Home > Uncategorized > Murphy DEP Again Maintains Continuity With Christie DEP Policy

Murphy DEP Again Maintains Continuity With Christie DEP Policy

Flexibility and service to regulated community, while ignoring public concerns

Acting Commissioner McCabe must not be running her own Department

Public health risks and climate change impacts not on the table

“the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy.  Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups – especially business corporations – have had much more political clout.  When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless…The will of majorities is often thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block popular policy proposals and enact special favors for themselves…  Democracy in America?

I just received the following announcement via email from the Murphy DEP Office responsible for issuing air pollution control permits: (my boldface)

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) will be presenting a two-day workshop at Rutgers University on June 5 & 6, 2018. The targeted audience for the workshop is the regulated community including industry, consultants and other government entitles (sic) regulated by the NJDEP.

This workshop will inform attendees of the latest processes and procedures that will result in the most timely and flexible permits. In addition, NJDEP staff will help attendees understand what permits are needed, how to get them, and what to do after they obtain them. The NJDEP website will be highlighted and staff will explain how the permit application process can be streamlined by applying online. (here is the registration form) (here is the Rutgers announcement)

Let me break this down and explain what it means. This is not a minor technical issue about “continuing professional education” workshops.

First of all, it illustrates a policy of continuity by the Murphy administration with the Christie DEP “regulatory relief” policies.

Those policies emphasized running the DEP air pollution permit program like a business, designed to service the regulated community (literally as a “customer”) and make it quicker and easier to obtain permits (and reduce the “regulatory risk” of stricter and more costly permit limits).

But a lot more than the process is involved.

The Christie policies were designed to avoid not only public review, but the “ratchet down” effects of “advances in the art” of air pollution control and new knowledge produced by science regarding air pollution, climate change, and public health.

Those Christie policies effectively excluded the public from informed participation in the air pollution permit process. This exclusion resulted from multiple layers and multiple barriers: streamlined permit procedures, no public outreach, complex technocratic permit regulations, complex science and engineering issues, and no structured process to inform the public or solicit their informed concerns.

The public was not only effectively eliminated from the air pollution control permit process.

By a sole focus on “customer service” in streamlining and expediting DEP’s rubber stamp approval of permits, those policies completely ignored public concerns about the public health risks and environmental impacts of air pollution.

We see all of that in today’s Murphy DEP announcement of the 2 day workshop at Rutgers:

1. the target audience is the regulated community and their paid consultants. The public was not invited. It is not even clear if the public may attend and there is no public comment provided.

2. The DEP’s technical resources are being provided to assist the regulated community and to train their paid consultants. Meanwhile, DEP provides nothing remotely similar to the public and their representatives in various environmental organizations.

3. the DEP is continuing to emphasize “timely and flexible permits”.

The “timeliness” objective effectively excludes the public, while the “flexible” objective weakens technical permit conditions that protect public health and the environment and undermines the DEP’s ability to monitor and enforce them. The Rutgers announcement spills the beans on the enforcement issue, parenthetically stating that one objective is not only compliance, but:

(not to mention avoiding fines, penalties, and pollution problems)

4. As far as I’m concerned, the following DEP rhetoric is basically a signal to the regulated community: “don’t worry, the Murphy Administration is not going to crack down on you”. 

This workshop will inform attendees of the latest processes and procedures that will result in the most timely and flexible permits. In addition, NJDEP staff will help attendees understand what permits are needed, how to get them, and what to do after they obtain them.

It is also a huge signal to Senate President Sweeney that DEP will not be:

  • tightening air pollution permit limits,
  • more strictly regulating hazardous air pollution risks,
  • considering greenhouse gas emissions in air permits,
  • increasing monitoring or enforcement efforts
  • expanding the air permit program to address toxic catastrophic risks
  • environmental justice – disproportionate urban impacts

Sweeney wants to block any of the above, given the major polluting industries in his District that he protects.

The DEP air pollution permit program needs a complete overall. Since the Whitman administration, it has be captured by polluters and essentially privatized. Stuff like this:

As the culmination of a year-long study, in July 1995, Governor Whitman issued the Strategy to Advance Regulatory Reform report (or the “STARR report”) in an effort to present the Governor’s general guiding principles and priorities for “increasing efficiency of the regulatory process.” The STARR report was prepared under the auspices of the Department of State, Office of the Business Ombudsman. The Executive Order creating the Office of the Business Ombudsman charges it to direct a comprehensive effort to assist businesses in dealing efficiently with regulations and to make the regulatory climate more supportive and open towards business. Executive Order No. 15 (1994).

One priority addressed in the STARR report is the need to streamline the permit application and review process. …

Governor Whitman has signed a law that allows a business that has applied for a permit to install and operate pollution prevention equipment, at its own risk, prior to NJDEP’s approval. (P.L. 19945, c. 101). This law allows businesses to commence operating without the lengthy delays associated with NJDEP’s permit review process, thereby actually encouraging the timely installation and operation of pollution prevention equipment while removing costly delays associated with the permit review process. …

In order to promote timely environmental compliance, the STARR report highlights the Governor’s goal of establishing regulatory “safe-harbors” for businesses. One such safe-harbor focuses on protecting companies who voluntarily self-audit their environmental procedures. [This is what Donald  Trump exploited] Another safe harbor would grant to smaller companies “grace periods” to correct certain environmental violations. …

Under Governor Whitman, the NJDEP also has established amnesty and mediation programs that seek to increase compliance while offering businesses some reduction in punitive fines. In October 1994, for example, the agency established an air permit amnesty program that offered forgiveness of penalties to those who pledge prompt compliance. …

Apart from the STARR Report, on August 2, 1995, the Governor enacted a revision to New Jersey’s Air Pollution Control Act that is designed, in part, to simplify the air pollution control program by concentrating NJDEP’s oversight on the small number of facilities that are responsible for the majority of the emissions. (P.L. 1995, c.188.) This law and related regulations were crafted with the input of a number of industry groups, including the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

The pro-regulatory McGreevey administration made minor reforms at the margins, but the Whitman core anti-regulatory policy framework remained, and was further rolled back by 8 years of the Christie administration.

The Murphy administration reforms must inform and involve the public, ratchet down on greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce public health risks of hazardous air pollutants and catastrophic chemical risks (and what ever happened to toxics use reduction through the Pollution Prevention Act? Teaser: post forthcoming on that.)

Note the topics to be discussed at the two day workshop, which instead of maintaining continuity could be used as a platform to reject Christie policies, educate the public, and address the longstanding lax DEP air permit program, include the following (from the Rutgers announcement):

Program Topics

  • Operating Permits
  • Preconstruction Permits
  • Air Permit Application
  • Online Applications and Compliance Reports
  • Compliance and Enforcement
  • Stack Testing and Continuous Emission Monitoring (CEM)
  • Advances in the Art of Air Pollution Control (SOTA)
  • Air Quality Modeling and Health Risk Assessment
  • Emission Statements
  • Rule Updates
  • And Other Topics!

Representatives from the NJDEP will teach the seminar and be available throughout the program to answer related questions.

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