Overturn Christie Veto, Environmentalists Urge, Keep NJ Free of Fracking Waste

Green coalition points to radioactive waste from hydraulic fracturing found at several New Jersey sites

With the summer budget break approaching, a coalition of environmental and other organizations is pressing the Legislature to overturn a veto of a bill (A-575) by Gov. Chris Christie that would ban New Jersey from accepting waste from hydraulic fracturing operations in neighboring states.

To bolster its case, the group released data obtained from various state environmental agencies that indicated at least three facilities in New Jersey received waste from Pennsylvania drilling operations to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, including some shipments with high radioactive levels, the coalition said.

The issue is among the most contentious in the state, with a sharp divide between business interests and environmental groups.

Rich deposits of natural gas found in neighboring states have driven down prices to historically low levels, a fact that has led to a steep drop in electricity and gas bills for residents and businesses. That is a welcome development in a state with some of the nation’s highest energy costs.

To extract the natural gas, however, drillers need to inject massive amounts of water and smaller amounts of toxic chemicals and sand to break up the dense rock formations, a process dubbed “fracking.” Critics warn that the practice threatens the drinking water of the more than 1.5 million people in New Jersey who rely on the Delaware River for potable water.

“New Jersey is being used as a dumping ground for frack waste,’’ said Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “We know from recently obtained records that radioactivity levels in some waste received was found by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to be so high it violated the company’s permit.”

The facility in question was Clean Earth of New Jersey, based in Kearny, which accepted more than 30 gallons of frack waste between July and December 2011, according to Open Public Records Act information obtained in New Jersey and Pennsylvania by the group. The other facilities identified by Carluccio included Clean Earth of Carteret and LORCO Petroleum Services of Elizabeth.

Christie vetoed the fracking waste ban bill last September, saying the legislation was unconstitutional, a view disputed by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services.

“It’s more of a rationalization than matter of law,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, referring to the governor’s veto. He said legislative leaders have given the groups a commitment to post an override vote before lawmakers break for the summer. The bill, however, is not listed among the measures to be considered by the Assembly tomorrow.

“This is probably the most important clean water bill vote in the past decade,’’ Tittel said.

The organization, which includes 160 groups who signed a letter urging an override of the governor’s veto, plans to rally outside the Statehouse tomorrow when the Legislature is in session, presumably to vote on a new state budget for fiscal year 2014.

“With elections only a few months away, New Jersey families are expecting and demanding that our representatives, elected to look out for and protect our health and welfare do their job,’’ said Harriet Shugarman, of ClimateMama and the Mother’s Project NJ.

Jim Walsh, New Jersey director of Food & Water Watch agreed. “Now it is up to the Legislature to protect New Jersey where Gov. Christie has failed by voting to override his veto,’’ he said.

Asked about the potential dangers to drinking water during a teleconference call with reporters, Tittel noted there are more than 70 wastewater treatment plants above drinking water intakes on the Passaic River and another 60 sewage treatment plants above drinking water intakes on the Raritan River.