Hackensack Riverkeeper
231 Main Street
Hackensack, NJ 07601
201-968-0808
201-968-0336 (FAX)
Info@HackensackRiverkeeper.org
www.HackensackRiverkeeper.org

Thursday, March 8, 2012

FOR  IMMEDIATE  RELEASE

Contact: Captain Bill Sheehan, Riverkeeper and Executive Director
Christopher Len, Esq., Staff Attorney

HACKENSACK RIVERKEEPER BLASTS NJDEP WAIVER RULE

Calls “common sense principles” a recipe for environmental disaster

Hackensack, NJ – Responding to today’s news from Trenton, Hackensack Riverkeeper soundly condemned the Christie administration and the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for caving into special interests with the new “Waiver Rule”. The rule, touted by the administration as giving the regulatory agency “flexibility to modify compliance with rules in certain limited circumstances that do not compromise protections for the environment or public health”, is instead a thinly-veiled attempt to reward polluters and sprawl developers who support Christie, they contend.

“If this rule is allowed to stand, it will destroy environmental protection and severely compromise public health,” said Captain Bill Sheehan, Riverkeeper and Executive Director. “Under the guise of so-called ‘customer service’, Christie’s DEP has instead created a recipe for environmental disaster.”

The rule allows the DEP to waive any environmental and/or public health laws, rules, regulations & safeguards and allows polluters and developers to evade them under the guise of creating more “flexibility” in the permitting process. While the ruling was not unexpected, its all-too-quick signing by Gov. Chris Christie is an obvious example of his kowtowing to corporate interests at the expense of more than thirty years’ worth of environmental protection. In addition, Riverkeeper contends, the DEP has abdicated its responsibility to the people of New Jersey.

“Despite clear statutory requirements, DEP believes it has the power to waive any rule protecting public safety or the environment. DEP appears to believe that its judgment is superior to that of the duly elected representatives in the New Jersey Legislature,” said Christopher Len, Staff Attorney for Hackensack Riverkeeper. “This vast overreach is bad policy, exposes all of us to danger, and is ultimately bad for the economy. The only interests it benefits are those of the governor's big-business allies. It is illegal, unconstitutional and it will not stand.”

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin – a political appointee without a shred of expertise in the fields of environmental law, regulation or protection – contends in the agency’s official press release that “there is no automatic right to a waiver…”, the truth of the matter is that no standards have been created to evaluate the criteria used to issue any waivers. Because waivers will be considered a case-by-case, any sprawl developer, land speculator or corporate entity with a so-called “job-creating” idea can apply; meaning more work for an already overburdened, demoralized and gutted DEP staff. Plus, lame duck legislation such as the Permit Extension Act, plays into the administration’s hands and makes it even easier for waivers to be issued.

To make matters worse, the Waiver Rule does not require public notice for waiver requests; only that they be included in any Public Notices that an applicant is required to provide. In addition, no public comment periods are required. Under the rule, The DEP will simply announce that it is reviewing a waiver request and then list the decision on its Website. It is expected that few, if any, decisions will be denials.

“The protections affected by the Waiver Rule reflect the best intentions of the state legislature over more than three bipartisan decades,” said Sheehan. “But now, under a governor who was elected with the slimmest of majorities, the DEP has gone completely over the edge. I fear that ‘DEP’ now stands for ‘Department of Environmental Permitting’.”

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