Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Don’t Frack NY – Albany Protest Photos

September 1st, 2012 No comments

Will Cuomo Sell Out to the Frackers?

Will professionals at NY DEC stand up for scientific integrity and the public interest, or allow politicians and industry lobbyists to approve the EIS?

"Father Knows Best"


Last Monday (8/27/12), I traveled up to Albany NY to join the “Don’t Frack NY” protest, calling on Governor Cuomo to block fracking in the Empire State – ground zero in the anti-fracking activism debate.

In addition to the well placed focus on Gov. Cuomo, perhaps the most important development in this protest was the tremendous outpouring of support for a pledge to resist, should Cuomo allow fracking in NY.

Over 3,200 people pledged to actively resist any fracking. Support for resistance is a hugely important and completely unreported aspect of the anti-fracking movement.

My ties to NY are deep and lasting. I love the place.

I am a native of New York, who grew up on the magnificent Hudson River. As a kid, I vacationed in the glorious Catskill and Adirondack Mountains and swam in pristine lakes.

I went to college in NY’s “southern tier” at SUNY Binghamton and grad school in the Finger Lakes at Cornell, high above Cayuga’s waters, incredible places now targeted as fracking “sacrifice zones”.

In a deeply depressing irony, my Master’s Thesis topic was “Local Land Use Controls To Protect Groundwater Resources” in vulnerable river valley aquifers, primarily to prevent contamination from toxic chemicals.

Thirty years later, that is exactly what fracking intentionally does – fracking injects millions of gallons of a toxic chemical soup deep underground!

That thesis work focused on the Southern Tier and I worked with a woman planner with the Southern Tier Regional Planning Board out of Horseheads NY.

Amazingly, 30 years later, a woman scientist from Horseheads spoke at the rally.

My head explodes thinking about it, so I’ll stop writing now and simply post some photos of an outstanding and important event.

Fracktivists converge on the NY DEC Building. Think DEC got the message? Will the professionals there stand up for independence and scientific integrity, or allow politicians and industry lobbyists to approve the EIS?

Categories: Hot topics, personal, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Dupont’s Mercury Problem Is Now EPA’s Problem Too

January 7th, 2012 25 comments

Dupont Partial Lake Cleanup Plan Uses Flawed Science to Minimize Problem

Florio Lets Liability Cat Out of the Bag

EPA must stand by Regional Administrator Enck’s commitment and their own science and reject the Dupont proposal.

sunsets on mercury laced Pompton Lake (1/5/12)

sun sets on mercury laced Pompton Lake (1/5/12)

Dupont has a big mercury problem in Pompton Lakes, NJ (in addition to the cancer cluster and vapor intrusion).

Scientifically and legally, the problem is similar to General Electric’s (GE) problem with dumping toxic and bioaccumulative PCB’s in the Hudson River, where, according to EPA:

From approximately 1947 to 1977, the General Electric Company (GE) discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from its capacitor manufacturing plants at the Hudson Falls and Fort Edward facilities into the Hudson River.

That GE dumping poisoned 200 miles of the Hudson River, leading EPA to declare that portion of the River a Superfund site and forcing GE to cleanup the river at a cost of over $500 million.

Like GE, for almost 100 years, Dupont used and disposed of mercury compounds at their explosives manufacturing facility.

Like GE, mercury air emissions and mercury dumping on the Dupont site have led to significant off site releases, so that soils and sediments along the the Acid Brook, Pompton Lake, and natural resource and the downriver region are poisoned.

fish consumption warning posted on Pompton Lake

fish consumption warning posted on Pompton Lake

Mercury is highly toxic to humans, fish and wildlife – it bioaccumulates through the food chain. Its effects are magnified by predators up the food chain and persist for many years.

Like in the the Hudson River, because of mercury pollution, it is unsafe to eat freshwater fish in NJ – and consumption warnings are posted on Pompton Lake (but largely ignored).

Dupont wiped out an entire fishery.

And like Hudson River PCB’s, EPA has extensive national scientific and regulatory experience with mercury in the Great lakes region that is relevant to Dupont Pompton Lakes.

Like GE, Dupont wants to minimize the cost of cleanup and resists EPA cleanup mandates.

I don’t know about GE/Hudson, but in Pompton lakes, EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck has given the community multiple assurances that EPA will hold Dupont accountable and strictly enforce environmental laws. For example, in an October 14, 2010 reply letter, RA Enck assured me that:

You have my commitment that the Environmental Protection Agency will ensure that Dupont will fulfill its RCRA obligations for this facility.

But Dupont has proposed a partial cleanup plan of just a 26 acre portion of the 250 acre Pompton Lake – no downriver sediment removal is being considered at this time. Dozens of areas of toxic soil contamination on the Dupont site still have not been cleaned up (after 30 years).

