Archive for the ‘Policy watch’ Category

Toxic Alternatives To Chemical PFAS Illustrates Failure Of TSCA “Reforms”

February 5th, 2019 No comments

NJ’s US Senator Booker declared victory 

Now that he’s running for President, will he be held accountable for failure?

Bill Wolfe, director of the New Jersey office of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said not having Lautenberg in the Senate is a “huge loss.” He would “step on toes to get things done,” whereas Wolfe said Booker is “the antitheses of that.” He called the former mayor a “calibrated corporate Democrat who worries about alienating Wall Street and corporate America.” ~~~ E&E News (10/31/13)

[Update below]

Scientists at the NJ Department of Environmental Protection are criticizing the US EPA for failure to consider the toxicity of alternatives to the controversial group of toxic chemicals know as PFAS.

NJ Spotlight reported:

New Jersey scientists are accusing the federal government of failing to consider many health risks posed by a group of chemicals that are designed to substitute for some of the controversial PFAS substances which are now being strictly regulated by the state. Regulation of PFAS has been deemed necessary because of growing evidence that they are a danger to public health.

[Update: For context,  according to US EPA:

Another tool in the TSCA enforcement toolkit is TSCA Section 7 Imminent and Substantial Engagement (ISE) authority. This infrequently used provision provides EPA authority for preventing a release or continued release of a substance meeting the definition of a ”imminently hazardous chemical substance or mixture” in TSCA7(f).

That DEP criticism directly contradicts claims by NJ US Senator Cory Booker, who declared victory on this set of issues:

“Congressional approval of this bipartisan chemical safety law is a major victory for our state and for the legacy of Sen. Frank Lautenberg who championed this fight.  I am proud of the long-overdue improvements I fought to include in this bill, including provisions that strengthen EPA’s ability to regulate toxic chemicals, provide EPA with dedicated funding, give more scrutiny to new chemicals before they come on the market, allow states to continue to co-enforce with EPA, and minimize animal testing when scientifically reliable alternatives exist.

As we recently wrote (scroll down to second point)


Second, while exposing the failure to screen the toxicity of substitute chemicals, NJ Spotlight failed to note the key reason for that failure:

New Jersey’s nation-leading efforts to protect the public from a class of toxic chemicals in drinking water are being threatened by the emergence of substitutes that may be just as hazardous to human health, experts argue.

That failure is due to a federal law known as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is a law, passed by Congress in 1976 and administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, that regulates the introduction of new or already existing chemicals.

TSCA was just overhauled in 2016 by legislation negotiated by NJ Senator Cory Booker

Here’s Booker’s self congratulatory press release:

“Congressional approval of this bipartisan chemical safety law is a major victory for our state and for the legacy of Sen. Frank Lautenberg who championed this fight.  I am proud of the long-overdue improvements I fought to include in this bill, including provisions that strengthen EPA’s ability to regulate toxic chemicals,provide EPA with dedicated funding, give more scrutiny to new chemicals before they come on the market, allow states to continue to co-enforce with EPA, and minimize animal testing when scientifically reliable alternatives exist. Despite long odds and difficult challenges, common sense and finding common ground won the day. I want to thank all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that came together to make this bill possible. I look forward to celebrating when President Obama signs this important chemical safety reform legislation into law, helping to keep American families and children safe from toxic chemicals.”

In May, Sen. Booker spoke on the Senate floor urging swift passage of the bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which makes badly needed reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.  His remarks can be viewed here.

To read the act, see:  

Someone needs to go ask Booker about all that.

Is EPA stronger and subject to stricter legal standards? Is so, how could they do what DEP claims?

Is NJ DEP authorized to enforce those stricter standards? If so, why are they blasting EPA?

Are children safe from toxic chemicals, as Booker claimed?

And we predicted this Booker sell out:

Bill Wolfe, director of the New Jersey office of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said not having Lautenberg in the Senate is a “huge loss.” He would “step on toes to get things done,” whereas Wolfe said Booker is “the antitheses of that.” He called the former mayor a “calibrated corporate Democrat who worries about alienating Wall Street and corporate America.”

