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How I set myself up to be driven out #2

We got quite a number of response to this earlier post.  Thanks for the feedback.  Most said something like “looking forward to the next installment.”  Here it is.

Green Delaware has often sought to hold up a mirror to Delaware.  Do we understand what our state is and is not?  Here’s a mirror held up by another organization:

Wilmington, DE, was rated in this survey of 182 US cities as fifth from the bottom in the US in “most conducive to family life.” (The state capital, Dover, was rated 37th worst.) The criteria used and their weighting are open to question, of course–the authors gave “sports fan friendliness” more weight than “air quality,” for example, but it’s something to think about.   Wilmington is a great place for a kid to be murdered.  Are we ashamed of this?  What are we doing about it?

Of course it’s an over-simplification, but lets divide our thinking about Delaware in three categories, natural resources (and how we treat them), human resources (people, and how we treat them), and cultural resources (peoples’ doings and artifacts, and how we treat and remember them).

I’ve written about the natural resources piece for a long time, as that tends to be the focus of “environmental” advocacy.  Lets pick one example:  In 1971 a law was passed beginning with:

“It is hereby determined that the coastal areas of Delaware are the most critical areas for the future of the State in terms of the quality of life in the State. It is, therefore, the declared public policy of the State to control the location, extent and type of industrial development in Delaware’s coastal areas. In so doing, the State can better protect the natural environment of its bay and coastal areas and safeguard their use primarily for recreation and tourism.”   This was in 1971.

The immediate impetus for this was a plan by Shell Oil to build another refinery in Delaware.  Land had been purchased, survey monuments were in the ground.   It was stopped, thanks to Gov. Russ Peterson and his allies.  Wisdom and foresight prevailed at the time.   (I have a memory of leafletting for Peterson as a teenager in 1968.)

In November, 2009, the existing Delaware refinery, in operation since 1956, was shut down, supposedly permanently.  Environmental conditions immediately improved.

In October 2011 the refinery was restarted.  In a back door deal with the new owners, Gov. “Bad Jack” Markell, apparently handed them gifts of over $40 million from the taxpayers of Delaware, who were not consulted.  As was to be expected, the refinery immediately commenced its patterns of pollution, explosions, and violations,which continue unabated in 2019. 

The bigger picture, of course, is we are much more aware now than in 1971 of the need to burn less, not, more, oil and gas.  We know Delaware is the lowest-lying state and is critically threatened by sea level rise driven by a warming earth.  So for Delaware officials to run a scam to reopen a refinery seems hard to explain, even suicidal.  Like trump in the White House, it simply makes no sense and suggests some sort of collective moral and intellectual decline.  Or perhaps nothing more than an inability to see more than a few inches into the future.

Sure, people need jobs, even very dangerous and unhealthy ones, and there are all sorts of political considerations.   But, here is the Delaware Oath of Office for public officials, from the Delaware Constitution:

“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.” Apparently this oath meant something different in 1971 than it meant in 2011? 

So what about human resources? 

(I do not mean to suggest that people should be regarded as “resources” to be exploited.)  It is no secret that Delaware is very good to wealthy people and can be very cruel to the poor, and those who step out of line.  From being the last slave state, to a recent history of low life expectancy, high infant mortality, high cancer rates, high rates of incarceration, de-facto segregation, many acute examples of “Environmental Injustice,” Wilmington as a “Murder Capital,” a questionable public education system … there is much not to be proud of–though some improvements have been seen in the last few years.

Suppose different values were to prevail? If it was considered that good living and learning conditions were a priority?  That people should be able to enjoy their lives, not just endure them.  This does not require speculation as there are operating examples, such as the “Nordic Model.”  Delaware could do better if it wanted to.

