulation Amount To Murder

August 17th, 2019 No comments

Sorry, I couldn’t think of an appropriately outrageously inflammatory headline to adequately capture the vile nature of this quote I just read by Mick Mulvaney, acting Trump White House chief of staff, which I feel compelled to share.

Check this out: (read the whole article)

“You’ve heard about ‘drain the swamp.’ What you probably haven’t heard is what we are actually doing,” he said. “I don’t know if you saw the news the other day, but the USDA just tried to move, or did move, two offices out of Washington, D.C…. Guess what happened? More than half the people quit…. What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government, and do what we haven’t been able to do for a long time.”

I lack words to describe the depravity of people who would openly brag about relocating a government office as a tactic of dismantling science and essential government protections of public health and the environment.

The facts of the matter include this:

Today’s EPA offers a stark example of the Trump administration’s crusade to dismantle science-based agencies. Nearly 1,600 employees left the EPA during the first year and a half of the EPA administration, while only 400 were hired, according to data obtained by The Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request. Of 1,600 employees who left, at least 260 were scientists, 185 were “environmental protection specialists” and 106 were engineers. The total number of employees at the agency today — 14,172 — is the lowest in 30 years.

And this:

The EPA is not the only agency pushing scientists out the door. The same day the EPA made its chlorpyrifos announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that nearly two-thirds of 395 Washington, D.C.-based employees in its Economic Research Service, which provides analyses on a range of issues, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which oversees $1.7 billion in scientific funding, will quit rather than relocate to Kansas City.

I’m not an ag guy, so I was not familiar with the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. But check out their mission and the crucial role they play in things like food safety, nutrition, and natural resource protection.

On top of this across the board attack on science and scientists, Trump is slashing regulatory agency budgets, rolling back regulatory protections, installing corporate lobbyists and lawyers to head regulatory agencies, stacking science advisory boards with industry hacks, privatizing and outsourcing government responsibilities, et cetera.

Boeing plane crashes are just the visible tip of a very large iceberg (I know, that’s a horrible metaphor in a time of climate chaos).

Make no mistake about it, many people are dying as a result of Trump’s systematic dismantling of government and science. It’s just hard to see the body count.

How is that any different than the mass murders we are seeing on an accelerating basis?

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Rutgers Vice Chancellor Downplays Risks Of Newark Lead Crisis – Ignores Science and Role of Race

August 16th, 2019 No comments

DEP Study Shows Level of Lead In Urban Soils Far Higher Than Rural Levels

Elevated children’s blood lead & urban soil levels examples of institutional racism

Cowardice in high places

Source: NJ DEP (study cited and linked below)

Source: NJ DEP (study cited and linked below)

I was outraged by comments by Dr. Denise Rodgers, Vice Chancellor at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences and Chair at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School quoted in today’s NJ Spotlight story:

In addition, the doctors noted that lead has long existed naturally in the air and soil in amounts that healthy bodies can shed, but high levels of the metal — which was once added to gasoline and is common in many industrial processes — are hard for most people to process. “We’ve had lead in our environment for millennia and not everybody has terrible things happen to them because of lead,” Rodgers said.

I am outraged for several reasons:

First, that “millennia” comment is equivalent to the climate deniers who claim that we’ve always had climate change. That denial claim is technically correct, but totally misleading because it ignores the incredible rate of change we are now experiencing and the fact that the cause of the change is human industrial emissions, not natural fluctuations over geological time.

Like the atmosphere & climate change, blood lead levels and health impacts have a similar rate function – the body is exposed to and excretes lead at different rates and there is a half-life of lead in the blood (estimated as 28 days in adults).

Rodgers’ use of a phrase like “terrible things” is unprofessional, unscientific, and grossly insensitive.

Since it is not a direct quote, I will not respond to the deeply troubling claim that” healthy bodies can shed (low naturally occurring levels of) lead“.

Second, Rodgers’ comment also shows an ignorance of the actual “natural background” lead levels in New Jersey soils and their regional distribution.

