The state has tapped a veteran Department of Environmental Protection manager to oversee the newly established program to use privately licensed professionals to clean up contaminated waste sites.
David E. Sweeney was named assistant commissioner for site remediation by DEP Commissioner Bob Martin, a job that will entail managing the oversight of more than 20,000 known contaminated waste sites in New Jersey.
Sweeney, who joined the agency in 1988, has most recently led efforts among stakeholders to implement the Licensed Site Remediation Professionals program, which was approved during the Corzine administration over protests from most of the state’s prominent environmental groups.
As an assistant commissioner for site remediation, Sweeney will be responsible not only for the new privately licensed professional cleanup program but also contaminated areas ranging from large Superfund sites to releases of heating oil and gasoline from underground storage tanks.
The state approved the privately licensed cleanup program despite opposition from many environmental groups because of the slow progress in addressing the numerous problems posed by tens of thousands of contaminated waste sites in New Jersey. Environmentalists worry the licensed professionals will be more responsive to the firms that hire them than concerned with protecting the public interest.
“There are more than 20,000 known contaminated sites in New Jersey,. Cleaning them is a priority of the administration, and we need the right people with the skills to do that," said Martin, who announced the appointment.
Dave Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, which had opposed the program, said he was happy that the agency had selected someone from within to oversee the licensed cleanup program.
“Our biggest concern with the program is that it puts too much power in the hands of the private sector,’’ said Pringle, whose organization endorsed Gov. Chris Christie in the gubernatorial election. “ I’m glad that they hired from within who knows the department.’’
The new program licenses qualified individuals to oversee day-to-day management of contaminated site environmental standards. Advocates argue contaminated sites will be cleaned up in a more timely way, improving protection of the environment.
So far, about 400 licensed professionals have received temporary licenses to oversee cleanups of contaminated sites, according to Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the DEP.
Sweeney also has been DEP's Chief of the Bureau of Emergency Response, which responds to discharges of hazardous materials; headed the group that provides technical support in geology and hydrogeology for cases in the Site Remediation Program; and a Section Chief and Case Manager overseeing site remediation, including complex cleanups in New Jersey under the Spill Act, federal cleanups and industrial site cleanups.