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Christie Poised to Kill Ecological Standards by New Jersey DEP

[Update #2 1/12/11 – – here what it all means – from Dupont Pompton lake mercury sediment cleanup plan:

NJDEP has promulgated soil remediation standards for residential and nonresidential exposure. However, no promulgated soil standards are available for ecological receptors.

NJDEP does not have any promulgated sediment criteria for evaluating potential human exposure or for ecological receptors. For ecological receptors, NJDEP’s 1998 sediment guidance is available to evaluate sediment quality within Baseline Ecological Evaluations as part of implementing the Technical Requirements (N.J.A.C. 7:26E). However, in accordance with the sediment guidance (NJDEP, 1998), these values are not cleanup standards.

Christie has made sure DEP will never have ecological standards for soil or sediments.

Update #1: Governor Christie signed the bill into law on 11/3/10 as P.L. 2010, c. 87. That means that there will be no ecologically based DEP cleanup standards in DEP’s site remediation program.]

With no debate and under the guise of eliminating red tape” and “inactive and outdated boards and commissions”, Governor Christie is about to give NJ toxic polluters a major gift they have sought since 1993. (see Star Ledger “coverage”)

The bill, A2851, passed yesterday by the Senate and now on the Governor’s desk, contains a stealth provision buried in the details that would eliminate the “Environmental Advisory Task Force” created in 1993. Here is the provision that would be deleted from current law by the bill:

[The department shall not propose or adopt remediation standards protective of the environment pursuant to this section, except standards for groundwater or surface water, until recommendations are made by the Environment Advisory Task Force created pursuant to section 37 of P.L.1993, c.139. Until the Environment Advisory Task Force issues its recommendations and the department adopts remediation standards protective of the environment as required by this section, the department shall continue to determine the need for and the application of remediation standards protective of the environment on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the guidance and regulations of the United States Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to the “Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980,” 42 U.S.C. s.9601 et seq. and other statutory authorities as applicable.]

The Environmental Advisory Task Force was supposed to develop ecological impact and cleanup standards to protect natural resources and wildlife from toxic pollution from spills and toxic waste sites.

The need for ecological standards and huge cleanup liability are illustrated by the Gulf oil spill, where fisheries, wildlife, and wetland systems have been destroyed by the BP oil spill.

NJ’s wetlands, fish, shellfish, birds, and other wildlife also have suffered from toxic and bioaccumulative chemicals, which have led to consumption advisories, restrictions, and closures of fisheries.

Under the 1993 law known as S-1070, that weakened NJ’s cleanup program, DEP was prohibited from developing ecological based cleanup standards until the Task Force had issued scientific recommendations.

The Task Force was strongly opposed by the chemical industry and for years they were able to block appointments and formation of the Task Force.  As a result, the Task Force never met.

And as a result of that paralysis, DEP has never developed ecological standards. Failure to adopt ecological cleanup standards has forced DEP to conduct site specific reviews, or rely on outdated and inappropriate lax EPA standards that are poorly suited to NJ and beyond NJ’s control.

This has let polluters off the hook for billions of dollars of “natural resource injury” cleanup liability.

Assemblyman Burzichelli (D-Valero, South Jersey)

Assemblyman Burzichelli (D-Valero, South Jersey)

[Update: the bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Burzichelli, who is working with polluters and engineering environmental rollbacks as chair of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee and member of the Christie Red Tape Review Group. End Update.]

Those historical problems are made far worse by NJ’s new “Licensed Site Professionals” law, which privatized cleanup decisions. LSP’s have little or no expertise in ecological impact analysis. In the absence of DEP ecologically based standards, LSP’s will be free to make cleanup decisions, even without DEP oversight.

Of course, NJ’s stressed ecosystems and wildlife will suffer additional damage, while polluters are left off the hook and LSP’s are unaccountable to any effective DEP oversight (with no standards, it is all a judgement call. Do you trust LSP’s, paid by polluters to minimize cleanup costs, to exercise prudent judgement to protect wildlife and ecosystems?).

Click on this for details and call and write to demand that the Governor conditionally veto the bill to remove this provision:

Ecological Standards ignored for 16 years – polluters dodge billions in liability

[Update: In another gift to toxic polluters that undermines public oversight of how the chemical industry and DEP failed to implement the goals and toxics use reduction requirements of the groundbreaking 1991 “Pollution Prevention Act”, the bill also would eliminate the “Pollution Prevention Advisory Board”.

Here is the composition and powers of that Board, which, just like the Environmental Advisory Task Force, was fiercely opposed by the chemical industry and thus was never formed. Note that the PPAB has 3 ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP MEMBERS. What have those groups done to oversee implementation of the PP Act for the last 19 years and why are they not up in arms about this?

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