Builders Gone Wild

Spew the Big Lie that environmental protection hampers housing market – Builders attack clean water and toxic site cleanup safeguards

Fat cat lobbyists for the NJ Builders Association – the $600 suits – hog the front row before the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee hearing.
That Pastoral Mural in background is ironic, no?

In an orchestrated attack that played on real economic hardship, lobbyists for NJ Builders Association lashed out at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and clean water and toxic site cleanup regulations, before a Senate Legislative Oversight panel today in Trenton.
The spectacle was understandable, given economic distress over the recession in the home construction industry, caused by the home loan mortgage crisis and the bursting home equity bubble. But – even by Trenton’s dog and pony standards – the Builders’ show hit an all time low. So low in fact, that only 3 members of the Committee even showed up for the hearing – the no shows distancing themselves by avoiding the embarrassment [Note: error – the Cmte. has 5 members, only Sen. Lesniak was absent].

Homebuilders – real people, not the $600 suits crowd – are shunted off to the side and rear meeting rooms at today’s hearing.

In rhetoric unhinged from science, fact, or law, the Builders’ lobbyists attempted to make DEP and environmental regulations the scapegoat for the current economic recession. But the smear backfired, and in the process, the Builders’ lobbyists destroyed what little credibility they had. Their efforts were ineffective and a disservice to the little guys that make up the dues paying membership of the NJ Builders Association.
Here’s the story (listen to the full May 1 hearing here:

DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson and Larry Baier, Director Of Watershed management, brief the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on water quality management planning rules (AKA “swer rules”).

DEP recently proposed two sets of regulations. The first, known as “sewer rules” are designed to protect water quality from sewer plant discharge and the impacts of development: The other, the “soil cleanup criteria” set minimum standards for toxic site cleanups to protect public health:
Environmental advocates have criticized both rules as political compromises that are far too weak to address NJ’s toxic industrial legacy, assure clean water, curtail NJs overwhelming sprawl development pattern, or revitalize and cleanup NJ’s most disadvantaged urban communities.
Under the NJ Constitution, the Legislature has power to oversee regulations adopted by State Agencies, and may veto those regulations legally deemed “inconsistent with legislative intent”. Today’s oversight hearing focused on two DEP rules, the so called “sewer rules” and toxic site cleanup soil and groundwater standards.
At the outset of the hearing, Committee Chairman Sarlo made it clear that the hearing focus was NOT on a Legislative veto to strike down the DEP rules as inconsistent with legislative intent, and NOT a forum to bash DEP. To his credit, Sarlo was well prepared and substantively questioned DEP staff and environmental groups. At the same time, playing both sides of the fence, he teed up softball criticisms for the builders lobby.

Senator Nia Gill (D/Essex) asked tough questions of builders lobbyists.

Republican Senators Cardinale (R/Bergen) and Kyrillos (R/Monmouth) complained the DEP rules were “too complicated to understand” – but they both admitted that they had not even read the rules. In shameful pandering, both Kyrillos and Cardinale drank the cool-aid and criticized the DEP for harming the econony. Kyrillos claimed the rules “may not be workable” because they “look like Chinese – or Hebrew – something I don’t even understand” (without having even read them!).

Senator Paul Sarlo (D/Bergen) Chairman was careful to emphasize that hearing was not intended to “bash DEP” or exercise the Constitutional Legislative Veto power

The most thoughtful questions of the day came from Senator Nia Gill (D/Essex) who observed that the national economic recession was the cause of the problem. She asked Builders to document the claim that DEP regulations harmed the construction industry. Rejecting Builders’ attacks and defending environmental safeguards, Gill cut straight to the core:
“Command and control to me is as important as certainty is for the development industry”. Later, crystalizing the real policy conflicts, Gill said “What may be unacceptable to investors may be necessary to protect public health in my communities.”.

