Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Lisa Jackson’

DEP Abandoned Wood Turtle Habitat Protections

September 21st, 2009 No comments

wood_turtle

[10/4/09 Update – Brian Murray of the Star Ledger picked up on the pine snake story today: Frustrated developers are hissing back at a snake

A colleague advised that the NJ Builders Association recently filed a petition for rulemaking urging DEP to delist pine snake and eliminate certain site specific regulatory protections for its habitat. 

This reminded me of the sorry tale of loss of DEP protections for the wood turtle – and countless other species.  Old news. 

But unless you closely follow the technical discussion on the NJ Highlands email listserve, you probably don’t know that DEP abandoned a key regulatory tool to protect critical habitat of the State threatened species, Wood Turtle.

There were no press conferences, action alerts, sign on letters or other forms of protest by environmental groups. Yes, if one knew where to look, one could find some mention opposing this rollback by reading the fine print of written comments formally submitted to DEP on the rule proposal by a few conservation groups with biological expertise. But no major political or media opposition was mounted.

As a result, there was no press coverage to alert the public and no accountability for the DEP politicians who did this vile deed.
Earth Day, 2007 - environmentalist applaud DEP rollbacks

Earth Day, 2007 – environmentalist applaud DEP rollbacks

In fact, you might have  just the opposite impression, because the DEP rule proposal that abandoned protections for the wood turtle - and countless other species – was SUPPORTED by environmental groups. It received VERY FAVORABLE press coverage.

This occurred, despite a January 2007 warning letter signed by numerous groups, strongly urging DEP Commissioner NOT to make the regulatory change to current regulations that can be used to protect wood turtle habitat.

Dear Commissioner Jackson:

In a late December meeting attended by many of our groups, the Department outlined its plan for a new process to guide the designation of Category One waterways. The meeting afforded only a cursory overview of what would represent a very fundamental change to clean water protections in New Jersey, but did provide an outline of the narrow set of water quality indicators that might serve as the basis for deciding future C1 upgrades. We have serious objections to the proposed designation process and fear that its implementation would strip New Jersey of the ability to adequately protect and maintain its high quality waterways. If enacted, this method would reverse tremendous advances in clean water protection in the state, contradict the commitments made by Governor Corzine, and leave New Jersey without the ability to adequately protect and maintain many of its most deserving waterways.

Signed: Jeff Tittel, Sierra Club, NJEF, ANJEC, Environment NJ, et al

Say What? Here’s that sad tale:

According to DEP:

Wood turtles are semi-aquatic turtles preferring clear, well-oxygenated streams

surrounded by a mosaic of woodlands, scrub-shrub/herbaceous wetlands, and

successional meadows. In New Jersey, the wood turtle is commonly associated with water-quality sensitive fish such as native brook trout and brown trout.

While once ubiquitous throughout northern New Jersey, most of the viable wood turtle populations remain in rural portions of Sussex and Warren counties.

Degraded water quality, habitat fragmentation, road mortality, and predation are the primary factors behind its extirpation from developed portions of the State. Observational evidence from the Passaic River suggests that siltation of streams, as a result of storm water discharge and urbanization of the surrounding land, can lead to a decline in turtle populations.

In order to protect the wood turtle and its critical habitat – as well as habitat for numerous aquatic or aquatic dependent species – in 2002, DEP strengthened and greatly expanded water quality regulations – known as “Category One” (C1) waters – to implement the “antidegradation policy” mandated by the federal Clean Water Act. Federal law requires states to adopt antidegradation policies and implementation procedures.

Anti-degradation policy seeks to assure that exceptional high quality waters are not degraded by pollution. For the first time, using anti-degradation legal tools, DEP gave these exceptional waters real regulatory protections, by providing 300 foot wide stream buffers (on each side), where soil and vegetation may not be disturbed by major development.