The plan is not only for only a small part of the Lake, but it is based on flawed science.

The Dupont plan must be approved by EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the most important environmental law you probably never even heard of (and the polluters like it that way).

But now the Dupont plan is in EPA’s lap, which in some ways makes Dupont’s mercury problem EPA’s problem too.

Was Dupont’s plan reviewed and approved by EPA’s national scientific experts on mercury and USFWS scientists? Here’s why we need to know answers to those questions:

I)  Florio Lets the Liability Cat Out of the Bag

Jim Florio, sponsor of 1980 Superfund law, speaks at community rally (1/5/12)

Jim Florio, sponsor of 1980 Superfund law, speaks at community rally (1/5/12)

The residents of Pompton Lakes want the site designated and cleaned up by EPA under the Superfund program.

Thus far, their primary reasons for wanting Superfund instead of RCRA is that Superfund would bring more federal resources, a higher priority and visibility, and more community involvement in cleanup decisions.

But Jim Florio, Former NJ Governor and original sponsor of the 1980 Superfund law, just let the legal liability cat out of the bag.

The Superfund liability scheme adds another very good reason to use Superfund to compel Dupont to conduct a comprehensive and complete cleanup of the entire site, Pompton Lake, and downriver and compensate the public for huge natural resource and ecological damages they have caused (just like GE in the Hudson).

Florio went out of his way to emphasize that under Superfund, the legal liability scheme is known as “strict, joint, and several”.

Practically, what this legalese essentially means is that:

  • Dupont is 100% on the hook for the ENTIRE problem
  • EPA does not have to prove negligence  by Dupont
  • EPA has enormous power to force Dupont to do a complete cleanup.

This is key because mercury pollution comes from multiple sources: coal power plants, garbage incinerators, and smelters and industrial sources.

Dupont is arguing that they are responsible ONLY for the mercury they allegedly contributed – and only via Acid Brook runoff, NOT THE TOTAL HISTORIC MERCURY AIR EMISSIONS FROM THE DUPONT PLANT AND ALL ON SITE DISPOSAL PRACTICES.

EPA has agreed to this bogus Dupont argument and that is why only a 6 inch deep small 26 acre portion of the 250 acre Lake (the “Acid Brook Delta”) sediments are being dredged.

Dupont could not get away with that under Superfund.

While it is true that EPA has less legal leverage under RCRA that Superfund, EPA still could do the right thing by forcing Dupont to scientifically establish how much mercury came from their facility and how much came from other sources.

But Dupont has not done any of that kind of work and EPA therefore has no scientific basis upon which to approve the plan. (and that’s just EPA’s problem #1)

II)  Dupont’s Science is Flawed and Can Not Be Approved BY EPA

EPA has done an enormous amount of scientific work on mercury.

In contrast with this rigorous EPA body of work, Dupont’s various regulatory documents rely on cursory and flawed science and assessment methods.

These flawed Dupont approaches provide the basis for the Dupont partial Acid Brook Delta cleanup plan and ecological assessment.

Dupont’s science and methods are inconsistent with, do not meet the rigorous standards of, and contradict EPA science. [Update: See

As such, EPA can not approve of them by approving a cleanup plan based on them.

The primary EPA scientific sources for mercury, for our purposes are (there are lots others):

(examples of additional studies of scientific and regulatory relevance are the

Compared with the EPA Recommendations to Congress on ecologically protective mercury fish tissue levels, fish in Pompton lakes contain 2 – 10 TIMES safe levels.

Depending on trophic level of the fish, the EPA finding is 0.077 ppm – 0.346 ppm.

According to DEP, the fish in Pompton Lake average 0.72 ug/g (ppm).

[Update: A May 6, 2008 DEP email to Dupont specifically addressed this issue:

in order to present a balanced comparison, DuPont shall compare the average concentrations of mercury in largemouth bass from Pompton Lake to the regional average of 0.46 ug/g mercury in largemouth bass and/or the statewide average (0.44 ug/g) in the Remedial Investigation Report.

Judith Enck, EPA region 2 ADministraor warns residents about risks of eating contaminated fish from waters nearby toxic sites

Judith Enck, EPA region 2 Administrator came to NJ to warns residents about risks of eating contaminated fish from waters nearby toxic sites

Additionally, Dupont’s ecological risk analysis is flawed, as it relies too heavily on alleged no impacts on the benthic (bottom) macroinvertebrate community structure. Community structure is a poor indicator of bioavailability, bioaccumulation, and ecological risk that I haven’t seen used anywhere else. And even if you were looking at macro invertebrates, you would be doing so to consider food chain bioaccumulation, so you would look at tissue concentration of mercury, not community structure.

