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For Immediate Release: Aug 23, 2005
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

DEP CLEAN WATER CONSULTANT ALSO WORKS FOR POLLUTERS

“Ethical Swamp” Persists Despite Acting Governor’s Ethics Reform Pledge


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 other clients.”

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.

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See initial warning to management on conflict of interest from DEP scientists

Look at email describing the Commissioner “Hot Issues” briefing on the Omni issue

Read letter from Omni (and former DEP) manager Tom Amidon

View Tom Amidon’s “Performance Assessment Review” describing his former duties at DEP

Check out Omni letter to Commissioner Campbell opposing phosphorus standards – nonetheless, Omni later got DEP phosphorus TMDL contracts

Review Codey administration’s Ethics Report with recommendations to toughen post-employment (revolving door) restrictions

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