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DEP budget cuts are backdoor polluters agenda

DEP Commissioner Jackson: cuts “do not make programmatic or fiscal sense.”

DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson testifies to Senate Environment Committee

Governor Jon Corzine’s proposal to slash the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) budget by an additional 13% reflects either ignorance of how the Department’s budget is structured, or a back door attempt to appease business interests and roll back environmental protections.
DEP receives 76% of its operating budget from federal funds, polluters fees, and enforcement fines. This is a longstanding funding practice based on a “polluter pays” policy.
That means that only 24% of DEP’s budget is paid for by taxpayers. This amounts to less than one half of one percent of the State budget. There are virtually no taxpayers savings realized by DEP cuts. Worse, cuts could jeopardize receipt of federal funds.
The strengths of this budget policy are that polluters bear the burden of DEP regulatory oversight, not the taxpayers. The drawbacks, however, are that critical and popular programs like State parks, forestry, fish & wildlife, flood control, science, air & water quality monitoring, global warming, and policy & planning are severely underfunded and neglected.
Last year, only $65.3 million of DEP’s budget was paid for by taxpayers – almost half of that, $30 million, went to operation of the State Parks system. That’s right – the entire state environmental protection budget paid by taxpayers was just $65.3 million.
This year’s proposed cuts are in addition to last year’s 3% cut and the loss of over 200 people.
The Corzine cuts are in addition to draconian cuts by the Whitman Administration that were never restored during the McGreevey/Codey years..
But at least Whitman was honest in justifying her anti-environmental cuts as an effort to make NJ “Open for Business” and advance a regulatory relief agenda for the business community.
In contrast, Corzine wants it both ways: to be seen as pro-environment and so he hides behind pro-environmental rhetoric – all hat and no cattle. (see: NEW JERSEY ENVIRONMENTAL BUDGET SHRINKS BUT TASKS GROW — New Corzine Initiatives Will Worsen Already Large State Environmental Deficitshttp://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=836

NJ Governor Corzine shows better grasp of toll revenues and bond finance than funding NJ’s environmental agency budget.

Worse, cynically, Corzine knows that the hugely unpopular proposed closing of State Parks will prompt the Legislature to restore Parks cuts. So, he knows that this will result in other important program areas absorbing even deeper cuts. This is shortsighted and highly irresponsible.
Last year, DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson made the polluter pays budget policy clear in testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. Jackson concluded:
“All of the areas covered by the General Fund [taxpayer supported] are broad based public functions for which it only makes sense for the state to support….Substantial cuts to areas of DEP that are supported by fees would likewise not make programmatic of fiscal sense” http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/legislativepub/govbudget2007-2008.asp
Jackson went on to recommend specific new sources of revenue to further reduce the taxpayer burden. Hundreds of millions of dollars could have been collected by DEP for so called “Natural Resource Damage” (NRD) injuries caused by toxic pollution. But NRD recoveries were strongly opposed by the business community. So, instead of pursuing this Jackson recommendation, Corzine caved in to the polluters and allowed the NRD statute of limitations to lapse, thereby stripping DEP of legal authority to recover these money damages to public resources. (see:NEW JERSEY FORFEITS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS IN POLLUTION DAMAGES — Court Ruling Faults DEP for Failure to Enact Rules to Compensate Public http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=930
Make no mistake – proposed budget cuts at DEP provide virtually no taxpayer relief.
They are a thinly veiled back door attack on environmental protection under the guise of taxpayer relief.
DEP to Flood Victims: Protection “Cost Prohibitive”
$38 BILLION for tolls, $380 million for bond consultants, and NJ can’t find money to map where the flood risks are?
As DEP Commissioner Jackson testified, such cuts do “not make programmatic or fiscal sense.”

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  1. spacemom
    February 28th, 2008 at 08:17 | #1

    Wolfe, this is outrageous! I can’t imagine where they will even cut any more at DEP. I agree this has to be a back-door attempt to let the foxes not only guard the henhouse, but to take up residence there. I wish the Governor stayed in the Senate, he’s certainly not been good for New Jersey’s environment. And he’s clearly not the least bit concerned about the environmental community challenging him on things.
    I was not aware that the NRD rules had lapsed so that the DEP was no longer able to collect those damages. That’s also outrageous. Thanks for bringing this to light, I just wish the press would give the rest of the world the story. People are completely oblivious to the fact that this is going on.

  2. nohesitation
    February 28th, 2008 at 09:26 | #2

    Yes, it is outrageous –
    This is Corzine’s 3rd budget, and somehow the press and the public don’t know that the first two cut DEP.
    Why is Corzine given a pass?
    Everyone knew when Whitman was slashing DEP.
    On the NRD – there are two differnt major problems:
    One, is the failure of DEP to adopt rules that former Commissioner Campbell pledged to adopt in a legal settlement agreement. So, DEP is flouting law and court settlements on top of failing to collect millions in NRD money from polluters. Failure to adopt these rules is a legal barrier to recovery. No one knows that either.
    Two, the statute of limitations tolled for hundreds of cases adn DEP has lost the legal abilty to recover millions of fdollars. DEP does retain NRD powers for NEW cases, but there aren’t many of them, as most sites had already been discovered adn throught th fisrt phases of remedial process and are now lost via tolling of NRD statutte.
    Again, the public doesn’t know this, or know that the Campbell DEP was able to get the Governor adn Legislature to extend the statute of lilitations TWICE.
    Another Corzine pass from enviro’s adn press.

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