Panel representing NJ Builders Association

In over the top testimony, the Builders Association claimed that the DEP water quality and toxic site cleanup rules would cause “a devastating downward spiral” leading to a “full blown recession”. Yet they offered not one shred of evidence to support these claims or any legal analysis to support a claim that the DEP regulations were not authorized by or inconsistent with legislative intent. 

NJ Business and Industry Association lobbyist joins Builders’ attack on clean water and toxic site cleanup environmental safeguards

The only surprise of the day was the support of the NJ Business and Industry Association (the Chamber of Commerce sat this one out). It was a surprise that NJBIA affiliated themselves with gross exaggerations and falsehoods, including the economic recession claims, and absolutely false scare tactics that the rules would impose a “development moratorium”.
This reckless rhetoric does not advance sound public policy.

  1. tomsevers
    May 1st, 2008 at 20:36 | #1

    Evil in a $600 suit … they should take a look in the mirror … they’re part and parcel of what caused this recession and the downward spiral in New Jersey in the first place

  2. Abitha
    May 1st, 2008 at 20:52 | #2

    Not that I like a lot of houses, but I would blame the lawyers, legislators, and on up before the builders. I also blame all that think they need a McMansion with 2 acres of grass seed instead of trees and native habitat.

  3. JerseyOpine
    May 1st, 2008 at 21:39 | #3

    Between the NJ Supreme Court’s Mt. Laurel decree/COAH & the builder/developer ties with the Democrats, there will be diminishing green on the ground in proportion to increasing green in the pockets of all these opportunists. They care nothing for how they leave NJ.

  4. imahawk
    May 2nd, 2008 at 10:20 | #4

    zoning dictates parcels (lot size) – not builders; laws and regulations dictate where and how contruction can take place – not builders. the system (DEP) is broken, and you can’t blame the builders for that.
    NJ is the most heavily regulated state in the country, and the government wants to close parks because they don’t have the money to support them. keep making it harder to build in this state (commercial and residential) and you’ll see both employers and taxpayers continuing to flee, which means there’s even less revenue and fewer taxpayers to support these services!
    the enviroment needs protection, and New Jersey’s contaminated sites need remediation. (builders didn’t pollute the sites – years of industry did) who do you think will clean-up these sites (and pay for it) if the DEP continues its moving target approach to how that needs to be done? is that rational?
    builders are looking for rules they can follow and “finality” as stated by Senator Sarlo. go to Sarlo’s statement at
    DEP doesn’t operate in a vacuum. they should be required to study and report on the impact their proposed actions before beinig able to submit them. that’s being responsible.
    you’re always quick to criticize everyone and everything, bill. how about trying to help figure out how to solve (REALLY fix) some of those problems for once rather than just throw mud?

  5. nohesitation
    May 2nd, 2008 at 10:52 | #5

    imahawk – thanks for the comments – replies in order of your points:
    1) municipal zoning is constrained by state and federal environmental laws (e.g. wetlands can be zoned for housing, but you can’t build there).
    2) Lobbyists, lawyers, and planners for builders and land owners have enormous impacts on zoning – that’s why NJ’s over built landscape looks the way it does. So why you would attempt to deny any responsibility for this mess is beyond me. So I do correctly blame the builders for lots of that (and parochial “ratables chase” local governments too).
    3) The DEP regularroy program pay for themselves 100% via oversight fees levied on the regulated community. The costs of DEP regulatory progam have nothing to do with closing the parks. So, this is a highly misleading statement that I beleive you know to be inaccurate – in otehr words, a lie.
    4) There is no study anywhere by a reputable economist that says environmental regulations are chasing jobs or population or economic development out of NJ. In fact jut the opposite is true. M

  6. imahawk
    May 2nd, 2008 at 11:05 | #6

    and what is your take on the moving target approach related to remediation of contaminated sites?

