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Wolff & Samson Helped “Transform” DEP Enforcement Policy

How W&S Lobbyists Gutted Enforcement and Weakened Toxic Site Cleanup Standards

It’s been widely reported that the Christie DEP has virtually abandoned traditional enforcement, as fines and penalties have dropped substantially.

Quoting Todd Bates’ Asbury Park Press story, I wrote this about DEP’s new business friendly enforcement policy:

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.”

The APP followed up Todd’s story with a killer editorial, see “Don’t ease up on polluters (and subsequent coverage confirmed the gutting of enforcement, see: Report: NJ DEP environmental actions plummet

But what has not been reported is the fact that our friends from Wolff & Samson (W&S) were involved in crafting this new “kinder & gentler” pro-business enforcement policy.

  • Inside Track From Day One – Key Role on Christie DEP Transition Report

Dennis Toft of W&S was working the inside game to dismantle DEP and regulatory protections from day one. Toft served on and helped write the infamous Christie DEP Transition Report.

That Report was a wrecking ball: a comprehensive and systematic assault on DEP as an institution and on longstanding environmental regulation and enforcement.

It set the policy, regulatory rollback priorities, and tone for all that followed. I strongly urge you to revisit these issues and read the entire Report.

  • Helped “Transform” DEP Enforcement Policy

DEP records show that Wolff & Samson were well represented on the DEP Enforcement Transformation stakeholder group.

Dennis Toft and John McKinney from W&S  helped write the business friendly Christie DEP enforcement policies that have resulted in steep drops in inspections, fines, and penalties.

They were joined by lobbyists from the NJ Chamber of Commerce, Builders Association, Commerce & Industry Association, PSEG, and Chemical Industry Council – a virtual Who’s Who of NJ corporate polluters and developers.

  • Weakened Toxic Site Cleanup Standards

Mr. Toft even wrote a piece bragging to his business clients about how he helped weaken DEP regulations and gut the DEP enforcement of toxic site cleanup requirements, see:  NJDEP Proposes More Lenient Mandatory Timeframes Under SRRA.

Some of the changes Toft brags about jeopardize public health and confirm our warnings about weakening of vapor intrusion requirements.

Mr. Toft wrote:

The NJDEP also has proposed to amend the definition of a vapor intrusion IEC from a vapor concentration that exceeds the Indoor Air Screening Level to a vapor concentration that exceeds the Rapid Action Levels. This change is anticipated to significantly reduce the number of sites that otherwise would have been categorized as having an Immediate Environmental Concern.

A significant reduction in the number of “Immediate Environmental Concern” cases means a significant increase in the probability that more people are unknowing exposed to chemicals in their homes.

Can you imagine bragging about exposing more people to toxic chemicals in their homes?

But weakening regulations and enforcement for toxic site cleanups and vapor intrusion exposure are not all that our friends from W&S have accomplished. No, they have done far more damage.

  • Assured  That Business Interests Trump Public Access to Waterfront and Shore

There were also instrumental in weakening protections to assure public access to coastal wasters and  inland rivers.

Mr. Toft and his colleague Mr. Valeri explain how they reduced public access and lowered compliance costs for their business clients. They wrote

The new rules also generally emphasize maintenance of existing public access. In certain circumstances, the rules do not require new public access for existing properties. For example, for existing industrial development, no public access is required if there is no existing public access on site where the proposed activity consists of the maintenance, rehabilitation, renovation, redevelopment or expansion that remains entirely with the parcel containing the existing development. If an existing industrial development already has public access, it is to be maintained or equivalent onsite public access is to be provided. Similar provisions apply to other types of development, including residential and commercial development, homeland security facilities and ports.

So, I hope reporters can begin to expand the scandal focused coverage on the role of Wolff & Samson and begin to investigate how W&S used inside access and political relationships to weaken protections for public health and the environment – all done quietly, non-transparently, and with no obvious finger prints.

And, I hope that would include going back to review ELEC Reports for this period to see if W&S lawyers and lobbyists reported this activity as attempts to influence regulations and “government processes”.

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