LETTER DEP Commissioner Spins and Lies, Especially about Pipelines

Today NJDEP Commissioner Bob Martin testified before the Assembly Budget Committee. The FY2017 budget targets the environment yet again, but is especially troubling as it continues the policy from last year’s budget of diverting money from Natural Resource Damage (NRD) litigation to the General Fund. This money should go towards cleaning up contaminated sites and restoration projects. The Budget Committee also challenged the Commissioner on dropping enforcement in the department, the administration’s refusal to update standards related to water quality, and the administration’s failure to address carbon pollution and climate change in New Jersey.

 

PIPELINES

 

Bob Martin said that once FERC established the need for a pipeline and approved it, there is nothing the state can do to fight that decision. However, we know this to be untrue. Pipelines must receive all of their permits before being built, especially the 401 Water Quality Permit. This is given to the pipeline by the DEP independent of FERC and the DEP can reject them for this permit and cancel the pipeline’s development.

 

“What the Commissioner said is blatantly false. The state has jurisdiction over interstate pipelines and even if FERC approves them the state can turn them down for environmental reasons such as wetlands or stream encroachment. Most importantly, the 401 Water Quality permit system which is delegated to the state by the EPA and the federal Clean Water Act. FERC cannot approve a pipeline unless it has a 401 Certificate and if the state turns it down, they can’t get approval from FERC. We’ve seen this happen with the Constitution Pipeline in New York and Transco Pipeline in Connecticut which was upheld in federal court. These were both approved by FERC but turned down by their states. If they really wanted to stop these pipelines from poisoning the water, the DEP could do so by denying them their 401 Water Quality Permit,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

 

At the hearing today they discussed PennEast Pipeline. The 110-mile proposed pipeline would cut through the Delaware River Valley beginning in Dallas Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. It would cross the Delaware River and 87 other major waterways, into to Hopewell Township and connect to an existing pipeline in Pennington, New Jersey. The pipeline would threaten the entire Delaware Valley and the DEP needs to stand up and protect us by fighting against FERC and working to reject this pipeline.

 

“What the Commissioner said is plain wrong and unconscionable. It shows that this Administration is full of hot air. They care more about protecting gas and pipelines companies than they do about protecting the people and environment of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel. “FERC is a rogue agency and if the DEP really cared about preserving New Jersey’s open space and waterways, they would not roll over and let FERC approve so many pipelines.”

 

LEAD IN DRINKING WATER

 

While discussing the problem of lead in the drinking water, especially of schools, Bob Martin deferred to the Department of Education for not adequately testing for toxins in the drinking water. There are many problems with lead that the DEP could be helping to address. The Action Level for lead in schools is 15 ppb but in the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act it is 5 ppb.  Since 1988 the EPA has recommended protocols for testing and mitigation in schools for lead yet the state is not ensuring these protocols are being met.

 

“The Administration first said there wasn’t a problem with lead in our schools but now it’s showing up in schools in Newark, Hamilton, New Brunswick, Brick, Paterson, Camden, and more. There are also recent reports that not doing certain maintenance and replacing filters may have happened due to proposed cost-cutting by the state overseer. Will the Administration hold those people accountable who blocked funding for filters and mitigation?,” said Jeff Tittel. “According to Bob Martin, lead paint is number one cause of lead poisoning in children and most homes and their pipes do not have a lead problem. Tell that to the thousands of schoolchildren who have been exposed to contaminated drinking water in New Jersey’s schools.”

 

WATER SUPPLY

 

The Christie administration has worked to prevent the work of the Drinking Water Quality Institute, only allowing them to meet twice in the past 5 years.  At their last meeting, the Institute recommended the same standards for PFOA and PFNA that were first proposed and rejected by the Christie administration five years ago.  Failure to implement these standards has resulted in more toxic chemicals in our drinking water.

 

“Martin danced around the DEP doing their job with protecting water. The Governor has basically gotten rid of the Drinking Water Quality Institute.  The Administration has not adopted standards for perchlorate and PFOA even though we have the science in place to adopt protections. They have downgraded and eviscerated the DEP Division of Science and have replaced it with the Science Advisory Board which is primarily made up of polluters and corporate interests,” said Jeff Tittel.

 

The Christie Administration is continuing to weaken and roll back protections for clean water and waterways across the state. Their new septic density rules will increase development in the most environmentally sensitive part of the Highlands called the Forest Preservation Area. By increasing development these rules will threaten our water supply, open space and will increase flooding.

 

“The new proposed septic density rules open up environmentally sensitive areas for more than 400 percent more development. The Highlands law talks about deep aquifer recharge, but the study they based these new rules on using a shallow aquifer outside of the Forest Preservation Area. By doing this our Governor is putting the drinking water for more than half of New Jersey at risk,” said Jeff Tittel.