Categories: Family & kids, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Open Letter To The Highlands Coalition and Other Supporters of the “Forest Stewardship” Bill

June 22nd, 2013 No comments

DEP Rejection of Forest Stewardship Council Certification Guts Essential Safeguards Used To Garner Support

  • One of the key principles that allowed many [conservation] groups to throw our support behind the bill was the concept of forest stewardship certification by the independent Forest Stewardship Council. So that remains the key component that assures us that some of the issues that have been brought up today [are addressed].  ~~~ Emile Devito, PhD, NJ Conservation Foundation (and Trustee of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance)
  • We have a Natural Heritage Committee …comprised of some of the most preeminent wildlife biologists, naturalists, forest ecologists in the state … and they debated this bill for over a year. And what they came up with is a position paper. What it required to support this bill was really one thing: and that is that a forest stewardship plan for State owned land be certified by the independent Forest Stewardship Council. ~~~  Testimony of Eliott Ruga, Highlands Coalition, to the Assembly Ag. & Natural Resources Cmte. 6/10/13 (listen)

Readers know that DEP recently rejected the Forest Stewardship Council certification process contained as an essential safeguard in the controversial  proposed “Forest Stewardship” bill.

The FSC standards and certification process were the only reasons many in the NJ Conservation community agreed to support the bill.

FSC certification was viewed as an essential safeguard to prevent damaging commercial logging of NJ forests. The sponsors of the bill repeatedly assured critics that FSC would prevent abuses.

Because DEP has opposed FSC certification and will not enforce FSC standards and nothing in the bill requires DEP to do so, I am urging my colleagues to take emergency action and publicly withdraw their support for the bill.

This would include contacting the bill’s sponsors and issuing a public statement. Now!

Such a move is extremely important and must happen immediately, because the bill is scheduled for Assembly floor vote on Monday.

The bill already has cleared the Senate and this is the bill’s last stop before the Governor.

Here is my letter to the Highlands Coalition, who reluctantly  backed the bill only due to the FSC certification provision:

Julia and Eliot – as you may know, in a June 10 letter, DEP rejected FSC certification – given this position, would the bill pass, they will not enforce FSC standards or participate in the FSC certification process.

Nothing in the pending Forest Stewardship bill requires them to do so or provides for mandatory compliance with FSC standards (which are voluntary, and only implemented via the non-binding FSC certification process).

According to documents I’ve reviewed,  the Highland Coalition has only supported the bill based on FSC certification, viewing this as an essential safeguard.

Now that DEP has rejected that, I most strongly urge you to withdraw you support, and reach out to sponsors, BEFORE the scheduled Monday vote in the Assembly, the last chance to do so.

Is there any way to get reconsideration of the HC Board on this (or whomever sets lenitive policy)?

For details, see:

Major New Development in Forest Stewardship Bill – DEP Now Opposes FSC Certification

Bill Wolfe

Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Why Is It So Hard For NJ Media to Call Out Gov. Christie on Climate Change?

March 15th, 2013 3 comments

Christie May Not Be A Total Denier, But He Is A Radical Dismantler of Climate Change Programs

[Updates below]

Climate change is of  NO CONCERN to Gov. Christie and he’s said so himself and demonstrated that by his actions multiple times for over 3 years.  ~~~~ Bill Wolfe, March 15, 2013

A story in today’s Bergen Record prompts the question:

Why is it so hard for NJ Media to accurately portray the Governor’s record or call out Christie on Climate Change?

Today, very similar to what we have written (see this Jan. 11 post), the Record story compares Gov. Christie’s Sandy Recovery Plan with NY Gov. Cuomo’s plan, see: Rebuild vs. retreat: Christie and Cuomo offer contrasting plans in wake of Sandy

We won’t focus on the bias in that headline – i.e. disparaging sound, cost effective, regional land use planning recommended by the overwhelming majority of scientific experts and a diverse set of professionals as “retreat” shows absurd bias. We’ll save that debate for another day.

But, I do want to focus on how that story characterizes Governor Christie’s stance on climate change.

Here’s how the Record reporter describes that:

Christie, a Republican who said immediately after superstorm Sandy struck in October that climate change was not his “main concern,” is offering owners of flood-damaged homes $10,000 in exchange for a promise to do repairs and stay in their homes for at least two years.

Not his “main concern”? What? Are you kidding me?

Climate change is of  NO CONCERN to Gov. Christie and he’s said so himself and demonstrated that by his actions multiple times for over 3 years.

Both the Gov.’s rhetoric and his policies – over a 3 year period – show that climate is of no concern, not a just a lower priority isssue, i.e. not a “main concern”.

