DEP Fast Track is Back – Environmental Rollbacks Underway
“We will implement it [Fast Track] no matter what you call it” … “even in the face of the [Codey] Executive Order’s [moratorium], the Department has embarked on an ambitious program to recognize the powerful benefits of the [Fast Track] law for economic growth…in line with the Governor’s message of ‘invest, grow, and prosper’“;
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Lisa Jackson – testimony to the Legislature on 4/25/06 and 5/1/06 (no typo: 2 YEARS ago) Link: http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=709
Two weeks ago, a report was leaked to the media that showed that the Department of Community Affairs was secretly meeting with builders to develop an agenda to roll back environmental protections. The DCA recommendations amounted to a radical attack on 30 years of environmental progress, and went so far as calling for state mandated growth to over-rule local home rule controls.
In response, Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club issued a scathing press release claiming that “Dick Cheney comes to NJ”.. Here’s the AP wire story:
Environmentalists criticize government reports on NJ housing
TRENTON, N.J. – Environmentalists blasted draft housing reports Wednesday, accusing the Corzine administration of promoting sprawl by trying to relax rules governing development throughout New Jersey.
The environmental groups accused the administration of stacking government committees looking into housing and land use with people from the building and real estate trades.
“You basically have builders and people who work for builders … writing the environmental rules for the state of New Jersey,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the state Sierra Club. “This proposal has really been the wish list for the builders over the past 20 years in New Jersey, many of the things that could not get passed or have been stopped because of public opinion and outrage.” http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newjersey/ny-bc-nj–overdevelopment0312mar12,0,7846121.story
DEP Commissioner Jackson fired back hard at DCA Commissioner Doria, exposing a rift in the Corzine Cabinet. Jackson – who has family experience with New Orleans flooding – raised the stakes and drew a moral line in the sand with this zinger :
“Building affordable housing there [in flood zones] would be morally wrong.“
N.J. urged to weaken DEP rules for housing
Report is from panel co-led by developers
Builders’ lobbyists have since gone on a PR offensive to blame DEP and environmental regulations for the collapse of the new housing construction market caused -primarily -by the sub prime mortgage financial crisis.
Joe Riggs, head of K. Hovnanian, NJ’s largest home building company timed an Op-Ed in Saturday’s papers that concluded:
“We hope the work by Commissioner Doria’s committees signals that the governor is applying the same determination to untangling the state’s housing mess.
There, too, the muddling reactive patch work planning needs to be replaced by new patterns of planning and development, land use, financing and regulation.”
(“Build it cost effectively” Trenton Times. 3/22/08)
Piling on, last Thursday, Legislators gave the business community a platform to broaden and deepen the attack. The Bergen Record headlined the story with
“Business leaders urge state to cut red tape“:
“TRENTON — New Jersey’s economy — which has lost 10,300 jobs so far this year — will continue to shrink unless the state reforms its environmental rules and health care mandates, business leaders told lawmakers Thursday.
“This year, we’ll be lucky to [build] 16,000 units. We need 50,000 a year,” said Stephen Patron, vice president of the New Jersey Builders Association.
Michael Egenton, a vice president for the state Chamber of Commerce, said members felt lost in a mire of Department of Environmental Protection regulations. Business owners, he said, need to know the DEP won’t “come back 10 years later” to enforce stricter rules that did not exist at the time of construction.
Mary Kay Roberts, representing the drug manufacturers group PhRMA, described how one member had to resubmit a permit application four times in seven years because regulations evolved.
Assemblyman Joseph Malone, R-Burlington, said he knew of a developer along the Delaware River who wanted to give up his entire project because of permitting delays alone.
“The environmentalists have taken over so much control,” Malone said.
“There is a bureaucracy that eats us alive,” said Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Union.” http://www.northjersey.com/news/njpolitics/16886916.html
With those big guns to her head and sympathetic pro-development allies in the Governor’s Office, today DEP Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson issued an Order establishing a DEP Permit Efficiency Review Task Force. The Task force was directed to issue recommendations – within 120 days – to streamline DEP permit programs.
As fig leaf cover, the Order includes rhetoric about developing strategies to promote sustainable development and global warming policies (but last year’s highly touted Global Warming Response Act mandates that DEP independently develop a greenhouse gas emisisons reduction plan to meet the Act’s emission reduction goals by June 2008 – so this “justification” for the Efficiency Task Force Order is a transparent sham).
The focus of the Task Force repeats an historic pattern of business community attacks on DEP going back to the Florio Administration. Those efforts have resulted in a series of flawed anti-environmental initiatives, from Permit Extension Act I and II to Fast Track.
This is a recurrent theme in NJ whenever the economy takes a downturn.
DEP Commissioner Jackson’s Order sets the stage for the DCA and business community economic development anti-environmental agenda to be given a platform to rollback DEP regulations. Worse, the Task Force members read like a who’s who list of pro-development and anti-regulatory advocates with a long history in NJ environmental politics. The context and the players represent a dangerous threat to over 30 years of NJ’s hard won environmental protections.
We plan to closely monitor this Task Force and urge intrepid reporters and citizens to get involved.