The importance of cultural resources is harder to pin down.  From a unit of the National Park Service:

“Cultural resources can be defined as physical evidence or place of past human activity: site, object, landscape, structure; or a site, structure, landscape, object or natural feature of significance to a group of people traditionally associated with it.”  Feb 26, 2015

Delaware mostly seems to go out of its way to destroy cultural resources.  Here’s an example:  

At one time, driving South on Rte 896 from Glasgow towards the C and D Canal, one could see an old right of way on either side of the road, heading West towards Frenchtown Landing and East towards New Castle.  Nothing remarkable about it, unless you knew it was the abandoned right of way of the New Castle & Frenchtown Railroad.  This was one of the first railroads in North America, opened in 1832, originally hauled by horses and then by steam locomotives made by George Stephenson, the “Father of Railways.”  It’s documented, somewhat, in the Historic American Engineering Record.  It was also one of the first railroads to be abandoned, before the Civil War, and some remaining structures, are, or were, some of earliest remaining examples of railway civil engineering. 

But if you are interested you had better look online, as most of the on-site remains have been obliterated with no attempt at preservation.  It could have been a trail, with some historical interpretation.  But I suppose that would have required a little wisdom from New Castle County official, and that doesn’t happen very often. Sprawl conquers all.

Does this matter?  At one time I would have been sure it did. 

What do you think?

Alan Muller



Alan Muller

How I set myself up to be driven out of Delaware ….

I’ve been trying to write about this for a while and always tend to stop.  Is it important to others?   I don’t really know.  And I surely should have known better than to try what I tried.

But somehow it seems important to write about Delaware as it really is. 

Spending most of my time in Minnesota the last few years has given me, I think, a better sense of proportion.  It’s helped me to notice things previously taken for granted.  

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More on HB 166–lead screening for Delaware kids.

House Bill 166, which calls for testing of all Delaware kids for blood lead levels, is on the House of Representatives agenda for June 27th.  This is an important bill because, if it were implemented, numbers of kids might be saved from life-long impairment.

We have written about this bill and the underlying problem before.

Several aspects of lead poisoning are worth thinking about right now:

Where is the support for HB 166 from Delaware’s lethargic public health bureaucracy?  Where is the support from the Nemours Foundation, which more or less claims to be the gatekeeper for childrens’ health in Delaware?  (“As a nonprofit children’s health organization, we consider the health of every child to be a sacred trust.”)  Where is the support from the medical establishment?  Delaware Academy of Medicine.Medical Society of Delaware (“To guide, serve and support Delaware Physicians, promoting the practice and profession of medicine to enhance the health of our communities.”)   We checked these websites for mention of HB 166 and found nothing.

Perhaps one does not have to be too cynical to suspect that there is a lot more money to be made in treatment than prevention….

But aside from this, Delaware has had a role in keeping people exposed to lead, if only through the uber-shameful role of the DuPont Company, historically a major vendor of both lead paints and lead additives for gasoline.  DuPont fought the phaseout of these products. 

DuPont’s Chambers Works, just North of the Delaware Memorial Bridge on the New Jersey side, was once one of the biggest chemical manufacturing sites in the world.  A major product was tetraethyllead (TEL), used to spike gasoline with lead.  Visitors to the site could see tons of lead (or lead alloy) bars stacked on pallets, out in the open.  The metal was made into TEL, a highly toxic organic lead compound readily soluble in gasoline.  At least into the 1980s, reports circulated of site workers getting acute lead poisoning.

In the 1920s the hazards of leaded paint and leaded fuels were documented and investigated.  Yet, in 2019 the struggle continues to get rid of both of these.  Leaded gasoline is still used in airplanes and children living near airports are exposed.  For morbid details you could read “Costs of IQ Loss from Leaded Aviation Gasoline Emissions“.  US emissions of lead from airplanes are around one million pounds per year, but the EPA has failed to act in spite of years of prodding and litigation.

Most people will have heard of the public health disaster in Flint, MI, caused by lead in the drinking water.

“On April 25, 2014, the City of Flint, Michigan changed their municipal water supply source from the Detroit-supplied Lake Huron water to the Flint River. The switch caused water distribution pipes to corrode and leach lead and other contaminants into municipal drinking water. In October 2016, Flint residents were advised not to drink the municipal tap water unless it had been filtered through a NSF International approved filter certified to remove lead. Although the city reconnected to the original Detroit water system that same month, the potential damage was already done and a state of emergency was declared on January 16, 2016.”   (National Center for Environmental Health ) Note that it took two and one-half years before residents were “advised not to drink the municipal tap water….

We could go on and on with examples, but the point is that sources of lead exposure are many and varied, and sometimes not obvious, so children can only be effectively protected by early and regular testing.

