Building NJ Barrier Against Trump Team’s Rollback of Environmental Rules

Tom Johnson | February 26, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Legislation proposed by Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin would keep federal regulations from the pre-Trump era in force in the Garden State

When wastewater treatment plants lost power during Hurricane Sandy, they dumped untreated sewage into NJ's waterways.
New Jersey lawmakers are looking to blunt the effects of the Trump administration’s rollback of federal environmental protections by enshrining the protections into state law.

Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin (D-Middlesex) introduced a bill that aims to ensure federal protections dealing with air quality and safeguarding state waters and endangered species would remain in place in New Jersey — even if the Trump administration weakens them as part of its efforts to scale back regulations.

The legislation (A-5033), introduced by the chairwoman of the Assembly Environment Committee earlier this month, would maintain, at a minimum, the federal requirements that were in effect on January 19, 2017 before the president took office.

The state has challenged many of the administration’s efforts to roll back regulatory actions that were taken during former President Barack Obama’s tenure. Earlier this month, New Jersey joined with other Northeastern states in filing litigation against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to clamp down on pollution from coal-fired power plants in other states that contribute to unhealthy air quality here.

Pinkin’s bill is modeled after legislation that was introduced but failed to win approval in California in 2017. Other states have proposed similar laws to avert the rolling back of key environmental protections.

Dozens of regulations being eliminated

The Harvard Environmental Law Program Regulatory Rollback Tracker documents more than 50 environmental regulations currently being eliminated or rolled back, ranging from the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants to easing rules governing mercury and other toxic air pollutants and easing the Waters of the United States rule.

The latter proposal would curtail protections to small streams, wetlands and intermittent waterways. More than half of all stream miles in the Delaware River Watershed would be left without federal protections if the rule is adopted, according to a study by Environment New Jersey.

Much of the regulatory scaling back has dealt with rules involving the fossil fuel industry, including the president’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

Pinkin’s bill would require amending various state laws to ensure that federal requirements pre-Trump involving water pollution, air quality, drinking water safety, and endangered species remain in place in state statutes.

“For New Jersey, it is important that if federal rules are weakened, New Jersey puts in place a backstop,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Many of the rollbacks have involved regulations governing water quality and toxic chemicals, Tittel said.

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, argued the rollbacks of the federal environmental regulations threaten public health. “This is a way to turn back the clock to when the EPA did its job,’’ he said of Pinkin’s bill.