Starting in early 2002, DEP began to classify C1 streams and rivers based upon “exceptional value” ecosystems. DEP also began designating streams and rivers that drained to reservoirs to protect water supply.

Previously, this C1 classification was limited to a few hundred stream miles that supported naturally reproducing trout populations.

Yet, even despite the C1 designation, historically, those streams were unprotected by DEP regulations.

The result of the new DEP C1 policy was a huge expansion of over 2,000 designated C1 stream miles and – at 75 acres of stream buffer per mile – thousands of acres of riparian land in new protected C1 stream corridors.  

These DEP regulatory moves were strongly opposed by the NJ Builders Association, pro-development industries, and property owners. Builders particularly opposed the new DEP policy of linking water quality and habitat, and using the “exceptional ecological significance” Clean Water Act policy tool to regulate development and land use to protect water quality.

The wood turtle became a poster child in this debate, because thousands of acres of land were classified as wood turtle critical habitat. Therefore, thousands of acres of such land located in stream corridors could be regulated and made off limits for development via DEP designation of C1 waters.

One key factor in determining “exceptional ecological significance”, was the presence of wood turtle or critical habitat. According to DEP’s new C1 designation methodology:

The stream’s ability to support water-dependent endangered and threatened species, such as bog turtle, wood turtle, long-tailed salamander and dwarf wedgemussel was a significant factor in determining whether a stream qualifies as a waterbody of “exceptional ecological significance”. (link here)

Between 2002-2003, the following exceptional streams were designated C1 protected on the basis of the presence of wood turtles and/or critical habitat – each designation protected lands in stream buffers. These regulatory moves by DEP triggered major battles with the builders because they blocked large development projects:

In November 18, 2002: Assiscunk Creek; Beaver Brook; Flat Brook; Sidney Brook;  South Branch Rockaway Creek; 

In January 6, 2003: Paulins Kill; 

In November 3, 2003: Harihokake Creek; Nishisakawick Creek; Pohatcong Creek; Wickecheoke Creek; Plum Brook;

Under the new pro-economic development Corzine/Jackson DEP, the legal ability of DEP to designate C1 streams on the basis of wood turtle – and numerous other threatened and endangered species – was lost by DEP in a May 21, 2007 rule proposal where DEP revised the C1 designation methodology.

The revisions greatly narrowed DEP’s ability to designate C1 waters and eliminated wood turtle as a basis for doing so.

The Lisa Jackson DEP found that a new method was required as a result of “experience” – read the code for “due to strong oppostion by the powerful development community“:

Based upon the experience gained in the review and analysis of waterbodies for potential Category One designation, the Department is proposing to establish new definitions. These new definitions better define the data and criteria utilized to identify waterbodies that qualify for consideration for upgrade to Category One designation. These definitions are data driven and will better serve to identify waters that are truly exceptional. The Department is proposing amendments to the definition of “category one waters” and introducing new definitions for “Exceptional Ecological Significance”, “Exceptional Fisheries Resource(s)”, “Exceptional Water Supply Significance”, and “HUC 14″. (link

The new DEP C1 designation method limited exceptional ecological value to a short list of specific species – if sa species was not lsited, it was not protected. The list did NOT include wood turtle.

Exceptional Ecological Significance – Endangered or Threatened Species (E&T) 

The Department is now proposing that a waterbody with the presence of suitable habitat verified by the Department to support Bog Turtle, Dwarf Wedgemussel, Brook Floater, Triangle Floater, Green Floater, Eastern Pondmussel, or Eastern Lampmussel, with a documented occurrence(s) of at least one of these species verified by the Department are eligible for consideration for Category One antidegradation designation upgrade. To qualify for consideration for Category One status as a waterbody of exceptional ecological significance, requires that the waterbody have suitable habitat verified by the Department to support on of these aquatic dependent E&T species and documented occurrence(s) verified by the Department. These species include several freshwater mussels and Bog Turtle. …

For a detailed description of each species and its habitat see: http://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/ensphome.htm.