  7. nohesitation
    May 2nd, 2008 at 11:18 | #7

    imahawk – before I reply to your question, I note that this material somehow got cut out of the prior reply:
    “Many studies show that NJ’s sprawl over-development is increasing local property taxes, sewer and water rates, and unsustainable energy consumption patterns.
    Numerous studies show net economic benefits from strict environmental regulations.
    And just look at property value assessments for homes located next to
    natural features, like preserved lands, streams, woods – protecting the
    environment INCREASES wealth.”
    Now, on the “moving target” approach” to remediation of contaminated sites
    I testified yesterday that one of the underlying causes of the problems with respect to delays, high costs, and failure to adequately cleanup sites is lack of enforceable standards adn endless negotiations between DEP staff adn consultants.
    These problems will only get worse under the DEP proposed soil standards because:
    1) the “alternte rmedial standrds” allow case by case site sopecific negotiaions to occur in lieu of the standrds. This flexibilty” destroys finality, predictability, certaintly adn trnasparcny. It also invites the kind of political abuse we say in te EnCap debacle where political green lights were given adn industry lobbyists over-rode DEP scientitis’ decisions.
    2) Commissioner Jackson deleted the “impact to groundwater” standards – this will force perpetual technila disputes over groundwater protection to continue.
    DEP Commissioner Jackson also continued to support a new privatized program – this too will make matters worse, because lack of enforcement, inadequate DEP oversight, and corporate pressures to cut cleanup costs and over ride DEP health protections are the causes – not the solutions to – the problems.

  8. joiseydude
    May 2nd, 2008 at 11:48 | #8

    The builders association has bought & paid for many of our legislators. Maybe some elected officials have finally figured out that we are not going to sit by while they pimp new watered down regulations, favorable to this band of thieves.

  9. isbjorn1
    May 2nd, 2008 at 11:55 | #9

    To imahawk re “you’re always quick to criticize everyone and everything, bill. how about trying to help figure out how to solve (REALLY fix) some of those problems for once rather than just throw mud?”:
    Since Wolfe didn’t answer this point, I will.
    For just one example of his suggestions of how to “solve (REALLY fix),” as you say, one of the critical problems facing the state, go to the Wed. posting, “Memo to Jon–‘Skin in the Game'” and read, esp., “New Jersey Parks Lose Millions in Uncollected Lease Payments: Park Closures Could Be Averted by Reaping Concessionaire and Easement Revenue”

  10. imahawk
    May 2nd, 2008 at 15:18 | #10

    to your point that “…even by Trenton’s dog and pony standards – the Builders’ show hit an all time low. So low in fact, that only 3 members of the Committee even showed up for the hearing – the no shows distancing themselves by avoiding the embarrassment.”
    only Senator Lesniak was absent from the meeting. there are five on the committee; the four others attended and actively participated.
    Legislative Oversight
    Sarlo, Paul A. – Chair
    Gill, Nia H. – Vice-Chair
    Cardinale, Gerald
    Kyrillos, Joseph M.
    Lesniak, Raymond J.

  11. nohesitation
    May 2nd, 2008 at 19:26 | #11

    imahawk – Gotcha anaslysis – well you got me. Wow. Great point, Highly substantive.
    A 5 member Committee is unusual, no?
    And why did do you think Lesniak stayed away?
    And do you deny that the hearing was all show and no substance?

  12. eyesofsussex
    May 2nd, 2008 at 19:47 | #12

    imahawk is right. We are the most highly regulated state. Know why? Because we are the most densely populated. NJ is the laboratory for studying the effects of too many people dumping too much crud next to too many people. We need those regulations just to survive the overload of cars, dirty air, noise, trash and to recover from a century of it.
    Builders will blame the environmental rules for the present economic downturn. But drive through Newark, Elizabeth, Camden and you will see buildings that were vacant long before any environmental laws were on the books. The economies of these cities went South…and East…and West. Then overseas as globalization kicked in.
    Things change as resources dwindle, but the builders will not see that. And as things change, buisnesses will need to adapt or fail. What would be the builders’ excuse if, at some point in time, all available land was built out? What next?
    We are seeing the beginnings of that now. Builders have for many years built on the “low hanging fruit”; the easy to get, and cheap land. But this resource is almost used up. All that’s left is the protected land, and the DEP is protecting it.
    Sussex County is a prime example. That’s why Sen. Oroho, Assm. Gary Chiusano and Assm. Allison McHose are trying to dismantle the DEP. They are all tight with developers and resort owners who need the land up here.

