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Why Am I Not Surprised?

(Privatization) + (Deregulation) + (Lax Oversight) = Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

[Update 8/15/11 – Defending the indefensible, DEP Commissioner Martin pened an Op-Ed in defense of the DEP Brownfield program, see: Turning N.J. brownfields green again.

I wonder if its mere coincidence that the Martin Op-Ed ran on the same day DEP proposed major new rules that dismantle the existing toxic site cleanup program and replace it with a privatized scheme. – end update]

Expressing Claude Rains caliber shock and outrage, the Star Ledger reports today that DEP and EDA failed to track where $281 million in “brownfields” toxic site cleanup money went, what it was used for, if the sites were cleaned up, if they were redeveloped, or if polluters should have paid for the cleanup.

N.J. officials didn’t track the $281M spent from brownfields fund to clean polluted properties

Since 1994, New Jersey has doled out $281 million from the fund to investigate and clean up contaminated land, but in what would seem a fairly monumental oversight, state officials acknowledge they have never kept track of whether the roughly 1,600 sites were actually developed and are now on the tax rolls.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which certified that the dirty sites qualified for the fund, also concedes it never checked to see if those who caused the pollution in the first place should have picked up the tab.

And the Economic Development Authority, which processed applications and cut the checks, failed to follow up to determine whether its investment actually turned barren wastelands into taxable townhomes, restaurants and shopping centers. …

Under state law, polluters are liable to clean up their toxic sites. Some go belly-up and can’t pay, forcing the state to step in and use public dollars to clean up the mess. But others who may be able to pay walk away, and state officials concede they don’t know which ones should have been forced to pony up.

Why am I not surprised?

Because I’ve been blasting the broken DEP cleanup program for years now, watching toxic sites across the state poison communities, while advocating a specific policy reform agenda.

Because high profile sites like EnCap and Dupont and Ford and many others have exposed systemic and management problems at DEP for years (thanks for Bergen Record coverage).

Those criticisms have been ignored in all policymaking and media quarters (again with the exception of the Bergen Record).

For the last 17 years, the Legislature, current Governor Christie, and prior Governors Corzine, McGreevey, and Whitman (and their DEP Commissioners) have done nothing but rollback DEP oversight, weaken laws and regulations, cut budgets, and slash DEP staff.

It is well known in Trenton policy circles that:

All these problems have been repeatedly documented, in dozens of cases, and for many years.

So in 2005, largely in response to the “Kiddie Kollege” daycare poisoning of 60 toddlers, the media finally started reporting in detail on how and why the DEP cleanup program failed because of all this.

But instead of fixing it, the politicians and media blamed regulatory oversight itself as the cause (not lax, understaffed, no enforcement oversightand passed legislation to privatize the cleanup program (a law developed by Gov. Cozine, DEP Chief Lisa Jacskon, and a Democratic Legislature).

HELLO! Have Assemblyman McKeon and the Star Ledger been in a cave the last decade or so? If you vote for it, you bought it.

So if the Star Ledger and Assemblyman McKeon now have their panties in a bunch over DEP’s failure to oversee $281 million, just think about the human health and environmental consequences of the same failures to oversee toxic cleanups!

If DEP can’t track the easy stuff, like dollars and whether a site is redeveloped and on the tax rolls (at 1,600 sies), how can they monitor private cleanup contractors (at 25,000 sites)?

Maybe they all shoud have thought about beefing up DEP oversight and the failed cost recovery program BEFORE they privatized the cleanup program and turned it into an economic development tool and corrupt pay-to-play patronage mill.

Just maybe.

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