So why is this so hard for the press to hold the Gov. accountable to that radical position?

Let me again offer a few specific examples of the Christie rhetoric and the policy:

1. In a recent February 5, 2013 Union Beach press conference, yes, technically, as the Record reported today, the Gov. did say that climate change was not his “main concern“.

But those were the Gov. words, designed to soften a rant and mask his radical policy record.

The context for the Gov.’s not my “main concern” quote was a rant in which the Gov. called climate change anesoteric issue” that the public “did not give a damn about” and that he had not spent any time – repeat: any  time at all – considering.

“I have no idea. I’m not a climatologist and in the last hundred days I have to tell you the truth, I’ve been focused on a lot of things, the cause of this is not one of them that I’ve focused on,” Christie said in response to a question about the role climate change could have played in fueling the Oct. 29, 2012 storm. “Now, maybe in the subsequent months and years, after I get done with trying to rebuild the state and put people back in their homes, I will have the opportunity to ponder theesoteric question of the cause of this storm. …If you asked of these people in Union Beach, I don’t think they give a damn.” NJ Gov. Chris Christie, Feb. 5. 2013

2. Prior to Christie’s February 5 rant, the Gov. told WNYC’s reporter Bob Hennelly – who asked him a point blank climate question – that he had not been briefed on or considered climate change in 18 months. On Dec. 7, 2012, WNYC reported:

Nancy Solomon, New Jersey Public Radio) As Sandy gathered force and then slammed into his state, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie batted off question’s about climate change.

“I know there are some folks at Rutgers who are looking at whether climate caused all this, but I certainly haven’t been briefed in the last year, year-and-a-half on this,” Christie told WNYC’s Bob Hennelly last month.

How is it possible for the Governor of a coastal state, with the nation’s most aggressive climate change law (i.e. the 2007 Global Warming Response Act) not to have been briefed for 18 months on climate change?

So again, by the Gov. own words, climate change played NO ROLE – not a subordinate role – but NO ROLE in the Governor’s decisions.

3.  On the policy front, the evidence is even worse.

The Governor has engaged an across the board assault and dismantling of virtually anything related to climate change – it is a radical and ugly record.

That radical record can not be characterized by the misleading and lazy claim that climate change is not his “main concern”.

Why is this story so hard for the NJ media to write?

Why do they flinch from holding the Gov. accountable to this radical record?

In closing, this is one of the few news stories that come close to calling the Gov. out and accurately portraying his policy: Sandy recovery, not climate, on Governor Christie’s radar

Update #2 : 5/15/13 – Wa-Po Op-Ed by the Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuval Christie’s Broken Promise – conclusion sounds familiar:

He may not be engaging in climate denial talk — but he’s embracing climate denial policies.

In another erie parallel, Katrina also cites the 400 ppm CO2 threshold, a milestone I urged Dems to use as a millstone around Christie’s neck , on the same day she wrote the column, May 14!  – end update]

Update #1 : 4/28/13 – HALLELUJAH!!!  (listen to Leonard Cohen)

Tom Moran at the Star Ledger finally breaks the ice with this editorial:  Gov. Christie’s towering hypocrisy on climate

But, I had to write my old friend a note, just to keep it real:

Tom – thanks for that, you’re the first to break this ice:

But, you obviously must know that putting Pringle in that piece was obscene – Pringle and NJEF not only endorsed Christie, but provided cover for 2 years – the key period when this policy framework was put in place with no media or legislative pushback !

Rewarding that by writing him into your editorial is an insult to the truth.

Wolfe  – end updates]

Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Toxic Chemicals Released In South Jersey Train Accident Force Evacuation

November 30th, 2012 2 comments

Repauno, NJ - residential neighborhood within feet of chlorine rail tanker cars. Tanker cars were easily accessible and unprotected. Chlorine gas release would be deadly. (1/18/08)

 Do You Live in the “Kill Zone”?

[Important update below]

The Star Ledger is reporting that earlier this morning, a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals that caused breathing difficulties among at least 18 people and forced evacuation of the area, see: Paulsboro bridge collapse derails train, dumps tank car contents into Mantua Creek

This accident opens personal wounds.

On a policy level, it reminds us of real threats to our lives that require more aggressive regulation.

On a personal note, I have been down in that area and wrote about exactly these kind of risks as accidents waiting to happen, see: In Harm’s Way (hit the link and scroll down to see photos of unsecured trains with toxic loads near schools and daycare centers).