[Update: I may have misread the Dupont documents on this point – macro-invertibrate community structure is of relevance, and YOY fish are trophic indicator in food web design – see Mercury Cycling in Stream Ecosystems. 3. Trophic Dynamics and Methylmercury BioaccumulationWhere Dupont draws misleading conclusion is with this assertion:

However, tissue concentrations measured in the delta in 2005 do not indicate an increased accumulation of mercury by chironomids and YOY fish tissue relative to the tissue data collected during the 1998 ecological investigation. – end update]

[Update 2 – Here is what I meant to say, as provided by DEP’s Ecological Evaluation Guidance says about limitations of macro invertebrate sampling:

Some limitations are that they do not identify the contaminant responsible for the observed toxicity, population impacts are not readily translated into contaminant remediation goals, and results are often confounded by variables not related to contaminant toxicity (predation, seasonal differences, physicochemical sediment characteristics, food availability).]

Similarly, Dupont sampled “young of year” (YOY) fish, which minimizes bioaccumulation as young fish haven’t lived long enough to bioaccumulate the mercury in the system.

Here are additional serious flaws in Dupont’s analysis:

1) I didn’t see anything in Dupont’s documents concerning terrestrial mammals

2) There was no data or discussion of the bird sampling – other than a cursory claim of low/no adverse impact on 4 of 5 bird species sampled. What bird species? What tissue (or egg shell) concentrations found? What adverse impacts were considered?

3) There was no discussion of biological mechanisms that convert mercury they propose to leave in the sediments into bioavailable forms.

4) There was no data provided or consideration given to Dupont’s historic use of mercury compounds in manufacture.

5) There was no data or estimate of Dupont’s mercury air emissions and how those emissions deposited locally.

6) There was no dating or chemical analysis of soil or sediment cores that would suggest historic patterns of mercury deposition.

7) The full extent of mercury deposition and off-site release from the Dupont facility has not be adequately characterized.

8) There was no valid characterization of “mercury background”.

[According to the USEPA, background refers to constituents that are not influenced by the discharges from a site, and is usually described as naturally occurring or anthropogenic (USEPA, 2002a). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). 2002a. “Role of Background in the CERCLA Cleanup Program.” Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

[ According to NJ DEP Ecological Evaluation Guidance:

Background area samples should be collected from an area outside the site’s potential influence and not in locations directly influenced by or in proximity to other obvious sources of contamination.

9) There was no data provided to support apportionment of mercury in the environment as Dupont alleges to minimize their cleanup obligations (i.e. Dupont share and other source share).

10) There was no data or estimate sof total mercury loading; mechanisms and estimates of methylation; fate/transport modeling; bioaccumulation mechanisms; and human and wildlife exposure and risk assessments from air emissions, contaminated soil, surface water runoff of mercury disposed on site.

I assume that some of this data and analysis were provided in the original ecological assessment submitted to NJ DEP in accordance with State cleanup regulations (and rubber stamped by DEP’s broken cleanup program).

[Full disclosure Update: in 1995, a former NJ Governor, with DEP’s help, was shown to misrepresent the science on mercury in fish tissue to downplay risks – when I disclosed this scheme, management retaliated and I was forced out of DEP as a whistle-blower. Hit that link for all the documentation.]

Lois Gibbs speaks at community rally (1/5/12)

Lois Gibbs speaks at community rally (1/5/12)

However, this is an EPA federal RCRA action that must be EPA approved. Accordingly,  all the documents must be made available to the public during the comment period. That has not been done in this case so EPA can not approve the Dupont plan based on documents and analyses that have not been made publicly available.

III)  EPA is Required to Consult with US Fish and Wildlife Service

RCRA regulations require EPA to consult with federal agencies, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service during the RCRA permit process.

We advised EPA Regional Administrator Enck on November 17, 2011 that RCRA regulations include full federal partner review including, but not limited to, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, pursuant to regulation 40 CFR 124.10(c)(iii).

Certainly such consultation is required BEFORE EPA issues a “tentative approval” and proposes a draft RCRA permit for public comment.

Thus far, it appears that EPA has not complied with these consultation requirements prior to issuing the draft permit.

IV)  Dupont is Required to Comply with Clean Water Act Standards

The federal Clean Water Act applies to Dupont’s water pollution discharges.

The CWA also applies to the RCRA permit process, which must meet CWA requirements.

NJ DEP State surface water quality standards (SWQS) have been approved by EPA and are federally enforceable. They trigger enforceable requirements on pollution discharge that may “cause or contribute to” a violation of a SWQS.

NJ DEP SWQS designate Pompton Lake for recreational use (fishing, swimming,etc), aquatic life protections, and water supply.

The SWQS have policies and narrative and numeric standards that the RCRA permit and Dupont clean up must comply with.

The Dupont proposed cleanup plan provides no discussion or demonstration regarding compliance with the legally applicable and binding provisions of the CWA or NJ SWQS.

Accordingly, EPA can not approve the Dupont proposal as a final RCRA permit in the absence of this compliance demonstration.