NJ DEP has characterized, among other, the “natural background” levels and distribution of lead in NJ soils:

Current New Jersey law requires that the NJDEP determine background levels of contaminants in soils and that “Remediation [of contaminated areas] shall not be required below regional natural background levels for any particular contaminant” [N.J.S.A. 58:10B-12(g)(4)]. “Natural background level” is further defined as “…the concentration of a contaminant consistently present in the environment of the region of the site and which has not been influenced by localized human activities….”

Here’s what DEP found, see: Ambient Levels of Metals in New Jersey Soil (2003):

Between 1996 and 2001, three studies were conducted to determine the ambient levels of extractable metals in New Jersey soils. These studies were conducted to gather information to support the development of soil cleanup criteria, which cannot be set below ambient levels. A total of 248 soil samples were taken from the urban Piedmont region, the urban Coastal Plain region, and rural regions of the Valley and Ridge, Highlands, and Coastal Plain provinces.

That DEP study found that lead levels in urban areas are far higher than in rural areas:

A single rural soil sample yielded a beryllium concentration slightly above the corresponding criterion. For the urban Coastal Plain study, three of the 91 samples contained levels of arsenic above the current criterion. The urban Piedmont study yielded eight samples out of 67 where levels of arsenic or lead exceeded the criteria.

The urban median soil lead concentration was 111 mg/kg (ppm), with a 90th percentile concentration of 257,  while the rural media was just 31.6 and 90th percentile 54 (see Table 1). (Context: the DEP residential soil cleanup standard is an astronomical 400 ppm)

So, in addition to the childhood blood lead levels, the levels of lead in soil are far higher in urban NJ – and urban NJ is where the garbage incinerators, a major source of lead emissions, are located. These are additional factors in the larger environmental justice crisis.

Rodgers also ignores the racial dimension of the problem, by attributing the “root cause” exclusively to poverty, thereby denying abundant evidence of disproportionate burdens that are highly correlated with race and the large body of literature on environmental injustice:

“Let’s also talk about the root cause, which is all these children living in poverty,” Rodgers added. Not only are poor children more likely to live in older houses that could be contaminated by lead paint, she said, but their families also don’t have the resources to remediate the problem in the way that more affluent residents do.

At the end of today’s NJ Spotlight story – which clearly was a shameful effort to downplay risks and provide cover for negligent government officials under the arrogant and paternalistic guise of preventing “panic” – there are closing paragraphs under the heading “This is not like Flint”.

The story correctly distinguishes the drinking water risks between Flint and Newark, but ignores the deep racist environmental injustice and the shared failed regulatory framework and negligent oversight by federal, state and local officials.

The later amounts to institutional racism. Period.

Ignoring the role of government officials is significant. Recall that officials responsible for Flint disaster faced criminal charges. But unlike Flint, which was an emergent problem, NJ is far worse: NJ officials have known about lead problems for years, see:

In conclusion, after ignoring race, environmental injustice, a fatally flawed regulatory framework, the negligence of government officials, workplace exposures, other major lead sources, and the political power of polluters who have captured the regulators, those “experts” then proceed to essentially blame the victims and tell them to change their work clothes, dust their windowsills, and wash their hands!

Residents are urged to contact the New Jersey poison center (1-800-222-1222) for more information on prevention — including tips on how to protect against carrying contamination into the home from a parent’s workplace — and for help interpreting the results of a blood-lead level test, Calello said. They are also urged to watch for peeling paint, wipe up dust in areas where children play, especially along the windowsills of older houses, and wash their hands and their children’s hands frequently.

Shame on them all.

[End Note: DEP conducted a study on the health risks and impacts of importing contaminated soil to the Martin Luther King, Jr. school construction site in Trenton. That study found astronomically high lead levels in indoor dust on the window sills of nearby homes (3,000 ppm).

Remarkably, the DEP has since seemed to have deleted the lead dust swipe sampling data tables (see pages 63 and 90) so I can’t correctly cite the data!

