Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NJ headline: 'Polluters rewriting rules for site cleanup'

The Bergen Record today unequivocally proclaimed:

Polluters rewriting rules for site cleanup.

The headline is followed by these three paragraphs:
Key committees writing rules for New Jersey's new program to clean up contaminated sites are made up entirely of the polluting companies and their contractors.
The 16 committees, which have been putting together rule and guidance documents, include no one from environmental or resident advocacy groups, no health specialists, and no outside experts who aren't affiliated with the cleanup industry.

"It's a who's who of corporate polluters and their hired consultants," said the New Jersey Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel. "These oversight rules will be written so loosely there will be nothing to enforce later."

Misleading?  Youbetcha.

After the incendiary headline and the first three paragraphs of self-serving charges by environmental organizations, the Record offers the following three paragraphs as ballast: 
Officials with the Department of Environmental Protection counter that an overarching steering committee has four environmentalists among 25 members and that environmentalists were offered a chance to join the committees, but failed to do so.

David Sweeney, the DEP's assistant commissioner for site remediation, said the DEP e-mailed an invitation to a listserv of potential stakeholders in January 2010. He said the names on the list included prominent environmentalists, including Tittel and David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

Sweeney said Pringle and Tittel attended several of the early steering committee meetings but did not attend after that.

Whoa. So, after the damage is done and New Jersey environmental consultants and companies have been maligned as polluters (with the NJDEP a co-conspirator), the writer informs us that, yes, the enviros did have a chance to participate and passed on the offer. 

Kinda blows the alarmist headline and lead, doesn't it?

If only such bias were the exception. Sadly, this approach is commonplace among New Jersey journalist who accept the word of environmental organizations as gospel and fail to apply to these 'advocacy' groups the same (I'm skeptical, prove it to me) standards they apply to others.

Just one case in point. How did every business in New Jersey automatically become a polluter?

Because the Sierra Club and the NJ Environmental Federation use the term every time they refer to business, that's how. You tell the big lie often enough and eventually it stands unchallenged.

But aren't journalist supposed to challenge everything they're told by business, by government, by the clergy and, yes, by environmental organizations, too?

We used to think so and, following that logic, the lead of this story could just as easily have been:
"Environmental groups have found a new way to challenge rules and regulations that they don't agree with. They're boycotting the public participation process and then claiming that the resulting rules are unfairly biased in favor of those who offered their time and opinions to help create them. "
It all depends on the writer's slant. And with few exceptions, [Tom Johnson of NJ Spotlight is one] New Jersey journalists are alarmingly predisposed to pumping up the enviros' side of the issue--no matter how patently suspect their claims may be.

Are we off base? Read the entire story--Polluters rewriting rules for site cleanup--and tell us what you think.

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