For taking those and other photos in Paulsboro, I was detained by local police, my car was illegally searched and my documents were seized, and I was later investigated by federal Homeland Security and the FBI.

A few days after the incident, three investigators came to my house: Homeland Security, FBI and  the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office.

At one point, while the focus of the investigation was on my photography of oil refineries, one of the investigators mentioned that I had been seen taking photos of train cars and chemical plants near schools, that I had a backpack on at the time, and suggested that I might be a terrorist seeking to emulate the “Chechen Rebels”.

I think I remain on a US domestic terror watch list as a result of this incident and investigation.

On a policy level, this accident reminds us that the chemical industry is creating unacceptable risks that require more stringent regulation (see:  25 Years After Bhopal Chemical Disaster: NJ”s “Fatal Fifteen” Shows it Can Happen Here

But instead of stricter regulation, under the Governor’s Executive Order #2, to appease the chemical industry, the Christie Administration is going in the opposite direction and rolling back NJ’s stringent state requirements to federal minimums.

The Whitman Administration tried and was warned not to do this way back in 1994, when a DEP Assistant Commissioner wrote this:

“Industry (e.g., CIC and NJBIA) would obviously prefer backing off to the EPA thresholds. However, the increases made by EPA on adoption were so large (averaging some 18 times the TCPA values with 33 of the 60 substances common to both lists assigned from 5 to 167 times corresponding TCPA values) that they are not technically justifiable in an area as densely populated as New Jersey where substances are generally handled on small sites, and would correlate with a significant increase in the number of potential fatalities.”

As I wrote:

NJ industries use over 15 BILLION pounds of hazardous chemicals per year. That number has grown slightly from 1990 – 1998 (most recent data reported by DEP Pollution Prevention). That’s almost 2,000 pounds for each resident.

Hundreds of NJ Communities are threatened by scores of dangerous chemical facilities, where an accident or terror attack could kill more than 100,000 residents.

While this spill may have been minor, it also reminds us that the liability cap for such spills still is far too low and legislation to raise it is stalled due to the political power of the chemical industry. (correction – see update below!)

The public interest and community safety are being sacrificed and put at needless risk as a result of the political power of the chemical industry –

While we may have  dodged a bullet with what appears to be a relatively minor train wreck, it could have been far worse. [correction – see update below]

When will warnings be heeded? After people die?

[Update:  It looks like EPA is downplaying the risks of the chemical released, vinyl chloride.

According to ATSDR “Tox Facts” VC is one of the few chemicals that are known human carcinogens – that relates to long term chronic exposures.

For acute exposure, I didn’t see EPA mention “coma and death”, ATSDR reports:

Health Effects

  • The primary target of vinyl chloride acute exposure is the CNS. Signs and symptoms include dizziness, ataxia, inebriation, fatigue, numbness and tingling of the extremities, visual disturbances, coma, and death.
  • Vinyl chloride can irritate the eyes, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract. Escaping compressed gas or liquid can cause frostbite or irritation of the skin and eyes.
  • Chronic exposure can cause permanent liver injury and liver cancer, neurologic or behavioral symptoms, and changes to the skin and bones of the hand.
  • Vinyl chloride’s acute CNS effects are likely to be caused by interaction of the parent compound with neural membranes. Other effects appear to be caused by interaction of reactive intermediates with macromolecules.

(PS – the site is down the rive from me, 40 miles south, south west. I am feeling a tad dizzy and nauseous just now and checked the weather – sure enough, wind is from the SE. Could a cloud be blowing up the Delaware River?

Categories: Family & kids, Hot topics, Policy watch Tags:

Are There Any Grownups in the Room?

November 10th, 2012 3 comments

Gov. Christie Drunk On Springsteen and Snooki

 Time to Form A Coastal Commission To Plan For A Climate Changed Shore

“This is too important a place in the fabric of New Jersey’s culture to not rebuild it. I’ve never had any doubt in my mind that we’re going to rebuild it,” Christie said. “I do not intend to be the governor who presides over the idea that this is going to be gone. I refuse to accept that.” (Asbury Park Press 11/10/12)


[Update: 2/25/13 – We told you so! Asbury Park Press reports today:

Seaside Heights plans seawall with MTV funds

SEASIDE HEIGHTS — Snooki, Pauly D and the rest of the cast of “Jersey Shore” drew crowds and controversy over four summers in the borough, but their final act could leave the greatest impression.

