Home > Uncategorized > Assembly Democrats Blast Christie DEP Budget for Lack of Open Space Funding and Diversion of Passaic River Cleanup Funds

Assembly Democrats Blast Christie DEP Budget for Lack of Open Space Funding and Diversion of Passaic River Cleanup Funds

Spring in Trenton - Budget time!

Spring in Trenton – Budget time!

Notwithstanding the provisions of any law or regulation to the contrary, an amount not to exceed $147,500,000 of cost recoveries from litigation related to the Passaic River cleanup shall be deposited in the General Fund as State revenue, subject to the approval of the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting.  ~~~ Gov. Christie’s Proposed FY’ 15 DEP budget, p. D-125

“This is terrible policy,” said Brad Campbell, a former state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner who is now an environmental lawyer.

He said it conflicts with “the clear language” of New Jersey’s Spill Act, which enables the state to seek compensation directly from polluters and it means significant natural resources will never be restored.

“And it’s bad fiscal policy, using another nonrecurring and completely unpredictable revenue stream to mask a structural deficit,” Campbell said.  ~~~ Associated Press 4/27/14

[Update: 5/5/14 – Tom Johnson at NJ Spotlight wrote the story today, with a top ten Tittel quote:

“There’s no blood left in the stone”  ~~~  end update]

The Assembly Budget Committee reviewed Gov. Christie’s DEP’s proposed FY 15 budget today.

The Senate will review it tomorrow at 1 pm.

A budget is more than a financial document: it establishes priorities and essentially determines which policies will be implemented and what laws will be enforced.

So, the legislature’s power of the purse can be a powerful oversight and accountability tool.

But, when it comes to the critical details of the budget and the performance of the DEP programs funded, the Legislative branch is outgunned and unable or reluctant to use to the budget process as a forum to oversee the Gov.’s implementation of policy.

Nonetheless, year after year I go to DEP budget hearings expecting legislators to hold the DEP accountable and criticize policy  – and year after year I am disappointed.

To the contrary, the only policy concerns that legislators seem to express are from the business community about over-regulation, bureaucratic red tape, of excessive permit fees.

Today, was mostly in keeping with that pattern.

DEP Commissioner Martin responds to press questions after Assembly budget hearing (4/28/14)

DEP Commissioner Martin responds to press questions after Assembly budget hearing (4/28/14)

But Democrats on the Assembly Committee did blast DEP Commissioner Martin for failure to propose a stable source of funding for open space acquisition and for the proposed diversion of $147.5 million from the Passaic River toxic settlement agreement to the General Funds. (see above budget language and former DEP Commissioner Campbell’s harsh criticism, with which I completely agree).

A new issue emerged when DEP Commissioner Martin said that funds from a $161 million Passaic settlement escrow account were just released and made available. It was unclear if this was in addition to the $147 pot of money.  So the total diversion of Passaic River cleanup money could exceed $300 million!!!

I’ll let the main stream press cover those two issues.

Instead, I will briefly mention a few other less prominent issues that were addressed and those that weren’t.

For those that like to get into the weeds, here are the original documents – the OLS analysis is helpful and the DEP response to OLS questions is quite revealing, so I suggest you go there first:

1. Climate change was ignored completely – aside from a few casual rhetorical references to prior Clean Energy Fund diversions and exit from RGGI. That is just unforgivable.

2. Legislators allowed Commissioner Martin to dodge the issues regarding failure in renewable energy by claiming that was BPU’s job.

3. DEP spun a tall tale in response to OLS questions about coastal vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning – many of the criticism I have made here several times were addressed – you need to read it to believe it. Those interested can start on page 8 – I think many people will be surprised to learn about this stuff.

4. A lot of important issues were completely ignored.

Martin got no questions – NONE – about public health, environmental justice, land use, Highlands, Pinelands, Barnegat Bay, Fenimore Landfill, infrastructure (other than Sandy damage), chemical plant safety, rail safety, Hudson River oil shipments, a proposed new oil pipeline thru the Highlands, Off shore oil and gas exploration, off shore LNG export facilities, science, monitoring, environmental data, or regulatory policy.

[Correction – Martin got a softball question on Fenimore from Assemblyman Bucco. It was such a softball, I didn’t even consider it a question. Sorry about that error.]

There was not one question about how the Gov.’s pro-business Executive Orders and regulatory policies effected transparency, permit reviews, enforcement, or the overall level of protection of human health and the environment.

There was no interest in DEP’s role in the Hoboken – Rockefeller development scandal.

5. Assemblyman Cryan raised a couple of good issues about DEP’s role in Sandy. In response to Commissioner Martin’s testimony on the $100 million Hazard Mitigation Grant Elevation Program, Cryan said that 18 months after Sandy:

It is stunning that just 1 tenth of 1% of applications have been approved

[Clarification – Cryan mispoke on the math – 26 of 2,600 applications have been approved. That is 1%, not a tenth of 1%.]

Cryan also raised serious concerns about DEP’s lack of integrity monitors for Sandy related projects overseen by DEP.

6. There were no questions on drinking water and the Drinking Water Quality Institute.

7. Assemblyman Singleton carried the water of the chemical industry and criticized DEP air and water permit fees and questioned whether the NJ TCPA program was necessary given “duplication” of federal RMP program.

Assemblyman Burzichelli jumped in to agree.

Surprisingly, Commissioner Martin did a reasonably good job in defending these programs as national models in addressing chemical risk management.

Martin did make some troubling comments about reconsideration of the fee structure.

Worse, Martin advocated that

“I’d like to see an overhaul of the EPA federal regulations under the clean air act”

That radical comment went without notice.

8. OLS flagged another diversion of $6.2 million from the Recycling Fund to the General Fund.

9. OLS flagged the fact that DEP plans to try to use federal HUD CDBG funds as the 20% State match requirement for federal Sandy infrastructure funding – lots of money involved in HUD rejects this move.

10. OLS flagged another Port Authority sweetheart deal.

The PA provided $13.8 million to DEP for reconstruction of piers at Liberty State Park – were David Samson, Bill Baroni, and Wildstein involved in this too?

Let’s see how the Senate engages tomorrow.

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