LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Small’s tenure at DNREC filled with ‘cynical disregard’

This commentary on recently retired DNREC Secretary David Small appeared on April 6, 2017 in the Delaware State News.  Please post your own thoughts on Dave Small, and what should be expected from his successor, Shawn Garvin.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Small’s tenure at DNREC filled with ‘cynical disregard’

The March 26 profile of former DNREC official Dave Small [“From reporter to environmental chief”] presented one side. Small has had an impact on Delaware, as does any DNREC secretary, and it makes sense to try to understand what that has been. I was involved with Small from an environmental advocacy perspective since the early 1990s.

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is a politically controlled agency — the secretary reports to the governor. In general, developer/polluter/business/”labor” interests in Delaware have much more power than environmental interests, and governors, legislators, and the congressional delegation usually intervene against, rather than for, environmental protections. Thus, it is inherently difficult for the DNREC to do the right thing.

Of the half-dozen or so DNREC secretaries I’ve known and worked with, all have done things they ought not to have done, and left undone things they ought to have done. Some have, from time to time, shown real courage and initiative. I’m thinking, for instance, of the stand taken by John Hughes against a liquid natural gas terminal in New Jersey, and his support of the Coastal Zone Act.

Delaware’s Constitution has an admirable oath of office for public officials:

“I, (name), do proudly swear (or affirm) to carry out the responsibilities of the office of (name of office) to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear (or affirm) always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.”

Mr. Small’s long tenure in DNREC has been marked by a cynical disregard for this oath and its implications.

Small, as noted, entered DNREC as a former reporter become a “public affairs” person, without any obvious scientific or technical background or interests. To Dave, all is PR and politics. He was effective in Legislative Hall, where the members generally appreciate advance warnings of trouble, shielding from constituents, and protection of violators. (This is not to argue against journalists in responsible positions. Many have a deep knowledge of their beats and a deep commitment to truth.)

For years, whenever the Delaware City refinery had a notable release of harmful chemicals, which was and is often, Small, like a human tape recorder, would intone some version of “there was no damage to human health or the environment.” This would often be regurgitated by his former media colleagues.

Delaware was once known for having good public hearings, where citizens had rights and issues could be explored. This is gone, to the point that DNREC public hearings are an insult to, rather than an opportunity for, the public. Small has been a key player in chopping away at citizens’ rights. In his view, “permitting efficiency” seems to mean greasing the skids for applicants and silencing objections from the public.

Small was a player in the evil scheme to reopen the Delaware City refinery without any public input as to whether this would be a good thing for Delaware.

Small worked against Green Delaware’s efforts to stop the city of Wilmington from dumping raw sewage into the Brandywine and Christina rivers. This disgraceful practice continues.

Small put together a deal, involving rollovers from “environmental” interests, to exempt the Delaware City refinery from making payments under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Small was involved in the ongoing “Bloomgate” scam which sucks hundreds of thousands of dollars per month out of ratepayers’ wallets via their Delmarva Power bills. The cumulative take is now about $150 million. A Coastal Zone permit was issued to Bloom, although the application contained obviously false information.

When Green Delaware, Delaware Audubon, Common Cause and others worked successfully against increased dumping of mercury by the Delaware City refinery, Small described those increases as “infinitesimal.”

Small’s just-ended tenure as DNREC secretary was notable for the withholding of public information from the public, non-enforcement of the Coastal Zone Act, and the view that citizens should be denied “standing” to appeal bad decisions.

According to your profile, Mr. Small wants a job with Duffield Associates, perhaps Delaware’s most politically connected and well-greenwashed developers’ consulting firm. It’s where he belongs.

Do Gov. Carney and newly appointed DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin have a commitment to restore the integrity of environmental regulation in Delaware? We shall see. (Mr. Garvin doesn’t return my calls.)

Let me close with one of my favorite Dave Small quotes: “Enforcement is discretionary.”

Alan Muller
Executive Director, Green Delaware

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