For the wood turtle, the fight for riparian habitat protections is over – DEP unilaterally surrendered.

The only protections remaining are case by case, site specific  mitigation in individual land use permits – a formula for extirpation.

End of story.

Obama White House Can Release Visitor Logs – Why Can’t DEP?

September 4th, 2009 No comments

 

Lobbyists sign in at DEP - who were they visiting and what were they discussing?

Lobbyists sign in at DEP – who were they visiting and what were they discussing?

If the White House can release visitors logs, why can’t the NJ Department of Environmental Protection release them?

According to CNN breaking news:

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama plans to announce Friday that the White House will release its future visitor logs on a regular basis, two administration officials said.

The announcement follows a legal settlement with the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which had sued the administration for release of visitor logs, the group announced on its Web site.

Since taking office, the president has been criticized for refusing to release some of the logs, including those relating to health care and coal company executives.

The new policy will apply to visitor logs created after September 15  not to previous visitor logs, according to an administration statement outlining the policy that CREW posted on its Web site. The future logs will be released 90 to 120 days after the meetings, and there are some exceptions.”

Last year, NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson denied a legal petition to bring transparency to DEP by disclosing who senior DEP managers meet with. Ironically, after leaving NJ to become EPA Administrator, Jackson reversed her NJ position and agreed to post her daily calendar and those of senior EPA managers on the EPA website.

In the wake of recent corruption scandals involving access to and political influence on DEP, that petition  was refiled and is again before current DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello.  How Mauriello handles that request will be a test of the Corzine administration’s alleged commitment to transparency, open government and ethics reform.

Will press hold the Governor accountable on this issue and ask him about Lisa Jackson’s previous denial?

Will good government reformer Independent Chris Daggett engage the issue in the campaign?

Will corruption buster Republican Chris Christie take a stand on transparency at DEP?

We’ll keep you posted.

[Update: The Union of Concerned Scientists has very similar reaction - read the UCS press release here]

Daggett Ethics Agenda of Recent Vintage

August 20th, 2009 No comments

IMG_1046At a Trenton State House news conference today, Independent Chris Daggett released his ethics reform agenda.

As I reported previously, Chris Daggett served as Chairman of the DEP “Permit Efficiency Review Task Force” – (read the Daggett’s Report to DEP here) (see a summary of troubling Task Force Report findings and recommendations below).

Daggett was appointed to that position by the Administrative  Order issued by then DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson. 

Daggett’s DEP Task Force had ethical problems from the outset. Several of its members represented clients that had ongoing regulatory issues or projects seeking approvals before the DEP, including Daggett himself.

This, at best, created the appearance of a conflict of interest, or actual conflicts.

State ethics laws prohibit creation of even an appearance of impropriety, as well as an actual conflict of interest:

(a) In our representative form of government, it is essential that the conduct of public officials and employees shall hold the respect and confidence of the people. Public officials must, therefore, avoid conduct which is in violation of their public trust or which creates a justifiable impression among the public that such trust is being violated (NJSA 52:13D-12)

(3) No State officer or employee or special State officer or employee should use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others.

(7) No State officer or employee or special State officer or employee should knowingly act in any way that might reasonably be expected to create an impression or suspicion among the public having knowledge of his acts that he may be engaged in conduct violative of his trust as a State officer or employee or special State officer or employee

To remedy these problems, DEP Commisisoner Jackson was asked to make the Task Force deliberations tranparent and to restrict conflicts of interest – both she and Daggett failed to do so -
see:

NEW JERSEY TO CONSULT INDUSTRY ON ECO-REWRITES IN SECRET – “Efficiency” Task Force Members Not Barred from Self-Dealing with DEP

Trenton:

An industry-dominated task force to recommend an overhaul of state anti-pollution permits and policies will work in secret, according to an e-mail from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Commissioner Jackson also rebuffed PEER recommendations that materials submitted to the task force are made a public record and that task force members be barred from lobbying DEP for their clients.

