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Legal Corruption – Senator Sarlo Shills for Builders

Senator Sarlo (D-Bargen) Chairs Regulatory Oversight Committee (5/1/08)

Senator Sarlo (D-Bargen) Chairs Regulatory Oversight Committee (5/1/08)

The latest corruption scandal in NJ has received widespread press coverage and calls for reform.

Importantly, for the first time, corruption has been linked to its impacts on the environment (see: Bergen Record: Builders call the shots; and DEP E-Mails follow lawmakers request; Star Ledger: N.J. environmental groups call for investigation of DEP in light of corruption arrests; Courier Post: Groups call for Probe of DEP and Star Ledger editorial: Consider CleanGreenNJ’s call for a DEP government cleanup (the CleanGreen NJ reform platform backed by the Star Ledger can be found here).

Yet, while the FBI “Bid Rig” investigation that led to criminal indictments of 44 state and local officials – including 2 state Assemblymen – was ongoing, virtually the same corrupt game was going on during this extraordinary hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee on June 4, 2009

What went on during this Senate hearing is effectively as corrupt as the behavior of Assemblyman Van Pelt (who bragged DEP works for me and that he “knew the “right guys” at DEP and how to “work the channels”) and Assemblyman Smith were criminally indicted for.

Follow the logic in 3 easy steps and keep in mind that DEP “rules” are LAWS, so what we have here is a State Senator (and Mayor) pressuring public officials to allow violations of law:

Step #1 – DEP explains the large environmental stakes:

“We believe, and the current Rules reflect, that it would be poor public policy to extend sewer service at public expense to subsidize and encourage the development of resources the agency is charged to protect. Promoting the extension of sewers and to threaten endangered species habitats, unique and rare ecological communities, and wetlands just does not make sense to us.”

Step #2 – Senator Sarlo brazenly admits he privately intervened on behalf of the economic interests of builders – to pressure DEP Commissioner to not enforce laws:

“We actually — this Committee met May 1 of 2008,  [I wrote about this hearing here “Builders Gone Wild”] and we had a series of hearings — on May 1, 2008 — with regard to these Rules [issues discussed here, “Builders Escalate Assault on Environment“]  The Rules were ultimately adopted in July of 2008 and went into effect April of  2009 — of this year. In February and March of this year, I had begun an open dialogue with the Department of Environmental Protection and their Commissioner, sharing some of the concerns of the Legislature with regard to counties following through and having their plans approved. And as we know, there are many counties, as we sit here today, whose plans are not approved. What is the impact on the building community with these plans not being approved?”

Step# 3 – DEP admits they caved into political pressure from Senator Sarlo and will not enforce laws:

“Senator Sarlo, I know that many present here have expressed concern to you over the draft line, and I know that Acting Commissioner Mauriello has been in communication with you on this issue. Foremost, there was significant concern that the Department would withdraw all future sewer service area on April 7 for counties or on July 9 for municipalities if they did not submit their Wastewater Management Plans. The counties are crucial to the success of this project. We are bound to them in partnership. As you know, the Department has extended the counties’ submission deadlines, and will continue to work with them as necessary and appropriate to see this process through. We have no plans, at this time, to unilaterally withdraw a sewer service area from counties that do not have current Water Quality Management Plans.” (page 4-5)

[Note: DEP put this all in writing, read the DEP concession letter – click here

Now, let’s take a look at the text of the hearing transcript for multiple examples of Sarlo pressuring DEP and cheerleading for builders during that hearing. Whose interest is Sarlo representing? The public? The environment? Your interests? Or the narrow economic interests of the builders, property owners, and investors that fund his dual office holding campaigns (as Mayor and Senator?)

  • SENATOR SARLO: Okay. And I just want to clarify that with Hudson being the only one approved right now — everything else pending, the other 16 pending, and the other four — the other three submitting their sewer authority maps, and Warren not participating at all — currently, today, if a plan is not adopted yet or approved by the Department, are we placing any moratorium on any projects that are currently pending before local boards — land use boards? (@ page 10)
  • SENATOR SARLO: If there are any projects that currently have been approved, not being built because of the difficult economic times, and then they fall within these restricted areas, how are we going to deal with those projects?  (@ page 10)
  • SENATOR SARLOHave we given the counties a definitive date? I know we’ve– And we appreciate the extension, and I think it’s the right thing to do from a public policy standpoint. But has a definitive date been provided? (@page 11)
  • SENATOR SARLO: Let me clarify that. Make sure we get that clarified. I live in Woodridge, where I serve as MayorSomebody lives out of state, owns a piece of property in New Jersey, and their property has been clipped from the sewer service area. How is that property owner going to know that his property has been clipped from that sewer service area? He lives out of state and is not paying attention. He’s not going on the Internet, he’s not paying attention to what’s happening in New Jersey, but he owns a valuable piece of property. (@ page 12)
  • SENATOR SARLO: I mean, I have a concern that the perception here is, here is government coming in, taking away your rights as a property owner, and you have no say. You don’t have the ability to make a statement or make a say. If you’re sitting on a piece of property, perhaps it’s an investment property for down the road. And then you turn around to try and invest in it, you’ve made an investment, and now your property, in a way, has been devalued. So that is a concern of mine and I’m sure many others in the Legislature. (@page 13)
  • SENATOR SARLO: And just one final question: Are we concerned that– Is the Department concerned that some of these rules may provide local officials with kind of a back-door method to deny an unwanted project in their community? Could they use this to hang over — not-in-my-backyard type of syndrome on a project? Could they say, “Down the road they can amend it, and your property may fall within that area that’s going to no longer be a sewer service area. So we should deny your project now?” Is there any concern by the Department on that — that it could be abused by the local municipalities? (@page 13)
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