Many, including some of Jackson's supporters in the environmental community, have lambasted that policy for the conflict of interest it would create.
As part of its 2007 investigation, the Center for Public Integrity found that this practice, which already occurs with federal contracts doled out by the EPA, allows polluters to profit from their own pollution by obtaining contracts to clean up Superfund sites they may have helped create years before. Opponents of Corzine's proposal charge that it would allow the same to happen with New Jersey contracts. This reporter contributed to that project while working until early this year at CPI.
Critics of Jackson's approach have also focused on what they see as her weak response to two contaminated New Jersey sites: One is a multi-million-dollar condominium community built on top of land where high levels of chromium, a carcinogenic chemical, have been found. The other involves Kiddie Kollege, a day care center developed inside an abandoned thermometer factory, where more than 30 children were exposed to mercury, a neurotoxin that slows brain development in children.
In September, a division of the Centers for Disease Control released a study (PDF) concluding that people who live near the chromium contaminated sites in Hudson County have higher rates of lung cancer.
A New Jersey department scientist, Zoe Kelman, quit out of frustration over the chromium issue. She told ProPublica that she has concerns about Jackson taking the helm of the EPA because of what she sees as Jackson's lax response to pleas to strengthen chromium standards at planned condo communities in Hudson County, N.J.
"I had high hopes when Jackson took over," said Kelman, who had been a chemical engineer for the state. Kelman says that Jackson "ignored" a 50-page letter she wrote about how a protective cap made out of synthetic materials and soil would not sufficiently control chromium-laden waste in Jersey City. "I was perplexed that someone with her background would not be able to understand the issue, and recognize that we should be erring on the side of caution," Kelman said.
The department did respond (PDF) to Kelman's letter, saying that she was criticizing processes that many scientific agencies use to determine risk, and therefore there was little the department could do to address her concerns. (The response, Kelman argues, was essentially lip-service and didn't result in any changes.)
A 2004 investigation by the Newark Star-Ledger found that Honeywell Inc., PPG Industries and Maxus Energy Corporation, the companies responsible for the chromium pollution, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying and millions of dollars on their own scientific studies to convince the state of New Jersey that its chromium standard was too stringent.
According to the investigation, when the lobbying effort began, New Jersey considered chromium levels in soil at 10 parts per million to be safe; by the end of the companies' lobbying campaign the chromium standard was raised to 6,100 parts per million: one of the loosest standards in the country, allowing the companies to save millions on cleanup costs.
Not long after the Star-Ledger's investigation, Jackson's predecessor, former department commissioner, Bradley Campbell issued a moratorium on development of the chromium-contaminated land and assigned a panel of department scientists to investigate New Jersey's chromium standard. Kelman was one of the members on that panel.