On March 25, 2008, New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe wrote Jackson asking that task force sessions be open to the public, materials submitted to the task force be made publicly available and that task force members “be precluded from having any contracts, pending regulatory approvals, or financial relationships with the Department” during the 120-day life of the task force.

In a return e-mail on the evening of April 2, 2008, Commissioner Jackson denied all of PEER’s requests. Jackson stated:

“Public input can only occur once the Task Force has completed its analysis and compiled the group’s thoughts and recommendations. At that time, I will determine how to most effectively seek and obtain input from the public”; and

“I do not consider it necessary or reasonable to restrict members of the Task Force or their respective employers from having other business before the Department.


See this link for supporting documents, including the Jackson email reply to PEER request.

BTW, a very reliable source has told me that Chris Daggett owned contaminated property and has huge economic stakes in DEP brownfields, permitting, and toxic site cleanup issues he presided over and made recommendations on as Task Force Chair. I was also told, but have not confirmed, that Daggettt owned the parcel of contaminated Jersey City land that was specifically the land mentioned in the criminal complaint of Assemblyman Harvey. Harvey was bribed to pressure DEP to issue approval of cleanup plants to allow construction of a day care center and public housing on highly toxic chromium waste site in Jersey City.

Summary if Task Force Report

Independent Chris Dagett was just endorsed for Governor by the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. So, in an effort to educate voters, we thought we’d look at his most recent environmental accomplishment as Chairman of the DEP “Permit Efficiency Review Task Force” established by former DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson. Readers can find all the relevant original documents at these links

1. Public Announcement by DEP Commissioner Jackson [link]

2. Task Force Final Report [link]

3. DEP Implementation plan [link]

Report Lowlights:

1. On “doing less with less”

“In this time of fiscal crisis, the challenge, before the DEP is to develop different approaches to managing, to consider doing less with less,

recognizing that this must be done without compromising environmental protection or public health.”

2. On Privatization


In an output/performance-driven system, the DEP would focus on the efficient execution of inherently governmental functions and explore using outside assistance, advanced IT tools or both, to complete the straightforward tasks that are not necessary to be done by government. To accomplish this, a major change must occur in the way that scope and responsibility are allocated within the DEP. In short, if the DEP is ever going to reach a high level of efficiency and effectiveness, the goal for the DEP should be to determine which environmental services are essential and which can be eliminated; which can be consolidated and which cannot; which must be provided by government and which can be delivered by outside vendors or through advanced IT tools, or both.

3. On rewriting history to mask the real agenda of the Task Force -

The original composition of Task Force was established in Jackson’s Adminsitraive Order.

Later, the composition was expanded to include environmental, community and public interest representatives, but only AFTER strong public criticism of its failure to represent public interests (glad to provide that criticism to document the chronology):

The members of the Task Force included representatives of residential and commercial developers, environmental organizations, land use planning firms, nongovernment organizations, housing advocacy groups, business and industry, the environmental justice community, counties, municipalities, public utilities authorities, engineering firms, the EPA, the Governor’s office and environmental consulting firms. Three were former cabinet members: DEP, Transportation and Community Affairs. Exhibit 2 is a list of the members of the Task Force and their affiliations.

4. On ignoring the only pro-environment objectives, exposing them as green cover (notice the use of “shall and “may” and the limit in scope to “incentives” (aka subsidies) as opposed to “regulations” which apparently are taboo)):

 b. The report of the Task Force shall also provide recommendations for operational, policy and regulatory changes at the department to provide incentives for and to advance sustainable development projects that contribute to achieving statewide greenhouse gas limits, economic growth opportunities in urban areas and meaningful affordable housing and that, as a result of their location and design, have little or no impact on public health and safety, the environment or natural resources; and

c. As part of its deliberations, the Task Force may also identify possible statutory changes that would result in enhancing the DEP’s timely and efficient service or the DEP’s ability to provide incentives for sustainable development projects that contribute to achieving statewide greenhouse gas limits, economic growth opportunities in urban areas and meaningful affordable housing and that, as a result of their location and design, have little or no impact on public health and safety, the environment or natural resources.”