The cast of the MTV hit reality show helped raise $1 million during a benefit broadcast in November.

Now, Seaside Heights officials want to use that money for a seawall that could protect the boardwalk where the gang partied and played until summer 2012, shortly before superstorm Sandy crashed into the real Jersey Shore.

We also told the Gov. that sea walls don’t work – end update]

And the Star Ledger called that a “sobering message“. Sober? The Governor is drunk on nostalgia.

Nostalgia will get you nowhere (“… that waitress I was seeing lost her desire for me...”)

There’s a time and a place for cheerleading and inspiration and all the Springsteen and Snooki Jersey Shore Photo-Op cultural bullshit.

But now, when expectations for a global warming driven future of the shore are forming, it’s time to Get Real.

So, are there any adults in the room? It’s way past the Good Governor’s bedtime.

Perhaps the legislature might want to stand up and be counted?

Because King Christie, enrthralled by his boyhood rapture, is taking some unilateral and significant steps right now – Star Ledger tells us :

Calling Sandy “our Katrina,” Christie said he would work to ensure New Jersey receives the same attention and federal support given to states along the Gulf Coast after the 2005 hurricane there. He said he planned to meet with his cabinet in the days ahead to map out a long-term strategy.

Do Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Oliver think that the Legislative branch and the people of the state have a seat at the table in developing  a “long term strategy” for the shore?

Or are they going to sit back and defer to Christie’s Cabinet meetings?

The Asbury Park Press makes very clear the emotions and vision driving the Governor:

There are certain iconic places that those of us who have lived here all our lives just know about and take for granted,” he said. “You look in here and you see the damage that’s done inside there. Does Madame Marie’s come back, or doesn’t it? And if it doesn’t, then it does affect the culture of the state. It’s a different thing. It affects our history and the way we look at ourselves. That’s why this rebuilding phase is going to have to be done really carefully and smartly and not in a rushed way.”

Do public policymakers and the people of the State think that science and responsible land use planning should play a role in shaping the future of the shore? Or how, as the Governor says, “we look at ourselves”?

Perhaps the Governor and Legislators and the public should ask DEP Commissioner Martin a few questions and read stuff like this, from DEP’s own “Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol

The scientific community has arrived at a strong consensus that global climate change is occurring and resulting in changes to shoreline dynamics1. Climate change threatens to accelerate sea level rise and increase the frequency and intensity of coastal storms. As a result, citizens, development, and ecosystems will become more vulnerable to the impacts of coastal hazards, making it imperative to identify areas where special needs communities, vital public facilities and roads, and sensitive natural resources overlap areas of potential inundation. These issues need to be considered as New Jersey’s coastal communities plan to become more resilient.

Now is the time to discuss strategic retreat from high hazard coastal areas, develop a plan for adaptation to climate change, and get serious about accelerating an emergency transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Perhaps the best way to do that is via a Coastal Commission (a Highlands or Pinelands for the shore) to finally realize the vision of the 1973 CAFRA statute, which called for a “comprehensive environmental design strategy” for the coast.

Madam Marie’s and the Silverball Museum Arcade may be at the top of Governor Christie’s Agenda, but – borrowing from Patti Smithnot mine.

I prefer something along these lines.

[Update – I don’t want this important point by my friend Bill Neil to get lost in the comment section:

But this is not happening in an ideological and political vacuum: the Governor of NJ at the moment is a fan, big time of austerity and cutting the entitlements he doesn’t like.  So how do you pull that off – increasing entitlements at the riskiest of places – while going after Social Security and Medicaid – and you can fill in his NJ state favorites for me.

[Update #2: 11/11/12 – Let’s not forget this classic QOTD:

“I’m not afraid to listen to Bill Wolfe when he has a good idea,” [Senator] Smith said. Wolfe says he would like the Legislature to take a stronger stance with a bill to require action by the DEP. ~~~  Kirk Moore of thAsbury Park Press story on 9/27/10

FYI to readers: I initiated and wrote the bill that created the non-regulatory Coastal & Ocean Protection Council (since abandoned by Christie under Executive Order #40) and staffed Governor McGreevey’s Highlands Task Force and wrote the DEP and environmental provisions of the Highlands Act (both with Senator Smith, the prime sponsor).