DEP’s study determined that the source of the lead did not come from the school construction site and did nothing to remediate the indoor dust.

The concentration of lead across the residences was highly variable without a clear spatial pattern indicating that the soil at the construction site was not the primary source of lead for the dust around residences, but rather that lead came from leaded paint existing at the residences or from historical lead deposited in the soil from leaded gasoline used decades ago. …

The levels measured around the residences are generally higher than the levels in the soil or concrete aggregate samples on site. That, combined with the high variability suggests highly localized sources around many of the residence, most likely from old exterior leaded paint on the windows. There may also be some contribution from soil previously contaminated with leaded gasoline. This is common for an area containing pre-World War II homes of the age of this community. Thus, the transport of soil and dust from the site during construction was not a major source of lead to the community. …

Conclusions

There was evidence that soil and concrete aggregate material spread off the construction site affecting, on average, the levels of dust outside homes within one block of the site, but not inside these homes. Thus, individuals who were outside their homes during the construction would have been exposed to those materials. The lead levels in dust collected inside and outside homes are apparently related to local sources rather than offsite soil or dust transport from the school construction site.

At the time, DEP only issued a dust control directive to the School Construction Corporation folks and issued a press release, but did nothing to remediate the lead risk and warn the residents.

After my public criticism,  (see also “Calling Out Scott Weiner On School Reforms), DEP sent a letter 4 years after the study (it is unclear exactly when DEP issued a Citizens Guide 

This is another example of grossly negligent oversight, fatally flawed regulations, and environmental injustice.

