Trenton — A water quality consultant to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on river cleanup plans also works for sewage treatment plants discharging pollutants into those same rivers, according to internal documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Not only does the consulting firm wear two conflicting hats at the same time on the same river, this consultant hired a former DEP scientist who helped develop the DEP river cleanup plan program.
TRC Omni Corporation acts as a paid consultant to DEP on the Clean Water Act’s “Total Maximum Daily Load” (TMDL) program. In that role, Omni scientists collect water quality data, design water quality models, and establish specific enforceable pollutant reduction permit requirements for individual facilities discharging pollutants into the Raritan, Millstone and other rivers. Meanwhile, Omni does virtually identical work as a permit consultant to sewage treatment plants discharging pollutants into these very rivers.
Apparently in violation of post-employment State ethics code restrictions, an Omni Senior Project Manager working on DEP pollution discharge permits for its industrial clients, Tom Amidon, previously worked in DEP’s water quality and TMDL programs. While at DEP, Amidon was directly and substantially involved in the same type of work he is now doing for Omni.
“The ethical swamp only gets murkier at DEP,” said New Jersey PEER
Director Bill Wolfe, a long-time former DEP employee, referring to acting Governor
Richard Codey’s pledge to reform the ethical climate in Trenton and beef
up enforcement of conflict of interest and post–employment restrictions.
“So, while DEP pays tax dollars to Omni for work cleaning up the river,
Omni is seeking regulatory relief from DEP clean water requirements for Omni’s
Documents show that DEP scientists repeatedly raised concerns with agency managers regarding the impropriety of Omni’s dual roles, and complained about how conflicts undermined the scientific integrity of their work. Documents show that Commissioner Bradley Campbell was briefed about this situation. Nonetheless, follow-up corrective actions were not taken.
“This is a classic case illustrating what is wrong with ‘Fast Track’ schemes to expand privatization of the state’s anti-pollution regulatory functions,” Wolfe added, noting that the insider information provided to consultants by the public agency can then be peddled to undermine the public interest. “Not only is the fox guarding the henhouse, but the chickens are paying the fox to design the henhouse security system.”
The scientific studies at stake determine the amount of dirty water that may be discharged by into State rivers and streams, some of which serve as drinking water sources. The purpose of the TMDL is to determine the maximum amount of pollution these water bodies can absorb and still provide safe drinking water, healthy fish habitat, as well as being fit for swimming, as required by the Clean Water Act.
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