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Fine Print: Department of Environmental Protection Transformation Plan

Commissoner Bob Martin has a plan for fixing the DEP. But what will it mean to conservationists?

Overview: The 30-page transformation plan is the brainchild of DEP Commissioner Bob Martin and his senior staff, a blueprint for streamlining many of the functions and allocation of dwindling resources in an agency long blamed for stifling economic growth in New Jersey.

Synopsis: DEP is broken, Martin has said repeatedly since being sworn in as commissioner. This is his plan for fixing it, one that envisions doing things smarter with fewer resources. He wants to eliminate unnecessary functions, streamline regulations and reassess virtually every major environmental policy. These include the Highlands, protection of trout streams, cleanups of contaminated sites, Barnegat Bay and air quality guidelines, to name just a few.

What it means: In the first year of the Christie administration, DEP suffered comparatively fewer cuts than many other state agencies, but this document clearly conveys that leaner times are ahead. The review of most major programs will likely lead to eliminating some and sweeping changes in land-use policies affecting economic growth and development. It also hints at weakening tough rules, including air quality standards, which are more stringent than those adopted by the federal government.

Key passage: “In addition to transforming the department due to resource pressures and antiquated business practices, it is appropriate for us to re-evaluate past environmental policy and business decisions—are they truly beneficial from an environmental, economic and social perspective today?’’

Prospects: Martin isn’t the first commissioner vowing to shake up DEP, but clearly this isn’t an administration reluctant to shake up the status quo in Trenton. Many of his reforms are likely to be embraced by the business community, but could unite what until now has been a badly divided environmental community. “This isn’t about making DEP user-friendly; it’s about dismantling 30 years of environmental protections,’’ said Jeff Tittel, of the New Jersey Sierra Club, and one of the few vocal critics of the administration.

Your permit is in the mail, but thank you for asking: The plan will require every one of the more than 3,000 DEP employees to take a one-day workshop in customer service.

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