There also was another example of blatant abuse in Camden, see:

~~~ end]

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Booker Barking Up The Right Tree – Backs Green New Deal

August 13th, 2019 No comments

Will NJ Gov. Murphy’s DEP Listen?

Forestry, Justice, And Urban Jobs – Essential Features Of The Green New Deal

Last week (Aug. 3), I complained about the design of NJ DEP’s program to allocate about $10 million/year in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds to “carbon sequestration” (a fancy term for storing carbon in trees). I wrote:

Instead of planting millions of trees to shade and cool NJ’s cities and providing funding and jobs to urban residents and community organizations – a real environmental justice program – DEP will give money to elite groups like NJ Audubon and NJ Conservation Foundation and Mike Catania’s Duke Foundation to log forests in the Highlands and Pinelands, while issuing press releases bragging that they are fighting climate change and promoting environmental justice (and DEP’s friend Tim Dillingham of American Littoral Society will get his piece of the action for sham coastal wetlands restoration too – DEP might even find some way to fund the Gov.’s Chief Cheerleader Ed Potasnak at NJLCV and The Keep It Greed Crew. Of course, the former DEP hacks now at Rutgers will likely get a piece of the RGGI patronage as well.)

It is truly sickening.

So I was pleased to read that – coincidentally – just 4 days later, NJ US Senator Booker made a strong statement in support of exactly the kind of program I was driving at that NJ DEP should allocate RGGI funding to:   (see NJ.Com)

Planting 15 billion trees. Bringing back the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps. Restoring wetlands.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker on Wednesday proposed these measures as a way to combat climate change. The idea is to increase the amount of carbon emissions now absorbed by soil, forests and wetlands.

It is the latest of several detailed policy proposals he has issued during his run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a response to the Great Depression. This new version would hire low-income youth and those from indigenous communities and communities of color and teach them how to work in forestry and wetlands restoration.

I don’t support Booker politically, as a candidate.

And I don’t agree with all aspects of his proposal, which must be significantly strengthened, such as: 1) The proposed 2050 date needs to be accelerated by 25 years, 2) the program needs to be fully funded, preferably by fossil industry profits or assets (not sales), 3) the coastal wetlands program needs to be conditioned upon land use restrictions (no development in hazard zones) and accompanied by a funded and phased “strategic retreat” program, 4) there needs to be a specific number of jobs, $15/hour minimum wage, and job training guaranteed, and targeted to economically distressed areas (rural and urban) 5) there needs to be a rural component, not just an urban forestry program, 6) farmers need to be subject to mandatory requirements, not voluntary recommendations, 7) carbon offsets, carbon credits and carbon trading must not be part of the program, 8) the program can not be “justified” by promoting “forest health”, “young forests”, “sustainable forests” or “wildfire prevention” shams or provide funding to them, and 9) no corporate subsidies. Perhaps even more than 15 billion tress are necessary – I have no idea how Booker derived that number.

But his proposal is strongly in the right direction and warrants general support of all the national Democrats and the NJ DEP.

It is an important feature of the proposed Green New Deal and an essential component of a strategy to combat climate chaos.

In a twofer, the NJ.Com story then went on to slam Congressman Pallone, for blocking the Green New Deal:

“In FDR’s New Deal, the federal government planted billions of trees, provided conservation incentives to family farmers and ranchers, created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and electrified rural America,” said Booker, D-N.J.

“In order to address the urgent and existential threat posed by climate change, all of these approaches should be part of our broader strategy.”

Booker earlier endorsed the Green New Deal, an effort to curb the emissions contributing to climate change and creating new jobs in the process. But the effort championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is going nowhere in Congress due to the opposition of New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist.

So glad that Pallone was called out.

The Green New Deal is the path forward.

Just like FDR pioneered his New Deal Programs as Governor of NY State – particularly the CCC forestry program – maybe NJ Gov. Murphy can get his DEP Commissioner and her  failed (thus far) climate programs on the same page.

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The Record Gets It Half Right On Gov. Murphy’s Hypocrisy On Climate And Environment

August 12th, 2019 No comments

And they leave out a lot

Gov. Murphy has corrupt cheerleaders who are lying to the public about his record

[See End Note below]

The Bergen Record published a story today that attempts to hold Gov. Murphy accountable on his climate and environmental policy record (sorry the article is behind a paywall, see:

The Record got it half right  – and they left out a lot of what could have been even far harsher criticism.

I’ve been writing about all that from day one – exposing Gov. Murphy’s hypocrisy on climate and documenting Gov. Murphy and his DEP’s regulatory record – so I need to make a few clarifications of the Record’s reporting.

