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Christie DEP Has New Role: Consultant To Polluters

Christie DEP Guts Environmental Regulation Via Lax Enforcement

I initially wrote about this huge shift in Christie DEP enforcement policy way back in 2012, see:

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: …

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)“.

Now, almost 4 years later, you don’t have to take my word for it – in their own words, DEP confirms it in virtually the same terms I used: (Bergen Record today)

Hajna said the DEP’s compliance division has taken on some new roles, such as working with regulated companies to develop environmental stewardship programs that promote green technology in buildings, energy efficient lighting and manufacturing processes that use fewer harmful chemicals or produce fewer emissions.

“Our regulated community in New Jersey gets it,” Hajna said. “We’re not stuck in 1972. We have a very responsible regulated community out there. We recognize the regulated community is not out there to destroy the environment.”

The Christie DEP has fundamentally changed DEP’s relationship to the “regulated community” (polluters).

Inherent in environmental law is DEP’s adversarial role with the regulated community via a compliance and inspection and enforcement program, the Cop on the Beat.

Historically, strict compliance monitoring and enforcement has served two roles:

1) to create deterrence and an economic incentive to avoid harms to the public health and the environment, and

2) to punish violations and restore damages that result from violations.

The Christie DEP abandoned all that, under the remarkably naive and dangerous premise that “Our regulated community in New Jersey gets it” and is “not out there to destroy the environment.”

The DEP regulated community is predominately for profit corporations. In a capitalist system, their objective is to make profits.

Complying with environmental regulation costs money and cutting corners can reduce costs and increase profits. Cutting corners can lower operating costs and provide competitive advantage and increase market share –

That’s why the US industrial and manufacturing sector moved to unregulated places like China and India.

Those fundamental economic realities have not changed. So, it is absurd for the Christie DEP to assume otherwise.

The economics of compliance boils down to whether DEP oversight and enforcement deter violations, whether:

(probability of detection) X (magnitude of fine)  > (avoided costs of compliance)

If a hazardous waste hauler can save $10,000 by illegally dumping a load of toxic waste in the woods, that would be the avoided cost of compliance.

If the is a 1% chance that he could get caught, then the fine would need to be at least $1 million to deter violation.

If a developer can fill wetlands and create 5 new lots that sell for $50,000 each, he has a huge economic incentive to violate DEP wetlands laws.

If the manger of an industrial facility can increase profits by lowering his operating and compliance costs by various schemes to fabricate water, air or soil sampling data, he will do so if he thinks he won’t get caught.

There have been allegations that the Newark School System stopped routine maintenance of lead filters due to budget cuts, so these same fundamental economics apply to the public sector as well. (The Flint Michigan disaster was a result of an attempt to reduce water costs by just $1 million per year).

It doesn’t matter if DEP managers think they “get it”.

Again, it’s Christie DEP who doesn’t get it.

But, perhaps I’m too naive myself – they clearly do get it.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin spent his career advising corporations how to maximize profits and privatize public assets.

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