EPA must stand by their own science. According to the EPA supported NJ DEP wildlife criteria proposal. According to the DEP SWQS proposal (which USFWS and EPA supported)::

“As part of the 1994 approval of the New Jersey SWQS triennial review process, the USEPA, in collaboration with the USFWS, indicated that the human health based criteria for PCBs were not protective of the threatened and endangered species bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and dwarf wedgemussel. As a result, the Service prepared a Biological Opinion document in 1996 (Biological opinion on the effects of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of the state of New Jersey’s surface water quality standards on the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and dwarf wedgemussel. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service, New Jersey Field Office, Pleasantville, New Jersey. 1996). The lack of wildlife criteria for DDT and its metabolites, mercury, and PCBs was a concern to the USFWS. DDT and its metabolites, mercury, and PCBs are bioaccumulative pollutants that are persistent in the environment, accumulate in biological tissues, and biomagnify in the food chain. Due to these characteristics, the concentration of these contaminants may increase as they are transferred up through various food chain levels. As a result, adverse impacts to non-aquatic, piscivorous (fish-eating) organisms may arise from low surface water concentrations. The peregrine falcon is not a piscivorous species. However, it feeds on other piscivorous bird species. Therefore, biomagnification may be of even greater concern for the peregrine falcon.

The USEPA developed site-specific wildlife criteria for the Great Lakes based on a number of factors, including the toxicity of various pollutants and their tendency to bioaccumulate and biomagnify. In addition, the USEPA gathered and applied information about piscivorous wildlife endemic to the Great Lakes region in its derivation of water quality criteria. That effort resulted in the promulgation of numeric surface water concentrations designed to be protective of all avian and mammalian wildlife using Great Lakes waters. “

EPA must now stand by Regional Administrator Enck’s commitment and their own science and reject the Dupont proposal.

1) Dupont’s proposed cleanup of Acid Brook Delta is only partial – we demand that all mercury and all pollutants be completely and permanently cleaned up so that the Lake is fishable and swimmable as mandated by the federal Clean Water Act and NJ Water Pollution Control Act;

2) The original 1992 EPA issued RCRA permit must be enforced and has numerous loopholes that must be closed – all RCRA “SWMU’s” and off site releases which are sources of toxic soil, sediment, vapor, and groundwater contamination must be cleaned up under more aggressive schedules and obligations than those EPA unilaterally imposed in a “compliance schedule modification” on May 4, 2010 without public notice and comment;

3) Natural resource damages and toxic fish and wildlife impacts of Dupont’s pollution have not been assessed fully and must be assessed and the public fully compensated;

4) EPA must take enforcement action and collect fines such that vapor mitigation systems are immediately installed in all impacted homes.

The plume area may be larger than currently thought, when subsurface infrastructure migration is considered.

Rally before EPA RCRA permit hearing (1/5/12)

Rally before EPA RCRA permit hearing (1/5/12)

Ode to a Chainsaw – My “Sleepy Hollow Moment”

December 3rd, 2011 No comments
Pocantico River - North Tarrytown, NY. Site of Washington Irving's classic story:"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Pocantico River – North Tarrytown, NY. Site of Washington Irving’s classic story:”The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

[Update: 12/7/11: check out both a remarkable resonance and a remarkable moment. Philip Glass spoke to the OWS at Lincoln Center. There is an echo of themes from the below post. The moral of the below post was about literature, sounds, and our discovery of virtue.The “machine” can “occupy” the “garden”, and encroach on intellectual and artistic space (i.e the pastoral ideal). I believe in the need to restore notions of republican virtue and the public interest. Here is what Glass said, the closing lines in the play Satyagrapha: watch the episode:

“When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.”

Of Chainsaws and Virtue – My “Sleepy Hollow Moment”

I often have “Sleepy Hollow moments” – and am sure you do too.

What the hell is a “Sleepy Hollow moment” you say?

Bear with me as I explain and we explore the meaning.

I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s some powerful and important stuff going on here.

The Sleepy Hollow Moment defined

I hate chainsaws.

They are loud, destructive, and dangerous. Operating one absolutely terrifies me.

Following in the footsteps of the axe, chainsaws – by orders of magnitude – have aided the destruction of countless acres of magnificent forests.

Nothing –  save an all terrain vehicle or the blast of a shotgun – can more completely destroy a tranquil walk in the woods.

Chainsaws are an almost perfect symbol of what Leo Marx wrote about in his masterpiece on the technological sublime and the pastoral ideal: The Machine in the Garden – Technology and the Pastoral Ideal.

