Trenton — Key figures in a corporate pay-for-play scandal also occupy controlling positions on state “stakeholder” committees setting toxic clean-up standards which affect their business dealings, potentially saving them significant sums while effectively shielding them from enforcement actions from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). PEER is calling for removal of participating corporations from DEP “technical committees” and for an audit of their cases before DEP.
Corporations with millions in state contracts have donated large sums to an ironically named “Reform New Jersey” group that pushed for the privatization agenda of Governor Chris Christie. Run by key Christie advisors, Reform New Jersey appeared to violate state pay-to-play prohibitions which bar contributions in connection with award of public contracts. In late December, the group was disbanded after its contributors were revealed. Gov. Christie has denied any knowledge of its activities, despite being the keynote speaker at Reform New Jersey fundraisers.
Some of those same corporations and redevelopment consultants also sit on DEP stakeholder committees charged with re-writing regulations governing toxic site clean-up. For example, Langan Engineering (which gave $25,000 to Reform New Jersey) has a dominating delegation of nine representatives. One of its senior associates, tapped by Gov. Christie, serves on the DEP Site Remediation Professional Licensing Board, which oversees newly authorized privatized clean-ups of contaminated sites.
These slots give these firms inside access and influence that can work to shield them from oversight or enforcement by DEP. As one DEP employee recently wrote:
“Langan has been given unprecedented access to DEP records and computer databases that their competitors do not have. The big ‘joke’ at DEP is that we work for them. This despite the fact that everyone in the Site Remediation Program (hundreds of scientists and engineers) can give examples of shoddy, unprofessional, inaccurate, and even unethical product from Langan over the years.”
“At DEP, the Christie ‘streamlining’ agenda is a façade for hollowing out health safeguards and filling them in with self-regulation by the polluting corporations and their paid consultants,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe. “This is the foxes running a chicken take-out restaurant from the henhouse.”
In a December 31 letter, PEER asked DEP Commissioner Bob Martin to remove the Reform New Jersey participants from agency boards and committees and to audit how the firms’ cases were being handled by DEP. Martin has yet to reply to the letter.
Not coincidentally, New Jersey DEP is in the process of lowering standards for privatized clean-ups of toxic sites, including relaxation of vapor intrusion protections and requirements for complete remediation. At the same time, the state is reeling from health problems arising at “former” toxic sites, such as most recently Pompton Lakes, that have been inadequately cleaned up.
“How is New Jersey’s economy helped by more toxic clean-ups that leave neighbors and future residents at risk?” asked Wolfe.
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