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EPA to DEP: Get Your Act Together


Date : Thu, 27 Aug 2009 12:13:58 -0400

For Immediate Release

August 27, 2009

Contact: Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

 

EPA to DEP: Get Your Act Together

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a scathing audit of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that deals with quality assurance. The audit shows that DEP is not doing its job when it comes to making sure environmental programs are meeting high standards or have proper oversight.

 

"This audit should be an alarm bell going off for the people of New Jersey," NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. "DEP is not doing its job when it comes to protecting the environment for the state's residents. There are real consequences, especially when it comes to site remediation. The lack of oversight may allow people to live on sites that have not been properly cleaned up, putting them at risk."

 

According to the audit, procedures at DEP did not allow for proper oversight, had no documentation, and DEP officials did not have knowledge of the proper function of the program areas. The audit revealed that DEP consistently takes the word of applicants instead of doing its own independent verification.

 

The audit shows the biggest problem within the DEP is the site remediation program. As we all know, the site remediation program is broken as evidenced by one disaster after another - Kiddie Kollege, Encap, Mercer Rubber, W.R. Grace, the list goes on. There has been a complete failure by DEP to follow proper procedures and do oversight when it comes to hazardous materials on toxic sites. We're seeing a tremendous amount of development taking place on sites that may not have been properly clean up because of a lack of quality assurance. The system is broken and can impact public health.

 

Under the recently-enacted Licensed Site Professional bill, which will privatize this program, consultants that work for the polluter or developer will sign off on the work plan, oversee the work plan and certify that the site is clean. This is an inherent conflict of interest because consultants working directly with the polluters are acting as if they are the DEP.

 

"The privatization of site remediation is only going to make these problems worse. In the past, problems have been revealed by DEP staffers. Once the program is privatized, there will be no one there to expose the problems, allowing a tremendous amount of development on sites that haven't been properly cleaned," Tittel said.

 

What is shocking about this audit is that, even under the current site remediation program, DEP was not following the proper produces and would take the word of the applicant without verification. It is going to be much worse now that the system will be privatized. There will be no verification and DEP has to take the word of the applicant, making the situation more dangerous.

 

The same problem is occurring in the Brownfields programs, where there is no quality review and proper procedures are not followed, creating a haphazard system. Even when the DEP deals with radon, a carcinogenic gas that gets into our homes, there are not adequate procedures in place to protect us.

 

When it comes to wetlands, there is no quality assurance on mapping or guarantee that the database on threatened and endangered species is part of the systems. One of the concerns raised is DEP's willingness to take the word of consultants that work for developers on both mapping and species issues without proper verification and procedures to ensure they are actually giving the right information.

 

This system of relying on consultants that work for developers without proper oversight or quality assurance is only going to get worse due to Substantive Reliance. Substantive Reliance, a rule that was proposed by the Builders Association and supported by the Governor and DEP, is an incentive for developers to lie.

 

Under Substantive Reliance, information provided by the developer at the beginning of the application process, whether it is correct or not, is accepted by the DEP. Since the DEP has agreed to accept that information even if it turns out to be false, the developer gets the benefit of the original determination. For example, a developer or consultant can say there are no endangered species in a wetland area with a buffer of 50 feet. But if it turns out that there are endangered species and the buffer should be 150 feet, the developer gets to keep that original determination.

 

 "With Corzine cutting the DEP budget by a third and getting rid of more than 500 staff people, these problems are only going to get worse, not better. We see Gov. Corzine weakening water rules and the level of pollutants that can be put into our streams and rivers. This administration is weakening standards for toxic cleanups and undermining protections in the Pinelands and Highlands," Tittel said. "This report should be a wakeup call that the DEP is broken."

 

 

Kara Seymour, Program Assistant

NJ Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street

Trenton, NJ 08618

609.656.7612

(f) 609.656.7618

 <http://www.newjersey.sierraclub.org> www.newjersey.sierraclub.org

 

Received on 2009-08-27 09:13:58

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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