Marx (no relation to Karl), prefaces that superb book with a quote from Washington Irving’s 1820 tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (I’m an Irving homeboy, from Tarrytown NY, a graduate of Sleepy Hollow High School):

I mention this peaceful spot with all possible laud; for it is in such little retired valleys that population, manners and customs remain fixed; while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant change in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved. They are little nooks of still water which border a rapid stream (Irving – 1820)

At the outset of the book, Marx distinguishes two very different forms of American pastoralism – the first he calls “popular and sentimental”, the second “imaginative and complex”.

The sentimental version is nostalgic: “a flight from the city”:

An inchoate longing for a more “natural” environment” enters into the contemptuous attitude that many Americans adopt toward urban life (with the result that we neglect our cities and desert them for the suburbs). Whenever people turn away from the hard social and technological realities, this obscure sentiment is likely to be at work. We see it in our politics, in the “localism” invoked to oppose an adequate system of national education, in the power of the farm block in Congress, in the special economic favor shown to “farming” through government subsidies. It manifest itself in our leisure activities, in the piety towards the out-of-doors expressed in the wilderness cult, and in our devotion to camping, hunting, fishing, picnicking, gardening, and so on.

Marx concludes that this sentimental form is:

generated by an urge to withdraw from civilization’s growing power and complexity. What is attractive in pastoralism is the felicity represented by an image of a natural landscape, a terrain either unspoiled or, if cultivated, rural. Movement towards such a symbolic landscape also may be understood as a movement away from an “artificial” world -¦ away from sophistication towards simplicity – away from the city towards the country – a vehicle of escape from reality.

Marx then contrasts this sentimental form of the pastoral with his “imaginative and complex” form. But he doesn’t use a specific definition or criteria, instead he relies on an illustration from a passage by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Marx develops what he calls “the Sleepy Hollow moment” or motif. To do this, he refers to Hawthorne’s own experience of a place called “Sleepy Hollow“.

The signal event transpires on the morning of July 27, 1844 in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts.

Hawthorne’s notes of that day set out to describe a tranquil moment. Marx interprets the larger significance:

he [Hawthorne] sat in solitude and silence and tried to record his every impression. One incident dominates his impressions. Around this “little event” a certain formal – one might say almost dramatic – pattern takes shape. It is to this pattern that I want to call attention.[..]

Hawthorn is using natural facts metaphorically to convey something about the human situation. From several pages in this vein, we get an impression of a man in almost perfect repose, idly brooding upon the minutia of nature, and now and then permitting his imagination a brief flight. Hawthorne is satisfied to set down unadorned sense impressions, especially sounds – sounds made by birds, squirrels, insects, and moving leaves.

But then, after a time, the scope of his observations widens. Another kind of sound comes through. He hears the village clock strike, a cowbell tinkle, and mowers whetting their scythes.

Without any perceptible change of mood or tone, he shifts from images of nature to images of man and society. He insists that “these sounds of labor” do not “disturb the repose of the scene” … He is describing a state of being where there is no tension either within the self or between the self and its environment. Much of this harmonious effect is evoked by the delicate interlacing of sounds that seem to unify society, landscape, and mind. What lends most interest, however, to this sense of all encompassing harmony and peace is a vivid contrast:[Marx excerpts excerpts Hawthorne]

But, hark! there is the whistle of the locomotive – the long shriek, above all other harshness, for the space of a mile cannot mollify it into harmony. It tells a story of busy men, citizens, from the hot street, who have come to spend a day in a country village, men of business; … and no wonder that is gives such a startling shriek, since it brings the noisy world into the midst of our slumbrous peace. [end Hawthorne]


There is something arresting about the episode: the writer sitting in his green retreat dutifully attaching words to natural facts, trying to tap the subterranean flow of thought and feeling and then, suddenly, the startling shriek of the train whistle bearing in upon him, forcing him to acknowledge the existence of a reality alien to his pastoral dream.  What begins as a conventional tribute to the pleasures of withdrawal from the world – a simple pleasure fantasy – is transformed by the interruption of the machine into a farm more complex state of mind.

Our sense of its evocative power is borne out by the fact that variants of the Sleepy Hollow episode have appeared everywhere in American writing since the 1840’s. We recall the scene from Walden where Thoreau is sitting rapt in a revery and then, penetrating the woods like the scream of a hawk, the whistle of the locomotive is heard; or the erie passage in Moby Dick where Ishmael is exploring the innermost recesses of a beached whale and suddenly the image shifts and the leviathan’s skeleton is a New England textile mill; or the dramatic moment in Huckleberrry Finn when Huck and Jim are floating along peacefully and a monstrous steamboat suddenly bulges out of the night and smashes straight through their raft. More often than not, the machine is made to appear with startling suddenness.


