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Feds Warn State DEP's New Rules Could Imperil NJ’s Most Pristine Waters

DEP argues it wants to streamline regulations, but EPA says changes to policies could increase pollution in NJ waterways

stream water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told the state that proposed changes to water-quality standards may fail to comply with federal and New Jersey regulations protecting the Garden State’s waters.

In a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the agency raised several concerns about pending changes to coastal, stormwater management, and flood-hazard rules.

The rules, proposed by the DEP in June, also have sparked criticism from some environmentalists who fear the changes, if adopted, could increase pollution in New Jersey’s waterways, including those high-quality streams of exceptional ecological and recreational significance. Those resources are classified as Category 1 (C1) waters.

The EPA echoed those concerns in its letter to the state. “Measurable changes to Category 1 (C1) waters as a result of proposed changes to these rules would not comply with New Jersey’s water quality standards,’’ according to the EPA.

In proposing the rules, the DEP said the changes would reduce complexity, correct conflicting regulations, and streamline the permitting process for project applicants. The rule is part of a wide-ranging effort by the Christie administration to bring “predictability’’ to what it views are overly burdensome rules and regulations.

Asked to respond to the EPA letter, Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the DEP said it was submitted as part of the public-comment process and the state would reply as part of that process.

However, the EPA also asked the state to schedule a meeting between the two agencies so that it could discuss the potential impacts of the proposed changes, especially given that the DEP is in the process of drafting new storm-sewer permits for towns that will be guided by the rules.

According to the EPA, any revisions that would result in less stringent requirements for stormwater permits would be in violation of federal regulations.

In its letter, the federal agency also expressed concerns that changes to the rules reducing stream buffers could lead to “additional development and discharges to surface waters, impacting water quality.”

Many of the concerns cited by the EPA reflect issues raised by the New Jersey Sierra Club, which opposes the proposed rules.

“This letter from the EPA is an alarm bell going off that clean water in New Jersey is at risk,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the club’s state chapter. “What the EPA is saying in their soft-spoken bureaucratic way is that New Jersey citizens should be concerned about water pollution and flooding from these rules.’’

Despite some strides in cleaning up polluted rivers and other waters, 90 percent fail to meet one or more state or federal water quality standards.

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