  13. wereallblue
    May 3rd, 2008 at 08:25 | #13

    I’m curious imahawk, when do we say we’re full?
    Does every county have to look like our Eastern counties before we just say, “we’re done?”
    You can say that high density isn’t the plan for everywhere, but when will it be time to declare that development-style building is over?

  14. OKBob
    May 6th, 2008 at 20:53 | #14

    Forget about arguing over environmental regulation (tough or lenient). Local zoning, controlled by 566 towns, dictates where development occurs. However, over time, that control is being dwarfed by dozens (maybe hundreds) of multi-purpose, confusing, duplicative and conflicting state & regional regulatory programs which lack some sort of framework that relates them to an overall purpose. The “State Plan” was supposed to do that, but it contniues to fail to guide land use and infrastrucuture investment decisions. THAT’s what this state lacks — a cohesive satetwide framework for regulatory decision-making so that local land use and zoning choices can be adjusted to reflect those (statewide) goals.
    When will the state agencies (and the Administration) understand that hundreds of independent regulatory programs (aimiable on their own), continue to drag this state’s economy down and deteriorate NJ’s importance in the (NE) region. Businesses will flee, as they have been, and the better paying jobs with them. The changing demographics prove it.
    So, bicker about this soil standard or that stormwater reg — while Rome burns. Hate to be so pessimistic, but I’ve been around long enough to witness what amounts to a collapse of what was once a fair and balanced place to live.

  15. nohesitation
    May 7th, 2008 at 10:09 | #15

    OKBob – Fair an balanced? A fan of FOX (FAUX) News?
    Rome may be burning, but the fire was not lit by and has nothing to do with environmental regulations or DEP. In fact, there are many independent studies that suggest that strong environmental protections promote economic competitiveness, technological innovation and increasing productivity. And obviously, you can’t have growth without adequate water supply, sewage treatment capacity, or energy sources.
    Whenever the economy sputters, DEP is blamed – that is a big lie.
    The State Plan is a joke and a failure.
    The NJ Builders Association hypocrisy is over the top. The Builders sued DEP to block DEP from implementing the State Plan in DEP programs. In 1999, the Appellate Division issued an opinion that agreed with the Builders and found that the Stater Plan was not a regulatory document. and warned DEP NOT to implement the Plan in DEP regulatory programs. It is therefore absurd for the Builders to now attack DEP for not following the State Plan.
    This is not bickering about technical aspects of regulations – this is about whether NJ can have a future – if we keep going the way we are, we are doomed.

  16. OKBob
    May 7th, 2008 at 22:13 | #16

    nohesitation: I agree with the “doomed” conclusion, but obviously for none of the same reasons.

  17. imahawk
    May 8th, 2008 at 15:01 | #17

    my point was that your reporting is not completely accurate, whether or not that example was parcicularly substantive by your measure. that sort of negligence belittles your credibility.

  18. nohesitation
    May 8th, 2008 at 15:34 | #18

    imahawk = I make a mistake, I acknowledge it.
    My “reporting” is accurate, but perhaps it is the opinons you disagree with.
    Disagreements on policy and opinion are fine – but please refrain from attacking my integrity or credibility adn hiding behind those attacks.
    There was no negligence involved – I am one of the few who have actually read the regulations involved and have expertise.

  1. August 31st, 2009 at 15:34 | #1
  2. January 24th, 2010 at 12:09 | #2
  3. April 1st, 2010 at 10:50 | #3
  4. May 6th, 2011 at 12:33 | #4
  5. March 5th, 2012 at 16:02 | #5
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