What I am saying – is that Hawthorne’s notes mark the shaping of a metaphorical design which recurs everywhere in our literature. They are a paradigm of the second kind of pastoralism mentioned at the outset. By looking closely at the way these notes are composed we can begin to account for the symbolic power  of the “little event” in Sleepy Hollow”


Since Jefferson’s time the forces of industrialization have been the chief threat to the bucolic image of America. The tensions between the two systems of value had the greatest literary impact in the period between 1840 and 1860, when the nation reached that decisive stage in its economic development which W.W. Rostow calls the “take-off”… In America, according to Rostow, the take-off began about 1844 – the year of the Sleepy Hollow episode – just at they time our first significant literary generation was coming to maturity.  … The locomotive appears in the woods, suddenly shattering the harmony of the green hollow, like a presentiment of history bearing down on the Amercian asylum. The noise of the train… is a cause of alienation …. and so it estranges [Hawthorne] from the immediate source of meaning and value in Sleepy Hollow. In truth, the “little event” is a miniature of a great – in any ways the greatest -event in out history.

That Hawthorne was fully aware of the symbolic properties of the railroad is beyond question. Only the year before he had published “The Celestial Railroad”, a wonderfully compact satire on the prevailing faith in progress.


In its simplest, archetypal form, the myth affirms that Europeans experience a regeneration in the New World. They become new, better, happier men – they are reborn. In most versions the regenerative power is located in the natural terrain: access to undefiled, bountiful, sublime Nature is what accounts for the virtue and special good fortune of Americans. It enables them to design a community in the image of a garden, an ideal fusion of nature with art. The landscape thus becomes the symbolic repository of value of all kinds – economic, political, aesthetic, religious.

The sudden appearance of the machine in the garden is an arresting, endlessly evocative image. It causes the instantaneous clash of opposed states of mind: a strong urge to believe in the rural myth along with an awareness of industrialization as a counterforce to the myth.

My Sleepy Hollow Moment

So, with Marx’s observations in mind, let me rehash my own recent “Sleepy Hollow moment”, and suggest productive avenues of future pursuit.

As I sat on the porch with a contented dog and sipping coffee, it was the incessant whine of the chainsaw that broke the moment and drew me to the woods behind my house on an otherwise fine Saturday morning.

Those woods are preserved and adjacent to a State Wildlife Management Area.

So, could my disruptor of the peace be so bold as to be poaching wood too?

My mind ran wild and my blood began to boil, as I set out into the woods, in the direction of the racket.

Upon arrival, I met “Mr. G”.

No confrontation – after a brief conversation, it was clear that he was no defiler of nature or poacher of wood, but a gentle man of virtue.

I immediately discovered that Mr. G. was a volunteer trail builder.

When I asked Mr. G about his volunteer work, he began by noting that although not many people now hiked in these recently preserved woods.

But he quickly emphasized that “people 50 years from now sure will appreciate this trail“.

Yes, surely Mr. G: “these sounds of labor” do not “disturb the repose of the scene” –  “sounds that seem to unify society, landscape, and mind”.

And therein lies the moral of our tale of our Sleepy Hollow moment:

Our discovery of virtue: consideration for the future, the wellbeing of the landscape and natural world, and selfless work in the public interest.

Mr. G.

Mr. G.

So what went so wrong historically?

Why is the relation between technology and the garden so screwed up today?

To probe those questions, next time, we being that exploration, based on the work of historian Joyce Appleby (Capitalism and a new social order).

We focus on Appleby’s analysis of how the concept of virtue was redefined and perverted in the 1790’s.

Virtue was redefined: from Classical republic virtue defined as selfless public service, to one based on individual private gain.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Categories: personal, Politics, Uncategorized Tags:

Will Democrats Seek Real RGGI Reform?

June 19th, 2011 No comments

The Senate Environment Committee will meet tomorrow (Monday 6/20/11) to hear the Senate version of a bill to reverse Governor Christie’s plans to withdraw from RGGI (see:  S 2946)

The Senate hearing provides another opportunity for Legislators to show that they are serious about global warming, and not just playing political games.

It is simply astounding that Republicans voted “No” on party lines last week in the Assembly Environment Committee vote on A4108.

Obviously, Assemblywoman Coyle’s well heeled and highly educated Somerset County constituents know global warming is real and demand real solution, not political games. 

And we’re sure that they are willing to pay far more than 28 cents per month on their electric bill (the curent RGGI charge) to be part of the solution to the world’s climate change crisis. 

It also gives Republicans another chance to move beyond pure unprincipled partisan loyalty to Governor Christie, and show that they see global warming as more than a political football.

So we will be closely watching how Republican members Beck and Bateman vote.

And I’m not convinced yet the Democratic Chairman Bob Smith is serious in reforming the RGGI program – ironic in that Senate President Sweeney was the sponsor of the original RGGI legislation that Governor Christie has abandoned (for RGGI’s legislative history, see this and this and this and this).

So, here are 9 specific amendments that should be considered and will serve as a test of whether this Committee is serious:

Dear Chairman Smith:

Please accept this email testimony on S2946. I am providing suggested amendments in advance of the hearing, so that there is sufficient time for consideration and for OLS to draft amendments.