Where are these pro-environment recommendations in the Report? Not there.

5. On the use of Orwellian euphemism to mask a pro-business anti-environmental agenda:

 In short, the Commissioner formed the Task Force out of a concern that the current permitting process cannot keep up with demand. The Commissioner asked the Task Force to help her in making the permit process more timely, predictable, consistent and transparent to the regulated community [but not to the public?] and to do so at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers while enhancing New Jersey’s environment.” 

6. On confirming the fact that DEP rubber stamps most permits – only the really bad projects need “streamlining”

 Overall, 90 percent to 95 percent are approved, often with substantial changes as a result of DEP input, with the remainder being denied or withdrawn. The permit decisions are usually made within the statutory timeframe, which varies from program to program. The permitting system breaks down most frequently when there are multiple permits for a single project, when projects are large in size and when impacts to the environment are complex and potentially extensive.

7. On how the Big Boys in the Private sector know best - Task Force say DEP should emulate the large polluters who off-shored jobs and deindustrialized the US manufacturing base:

 Overall, there is no single silver bullet that can fix the various permitting problems of the DEP. Rather, what is needed is similar to the approach that enables certain manufacturing companies to stand out in their fields. The success of these companies is rooted in rigorous and unrelenting attention to all of the little details of the manufacturing process, or in the DEP’s case, the permitting process. The successful manufacturing companies have created a work culture with a bias toward action“ a performance-driven environment “ and have empowered its employees to perform.

8. On providing a rationale Commissioner Jackson relied on to privatize DEP science (i.e. Science Advisory Board) and abolish the Division of Science and Research – the “study group” was never formed, nor was the mistaken recommendation to “restore the stature of the Office” implemented (BTW, Science and Research was a Division at the time of this Report, a revealing error. The Division was downsized to an Office):

“In the course of Task Force deliberations, two issues arose which were outside the charge of the Administrative Order but which directly impact the efficiency of the DEP. The first is the quality of science and research that provides the underpinning of the policies, guidance, directives and regulations of the DEP. Through the first two decades of the DEP’s history, the Office of Science and Research was one of the most highly regarded programs in the country. However, during the past two decades, budget cuts and reorganizations have undercut the quality of the program. While the Office still does excellent work, the staff simply cannot keep up with the breadth and scope of DEP needs. Accordingly, the TaskForce recommends that the DEP convene a study group that examines this issue and addresses possible ways to restore the stature of the Officewith a particular focus on collaborative efforts with academic research institutions and outstanding practitioners to minimize or avoid significant budget and staff increases.”

Sierra Club Endorsement of Daggett – how did it happen and what does it mean?

August 18th, 2009 No comments

 

NJ Governor Jon Corzine

NJ Governor Jon Corzine

The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Independent Chris Daggett for Governor has caused a stir in political circles.

As with almost all hyped news, the corporate media coverage and political blogosphere are narrowly focused on the short term electoral implications, and are completely ignoring the policy debate, or asking how we got to this juncture and what it means for policy going forward.

I’d like to take a step back and try to foster a discussion about what this means for policy, and promote a shared understanding of the history of how we got to a point where Sierra does not renew its endorsement of a Democratic incumbent Governor in favor of a third party candidate.

How did it come about that a self-described and widely considered liberal, pro-environment, global warming fighting, green power champion incumbent is abandoned by Sierra?

How did Sierra come about endorsing a man who chaired the pro-development anti-environmental DEP “Permit Efficiency Review Task-Force” ? 

The answer is found in an old fashioned story of co-optation and inside baseball. This dynamic necessarily leads to ignoring organizing and an impaired ability to develop any kind of public movement to provide political support for policy goals.