If Delaware public health officials and medical care providers were truly on the job, HB 166 might not be necessary, but they aren’t–reports suggest than many kids never get tested–and their poor response to the bill suggests they aren’t likely to clean up their act voluntarily.

Synopsis of HB 166:

“At this time, blood lead level screening and testing rates are well below what the Division of Public Health would expect them to be based upon the risk factors that determine when screening or testing is necessary. This bill simplifies the requirements and the process for healthcare providers and eliminates confusion that may be causing the low compliance rate for screening or testing, and defines terms used in the Act. This bill mandates screening, defined as capillary blood test, at 12 and 24 months of age. The bill clarifies insurance coverage for the costs of compliance with the Act. The Division of Public Health is also directed to report on elevated blood lead levels to the General Assembly annually and to develop regulations to implement and enforce the Act within 12 months of being enacted.” HB 166 has quite a few sponsors and co-sponsors, The prime sponsor, to his credit, is Rep. Sean Matthews, a teacher in Brandywine School District.

A timely article appeared in the Guardian this morning:

Poisoned by their homes: how the US is failing children exposed to lead

Hundreds of thousands of children in the US remain at risk of exposure to lead, which causes cognitive and behavioral deficits

Support House Bill 212 to limit dump heights, protect communities

A good bill, HB 212, and a bad bill, HB 184

Waste Management, probably the largest and most political dump operator in the US, wants to expand in Delaware.  It wants to raise the maximum height of its deceptively named “Delaware Recycled Products” dump near Minquadale, just south of Wilmington, from 130 feat to 190 feet above sea level.  The 130 foot limit, which may have been given as a promise to the community, is being approached and the dump can be expected to close.  But dumps are profitable and Waste Management has a LOT of political clout. 

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HB 184 on House agenda June 20th. Insist on the Kowalko amendments!

If you care, call and email your legislators.


Probably no member of the Delaware legislature is a more dedicated stooge of industrial polluters than Representative Debra Heffernan.  So, by the perverse logic of the General Assembly, it makes sense that House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf would have made her Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, the better to attack natural resources from the inside.  Herffernan represents District 6 which has a lot of pollution problems and contaminated sites.  She is also Co-chair of the Capital Improvement (Bond Bill) Committee, one of the key “money” committees, giving her leverage over her colleagues. 

Heffernan also has a masters degree in “environmental toxicology.”  This probably leads some of her more gullible legislative colleagues to think she knows what she’s talking about.  In fact, as far as I can tell, she’s just an industrial lobbyist with a technical credential.

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Urgent Action Alert: Oppose House Bill 184

House Bill 184, being pushed by the American Chemistry Council (ex Chemical Manufacturers Association) would drill a huge hole in Delaware’s laws limiting incineration, one of the few areas in which Delaware environmental laws remain usefully strong.  Delawareans would potentially be exposed to harmful pollution from the “gasification” of waste plastics. 

The official Synopsis of HB 184 states “In order to promote the development of pyrolysis and gasification facilities in Delaware ….”

At the same time, definitions would be altered such that the incineration and waste treatment laws would not longer apply.

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Action Alert: Support HB 166 to help protect kids from lead poisoning

As Delaware’s legislative season winds down to its end point on June 30th, lots of issues will demand last-minute attention.

One of the bright spots in a fairly dismal political scene is ongoing efforts, spearheaded by Amy Roe and Sarah Bucic, to better protect Delawareans from lead poisoning.  This has taken various forms including banning lead paint, and requiring more care in removing lead paint films from structures such as bridges and water towers.  To see some past reports go to greendel.org and search on “lead”.

House Bill 166 would require children to be tested for blood lead levels at the age of 2 (as well as the age of one).  This is a no-brainer for reasons explained in this fact sheet.  One would like to think that medical and public health interests would support this bill, but sadly this is not always the case.  Green Delaware’s experience, over many years, is the Delaware environmental and public health bureaucrats are as likely to oppose improvements as to support them.  So, legislative action is needed.

The action alert below, from Amy and Sarah, asks you to contact your legislators to support HB 166.  Please Do!  A good source of contract information for legislators is  “They  Represent You.”

