What are your environmental priorities for 2008?
Tomorrow (Monday, January 28, 2008) Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson will present her priorities for 2008 to the Senate Environment Committee.
In an ideal world, that presentation would have been preceded by a statewide series of public hearings – along the lines of the Governor’s toll plan – to solicit the public’s preferences regarding clean air, clean water, global warming, toxic site cleanup, stopping the loss of forests and farms, reversing declines in ocean health, and a host of serious challenges DEP faces in protecting public health and the environment.
The opportunity for public input exists. The new Senate Environment Committee will meet at 10:00 am in Committee Room 10, Third Floor, State House Annex, Trenton. The Committee invited the public and the Commissioner to discuss environmental issues for 2008. http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/BillsForAgendaView.asp
The Committee has new membership and a new Vice-Chair, Jeff VanDrew (D/Cape May) http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/committees/senate.asp
It will be interesting to see if this hearing is covered by the press and if so what they choose to emphasize and write about. It will also be interesting to see how Jackson puts her cards on the table – will she duck and do the typical dog and pony show; or will she engage substantive issues and generate some controversy at a time when the Governor is struggling to defend his toll refinance plan? How will the new Committee choose to conduct oversight? What will be the priorities of the new members and new Vice Chair?
So, with that in mind, here’s my list and challenge to Commissioner Jackson – what’s yours? I will report Jackson’s testimony tomorrow.
1. Implement the Global Warming Response Act
The legislature directed DEP to submit a Plan – by June 2008 – for meeting Governor Corzine’s much touted aggressive green house gas emissions reduction goals. A package of new laws, regulations, investment, incentives, and programs will be required. The Commissioner should lay out a detailed programmatic vision, which includes a binding commitment to re-negotiate the goals of the RGGI bill just enacted; to provide a deadline for the new Energy Master Plan being developed by BPU; and to present policies towards decisions on various controversial major energy projects, such as Oyster Creek nuclear plant cooling towers, Exxon ocean LNG, and off shore wind. I would hope that some inquiring Senator would conduct oversight and ask questions about how the Governor’s toll plan will comply with federal Clean Air Act ground level ozone standards and achieve the emission reduction goals just adopted in the GWRA.
2. Adopt and fund a long over due Water Supply Management Plan
Water supply deficits currently exist and more are projected in light of expected growth. Global warming will impact rainfall, with more severe and prolonged droughts likely. Existing infrastructure is very old, often in need of billions of dollars of investments in repair or upgrade to meet ever tightening health standards, as needed to respond to NJ’s toxic legacy. DEP is years behind in revising the current plan which is over a decade old and out of date in light of new science. DEP must commit to a plan that assures a sustainable and healthy water supply, with strict limits on new development and mandatory water conservation for all users.
3. Strengthen the Highlands Regional Master Plan
The current plan about to be adopted would allow far too much development in the region, which is why many environmental groups oppose it and why three Highlands Council members voted against their own plan. Governor Corzine has final say on all actions of the Council – so the buck stops with the Governor. Jackson needs to weigh in with Corzine to counter pro-growth and parochial local interests on the Council to protect the water supply for half the state..
4. Adopt mandatory chemical plant safety measures
Corzine – as US Senator and Gubernatorial candidate – pledged to enact mandatory chemical
plant safety laws. He has failed to do so. Current regulations are voluntary and allow the chemical industry to control decisions to adopt critical public safety protections. The Legislature needs to mandate current voluntary guidelines, especially requirements to adopt technologically feasible “inherently safer technologies”. Current rules allow the chemical industry to reject them based on cost, which puts communities needlessly at risk.
5. Protect urban communities from air toxics
The entire state of NJ fails EPA cancer risk health benchmarks for air toxics. Urban and disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted due to concentrated nearby polluting industries and loads of trucks and car emissions. Newark kids have the highest asthma rates in the world. Admissions at urban hospital emergency rooms soar on bad air days, leading to premature death and disease. This is a compelling moral and environmental justice issue. Jackson must speak out.
6. Repair broken toxic site cleanup program
NJ’s toxic cleanup program is broken. Polluters have been allowed to walk away and leave toxic pollution behind under “caps” – again mostly in urban, poor or black communities. The laws were weakened to cut costs and stimulate development. That approach has failed. Its now time to restore prior protections and reorient the program back toward protecting communities, not developers. -
7. Adopt standards for schools and daycare standards to protect children
The legislature mandated that DEP approve the cleanup plans for sites where schools and daycares are built. Will DEP mandate complete cleanup??The law also mandated the new rules be proposed by January 2008 to set safe indoor standards at schools and daycare centers – at low levels that will protect children. This law was enacted in response to the “Kiddie Kollege” fiasco – where 60 children were poisoned by mercury vapors in a daycare center. The daycare was located in a converted industrial thermometer manufacturing facility that ignored a 12 year old unenforced DEP cleanup order. Jackson should brief the committee on this children’s health program for schools and day cares.
8. Show me the money – Restore DEP Budget and invest in critical green infrastructure -
Governor Corzine has spoken a lot lately on the need to invest billions in roads. But DEP still has not recovered from the Whitman Administration’s staff and budget cuts. The Corzine budget cuts and hiring freeze have made historical resource problems worse. They have led to attrition and vacancies in key staff positions. DEP receives the large majority of its budget from polluters fees and federal grants, only a very small percentage is the burden of NJ taxpayers – less than 1/2 o 1% of the $34 billion total state budget. Any further cuts at DEP help polluters and developers, not taxpayers. Jackson must draw the line on budget and investment issues..
9. Transparency, open government, and ethics reforms
DEP must disclose publicly – on their website – all meetings with industry lobbyists and all pre-application permit meetings. The public right to know is paramount and DEP must operate as an open public agency, and not a consulting firm for the polluters and developers. DEP must not hire private contractors that have conflicts of interests. The public confidence and trust is jeopardized by current practices.
10. Fix & adopt proposals in the pipeline – honor prior commitments
DEP has several important regulatory proposals in the hopper that have yet to be adopted, including the “water quality management planning rules (sewer rules) and the stream encroachment rules (flood prevention) [*correction: SE rules were adopted by DEP in November 2007 - I meant to refer to proposed rules to upgrade 910 miles of streams to "Category One"]. DEP recently has begun to solicit input on how to strengthen current coastal management and storm water rules. DEP has long promised to enact rules to protect the disappearing habitat of threaten and endangered species, and criteria to protect wildlife from bio-accumulative toxic water pollutants, like mercury, PCBs, and pesticides. DEP has proposed a controversial cleanup plan on the Passaic River (TMDL) and needs to develop one for Barnegat Bay and hundreds of other polluted waters that fail Clean Water Act standards. Jackson needs to speak clearly and fight for the resources and political support to make these long overdue stronger protections happen.