 

CLIMATE CHANGE

 

Governor Christie’s polices on climate change have been jeopardizing federal funding for the state of New Jersey.  He has joined 26 other states in federal coup to block the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The Governor closed the Office of Climate Change and has stopped work done under previous administrations on adaptation and mitigation planning.  New Jersey is the only coastal state that does not have an adaption and mitigation plan for sea level rise.  Since EPA, HUD, and other federal agencies are requiring work on climate change and sea level rise, New Jersey’s failure to meet those federal guidelines has resulted in us losing millions of dollars in federal funding.  In addition to federal requirements, the state must achieve an 80 percent reduction in carbon pollution by 2050 under the Global Warming Response Act.

 

“Commissioner Martin danced around the fact that New Jersey is missing out on millions of dollars in funding, including over $250 million that we did not qualify for from HUD. The Christie Administration’s refusal to acknowledge climate change has cost the people of New Jersey these funds. The Governor closed the Office of Climate Change, ended DEP’s Coastal Program for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation, and pulled us out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to address climate change. He has taken over a billion dollars from the clean energy fund and is suing to block the Clean Power Plan. Christie continues to block offshore wind, while pushing pipelines and taking money from the fracking industries,” said Jeff Tittel. “His denial of climate change being a crisis means that the agencies are not working to mitigate or adapt for climate change. Now we were denied the grants because of it.”

 

EXXON AND NRD SETTLEMENTS

 

Bob Martin said that the Exxon settlement funds are sitting in escrow and won’t be available for revenue in 2016 due to the lawsuit. He encouraged us to drop our request to intervene in the lawsuit. The state settled the $8.9 billion issue with Exxon for only $225 million. This includes both the Bayway and Bayonne refineries as well as an additional 16 industrial sites and over 800 gas stations statewide.  These sites have polluted thousands of acres of wetlands and waterways above and below ground.  Even worse, the settlement deal weakens the cleanup standards that Exxon would have to meet, leaving contamination in the ground rather than requiring its removal.

 

“We are doing the job that the State of New Jersey should be doing, which is trying to get fair compensation for the people of our state who have been affected by Exxon’s pollution. The Christie Administration settled this case for pennies on the dollar, giving Exxon one of the biggest tax breaks in history. Exxon should be responsible for the environmental damages impacted at three refineries, 16 sites and over 800 gas stations throughout New Jersey. The settlement also does not restore the 1,500 acres of wetlands that were contaminated; it just caps them and paves them over. We are in court to make sure that the polluters pay and are held accountable for their actions,” said Jeff Tittel.

 

Again, the Christie administration is proposing to use money from NRD litigation to close budget gaps. The state settled the $8.9 billion problem for only $225 million. This includes both the Bayway and Bayonne refineries as well as an additional 16 industrial sites and over 800 gas stations statewide.  These sites have polluted thousands of acres of wetlands and waterways above and below ground.  Even worse, the settlement deal weakens the cleanup standards that Exxon would have to meet, leaving contamination in the ground rather than requiring its removal.

 

“The DEP now stands for the Department of Exxon Protection. This not at settlement; it is sell out of environment and taxpayers that Martin cannot defend. We are settling for pennies on the dollar, especially since the administration included hundreds of other sites.  The Paulsboro Refinery alone could be a $1 billion NRD claim. This is the biggest corporate subsidy in state history The Exxon settlement is really a symbol of a budget whose priorities is taking care of corporate polluters over protecting the environment. Under the Christie administration, NRD means ‘No Real Dollars,’” said Jeff Tittel.

 

In the current budget and the proposed FY2017 budget there is language that would allow environment settlement money over $50 million to be diverted to the general fund.  $140 million from the Passaic River cleanup litigation was already diverted to the general fund and $175 million is targeted from the Exxon money. Of the $50 million that’s remaining, almost all of it will go to legal fees, leaving almost nothing for the environment and the people suffering from the pollution.

 

TESTIMONY 

 

“Commissioner Bob Martin continued to sugar-coat the DEP’s inefficiency at protecting schoolchildren from lead or getting the people of New Jersey what they need to be resilient in the face of increased storm events and sea level rise. He lied about the DEP’s ability to stop pipelines from criss-crossing the state. He tried to defend the Exxon settlement and place the blame on the people who are trying to get money for those who deserve it from Exxon. What you get with Commissioner Martin is a public relations push without public policy. You get half-truths and misinformation. If he really answered the questions, he would have to admit this has been the worst administration in New Jersey history when it comes to environmental protection,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of The New Jersey Sierra Club “Bob Martin should be ashamed of himself with this testimony. All he has to offer is spin and he is spinning out of control. He is nothing but Christie’s puppet in rolling back 40 years of environmental protection. He has proven today he will be remembered as the worse DEP Commissioner in History.