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We need your help to get a bill through the General Assembly this June.   HB 166 extends the universal blood lead screening to children at age 2.  The current law only requires blood lead testing for children at age 1, and Delaware’s compliance with this law is very poor (only 44% of children are getting the test). Please contact your Representatives on Tuesday June 11 and ask them to support children’s health by voting for HB 166.

HB 166 Talking Points:

  • HB 166 Identifies Problems Early: Blood lead screening protects Delaware’s children by identifying cases of lead poisoning early, before symptoms are present.  Even low levels of exposure, as low as 3 micro gram/dL, can harm the developing brain of a child and reduce their ability to succeed in school and in life. 
  • HB 166 Protects Children Who Are Exposed:  By identifying children who are exposed, the source of lead can be removed from the child’s environment and the child can become eligible for federally-funded early education intervention programs through IDEA Part C.  Removing the source of exposure can prevent the onset of more serious and prolonged exposure, and early education and brain stimulation is proven to enable exposed children to overcome many of the developmental effects of exposure.
  • HB 166 Is the First Step to a More Targeted Strategy:  Universal blood lead screening can also provide the data needed to enable Delaware to shift to a targeted screening program in the future.  We don’t have enough information to begin targeted screening now, but we could if universal blood lead screening for children at age 2 is adopted.
  • HB 166 Makes Sure Doctors are Reimbursed:  The bill clarifies that blood lead screening is a reimbursable expense from insurance.
  • HB 166 Makes Screening Easier for Kids: � The bill enables a finger-prick blood test to count as the screening tool.  The existing bill is vague, and as a result, 70% of blood tests use a laboratory blood draw from a vein.  The finger-prick is more convenient for parents because it can be done at the point of care in the doctor’s office, it is much less invasive for kids, and it gives very quick and reliable results. 

A fact sheet that explains the bill is here, along with a map of recent test results that shows that lead exposure is a statewide problem.

Lead poisoning can be prevented, but our kids can’t be helped without the tools provided in HB 166. � Please reach out to your State Representative and ask them to support the bill.

Click here to find your representative and their contact information on a map, and click here for the complete state list of members.

We hope you can help us put pressure on the General Assembly to support HB 166.

Thank you,

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Green Delaware comments to Hearing Officer in re Waste Management dump “vertical expansion”

Lisa Vest, Hearing Officer
DNREC

Dear Lisa:

Here are some thoughts from us.  I would appreciate if these were read out at the hearing this evening.

This is a classic Environmental Injustice” situation yet the DNREC, which has had a “community ombudsman” for around twenty years, has not factored environmental justice considerations into permitting decisions in a substantive way.  Therefore it seems to me that the DNREC simply does not have in place the capability to make decisions regarding such an application and as such it should not be entertained.  This is a fundamental deficiency in the Regulations.

Both of the nearby-community organizations which have provided written support for the project state that they are receiving free services and/or cash from the applicant.  In other contexts this would be regarded as bribery.  At the least, the opinions expressed by these organizations should be given little weight.

The history of this dump indicates that it was previously used as a sand and/or gravel pit.  Thus we have unlined cells sitting in (very likely) hydraulic communication with aquifers used for water supply.  This is a situation that has been common in Delaware and has predictable and ultimately harmful and expensive consequences.  It is likely that the proposed addition of 60 feet of additional overburden would have the effect of pushing interstitial (pore) liquids into the underlying aquifers and further contaminating groundwater.  This along would indicate rejection of the proposal.

“The DRPI Landfill property was previously operated as a sand and gravel pit from about 1954 until about 1982. During that period, sand and gravel of the underlying Columbia Formation were excavated to approximately the top of the Potomac Formation.” (VIII-3)

In odd terminology, applicants describe membranes installed on top of existing deposits as “liners.”  This seems a terminological way of converting unlined cells into “lined” cells.  The authors should know the difference between a cap and a liner.

“Cells 1, 2, and 3 were unlined but are currently being lined with overlay liner.” (VIII-3)

“the construction of liner [sic] system over previously unlined waste materials will serve to minimize many potential long-term impacts to human health and the environment.” (VIII-4)

 At VIII-10, it is indicated that within 1/4 mile (of the property  boundary?) “A total of 140 wells were identified of which 88 are active, pending, or completed (i.e., 52 are abandoned, expired or voided).”  88 active wells within 1/4 mile!  All of  these wells should be tested and their use determined.

