By Graig Mihok
Environmentalists are up in arms about a recently proposed waiver that would allow the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to circumvent its own rules to approve development plans. The waiver rule is part of Governor Christie's “Common Sense Principles” designed to minimize bureaucracy while maintaining environmental protection. Environmentalists believe this can only be bad for New Jersey's protected areas and serve as a platform for builders to set their sights on protected lands that until recently they have been restricted from building on.
The Common Sense Principles stem from the Governor's Executive Order No. 2 - a rule that would allow homeowners and developers to ask for exemptions from the DEP rules – outlined last year, and were put into place to help mediate the conflicting rules between existing state agencies that have been coined as “unduly burdensome” regulations.
The exemption requests are to be looked over on a case by case basis instead of in clear-cut regulatory style. Environmentalists see the proposed wavier rule as an empowering device for the DEP that would allow them to bypass existing environmental laws. They are afraid the term “unduly burdensome” is too subjective and open to such interpretation that would allow any exemption request to be passed despite its impact on the environment. Protected areas like the Highlands and Pinelands would be subject to the waiver rules as well, according to the DEP.
Still, there is some protection that appears to have been spared from the proposed waiver's jurisdiction. Federal and state environmental regulations written specifically into law, like air and water quality laws, would be unaffected by the DEP's proposal.
Yet if the vote to pass the waiver is successful, one should wonder how the DEP with its shrinking budget and smaller staff will be able to handle the increased workload they would be bound to experience.
Critics of the plan believe the wavier rule would not only empower the DEP but also take the power out of the hands of the community. “If the agency believes that some of the provisions of its rules are too burdensome with too little public benefit, it would be more intellectually honest to identify those provisions and propose specific revisions,” stated Michael Catania, former Deputy Commissioner of the New Jersey DEP. “This would allow all stakeholders -- the regulated community as well as the public -- an opportunity to weigh in on the advantages or disadvantages of these specific rule changes.”
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