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Executive Orders/Permit Extension Could Cost NJ Stimulus Money

Date : Thu, 21 Jan 2010 13:55:30 -0500

For Immediate Release
January 21, 2010 Contact: Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Executive Orders/Permit Extension Could Cost NJ Stimulus Money Sierra Club Sends Letter Outlining Concerns to Vice President Biden

During his first full day in office, Governor Chris Christie signed eight Executive Orders, four of which pose a serious threat to environmental protections and may jeopardize federal stimulus funding. These overly broad Executive Orders give government officials the authority to roll back rules and regulations that protect our air and water and prevent sprawl.

The terms of these Executive Orders impose a 90 day freeze on environmental regulations. That, combined with the recent passage of the Permit Extension Act, will not only hinder our ability to deal with climate change, but may also jeopardize money that New Jersey desperately needs for energy efficiency upgrades. By freezing regulations and implementing the Permit Extension Act, which grandfathers all permits and approvals for the next two years, New Jersey will be unable to implement its green building program, a requirement to receive stimulus funding.

"We are very disappointed that these Executive Orders are written in such a way that they could be used to weaken environmental regulations and risk important funding," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. "These regulations give too much authority to government officials, who would undo environmental protections in the name of red tape."

New Jersey received more than $34 million in stimulus funding for energy efficiency upgrades last year and is scheduled to receive about $100 million more. One of the key conditions to receive that money is that we must develop and implement green building codes. As the federal government provides us with money to make increase efficiency, they want to ensure new buildings will not need the same type of upgrades in the future.

We strongly believe that because of the Executive Orders, the state will be violating conditions of its eligibility for stimulus funding. We have contacted the office of the Vice President, which oversees the allocation and use of stimulus funds, to raise our concerns about these EOs, as well as the Permit Extension Act. If New Jersey doesn't lift the freeze and comply with the stipulations for stimulus funding, we believe funds for energy efficiency should be withheld since new construction over the next three years will simply waste energy and undermine our efforts to stop global warming.

"By siding with special interests over the public interest, we could jeopardize millions of dollars in clean energy funds," Tittel said. "This will hurt our attempts to deal with climate change and, more importantly, will rob the public of funds needed to make their homes more efficient, saving them money." For years, builders and special interests have been pushing to weaken environmental protections. The language in the Executive Orders is very similar to the rules they have been proposing in this assault on the environment. These EOs apply not only to the DEP but also to the Highlands Council, Pinelands Commission, Meadowlands Commission, and the State Planning Commission. The four Executive Orders that we have concerns with include:

1) Implements a 90 day freeze on environmental regulations and sets up a "red tape" commission. This is what the Bush Administration did - first they froze regulations and then tried to repeal them. By freezing regulations, Governor Christie is delaying New Jersey's green building rules from being implemented. The freeze may also violate the Administrative Procedures Act.

2) Authorizes tremendous powers to commissioners to waive compliance with rules and regulations. Under this EO, DEP or DCA commissioners can waive compliance of rules and regulations that are thought to be an undue burden. This could lead to a serious abuse of power that will disregard crucial environmental protections. This EO also creates a "Time of Decision," which grandfathers an application from the time it is made despite changes in rules or regulations. Someone who files an application that may not even be complete is bound by the current rules, even though new rules are often put in place to better protect the environment. This EO allows for violations of rules that are considered burdensome to be waived and calls for the rewriting of these rules. This EO will severely hinder New Jersey's progress in a green building program, risking federal funding.

3) Sets up a committee to review and remove rules that are considered an undue burden to business. We are concerned that the environmental community will not be represented on the committee reviewing the rules. This could simply be a stalking horse to pull back environmental protections. Many of our rules and regulations come from federal or state laws and this EO could interfere with them.

4) Prohibits government programs that are unfunded mandates to towns. We're concerned that mandates that are established for the protection of public health and safety will be subject to this EO. For example, if the standards for the amount of arsenic in drinking water were to change from 10 parts to million down to five there would be an additional cost to taxpayers for water filtration. This would be considered an unfunded mandate, meaning towns would not have to remove the arsenic to safe levels. Many of our mandates, like stormwater rules, come from the federal government. Will towns not have to follow stormwater rules because it an unfunded mandate?

"We believe these Executive Orders exceed the authority of government officials, since EOs cannot trump state and federal laws," Tittel said. "We are troubled by the potential environmental setbacks we see happening as a result of these Executive Orders and the Permit Extension Act and ask the Federal Government to withhold funds until we are in compliance."

(Letter to Vice President Biden follows)

January 21, 2010

Vice President Joseph Biden The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20501 Re: Executive Orders and Permit Extension Act in New Jersey

Dear Vice President Biden,

Thanks to money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, New Jersey has been able to help create jobs while making our houses more energy efficient. We are very appreciative of the program. We are however very troubled by four Executive Orders recently signed by Governor Chris Christie. We believe these EOs, combined with the Permit Extension Act that has been recently signed into law, will undermine many of our efforts to create jobs and deal with greenhouse gases.

The terms of these Executive Orders impose a 90 day freeze on environmental regulations. That, combined with the recent passage of the Permit Extension Act, will hinder our ability to deal with climate change and will make it impossible to implement the required green building program. By freezing regulations and implementing the Permit Extension Act, which grandfathers all permits and approvals for the next two years, New Jersey will be unable to meet its obligations to receive stimulus funding.

As you know, New Jersey received a substantial amount of money, about $34 million, to do energy efficiency on the condition that it would develop a green building program to help save energy and lesson our carbon footprint while saving consumers money and promoting good jobs. Freezing regulations and grandfathering permits will only undermine those efforts.

We strongly believe that as a result of the Executive Orders and the Permit Extension Act, New Jersey is in violation of the conditions of its funding. We ask the office of the Vice President to withhold funds and require New Jersey to meet the obligation of implementing green building codes.

If New Jersey is not required to hold up its end of the bargain, we fear all the new construction in our state over the next three years will only waste energy and undermine our efforts to stop global warming. Building new buildings that will have to be retrofitted makes no sense from a policy or taxpayer perspective.

Sincerely,

Jeff Tittel, Director, Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter

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 2010-01-21 10:55:30

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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