Fine Print: SCR 59

Proposed legislation would make it much harder for DEP to waive the rules

Sponsor: Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex)

What it does: Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 59 determines that a rule adopted by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in March to waive its regulations is inconsistent with legislative intent.

What the fight is all about: The rule stems from an Executive Order issued by Gov. Chris Christie in his first week in office. The proposal is part of the Republican administration’s efforts to make New Jersey more business friendly. It adopts a “common sense’’ approach to regulatory oversight without compromising environmental protections, according to officials. It has won strong backing from the business community.

What it does: The rule allows the DEP to grant a waiver from roughly 100 rules and regulations if one of four circumstances is met: there is a public emergency; they create an undue hardship; there is a conflict with rules and regulations of other departments; and there is a net environmental benefit to the project. The agency and backers of the rule note waiver provisions already exist in 98 separate rules overseen by DEP.

Why opponents think the rule is bad policy: Environmentalists and some Democratic lawmakers fear the regulation will undermine tough rules put in place over the past three decades to protect residents from pollution of the air, water, and land. They also argue that the rule is so broadly written that it will allow politically connected developers to push through projects that will affect the environment .

What happens next: The measure is up for vote in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee tomorrow. An identical resolution got through an Assembly committee in the previous legislative session, but went no further, in part, because the DEP held off adopting the waiver rule until March, after the start of a new legislative session. If the measure wins approval by both houses of the legislature, the commissioner of the DEP will have 30 days to amend or withdraw the rule, or the legislature can invalidate the regulation by passing of another resolution.

What also could occur: The rule is being challenged in court by dozens of environmental organizations, which argue that the agency does not have the authority to uniformly waive rules and regulations previously adopted to comply with legislation enacted into law. The case has not yet been heard.

In the meantime: DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said the agency will not begin accepting applications for waivers until August. Martin also vowed to review each waiver request during the first six months of its availability.