Trenton — After repeated postponements, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will still not issue promised rules to set standards to reduce the discharge of mercury, PCBs and DDT into the state’s waterways, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). DEP will not act by this Wednesday’s legal deadline nor is a new deadline set.
Internal DEP emails and memos reveal that Commissioner Bradley Campbell’s personal off the record meeting with chemical industry lobbyists doomed the standards initially proposed by the DEP in November 2002. That proposal was allowed to expire. But instead or re-proposing the standards, DEP has been working behind-the-scenes with the chemical industry on a “variance” loophole that would shield polluters from the toxic standards in the event that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency federally imposed the proposed standards on New Jersey. The DEP’s original proposal did not include the variance loophole.
The standards are designed to protect the bald eagle, peregrine falcon and other river-dependent species from the effects of toxic buildup. If re-proposed and adopted, they would force hundreds of industrial facilities, sewage treatment plants, and toxic waste sites to reduce ongoing discharges of mercury, PCBs and the pesticide DDT into state waters. DEP missed the original 2003 target date and, by all appearances, will also miss the new 2005 deadline set for this Wednesday.
Ironically, federal agencies under the Bush administration are strongly recommending the adoption of proposed toxic water quality standards but Commissioner Campbell is resisting the standards as being too tough. Campbell personally met with chemical industry representatives and discussed, among other things, his plans to abandon the proposed water quality standards. The Director of Regulatory Affairs at the Chemistry Council confirmed Campbell’s decision to drop the proposal in a letter, stating that –
“[T]his news is encouraging. Now more than ever, it is important to know and understand the impact these [wildlife] criteria will have on the regulated community. As we highlighted at our meeting [with Campbell], the costs for compliance with such low standards would be astronomical.”
“Campbell’s secret industry meeting looks like a page out of Vice-President Cheney’s Energy Plan playbook,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former long-time DEP employee, noting that the closed door meeting occurred after the public comment period on the rule proposal had ended, thus shutting the public out, and thereby destroying the fairness, transparency, and credibility of the rulemaking process. “New Jersey’s water quality standards will remain in limbo, presumably until Commissioner Campbell decides to have another tête-à-tête with the Chemistry Council.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of
state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental
ethics and government accountability.