Gov. Chris Christie’s transition team for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has issued a scathing report portraying the agency as one of the great impediments to economic growth in the state.
The report, compiled by a team that includes several former key figures from DEP and released today, calls New Jersey a place where bureaucrats have enacted “cumbersome, confusing and often conflicting regulations that in some cases go beyond legislative intent, and in others, have no enabling legislation at all.”
“The department has driven economic investment out of this state, often with policies, that, ironically, provide little or no environmental benefit,” the report said.
It is a sentiment a good portion of the development community might endorse but a spectacular indictment of an agency once regarded a pioneer in protecting the air, water and other natural resources of a state.
The report recommends sweeping changes in how the agency deals with the regulated community, calling for different standards of cleanups for degraded urban areas and relatively unspoiled undeveloped land; abandoning strict cleanup standards mandated under previously approved legislation; and creation of an office of ombudsman to help businesses navigate myriad permit systems.
It also revives the frequent recommendation of some to study the possibility of separating the portion of the agency dealing with parks and other natural resources from the portion that handles permitting and regulatory functions aimed at protecting the state’s air, water and land from pollution.
“It really looks like the builders’ agenda,” said Jeff Tittel, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club of New Jersey, who was particularly angered by a recommendation to junk conservative estimates, established by legislation, to govern cleanup of contaminated waste sites to protect the public from cancer risk. “It seems to say if you live in an urban center, your getting cancer is less important than attracting economic investment,” he said.
But the business community hailed the report, saying it has identified many of the impediments to economic development in New Jersey, particularly when environmental regulations fail to consider the economic consequences of tougher standards. Among other things, the report suggests there should be different cleanup standards for contaminated properties, or brownfields, and areas where degradation has not occurred.
The report concluded by stating that New Jersey needs a predictable and stable set of rules that allow the public and regulated community to plan for the future. “Being environmentally friendly is not mutually exclusive from being business-friendly,” the report said.