While I opposed RGGI from the outset, given the failure of national global warming legislation and the fact that RGGI states’ recently wrote to EPA to support using RGGI to satisfy compliance with forthcoming EPA New Source Performance Standards for greenhouse gas emissions for existing sources under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act,  I support the objectives of the bill to assure that NJ remains involved in RGGI.

[Note: EPA projects that the upcoming new Clean Air Act “New Source Performance Standards” (NSPS) regulations on greenhosue gas emissions from existing coal power plants will reduce current emission by at least 10%. But RGGI would allow those emissions to increase by 10 – 30%. So if EPA adopts the state recommendations and allows RGGI to satisfy NSPS compliance,  we are talking about 20 – 40% increase in emissions from coal power plants. That is HUGE. I doubt most NJ legislators are even aware of how EPA and State actions are related.]

However, passing a bill to merely retain RGGI in its current form would be an empty gesture. RGGI must be reformed in light of 6 years experience and the forthcoming new EPA NSPS rules.

Therefore, I strongly urge you to adopt amendments to clarify and strengthen RGGI’s original objectives.

Given the Governor’s withdrawal statement and DEP’s testimong before Chairman Chivukula’s Committee, it is a virtual certainty that the Governor will veto this bill.

Therefore, it is even more important that you pass a bill that eliminates political considerations and strictly adheres to sound policy and science.

As you know, the RGGI caps are far above current electric sector emissions. When the original RGGI MOU was signed in 2005, NJ’s RGGI caps were 10% above then current emissions.

DEP testified to Chairman Chivukula’s Cmte. last week that the cap is 30% above current emissions. 

The Governor has used this fact to claim – correctly – that RGGI is ineffective in terms of changing behavior of energy producers and consumers. PSEG themselves described the affect of RGGI as “negligible” (see page 59) 

Environmentalists (i.e. NRDC and Environment NJ) testified that RGGI originally was designed to undergo an internal performance review scheduled for 2012. The expectation all along is that the generous caps would be renegotiated and lowered.

However, given the Administration’s opposition to RGGI, it would be foolish to think – even if the bill were to pass and NJ remain a part of RGGI – that the caps would be lowered via the RGGI administrative negotiating process among State Governors.

Outside intervention and legislative policy direction are required.

With that in mind, I recommend the following amendments.

1. Legislatively reduce the RGGI cap in statute to current 2010 emissions, or the most recent actual emissions monitoring data. This would lock in any emissions reductions that have been achieved and assure that emissions do not increase.

2.  Eliminate the discretionary use ofup to 100%” of revenues derived form RGGI auctions and mandate that 100% be used for the legislatively specified purposes. This would be consistent with your announced intent to Constitutionally dedicate the RGGI proceeds.

3. Delete reference to and required consistency with “the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by NJ and other states on December 20, 2005.” This would be consistent with legislatiely establishing policy and lowering the NJ emission allowances (cap).

4. Insert the year “2008” to clarify that the Corzine Energy Master Plan goals and principles are to be considered, not the proposed changes by Governor Christie.

 5. Delete the subsidies, exemptions and loopholes of the original RGGI legislation provides to a cogeneration facility, combined heat and power, and any other “on-site generation facility”.

6. Mandate that all RGGI records shall be public records and subject to the Open Public Records Act.

7. Mandate that DEP adopt the January 20, 2009 proposed greenhouse gas emissions monitoring and reporting rule that was killed by Governor Christie’s Executive Order moratorium (see:

This will provide actual NJ data to base decisions on, not projections based on federal emissions factors and fuel use estimates.

8. Eliminate the $7 per ton relief valve. If we are going to have a market based trading scheme, prices should be determined by supply and demand and the market.

9. Eliminate the $2 per ton price cap for certain emission sources.Market assumptions require a level playing field between all sources.

Let me know if you’d like these proposed amendments formatted to the provisions of the current bill. I’d be glad to go over this with OLS staff.

Thank you for your favorable consideration.

Bill Wolfe, Director


Categories: Hot topics, Policy watch, Politics Tags:

Strange Interlude at NJ’s Privatized Toxic Site Cleanup Program

February 8th, 2011 1 comment
EPA Superfund cleanup worker - if you believe that NJ private contractors, with no government oversight, will design and implement adequate (expensive) worker and community health and safety plans, then I have some toxic assets in Florida for you

EPA Superfund cleanup worker – if you believe that NJ private contractors, whose clients are corporate polluters, acting with no government oversight, will design and implement protective (expensive) worker and community health and safety plans, then I have some toxic assets in Florida for you.

interlude (noun): A short farcical entertainment performed between the acts of a medieval mystery or morality play.