Then DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson whispers in Governor Jon Corzine's ear

Then DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson whispers in Governor Jon Corzine's ear

Ironically, Sierra Club’s early cheerleading for Corzine and their too close relationship with DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson basically created a very unhealthy dynamic. They got a lot of press blowing Corzine so full of hot air that he looked like a giant on the environment. Now,like Wall Street brokers cleaning up the mess they made, they are getting a lot of press slaying him.

From the beginning of the Administration, Sierra greatly inflated and unconditionally supported Corzine’s accomplishments (e.g. the warm embrace of Lisa Jackson’s “Category One” stream protections, and Meadowlands signing statement of the Global Warming Response Act). Because Sierra had so highly praised Jackson for those stream rules (before they read the fine print) and Corzine for passage of the GWRA, it made it very hard to tell the truth about flaws and to focus on DEP’s total failure to implement the Act. It also created all sorts of political momentum for polluters and special interests to secure additional rollbacks of stream protections and hijack the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap and trade program bill. (for a critique of the GWRA, see: Star-Ledger Op-Ed: “No Teeth in ‘Tough’ Pollution Law”  ) 


Sierra also either outright supported or looked the other way as Corzine continued to slash DEP budgets. Corzine watered down, ignored, or even rolled back every one of the policy commitments of his Gubernatorial electoral environmental platform (mandatory chemical plant safety, et al). Yet, there was no criticism for any of these compromises and sellouts – which sent a huge signal that Corzine would get a pass for promoting economic development over environmental and public health concerns.

At the same time, Sierra repeatedly pulled punches by withholding public criticism of the policies of their “friend”, DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson.  This dynamic included playing co-opting inside games in Jackson’s hand picked “stakeholder processes”.

Sierra Club applauds Lisa Jackson water quality proposal - before reading the fine print. They later criticized the rule but not Jackson.

Sierra Club applauds Lisa Jackson water quality proposal - before reading the fine print. They later criticized the rule but not Jackson.

For example, Jackson created the “Site Remediation Taskforce” that provided political cover to further dismantle and privatize the DEP toxic site cleanup program. When enviro’s agreed to participate “in the room”, their successful high profile media campaign to expose flaws in the DEP program fell flat and ran out of the media and political energy required to lobby for real change.

Similarly, Jackson issued an Administrative Order that established the “Permit Efficiency Review Taskforce” in response to political pressure by the NJ Builders Association and business community. The business community manufactured another bogus attack on DEP’s alleged role in the housing market and economic collapse. Jackson caved to that gross lie. Yet, instead of criticism of this Taskforce’s anti-environmental agenda, Jackson was given a pass. And now we are seeing the political consequences of that mistake, because now Chirs Daggett will get a pass for Chairing that effort. How many people know that DEP Commissioner Jackson abolished the Division of Science and research, based on this Task Force Report. 

Jackson negotiated and publicly sold the controversial “Permit Extension Act” on behalf of Corzine, thereby providing green cover 

Yet we have heard very little from Sierra and enviro’s about all that. Had Christie Whitman done anything remotely similar to that kind of attack on DEP and science, Sierra would be holding multiple press conferences on the State House steps.

Sierra Club applauds Corzine at Meadowlands signing ceremony for Global Warming Response Act - they later called Corzine "full of hot air" for not implementing it.tate

Sierra Club applauds Corzine at Meadowlands signing ceremony for Global Warming Response Act - they later called Corzine "full of hot air" for not implementing it.tate

On the Legislative front, Sierra never pushed either for legislative oversight or to strengthen environmental laws. They basically gave a pass to friendly democrats who chaired the environmental committees, Assemblyman John McKeon and Senator Bob Smith. Neither Legislators nor Sierra had any appetite in holding fellow Democrats Corzine or Lisa Jackson of DEP accountable. Just look at how the Inspector General Cooper’s Encap Report was handled – softball questions and a pass by enviro’s.

