The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Bill Wolfe (609) 397-4861; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA Audit Rips New Jersey DEP Performance

Corrective Actions Never Implemented for Toxic, Wetlands and Other Programs


A new audit by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency faults the
quality and consistency of New Jersey programs for cleaning up toxic
wastes, preserving wetlands and other key functions, according to
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Many of the
defects were first identified in a 2006 audit but Lisa Jackson, then
head of the New Jersey agency and now EPA Administrator, neglected to
put in place most of the corrective steps she had pledged to implement.

The new EPA audit of "Quality System Assessment" reviews
whether the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) can
measure what it does, whether its data is reliable and how it tracks
results over time. While EPA found that DEP had made some progress, the
federal agency concluded that several major DEP components suffer from
"significant shortcomings" and fail to meet minimal federal standards
for management quality and performance. Among the findings are -

  • The state program for cleaning up toxic wastes operates on
    an honor system and does not check industry claims: "None of the Site
    Remediation Program's bureaus interviewed do any project assessment
    and/or process improvement beyond data validation, (i.e. no field
    audits, no split samples, no internal assessments, etc). The EPA
    assessment team was told that Responsible Party contractors and/or
    NJDEP contractors are 'certified professionals and taken at their
  • The state wetland protection program lacks any
    quality assurances that its permit, land use and inventory of rare
    species habitat is accurate; and
  • Many of the steps that EPA
    identified in a previous audit to improve departmental performance,
    including data collection, tracking and training, were still absent
    three years later despite a Corrective Action Plan submitted in April
    21, 2006 by then-DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson laying out an
    implementation schedule. Jackson remained Commissioner for the next two
    and a half years after submitting that plan and was confirmed to lead
    EPA this past January.

"This audit is an indictment of DEP management for failing
fundamental tests of competence," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill
Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. "Without basic procedures for assuring the
accuracy and quality of performance data a public agency cannot even be
sure that its shoes are tied."

This audit is just the latest failing grade issued to DEP
management. In 2008, for example, EPA was forced to intervene and
assume control of several state-supervised Superfund clean-ups,
following a scathing Inspector General report decrying inordinate
delays and mismanagement. Ironically, Jackson's prior EPA experience
before she came to DEP had been in Superfund.

"Recent DEP Commissioners, including Lisa Jackson, have been far
more concerned with political appearances than reality," added Wolfe,
noting that an agency review commissioned by Jackson in 2008 did not
mention a single issue tagged by the new EPA audit. "In order to
effectively protect New Jersey's environment, we need to let public
servant specialists do the job they are supposed to do."

Read the EPA audit on Quality Assessment

Look at the scathing 2008 Superfund audit

Review Lisa Jackson's record at New Jersey DEP

Revisit Jackson's DEP efficiency review

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

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.