“The Surge” on the Environment
Countless fiasco’s show that voluntary compliance, privatization, deregulation, subsidies, and reliance on private consultants failed
In testimony before a rare April 15 joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly Environment Committees, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commisisoner Lisa P. Jackson presented the Corzine Administration’s plan to reform the “broken” toxic site cleanup program. The “cornerstone” of the plan is privatization. Jackson opened by invoking the definition of insanity:
“it’s foolish to believe that doing things same way will make things change… it’s a curse to expect a different result by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting success”. (for Jackson’s written testimony, see: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/srp/stakeholders/testimony20080415.pdf
We agree with Jackson – and therefore suggest that the Commissioner is either insane of she has caved in to political pressure by the Governor’s Office.
Does she really believe that corporate polluters are chomping at the bit to spend billions of dollars to clean up 20,000 toxic sites now backlogged at DEP? Does she think DEP staff are preventing polluters from cleaning up sites? That all we need to do is get DEP bureaucrats out of the way and let the private sector solve the problem?
If insanity is doing the same wrong thing over and over and expecting success, then more privatization and deregulation policies are insane – that is exactly what we have been doing for the last 15 years that is causing the problem. Here’s why:
Senate Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D/Middlesex) opened the hearings with remarks about Earth Week. Smith touted recent progress on the environment, noting the passage of the Highlands Act, diesel particulate controls, updating of DEP’s environmental enforcement powers, and enhanced electronic waste recycling. Smith’s examples were ironic because the common thread of all these laws are based on traditional regulatory controls, NOT on privatization and voluntary compliance.
Senator Gordon’s (D/Bergen) – burned by major cleanup breakdowns from Hoboken’s Grand Street Mercury poisoning, to Ford in Ringwood, to Paramus toxic schools, to Encap – observed that paperwork was being pushed between DEP and consultants, yet no real cleanups were being completed.
Assemblyman Rooney (R/Bergen) testified that the existing DEP private consultant certification program known as “Cleanup Star”, was “an abject failure”. He repeatedly warned that current widespread use of politically connected pay to play cleanup consultants must stop. “The program has been broken for a long time” Rooney concluded.
Assistant Commissioner Kropp testified that last year, – after 15 years of voluntary compliance and virtually no enforcement – a new DEP enforcement initiative found that more than 80% of sites were violating DEP cleanup rules.
In stark contrast to the recent progress that rely on a traditional regulatory approach that was emphasized by Chairman Smith’s introductory remarks, since the Whitman Administration, the thrust of toxic site policy has been to shift from disparaged “command and control regulation” to voluntary compliance, privatization, and deregulation. Cleanup laws were amended in 1993 and again in 1997 – at the request of industry. Those changes privatized cleanup decisions, allowed partial cleanups (caps), weakened DEP oversight, expanded the use of tax credit subsidies and market mechanisms, gutted DEP enforcement, and eliminated public participation in the cleanup process.
Ten to fifteen years later, experience has shown that the current flaws in the DEP toxic site cleanup program can be traced back to these policy changes.
Specifcally, these are the failed Whitman era policies that: 1) promote what Commissioner Jackson herself referred to as partial “pave and wave” cleanups that cover up pollution with caps; 2) allow the private sector to set priorities based on real estate markets and economic investment preferences, instead of risks to the community; 3) set cleanup standards based on development and land use of the site instead of protecting public health and the environment; 4) rely on private market “buyer beware” mechanisms such as deed restrictions instead of regulation; 5) to walk away from costly groundwater cleanup requirements (“classification exception areas”); 6) to vest the critical choice to select the cleanup plan solely with the polluter, with no alternatives presented to the public or local oversight; and 7) to allow private contractors to control the cleanup process. All these policies have proven a disasterous failure and directly led to the current backlog.
Why would anyone promote more of the same of these failed policies??
That’s why we conclude that Jackson must be insane to be proposing expansions in the very same policies that have created the problems. After all, it is insane to repeat the same mistakes over and over again and expect success. Either that, of course, of Jackson has caved into the pro-economic development agenda of certain influential members of the Corzine Administration (ahem, Gary Rose).
For additional details – see PEER testimony, see: http://www.peer.org/docs/nj/08_14_4_wolfe_testimony_and_exhibits.pdf
NEW JERSEY TO PRIVATIZE POLLUTION REGULATION TO SAVE MONEY — Outsourcing Clean-Ups Is Recipe for More Toxic Disasters, Legislature Told
To listen to the April 15 hearing: https://edit-blog.advance.net/cgi-bin/mte/mt.cgi?__mode=view&_type=entry&id=1035091&blog_id=2882&saved_changes=1