First of all, the article opens up with a highly misleading claim, praising Gov. Murphy for killing a proposed pipeline under Raritan Bay:

In June, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration denied permits to a controversial pipeline that would send natural gas from New Jersey under Raritan Bay to New York City — a move that environmentalists said reaffirmed the governor’s goals to move the state away from fossil fuels.

But that’s a load of crap – 3 weeks before, NY Governor Cuomo already killed the pipeline – see the NY Times story:

So Gov. Murphy’s DEP denial of permits did nothing to kill the pipeline project – the project was already dead by Cuomo’s hand (and the basis for NJ DEP’s permit denials was very different legally and technically fro NY’s and did not establish any regulatory precedent to deny pending pipelines, like the Penn East seeking wetlands and water quality certification).

NJ environmentalists heaped false praise on the governor at the time. They continue to do so, blatantly lying to the public.

The Record now again misleads readers and repeats this false praise.

The fake Raritan pipeline denial is not inconsistent with Murphy DEP’s approval of permits for the stealth Delaware River LNG plant (and that LNG project is not nearly the first major new fossil project DEP issued permits to).

Second, while the Record correctly criticizes Murphy and DEP in this strong paragraph, the truth is even worse:

He has not fulfilled his promise to reopen the Office of Climate Change, which was shuttered by former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican. Murphy has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental funds to help balance the state budget. New Jersey is one of two coastal states without climate adaptation plans

And the administration has not set forth rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or rolled back Christie-era regulations viewed as harmful to the environment.

At the Governor’s level, Gov. Murphy’s EO 63 repealed Christie Executive Orders 1-2, but it continued the cost benefit policy and added a whole bunch of even worse policies. I wrote about that here:

At the DEP bureaucratic level, technically, the Record got it wrong. The Gov. did “reopen the Office of Climate Change” – but, as I wrote, that did absolutely nothing but mislead the public, see:

As I noted in my post, DEP Commissioner McCabe’s response to legislature’s written questions specifically about the Office of Climate Change flat out contradicts Gov. Murphy’s spokesperson quoted in the Record article:

And the administration has done “far more” than just reopening the Office of Climate Change, she said, by naming a chief resilience officer and reorganizing the Climate & Flood Resilience Program, which “serves as a hub responsible for coordinating the climate change resilience and adaptation work ongoing in many programs across the DEP.”

Hit the link to my post above and read McCabe’s written responses to OLS. They contradict the Gov.’s Office spin.

More importantly, while the Record gets it exactly right here,

And the administration has not set forth rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or rolled back Christie-era regulations viewed as harmful to the environment.

They fail to call out the NJ environmental groups that are flat out lying about this, like Tom Gilbert at Rethink NJ and cynical Ed Potosnak at NJ LCV (the lying sack of shit from the “Keep It Greed” campaign)

The Record got it exactly right – there have been no new rules and no new policies and no restoration of Christie DEP rollbacks. NONE. NADA. ZILCH.

Third, there has been no “progress” on the DEP regulatory front.

Gov. Murphy and DEP Commissioner McCabe have not been “chiseling away at the edges” of the Christie DEP’s policies:

“The rollbacks were so massive under Christie that you can’t just chisel away at the edges,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “You need a full reversal. We have seen progress on that front, but not fast enough

This is not a question of the pace of reforms or incremental versus comprehensive reforms. There are no reforms.

This is probably the best illustration of the Murphy DEP failure to reform the status quo:

As I’ve written numerous times, Gov. Murphy and DEP Commissioner McCabe have not only not reversed any Christie DEP regulatory rollback – the C1 buffer rule had already been vetoed by the legislature – they have embraced many Christie DEP anti-environmental pro-business policies, see:

Worse, instead of restoring protections for exceptional C1 stream buffers, the Murphy DEP has actually rolled back existing protections, see:

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Even the Trump FEMA called out the Murphy DEP for rollbacks to critical stormwater and flooding protections, see:

Finally, there are many important environmental policy issues the Record simply ignored or lacked pace to write about  – and they falsely praised a fatally flawed RGGI – stuff like this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And this:

And the DEP is still bungling so the new NRD lawsuits and PFAS Spill Act Directive are destined to fail, see:

I could go on – interested readers should word search many prior posts – but I think you get my drift.

And finally, I hope folks will begin to realize that Gov. Murphy has a bunch of corrupt “green” cheerleaders who are flat out lying to the public about his record.

When will news reports make this point clear?

[End Note: As the Record story noted, to the Gov.’ credit, there is one regulation that the Murphy DEP did in fact strengthen protections, i.e. the upgrading of some 749 exceptional water quality stream miles to “Category One waters”.

However, even that proposal was over-sold, because the prohibition on disturbance of C1 buffers was reduced from 300 to 150 by Gov. Christie’s DEP. I explain all that in this post:

