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COVID Cover – Murphy Order Expands Suspension of Environmental Regulations, Monitoring and Enforcement

Gov. Murphy On An Executive Order Spree

Sierra Club Decries “Polluters Holiday”

I’m having trouble keeping up with NJ Gov. Murphy’s issuance of a series of Executive Orders that restrict public involvement in various DEP regulatory actions, while providing an effective moratorium on DEP enforcement and a suspension of polluters’ legal obligation to monitor and report on pollution discharges to air and water.

A pattern has emerged that clearly limits the public’s interests, while creating massive new loopholes that benefit polluters and developers. (Note: from now on, I promise to stop using “developers”. These folks don’t “develop” anything, they are mostly land destroyers.)

We previously written about Murphy Executive Order #118 (that closed state parks and forests) and Executive Orders #103 and #127 (that suspended DEP enforcement, regulations  and monitoring requirements)

We understand the administrative problems created at DEP by the COVID pandemic emergency.

In fact, given the impossibility for the public to exercise their legally mandated opportunities to participate in DEP regulatory and permitting decisions, we previously called for a moratorium on DEP actions.

In response to a huge DEP regulatory proposal to roll back toxic site cleanup standards, back on April 6, we wrote:

VII) Public shut out due to COVID public health emergency

There should be a moratorium of on all DEP permitting and regulatory actions until the COVID crisis is over.

We then had to blast DEP for flat out lying to the public about their failure to include a mandatory public hearing on that ill advised rollback rule proposal.

But instead of treating the public and polluters on an equal basis by enacting a moratorium on important DEP decisions during the COVID emergency, Gov. Murphy and DEP Commissioner McCabe are engaged in an expanding policy to allow polluters and developers to exploit the COVID emergency by creating needless regulatory loopholes.

Most recently, on Saturday, we learned (via NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club press release) that Gov. Murphy issued another ill advised Executive Order #136.

This Order specifically targets almost all DEP programs, expands upon the prior Executive Orders, and is the worse so far.

EO 136 systematically and specifically extends timeframes for various polluters, but provides vague and limited relief for the public.

EO 136 provides:

All timeframes governing public notice, review, or final action on applications for, or renewals of permits, registrations, plans, petitions, licenses, rates, and other approvals under the following statutes administered by DEP are tolled, beginning on March 9, 2020, by each day during the Public Health Emergency declared by Executive Order No. 103 (2020)

The Order then goes on to specifically identify several regulatory mandates that are suspended.

In contrast, here’s the only vague provision that protects the public – and this is far less than a moratorium and does not even mandate public hearings or a specific number of days (i.e 60-90) that comment periods are extended or how long the extension lasts (e.g. until the end of the COVID emergency:

Within five days of the effective date of this Order, the Commissioner of DEP shall issue an Administrative Order that extends the regulatory timeframes to accept public comment on applications for, or renewals of permits, registrations, plans or other approvals where necessary to ensure adequate public participation.

The NJ Sierra Club blasted the Order:

“This weekend, in one of the biggest giveaways to polluters, DEP extended all permits, rules, and regulations. This will allow more environmentally sensitive and flood-prone areas in New Jersey to be paved over, leading to more flooding, more pollution, and more sprawl. DEP is also not requiring reporting during the Grace Period and not doing enforcement, creating a ‘polluter’s holiday.’ At a time when we need to be more careful of the environment, DEP is creating an open door for bad projects to continue to move forward, bad permits to be extended, and more pollution,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This continues the extension of permits for developers and polluters without public input. New York extended public comment periods by 60 days, and New Jersey should do at least the same. We’re concerned that this extension means that they will be playing politics to push through bad projects.” […]

“What’s even more troubling is that DEP has evoked a Grace Period for reporting on enforcement for air, water, land use, and solid waste pollution. This means that they don’t have to report how much pollution they’re emitting, and there is no penalty if they violate environmental standards. Without enforcement and oversight, there will be more pollution. This is like removing the environmental cop from the beat, resulting in more accidents, spills, and environmental violations,” said Jeff Tittel. “New Jersey is criticizing the Trump administration for having a Grace Period and cutting enforcement, but now we’re doing the same thing. This is a double hit because we won’t have a backstop for the EPA’s extensions and lack of enforcement.”

It seems that Jeff Tittel is the only environmental leader left in NJ that is paying attention and willing to hold Gov. Murphy and DEP Commissioner McCabe accountable.

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