Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Move to Cut NJ Corporate Red Tape Triggers Environmental Red Alert

By Lauren Haag

“When [Governor] Christie took the oath of office two years ago, he promised 'a new era of accountability and transparency' and said that 'today, change has arrived.' It’s time for all New Jersey residents to let the governor and other elected officials know that jeopardizing the health and well-being of our families, communities and small businesses is not what we had in mind,” John Pajak, president of New Jersey Work Environment Council, stated recently in the Star-Ledger.

A new waiver rule is going through Trenton and proposed to come into effect in August. The waiver eliminates “red tape” in industry, from companies, local governments, and individual businesses. The DEP, Department of Environmental Protection is the first expected agency to adopt the waiver policy. Many Jersey environmentalists and environmental organizations are outraged.

“Developers who damage the environment take their profits and move on. But the costs of cleaning water or solving flooding problems created by sprawl and runoff fall on those left behind once construction is done,” says John O'Boyle from the Star-Ledger.

The waiver is part of executive order no. 2 issued the day Christie took office, which allows certain “red tape” restrictions to be avoided by corporations under certain conditions by various waiver bills. Concerns exist on the impact this will have on already established environmental policies and the advantages certain businesses may have in paying to receive the waiver rule because of its case by case basis.

DEP commissioner Bob Martin emphasizes that the rule will give the DEP flexibility to work with corporations for the benefit of all in specific circumstances which will be overseen and transparent.

Applications by corporations for the waiver will be displayed publicly on the DEP website for transparency. The entire application process will also be monitored by Bob Martin to ensure fair treatment of all businesses.

There are four criteria necessary for a business to receive the waiver. There must be a public emergency, rules conflict between legislature and the DEP, the waiver generates net environmental benefit, or a rule imposes undue hardship on the business or corporation. Several environmental agencies have proclaimed these criteria very vague, which then leaves possibilities of exemptions boundless.

Organizations claim that the waiver policy will jeopardize safeguards put into place to prevent chemical spills, explosions, and other workplace exposures to toxic chemicals.

The Hackensack River Keeper environmental advocacy group states that it should not be okay to pollute the river in need of economic benefit.“They would have New Jerseyans believe that despite the ability to grant exemptions for more than a hundred permit programs, the DEP will be so stringent and meticulous in using that power, and developers will be such good and honest stewards of the land despite greater freedoms, that environmental standards will not be lowered in any way.”

The DEP staff is said to already have a lot on their hands aside from rummaging through waiver applications. There are concerns on what affect the new waiver will have on the DEP and its employers.

Various organizations are willing to politically, legislatively, and legally fight off the DEP waiver. It is said that the waiver is one of the most toxic bills passing through Trenton today. “The waiver bill fits the theme for Christie's administration: make economic development and jobs the top priorities, and eliminate red tape and other obstacles to doing business,” said Pajak.

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