end]

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NJ Conservation Groups Helped The Right Hijack The Lake Hopatcong Toxic Algae Bloom Issue

August 7th, 2019 No comments

“Rain Tax” Reframes A Traditional Land Use & Water Quality Issue

Algae Blooms Are Exacerbated By Climate Chaos

Conservation groups provide cover for Gov. Murphy & DEP 

The NY Times finally weighed in on the Lake Hopatcong toxic algae bloom crisis on Monday, and amazingly they somehow managed to allow insane paranoid right wing anti-government Republicans to try to reframe the debate as about a “rain tax”, see:

And some Republican politicians have even accused state agencies of ginning up the threat as a scare tactic to promote what they call a “rain tax.”

Environment and planning advocates say that is an incorrect description of a potential solution: stormwater utilities. The utilities exist in 1,716 localities in 40 states and will be an option for New Jersey municipalities starting next month under a law signed by the Democratic governor, Philip D. Murphy.

(Is that you again death tax Frank Luntz?)

Part of the reason that these crazies have been allowed to hijack the debate lies in how the NJ conservation groups responded and narrowly and self interestedly framed the “solution” to the problem, while ignoring DEP’s failure to enforce the Clean Water Act and restrict land use to protect water quality.

At the outset, we predicted that NJ conservation groups would focus exclusively on stormwater utilities and infrastructure, while ignoring talking about climate change and traditional land use and water quality policy and DEP regulation and DEP’s numerous failures.

The conservation groups ignored DEP planning and regulatory tools and framed the solution to the issue this way narrowly – and they did so for corrupt & political reasons (not based on science and law):

  • a) they had worked on the weak stormwater utility bill – it is merely enabling and requires local County Freeholders to adopt it – and wanted to blow their own horn, while effectively praising Democrats and the Governor for doing virtually nothing;
  • b) they wanted to let their friends Gov. Murphy and DEP Commissioner McCabe off the hook for blatant failures to enforce the Clean Water Act and adopt protective regulations (including failing to restore Gov. Christie DEP rollbacks);
  • c) like virtually all Republicans and many corporate Democrats, they are anti-regulatory and don’t know about or like to talk about regulatory policy tools or climate change; and
  • they are all funded by the same corporate oriented Foundations and rely on the same corporate communication consultants and lobbyists.

Painfully aware that all this was happening, over a month ago, we warned folks and laid out a real agenda:

Before we get the lame attempts at suggesting weak “reforms” (e.g. stormwater utilities) from the usual lame suspects (e.g. Highlands Coalition), we thought we’d lay out a serious reform package.

So, here’s a short to do list for DEP to respond to the current crisis and prevent or reduce the likelihood of future disasters:

We pulled no punches and named names:

The algae bloom is caused by a combination of climate change, excessive nutrient & sediment pollution loads, and failed DEP regulatory policies.

DEP lacks adequate regulations governing land use, development, stormwater, water quality, septic systems, agriculture, and forestry.

Worse, DEP lacks any strategy, comprehensive plan, or enforceable regulations to address climate change, that we know will impact water resources (i.e. DEP rules mandating greenhouse gas emissions reductions or methods to adapt to climate change).

The Christie DEP not only denied climate change, but actually rolled back DEP regulations that were designed to protect water quality, including Highlands septic density, stormwater management, flood hazard, and stream buffer protections.

After the Legislature vetoed the Christie DEP septic density rollback, the Murphy DEP effectively revoked that already invalidated rule, but has yet to address other significant Christie DEP rollbacks.

Of course the greedy green weenies wanted no part of any debate about DEP regulating forestry and agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Foundations don’t pay for that kind of stuff and their corporate Boards, funders, and elite members don’t support it either. They want politically safe, market oriented, individual, voluntary, local, private property sensitive no tax increase,, and largely symbolic gestures. Nothing with any regulatory teeth that could cost corporations and the wealthy real money or stifle their economic development plans.

For a perfect example of validation of my prediction, along comes an Op-Ed by Michele Byers of NJ Conservation Foundation, see:

Note how Byers’ Op-Ed is exclusively focused on what individuals can do – not what government can do. That is right wing framing. It is no accident. It is ideological warfare.

Byers’ Op-Ed undermines a prior far stronger Op-Ed by Jeff Tittel of Sierra Club.

Byers is following the same cynical green cover playbook of a prior NJCF Op-Ed that also undercut Tittel on holding the Murphy administration accountable on climate change.

Byers desperately wants to change the subject and divert attention away from controversial real solutions.

And Byers is willing to throw Lake Hopatcong and water quality under the bus to avoid criticizing the Gov. in hopes that he will respond to NJCF’s real priority, which is keeping the Penn East pipeline out of their elite backyards in Hunterdon County.

That’s the weeny way – we call it what it is – Fake Solutions and sabotage

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