Thanks to a last minute heads up by Bob Speigel of Edison Wetlands Association (EWA), last night I sat in on a “public” meeting of the NJ Site Remediation Professionals Licensing Board (SRPLB – or “Board”).

I put the word “public” in quotes, because this was one of the strangest meetings I’ve ever attended – the headline of this post evokes one of my favorite playwrites Eugene O’Neil

“Our lives are strange dark interludes in the electrical display of God the Father!”

But, perhaps a more apt allusion is to the opaque, lunatic, and absurd logic of the bizarro bureacratic world of Kafka:

So if you find nothing in the corridors open the doors, if you find nothing behind these doors there are more floors, and if you find nothing up there, don’t worry, just leap up another flight of stairs. As long as you don’t stop climbing, the stairs won’t end, under your climbing feet they will go on growing upwards.

I was allowed to say a few words at the conclusion of the 2 hour meeting, as were folks from EWA and the NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club.

We all share a deep concern that the SRPLB is is implementing a fatally flawed law and is more interested in protecting the reputations and profits of private consultants than in protecting public health and the environment.

That surmise was only enhanced by what I heard last night during the Board’s “deliberations”.

Magritte "The Menaced Assasin" (1927)

Magritte “The Menaced Assassin” (1927)

So here’s a thumbnail sketch of why that’s the case and what the implications are (see Margritte above for the surreal dynamics at play) .

After Bob Speigel gave me the heads up, I searched for documents to review in preparation for the meeting so I could meaningfully participate.

But not only could I not locate any documents, over 1 year after the Board was created, I could not locate a Board website, the agenda for the meeting, or the time and location.

When I arrived and requested copies of the documents that were to be discussed during the meeting, I was given an agenda and told that no documents are available for public release.

So much for meaningful public comment – “So if you find nothing in the corridors open the doors ….”

The Board was not discussing trivial matters – agenda items included:

Apparently not satisfied with the fact that the toxic site cleanup program has been privatized  and DEP oversight effectively eliminated, the private consultants and engineering firms have also gained control of writing the DEP regulations with which they will have to comply.

One example of how captured DEP is by private interests: DEP recently proposed to eliminate mandatory cleanup timeframes to provide “a safety cushion” for consultants.

Going beyond the absurdity of having the consultants for regulated polluters writing the cleanup regulations that they will have to comply with (the front end), those same private interests also dominate the Board and now they are writing the requirements for their own oversight, enforcement, and auditing (the back end).

The Board’s conception of implementing the “audit” mandated by law was to develop a questionairre to those audited. The Chair of the Audit Committee designing the audit requirements is an LSRP consultant who is subject to audit. The draft questionairre and audit process were not made available for public comment.

Board members explicitly said that the objective of the audit process and questionairre is “not to look at the technical basis and facts supporting the documents” and that they will only conduct a paper review (could you imagine that kind of “audit” from the IRS?). One Board member was highly skeptical of that approach and questioned how the Board could determine if the documents and certifications submitted by the audited consultants were accurate and truthful.

This “pay to play” on steroids system functions as if  Wackenhut Private Security Guards replaced the police; corporate CEO’s replaced prosecutors and judges, and corporate managers replaced juries.

Last night, with no sense of irony or shame, the complaint and disciplinary process was presented by Jorge Berkowitz of Langan Engineering (nominated to the Board by Governor Christie). Talk about an inside job – that’s the same consulting firm that has 9 staff involved in writing the DEP cleanup requirements (for details, see this).

Jorge Berkowitz, Langan Engineering, presents a draft disciplianry process

Jorge Berkowitz, Langan Engineering, presents a draft disciplinary process. The Board as cop, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner (Jorge apparently was unaware of OAL appeal rights and indifferent in not hostile to transparency and public accountability.)

Here’s what the Star Ledger editorial board had to say on January 2 about Langan’s $25,000 political contribution to a front group supporting Governor Christie’s legislative agenda (and in even more irony and absurdity, Berkowitz is one of the better Board members!):

a sleazy practice that puts both parties within winking distance of a bribe, and that it engenders widespread mistrust.

Ordinarily, I would urge the public to become involved in the process to improve protections of the public interest.

Sadly, in this case, I am unable to do so in good conscience.

When public policy goes this far off the rails, and when those controlling the process are either oblivious to the consequences or cravenly using it to advance private special interests, then traditional public involvement becomes a sham, fraud, and perverse waste of time.

Unfortunately, it seems like we will have to wait for even worse disasters before any change to this system – and that may be a long time, because the impacts of the decisions that will be made by private cleanup contractors are not clearly visible.

But the consequences include things like poisoned water supplies, needless exposure to toxic chemicals and increased health risks, and more havoc on natural ecosystem functions.

We close with Kafka:

The Court wants nothing of you. It recieves you when you come and dismisses you when you go.

Categories: Politics Tags: