Essential Reading For NJ Shore Dwellers – Back Bays & Barrier Islands

February 2nd, 2016 No comments

“The Siege of Miami” As Prelude

In the wake of another extreme weather event influenced by climate change, as NJ’s crackerjack investigative reporters are drilling down deep on critical issues like Gov. Christie’s Cape May mop comments and New Hampshire campaigning, one goes elsewhere for interesting reading.

The serendipity of the internet brought me to two wonderful New Yorker pieces to recommend to readers, particularly those shore dwellers short on information about sea level rise and climate change.

First up is a fine piece of writing by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Elizabeth Kolbert: The Siege of Miami

Read it very, very closely shore dwellers – and intrepid journalists too looking for story ideas.

You can be sure that the insurance, mortgage and real estate investors are reading it and making decisions accordingly, even if your local and state governments are not.

Miami is facing even more severe sea level rise issues than the NJ shore, but it’s only a question of rate – or when, not whether – NJ’s low lying coastal areas face these same issues. Inundation – soon – and retreat is the only option.

In fact, NJ’s back bay communities already are regularly experiencing high tide “nuisance flooding” and the same reverse flow of water from the bays back up the storm water infrastructure to the streets as Miami.

Also, similar to Florida, NJ is cursed by a Republican Governor who denies climate change.

While Gov. Christie has not banned the use of the term by his State Government employees like Florida Governor has, Christie has dismantled, defunded, deregulated, and/or outsourced all of NJ’s climate change programs that existed when he took office.

And Christie has failed to build sea level rise projections or extreme weather into his multi-billion dollar Sandy recovery scheme. How the federal government let him get away with that is scandalous.

The second good read also comes from The New Yorker How Zika Virus Can Spread – a piece I particularly recommend to Bergen Record reporters and editorial board, who just wrote about the same issue but somehow managed to omit the linkage to climate change:

Viral epidemics like this one are not just the result of human encroachment on the jungles of Uganda, or of teams of travelling canoeists from the South Pacific, or even, simply, of globalization. Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that is largely responsible for transmitting pathogens such as Zika and dengue, thrives in the warm, humid, increasingly dense urban centers of Latin America, and climate change has been making these places warmer and wetter. According to a report by the World Health Organization, dengue infected people thirty times more frequently in 2013 than it did in the nineteen-sixties, making it the planet’s most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus. The International Panel on Climate Change recently projected that “the area of the planet that was climatically suitable for dengue would increase under most scenarios.”

In case it’s not obvious, the common threads between these two wonderful pieces of writing is climate change and the NJ press corps’ total failure to use a little imagination and address them.

To climate activists: maybe we can do field education and media events on full moon high tides at low lying shore areas?

Shoot me an email for good locations!

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Maps, Lies, and the DEP Webpage

February 2nd, 2016 No comments

DEP links to a map the flat out contradicts the claim in text

Press office spin tactics infect clean water program

[Update 2/3/16 – 6:30 pm – DEP corrected the “inadvertent error”:

Dear Mr. Wolfe:

Thank you for bringing the inadvertent error referenced in your email below to my attention. It was certainly not the Department’s intention to mislead the public about the assessment results presented in the Draft 2014 Integrated Report. The erroneous link has been removed, as you suggested. Thank you again for your interest in the New Jersey Draft 2014 Integrated Water Quality Assessment Report. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require additional information or assistance.

Sincerely, ~~~ end update]

To many, this may seem like nitpicking, an inadvertent minor error, or no big deal.

But it clearly is not.

If a scientist or writer did this, he/she would be denounced as sloppy or unethical in sourcing or interpreting or presenting data or maps illustrating the data. Here’s why.

Yesterday, DEP released the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) report (see this).

In a webpage that summarizes and presents the data from various documents, there are many examples of where DEP tried to spin what could credibly support the most favorable interpretations, while omitting or downplaying negative conclusions.

But in one case, DEP either made a significant mistake or they intentionally misled readers.

Specifically, read this text and then hit the link embedded in the text:

“Statewide, 205 miles of rivers and streams, and 2,197 acres of lakes located within 14 of New Jersey’s 958 sub watersheds fully supporting all designated uses (except for fish consumption)”

Clearly, that statement pertains to waterbodies that “fully support all designated uses” (underline in original).

To emphasize this point, the DEP even underlines the word “all” (put the cursor over the linked text before accessing and you can see the word “all” stand out as underlined for special emphasis).

However, when the reader clicks on the link embedded in the text fully support all designated uses”the reader is taken to a map that illustrates waterbodies that “fully support at least one designated use”.

There is a huge difference between supporting all designated uses and supporting just one designated use.

Linking to a map that contradicts the text you embed the link in is a very misleading practice.

I’ve brought this issue to the attention of the DEP manager responsible for it and demanded that it be corrected immediately. Let’s see how they respond.

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A Key Lesson of the Victory That Forced Cancellation of the Amwell Power Plant In Hillsborough

February 2nd, 2016 No comments

Public disclosure of DEP “pre-application meetings” can put community on an equal footing

By now, it’s old news that a proposed new gas power plant – The Amwell Energy Center–  in Hillsborough NJ was cancelled by the developer, Genesis Power, LLC. Read he NJ Spotlight story:

I want to touch briefly on a key point that made the victory possible.

This is a victory for all the people – in Hillsborough and elsewhere – who cared, spoke out, and organized opposition.

It shows that we can win fights against giant corporations.

Of course, the victory also was made possible by local leadership and press coverage.

But a less obvious key part of the lesson learned is the strategic value of early and reliable information on DEP regulatory approvals. Access to information is power.

Keep in mind that this project came to the attention of local officials, the public, and the press as a result of an application to DEP for a wetlands delineation. That is an initial requirement for a DEP wetlands permit.

Large, complex projects typically require multiple permits from the DEP. Lawyers, engineers, and lobbyists developing those project conduct meetings with the DEP to discuss all the permit requirements and schedules for DEP reviews long before permit applications are submitted. These are called “pre-application meetings”. They are critically important, but secret and not disclosed to the public. (DEP has an Office o Permit Coordination just to provide this “customer service” – that Office is a good target for filing OPRA’s to keep track of big projects like pipelines and power plants).

The public needs to know when big projects: 1) apply for permits and 2) when project developers conduct “pre-application meetings” with the DEP.

With this information, we can be put on an equal footing with project developers and organize to block the projects before they are done deals.

As I’ve written many times, once DEP issues draft permits – which is the point in time when the public typically learns about a proposed project – it is too late.

There are several ways to make this kind of information publicly available, but the most effective would be via new legislation to require that the DEP disclose this information in some fashion – a website posting would be very easy to do.

I urge people to learn this lesson and to work for legislative reforms that can put local residents on the same footing as the developers and the DEP regulators.

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Christie DEP Clean Water Act Report Shows That 99% of NJ Watersheds Fail to Meet Fishable and Swimmable Standards

February 1st, 2016 No comments
Aquatic Life Support -color red  shows failure t protect aquatic life. Source: NJ DEP - 2014 draft Impaired Waters Report

Aquatic Life Support -color red shows failure to  protect aquatic life. Source: NJ DEP – 2014 draft Impaired Waters Report

Just one day after the Bergen Record published a controversial story about a USGS study that found dual sexed fish in the Wallkill River and Great Swamp, the DEP released a draft Clean Water Act Section 303(d) “impaired waters” Report for public comment (read the DEP documents here – hit the links and see if you can find your watershed or favorite stream, lake, river or Bay.)

Talk about good timing!

The federal Clean Water Act requires that States prepare, every 2 years, a water quality assessment and list of waters that do not meet the Clean Water Act’s fishable and swimmable goals, as measured by attainment of State Surface Water Quality Standards. SWQS are set to protect designated uses, and DEP develops methods to assess attainment of a designated use, e.g. aquatic life support, recreation, fishing, drinking water, etc.

The DEP is desperately trying to spin the draft 2014 Report as good news or maintenance of the status quo, but that dog don’t hunt – particularly on DEP’s continuing failure to declare Barnegat Bay “impaired”, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that it is..

Back in 2011, Governor Christie vetoed a bill that would have required DEP make an “impairment” determination based upon the available science.

That bill was re-introduced (S765) and released at the first 2016 Legislative session meeting of the Senate Environment Committee on January 25, 2016.

Rutgers scientist and world renowned expert professor Mike Kennish’s research has found that the Bay is clearly impaired and on the verge of ecological collapse: he testified the Bay was “suffering an insidious ecological decline“. Kennish presented that research in testimony to the Legislature, but DEP has ignored his work, tried to block public release of his research Report, and even attempted to smear him.

Here’s just one example of how DEP spins the data to avoid the conclusion that 99% of NJ watersheds do not meet Clean Water Act standards:

Statewide, 205 miles of rivers and streams, and 2,197 acres of lakes located within 14 of New Jersey’s 958 subwatersheds fully support all designated uses (except for fish consumption).

(* If 14 of 958 watershed meet all standards (1.46%), that means that 98.54% fail to support all designated uses, thus the 99% headline of this post. It actually could be worse, because the stream miles that fully support all designated uses are likely a subset of all stream miles in the particular 14 watersheds. I haven’t looked at the data, but I’m confident that the 205 miles of rivers and streams as a percentage of all river and stream miles would show a similar percentage, as would the 2,197 acees of lakes as a percentage of total acres of lakes. DEP hasn’t presented the data this way to frustrate or avoid these kind of conclusions. Read this DEP Report to illustrate how DEP know how to report data on river miles.).

[Update: According to DEP, there are 23,521 total river miles in NJ. That means less than 1% of stream & river miles fully support all designated uses – i.e. 205 miles of 23,521 total miles]

That is an appalling indicator of failure – and it doesn’t even include fish consumption risks, which would bring the failure rate to 100% – there is a statewide fish consumption advisory for mercury and all state waters do not meet the designated use for fish consumption due to unsafe levels of mercury in fish tissue.

And DEP did not even consider the risks of hundreds of unregulated chemical pollutants DEP knows are present in NJ’s waters, including the USGS study on dual sexed fish likely caused by unregulated chemicals that are endocrine disruptors reported by the Bergen Record.

Here are the documents that NJ DEP released today – the public comment period is just 30 days (a March 2 deadline) and there are no public hearings scheduled.

Lots of maps and stories here – I think it will take me 30 days just to read all this – we’ve asked EPA – who raised significant concern with DEP’s 2012 303(d) report – and NJ DEP for a 60 day extension of the 30 day (90 total) comment period and to  hold public hearings (3) across the state:

DEP wrote:

Current Status of the 2014 Integrated Report:

The draft 2014 303(d) List of Water Quality Limited Waters (303(d) List has been completed. The following documents are now available for public review and comment and may be downloaded from the links below. Comments must be submitted to Sandra Cohen at Sandra.Cohen@dep.nj.gov by March 2, 2016.

Links to maps displaying the spatial extent of key designated use assessment results are provided below – you might want to focus on the public water supply assessment map – too bad DEP did not identify the locations of surface water supply intake on that map:

Obviously more to follow on this.

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More Dual Sexed Fish Documented In NJ Rivers

January 31st, 2016 No comments

Chemicals Are Not Regulated, Even When Discharged Into Public Water Supplies 

Not just fish and wildlife are being poisoned

Source: NJ DEP

Source: NJ DEP

[See important End Note]

The Bergen Record has an important story today on a US Geological Survey (USGS) study that found dual sexed fish in the Wallkill River and Great Swamp. (read study here).

The USGS study builds on their national water quality assessment program and prior water quality sampling work in NJ that dates to 2008 and confirms prior research. That is something you don’t learn from the Record, which creates the opposite impression, i.e that most recent USGS study is very new research. Read the whole Record story:

Male fish in two of North Jersey’s most protected areas have developed female sexual characteristics, suggesting parts of the Wallkill River in Sussex County and the Great Swamp in Morris County are contaminated with chemicals that throw hormone systems radically off.

The story should trigger public outage and calls for stronger programs to monitor and install pollution controls to reduce the discharge of these chemicals to NJ streams and rivers.

[Theo Colborn’s 1995 book “Our Stolen Future” put the issues of endocrine disruptors on the public radar screen – interested readers should hit that link for more info.]

Public outrage will ensue, especially if the public fully understands the implications of the science and the DEP’s regulatory failure to act to protect the public, which the Record story not only failed to present, but gave DEP a pass on (see map above, and this post: Warning: This Map Can Make You Sick).

New DEP regulations also should require that public water supplies install granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment systems to remove them from drinking water.

GAC is readily available and relatively inexpensive treatment technology that is very effective in removing these chemicals.

The DEP and NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute regularly evaluate the performance of and recommend installation of GAC technology as available treatment.

In fact, DEP issued a white paper on a closely related topic – which we released publicly and urged action way back in 2010, see:

Trenton — New Jersey should filter its drinking water to remove hundreds of chemicals, most of which are unregulated, from its drinking water supply, according to a rulemaking petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The plan to screen many chemicals out of tap water was actually developed by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) but has been in limbo for the last six years.

State testing has detected “approximately 600” chemical compounds “in 199 samples collected” including five brands of bottled water, according to a recent DEP white paper. The vast majority of these chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, hormones, and cleaning products, are not regulated by either the federal or state government. As a result, there is no regulatory effort to reduce or eliminate them from drinking water.

The April 2010 DEP white paper, entitled “Investigations Related to a ‘Treatment-Based’ Regulatory Approach to Address Unregulated Contaminants in Drinking Water,” advocates used granular activated carbon filtration and other techniques to remove most chemicals in drinking water, noting that carbon filtration alone removed more than half of identified chemicals.

Curiously, it was the DEP spokesman – not reporter Scott Fallon or his sources – who opened the door to discussion of these critical issues with this comment in the Record story:

“How to address the fact that wastewater treatment plants don’t capture all of these chemicals before discharging their effluent remains the subject of many studies that are looking at ecological impacts, relative health risks, and potential costs of various treatment technologies,” said Larry Hajna, a DEP spokesman. ….

“The most recent USGS study adds to our knowledge of this issue and impacts to ecological systems, but the scientific community overall still has more questions than answers on human health impacts,” Hajna said.

But Record reporter Scott Fallon ignored the public health risks and drinking water issues, which is stunning, given the example right under his nose in the Passaic River.

Let’s hope he investigates and reports on those concerns in followup coverage, if only in response to what should be public outrage.

We’ve researched and witten about unregulated and endocrine disrupting chemicals several times.

Last September (2015), during the drought, we warned about how low flow in the Passaic River, used for drinking water and pumped to the Wanaque reservoir, increased the concentration of these chemicals:

… the “highly regulated activity” does not include EPA and DEP pollution discharge permit limits on all chemicals known to be present in wastewater. These chemicals pass through sewage treatment plants and are discharged to the river. They wreak havoc on aquatic life – e.g. endocrine disrupting compounds cause things like dual sexed fish – and are threats to public health. The wastewater dominated flow of chemical laced water is then taken from the river for water supply. Unless it is highly advanced – and even advanced treatment is not 100% effective in removing all chemicals present – the treatment at the drinking water plant does not remove all these chemicals, many of which are not regulated or even monitored for, and they pass through treatment directly to your tap. These are the issues DEP glosses over and downplays the risks of in the above excerpts.)

In December (2015) we warned DEP about a dual sex fish study in the Delaware River when objecting to a new sewage treatment plant on the Crosswicks Creek in Plumtsed:

Second, the sewer plant will discharge new pollution loads … and organic chemicals, including things like household hazardous chemicals, contraceptive, prescription drugs, and endocrine disrupting compounds from the metabolism of pharmaceuticals.

… most of these pollutants are toxic to plants, fish and aquatic organisms and some of the organic chemicals are causing profound ecological damage, including recentstudies that have shown “dual sexed” fish in the Delaware River.

DEP simply ignored those comment and issued the permit to the facility with no monitoring and pollution control requirements for these chemicals. There was no press coverage or outrage by environmental groups over this permit.

Prior to that, in October of 2014, we wrote to question whether DEP was serious about protecting public healh and water quality, based on a prior USGS study:

The USGS and NJ DEP have documented hundreds of unregulated chemicals in NJ rivers and over 500 in NJ drinking water supplies. These chemicals include carcinogens and human endocrine disruptors that cause serious health effects, including reproductive and behavioral problems. These chemicals impact ecosystems as well. Ecologically, the majority (>50%) of fish sampled in a recent study on the Delaware river were found to be dual sexed – male and female in the same fish.

