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Christie DEP’s New Enforcement Priorities

(Source: NJDEP)

Welcome to the parallel universe of Christie/Martin environmental policy!

Ignore that chart above for a moment and consider the reaction if the State Police or Pentagon announced a new program to assign Troopers or Marines to the Candy Striper Division, to put on Candy Striper uniforms, and go clean hospital bedpans.

How would the Troopers, the Troops, and the press and public respond to that?

(Obviously Candy Stripers perform an important and essential function, but it is not the State Police or Marine Corps mission or culture.)

Now take a look at DEP’s new enforcement paradigm and “vision”, whose stated objective is to “Get more done through partnerships ” and new enforcement program priorities:

Creating Sustainable Businesses in New Jersey

October 16, 2012, 1:00 – 3:30

NJDEP Headquarters, 401 E. State St., Trenton, NJ Public Hearing Room – 1st Floor

Goals for this Initiative:

  • Promote sustainability planning and practices among New Jersey businesses to enhance economic success, environmental protection, and an improved quality of life.
  • Identify and share resources to educate and encourage the New Jersey business community on SROI (sustainable return on investment).

Is it DEP Enforcement’s job to serve as “sustainability and stewardship salesmen” and consultants to regulated industries? To provide free advice to help business increase profits?

Maybe those new enforcement visions and priorities explain why DEP enforcement performance is at a record lowas reported by Todd Bates of the Asbury Park Press:

proposed fines covering seven major DEP programs, including air and water quality and land use, plunged from $31.6 million in fiscal year 2007 to $9.1 million in fiscal 2011. That’s the lowest figure since at least 2002 and about half the 10-year average.

The collection of fines is down as well, dropping to $7.5 million in fiscal 2011, the lowest figure since 2006. Also, the number of enforcement inspectors has dropped by about 20 percent over the past five years, making it more difficult to catch polluters in the first place.

At the same time, the DEP has dramatically increased the number of settlements it has agreed to, allowing polluters to get off with relatively small fines. These settlements, the environmental equivalent of a plea bargain, allow violators to pay far less in fines, sometimes pennies on the dollars.

This “sustainable business” promotional effort is part of a broader Christie/Martin “DEP Transformation” agenda to gut the traditional DEP regulatory enforcement paradigm and replace it with a voluntary, privatized, corporate model (based on private 3rd party “certifications” and “incentives)“.

The Christie/Martin transformation vision and pro-business policies contradict the recommendations of DEP professionals – none of which suggest a need for “partnerships” and “customer relations” with regulated business and only one of which even mentions the “stewardship” program (that single comment was probably by the guy who created that program under Lisa Jackson. The Jackson program was insignificant in size, scope, and impact, with, after 5 years, only 36 companies meeting  just 3 of 21 stewardship program benchmarks.

After 5 years, the Jackson “stewardship” program has had no demonstrated environmental benefits, so it is hardly a model upon which to expand and base DEP’s new enforcement paradigm.)

Instead of traditional enforcement, the Christie/MartinDEP now provides compliance assistance and incentives (carrots) and retires the sticks.

Here’s how DEP expresses that vision:

We are building a nationally recognized organization that empowers our trained and dedicated professionals to ensure New Jersey’s businesses, communities and individuals are models of environmental stewardship and compliance.

Candy Stripers, for sure.

In fairness to Assistant Commissioner Skacel, who is a career professional I have high regard for, the vision does include this as a “result to be delivered” by the New Vision dictated by his boss, DEP Commissioner Martin:

Maintain deterrence and no backsliding on past environmental gains  

I just strongly doubt that that is possible, given the pro-business policies of the Christie administration and scarce and declining DEP staff resources.

And, as Todd Bates reported, the available evidence supports my doubts.

So, now, let’s get to that chart at the top of the post.

It shows compliance rates by DEP program. Overall, compliance rates are increasing and pretty good is some programs (85 – 92% in water supply, hazardous waste, and water quality) and not so good in land use, pesticides and underground storage tanks (UST) – 25 – 70%.

Curiously, the 3 programs with the worst compliance rates (land use, pesticides, and UST) are the targets of the FEWEST inspections! Take a look at DEP’s own data:

But, despite generally good and improving regulatory compliance rates, NJ is not meeting environmental goals and standards:

NJ’s air quality does not meet federal health standards for ozone and safe levels for numerous cancer causing hazardous air pollutants.   None –  zero – of  waters meet all standards set under the federal Clean Water Act to protect their designated uses. We continue to lose thousands of acres of land to sprawl, the coast is highly vulnerable to storms and sea level rise, hundreds of chemicals have been detected in our drinking water supplies, our fish and shellfish are too toxic to eat, indicators of biological and ecological integrity continue to decline, while energy consumption, automobile trips, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

So, if  compliance with current regulations is not achieving our goals, what should we do?

It seems obviously common sense that we should:

  • enact stricter regulatory standards
  • increase fines and inspections to provide deterrence
  • beef up enforcement effort and increase staff and resources
  • Crack down on the 15-40% of the businesses that continue to violate

But, how does DEP respond to this contradiction of high compliance rates and declining environmental quality? They:

  • relax regulations
  • reduce fines and inspections
  • slash staff and resources
  • target the best complying programs for the most inspections
  • provide “stewardship” assistance to violators
  • stress “partnership” and “customer service” over enforcement

Welcome to the parallel universe of Christie/Martin environmental policy!

[End Note: And what do you think is going to happen to those compliance rates as DEP cuts inspections, fines, deterrence, and reduces cops on the beat to a pursue a “partnership” strategy?

I guarantee that they will go down, further jeopardizing public health and the environment.]

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