Sierra’s multiple accountability failures misled the public, provided green cover, and thereby enabled some really bad stuff at DEP on the regulatory front and in the Legislature (privatized LSP, Permit Extension Act, RGGI, et al)

Of course, things got so bad that even Sierra was forced to criticize Corzine to maintain their credibility.

We would not have gone down this road if Sierra and other enviro’s told the truth and held Corzine accountable to his campaign promises (which he failed uniformly to deliver on) from the outset.

The political lessons to be learned here? – play it straight with the press and use media strategically. Don’t get co-opted by the inside game. The Democrats are not necessarily your friends. Organize

Lisa Jackson with fellow Cabinet member Joe Doria. Doria resigned after FBI search warrants were issued for his office and home in operation "Bid Rig" investigation. Doria was denounced by Sierra, but never Jackson.

Lisa Jackson with fellow Cabinet member Joe Doria. Doria resigned after FBI search warrants were issued for his office and home in operation "Bid Rig" investigation. Doria was denounced by Sierra, but never Jackson.

Camden Residents Left in the Dust

July 21st, 2009 No comments

Camden is NJ's poorest and most segregated city - ground zero for environmental injustice

Camden is NJ's poorest and most segregated city - ground zero for environmental injustice

 

NEW JERSEY ALTERS HEALTH STUDY UNDER INDUSTRY PRESSURE -  Industry Allowed Private Meetings to Lobby for Changes in Camden Study

Washington, DC – Facing a lawsuit, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has released documents outlining how an air polution study of Camden neighborhoods was re-written to allay industry objections. The released e-mails depict a clubby, closed door climate in which the state regulators seek to assuage industry concerns even while keeping the affected community in the dark, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

At issue is an October 6, 2008 study by DEP scientists in partnership with the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey entitled “Final Report: Contribution of Particle Emissions from a Cement Facility to Outdoor Dust in Surrounding Community”. It assesses how much dust is blowing from piles of granulated blast furnace slag at the St. Lawrence Cement Facility onto adjacent Camden neighborhoods. The report concluded that:

  • There was a significant impact on nearby homes: “The estimated contributions of cement dust to outdoor dust measured by deposition dust samplers ranged from 4.9% to 18.2% … and 5.6 to 21.8%”; and
  • Simple controls are available: “A cover over the piles would be a reasonable and well tested way to control these fugitive emissions.

After this final report was posted on the DEP website, industry consultants sent objections to Nancy Wittenberg, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Regulation and a former lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association. DEP removed the “final report” from its website and Wittenberg set up a closed-door June 2, 2009 meeting with industry consultants to review their concerns.

In response to an Open Public Records Act request filed by former DEP employee Bill Wolfe for the final report and agency communications with industry, the agency initially claimed that no documents could be released because they were “deliberative” in nature and covered by “attorney-client privilege”. After PEER informed DEP that it was preparing to file suit challenging the basis for non-disclosure as bogus, on July 17, 2009 DEP released the requested material “except for the revised study which is slated for publication later this week, according to an agency official.

“In New Jersey, even science is negotiable,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who helped prepare the lawsuit. “Notably left out of the loop are the people in Camden who have to breathe this stuff daily and get no say as to whether a tarp over the slag heaps would be a commonsense step.”

This also appears to be yet another recent instance where state political appointees inappropriately screen scientific work. In fact this June, DEP formalized its political review process for all technical reports.

“DEP has become a serial offender against government transparency and scientific integrity,” added Wolfe. “This is only one sample of DEP cooking the books and then violating OPRA to cover the smell.”

###

Read the withdrawn Camden dust study “final report”

Look at the e-mail exchanges between DEP officials and industry

View the court-house steps OPRA reversal by DEP

See the industry comments on the dust study

Examine how DEP political appointees vet scientific and technical reports