But bowing to NJ’s powerful pharmaceutical and chemical industries who profit from these toxic chemicals, the Christie DEP is covering that up. The DEP (Governor’s Office?) even appointed and allowed a Dupont corporate official to drive the science policy question of how to regulate them – see the most recent Report of the DEP Science Advisory Board for the details of that. We have written about that scandalous abuse and been totally ignored. Instead, the press writes Big Pharma cover stories about police drug enforcement oriented collection programs.

DEP simply ignored that – again – and so did NJ press corps and NJ environmental groups.

We warned about these issues again during the EPA cleanup of Dupont’s Pompton Lakes site, see:

Finally, we predicted that the Christie DEP would take no action on these issues, a prediction that we are sorry to say has proven correct:

The new USGS National Water Quality Assessment Program data are just demonstrating the need for additional regulation of a wide variety of currently unregulated contaminants, including endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals widely found in rivers and drinking water – so it looks like Christie seeks to derail that effort via stealth.

[End Note: I correctly predicted that the Christie DEP would do nothing to regulate these chemicals. That prediction was not based on tarot cards, Astrology, or reading tea leaves.

That prediction was based on first hand knowledge and experience at DEP, specifically including my work on a 2002 regulatory proposal of what are called “wildlife criteria” to regulate toxic chemicals based on adverse impact on wildlife and ecosystems.

Take a look at the scandalous power the chemical industry wields with impunity. In this letter, they openly THANK DEP for gutting a major regulation.

That DEP regulatory proposal was abandoned by then DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell in response to political pressure by the chemical and pharmaceutical industry – see this for the full story, including internal DEP and industry documents:

 

Campbell was pro-environment and pro-regulation, but he caved to incredible industry power and abandoned the proposed new regulations.

There was virtually no public awareness, media coverage, or criticism by NJ environmental groups for that collapse. There was no political price to pay, by public officials or corporate industry interests.

So, if the Campbell DEP collapsed, it was very obvious that the pro-business and anti-regulatory Christie administration would not do anything to protect public health or the environment.

Perhaps what disgusts me most is that after all this history and all my work to discloses and warn about these risks, at subsequent scientific studies documenting he problems, STILL the media and the public and the environmental groups don’t get it.

The USGS study safely targeted the Wallkill and Great Swamp National Wildlife refuges, placed where there are few industrial and sewage dischargers to blame for the pollution.

They targeted ecological effects, which prompts no real concern from the public. For example, USGS could have sampled the Passaic or Ramapo or Delaware Rivers directly upstream of drinking water intakes and included a discussion of the human health implications of those chemicals detected.

The polluters’ political power (Big Pharma and the Chemistry Council) is so strong that even US EPA has backed off their oversight of NJ DEP on these issues.

The press (Record) wrote the story in the least inflammatory and least controversial way possible and gave the Christie DEP a huge pass.

Specifically, the headline could have blared: “Study Shows That DEP Has Knows For Years That There are Unregulated Toxic Chemicals In Your Drinking Water.

Instead, the Record swept all the prior work I’ve disclosed under the rug. They relied on lame sources who apparently know virtually nothing about the issue. They gave DEP sufficient time to provide a quote that makes it appear as if there is little prior scientific work or regulatory inaction or responsibility or failure on their part. (the DEP quote is obviously from a written statement drafted by DEP professionals, because the DEP press officers do not have the expertise to present the issues like that orally on their own. This means Fallon gave DEP plenty of time to respond to and spin the USGS study.)

It’s not the first time Scott Fallon and the Bergen Record have done this cap.

They do their readers a grave disservice in failing to write the real story and hold public officials, DEP, and corporate polluters accountable.

Finally, I must note that NJ environmental groups have largely abandoned this kind of traditional meat and potatoes work on clean water, DEP regulation, and facility permits, and public health risks from toxics.

The abandonment began long ago (see: Clean Water Anyone?) – no one showed up!

Environmental groups have been manipulated by Foundation grant money that has diverted them from these controversial issues and instead been funded to work on politically safe issues that don’ threaten powerful chemical and pharmaceutical industries and their friends in State government, like sustainability, the Delaware Watershed (Wm Penn and Dodge Foundations) and the Dodge Foundation funded “The Raritan Initiative”, which Rutgers has shamefully joined as well.

You simply do not see well informed and hard hitting critiques like this anymore – they have been defunded by the Foundations and abandoned by the environmental groups.

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