At the very least, the Division of Public Health (Safe Drinking Water Act  program) and  the operators of production wells in the area should be asked to agree in writing that the are not concerned about negative impacts, and the applicant should be required to demonstrate financial responsibility for possible negative impacts.

The “compliance history” summary (only from January 1, 2014 to January 23, 2019) shows 12 citations but zero penalties.  This does not suggest significant or adequate enforcement history.

The Environmental Impact Assessment, ag page VIII-1, states:

“This EAR was prepared by Geosyntec Consultants in Columbia, Maryland in 2004, revised in 2005 as part of the Cell 6 Expansion. The current EAR (Version 3) is largely unchanged except as it relates to the vertical expansion and slightly revised disposal footprint near the entrance that provided more buffer to neighboring residents.”

Thus it appears that the work is fifteen years old and may not reflect current conditions and current understanding of the hydrology of the area.

Again, from page VIII-2:

“To complete this evaluation, Geosyntec supplemented historical information with data collected during: (i) a site reconnaissance performed on 25 February 2004; (ii) interviews with personsknowledgeable about the DRPI Landfill and its operations; (iii) correspondence with federal, state, and local officials; and (iv) reviews of applicable site records provided by DRPI, permits, and published literature.”

So it appears that the authors of the “report,” if not the entire application, have not visited the site in over fifteen years.

Wetlands on the site are waved off as “isolated wet areas dominated mainly by Phragmites”.

The literature on the health impacts of air pollution is expanding very rapidly.  For example:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2019/may/17/air-pollution-may-be-damaging-every-organ-and-cell-in-the-body-finds-global-review

It is highly likely that the health of residents in the area of the Waste Management dump is impacted by regulated air pollutants.  Available information indicates that cancer rates and cardiovascular ilnesses in the area are elevated.  A Health Impact Analysis  pursuant to  CDC guidelines should be performed, considering the alternatives of the proposed expansion vs allowing the dump to close when it reaches its presently permitted elevations (or before!).  In doing this, fugitive emissions should be fully considered including traffic emissions.

OK, I could go on for a long time with concerns and objections, but I hope these are enough to make a point:  That the request permit modification should  be denied.

Respectfully submitted,

[signed]

Alan Muller
Executive Director, Green Delaware

Piling it higher and deeper in Delaware?

Pile it higher and deeper in Minquadale?

Delaware’s “Trump Dump” to be expanded?
 Waste Management (WMI) wants to raise it’s Delaware dump to 190 feet high, from the present height limit of 130 feet.  The dump is called Delaware Recyclable Products, Inc. (DRPI) but it’s purely a dump.  There is no recycling there.

But it’s a big dump:  According to the application, the “maximum daily tonnage” expected is 2,400 tons.  The dump covers about 120 acres.  According to the application the present capacity remaining (as of 2013) is 1.8 million cubic yards and the proposed expansion would increase that to 10.2 million yards and 21 years of dumping.  (One of the oddities of the dumping business is that waste capacity is sold by weight (tons) but dumps fill up, obviously, by volume (cubic yards), so the density of the waste matters.)

Waste Management is one of the most notorious corporations in the United States, and one of the largest waste operators, with 293 active dumps in 2017 (numbers from different sources vary).  WMI is also involved in recycling and burning, but is fundamentally a dump company.

Aside from problems caused by dumps themselves, WMI threatens communities in a couple of basic ways: WMI’s corporate resources are huge, and it can afford to low-ball bids for waste services, forcing locally owned operators to sell out or shut down.  Then, without meaningful competition, costs tend to zoom.  Using these tactics has enabled WMI to take over or shut down hundreds of locally owned and municipal operators. WMI knows a lot about hauling and dumping waste, but its greatest depth of expertise lies in lobbying and buying off elected officials and community organizations. Consider:

Some years ago legislation was introduced in response to WMIs longstanding desire to expand the dump (undated newsletter from House Democratic Caucus):

“DOVER � Delaware communities won’t have to worry about landfillss filled with industrial and construction waste towering over them under legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader David McBride and Rep. James “JJ” Johnson.” [Johnson has retired.  The present representative of the area is Franklin D. Cooke, who has expressed strong opposition to the dump expansion.]

