DEP’s Guest List Leaves Out Toughest Critics

Tom Johnson | November 15, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Friendlier environmental groups invited to session today on restoring Jersey Shore

The state Department of Environmental Protection is quietly convening a meeting today to discuss issues relating to rebuilding the Jersey Shore with a small group of conservationists.

The session, to be held at DEP headquarters, comes at a time when some environmentalists are suggesting the state needs to radically rethink its policies in the wake of the worst storm ever to hit New Jersey, particularly when it comes to redeveloping the coastal region.

There is wide consensus the state needs to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but smart growth advocates and some environmentalists say it needs to be done in a way that protects coastal communities better from the wide devastation wreaked by the storm.

DEP spokesman Bob Considine described the meeting as an informal session with conservation groups. “It’s just an update on storm issues,’’ he said.

In an e-mail from the DEP to various groups who will be represented at the meeting, however, the session was described not only an as update on Sandy’s efforts but also as a meeting providing input on coastal protection and rebuilding. That issue is likely to become a hotly-discussed topic as the state addresses the enormous issues raised by Hurricane Sandy and its impact on the Shore.

At a hearing on a new proposed state strategic investment plan held Tuesday, several people urged the state to use the storm as an opportunity to redevelop the coastal region in a way that would make it less vulnerable to storm damage.

Those invited to the DEP meeting, by and large, have been far less critical of the Christie administration’s environmental policies. They include Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, and Kelly Mooij of the New Jersey Audubon Society.

Zipf and Dillingham did not return calls for comment.

David Pringle, campaign director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, said he was not upset about being excluded at the meeting, but added, “This meeting continues a troubling trend of this administration to back bad public processes and bad public policy.’’

Some groups have been critical of the Christie administration for excluding groups that want tougher pollution rules from meetings to review environmental regulations.

Pringle’s group backed Christie in his gubernatorial bid, but has become increasingly critical of the administration.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club and a much more vocal critic of the administration, was even more adamant. “They will use the meeting to roll back environmental protections at the Shore because they have environmentalists at the table,’’ he said.

Both Pringle and Tittel have been critical of a decision by the DEP to waive certain environmental rules to make it easier for municipalities to improve infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Sandy.