“McBride, D-Hawks Nest, and Johnson, D-Jefferson Farms, are introducing the bill to address concerns about proposed plans to increase the height of Delaware Recyclable Products Inc.’s New Castle landfill. The New Castle facility is the only Delaware landfill permitted as an industrial and construction waste site.”

“”This issue is of great concern to our constituents,” said McBride, a longtime leader on environmental policy in the First State. “But this goes beyond our community. Landfills are complex engineering projects, and as you build them higher and higher, you increase the risks of foundation failures and the groundwater contamination that can go with it. That’s a bad problem anywhere, but it’s an especially dangerous situation in urban areas.”” [McBride is a civil engineer.]

“David Trincia, president of the Minquadale Civic Association, lives near the landfill and said the legislators are doing the right thing with their bill. That’s because, he says, increasing the landfill’s height as the company is proposing would block airflow into the community and would add to problems of dust, noise and smells the area already has to live with.”

“It probably shouldn’t have been built this close to a community in the first place, but that’s done. We have some of the highest cancer rates in the state and breathing in all that dust, dirt and trash probably doesn’t help,” he said. “This proposal is a step forward not just for keeping landfills at bay, not just for Minquadale, but for all communities.””

The proposal would restrict industrial landfill heights to 130 feet, the present permitted height of the WMI Minquadale dump.

Jump ahead to July of 2008, where Mr. Trincia, who has headed the Minquadale Civic Association for more than thirty years. wrote to the DNREC:

“The officers and members of the Minquadale Civic Association respectfully request your prompt review and approval of DRPI Landfill’s vertical expansion application submitted in July 2018.”

“The Landfill also has regularly supported our association and offers our neighbors free waste container and disposal services….”

“The Association’s support for the DRPI Landfill’s vertical expansion is continent upon the parties reaching a finalized Neighboring Community Agreement ….”

(The entire letter, along with hundreds of pages of material, is posted here on the DNREC webside.)

Jump ahead ten months to today:   We spoke to Mr. Trincia who said the Agreement was not finalized and he could not provide Green Delaware with a copy.  He said WMI gives money to his Association but he did not want to say how much.

Another letter of support with the same date came from Scott Clemens, President of the Minquadale Village Home Owners Association.  Minquadale Village is “a manufactured home park a short distance from the landfill.”  Clemens wrote:  “The Board of Directors and membership … wish to express our support for DRPI’s vertical expansion proposal.  “DRPI team members frequently attend our Association meetings … The Landfill also provides park residents with free roll-off container, transport, and disposal services.”

(Green Delaware has heard rumors that the Home Owners Association may have changed it’s position, but our attempts to reach Mr. Clemens have not so far been successful.)

Others are opposed. 

Legislation has been introduced in the New Castle County Council to limit landfill height.  The current state representative for the area, Frank Cooke, is strongly opposed.  Mr. Cooke said his constituents in the area are often poor, are subjected to environmental injustice, already have many health problems, and want the dump expansion denied.  

Cooke described himself as “the voice of the voiceless” and “the hope for the hopeless.”

What does all this mean?  Try this:  Imagine a 190 foot waste dump receiving a permit next to a residential neighborhood in Brandywine Hundred, in Greenville, or in Hokessin.

  Public Hearing Wed. May 29th at 6 p.m.. at the Minquadale Fire Company, 129 E. Hazeldell Avenue, New Castle. 

Official hearing notice.

Green Delaware’s view is that the DNREC rarely denies even the most objectionable permits, and has failed to incorporate environmental justice considerations into permitting in a substantive way.  DNREC permitting officials are usually in close touch with applicants, and often have similar backgrounds.  They are usually remote from community and environmental advocates.  DNREC public hearings have declined in quality and are mainly regarded as giving residents an opportunity to vent.  Think about the fact that it’s considered OK for applicants to bribe needy communities, and to spend large amounts of money “lobbying” elected officials. 

This is very clearly a “JUST SAY NO!” situation.