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Administrative Order: An Assault on Our Drinking Water and Due Process

Date : Mon, 29 Mar 2010 13:54:22 -0400

For Immediate Release
March 29, 2010 Contact: Jeff Tittel, Director, Sierra Club NJ Chapter, 609-558-9100

Administrative Order: An Assault on Our Drinking Water and Due Process

In a violation of due process and abuse of the public trust, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin signed an Administrative Order delaying and weakening protections of New Jersey's critical waterways by gutting the state's Water Quality Management Planning Rules.

The Administrative Order extends until April 2011 the DEP implementation of Water Quality Management Planning Rules that are more than 13 years in the making.

The Sierra Club believes this Administrative Order is in clear violation of state law and totally disregards the public process. Water Quality Management Planning Rules are vital to the health of our drinking water and the state's ability to focus growth in appropriate locations.

This Administrative Order violates the Administrative Procedures Act because the DEP is creating a rule without the proper procedure or public input. "This is the height of arrogance. You cannot weaken environmental rules through an Administrative Order. This Administrative Order will mean more sprawl, more pollution in our waterways and a threat to our drinking water," NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.

In December, the Legislature passed a bill that would have had the same impact as this Administrative Order. Former Governor Corzine vetoed the bill in January, after the EPA publicly came out in opposition to it because it violated agreements between the state and the EPA on water quality planning.

"We disagreed with what the Legislature did but at least they had a public process and followed the law. The DEP did none of that here," Tittel said. "Delaying the watershed rules is just a giveaway to polluters and developers and is a clear violation of state law."

This Administrative Order:

* Extends all current sewer service areas until 2011. * Grandfathers development projects slated for sewer service areas in environmentally sensitive areas until April 2011. * Sets up a complicated process for removing sewer service areas from environmentally sensitive areas. * Prevents counties from removing environmentally sensitive areas from wastewater management plans until April 2011. * Allows property owners to request their property be added to a sewer service area even if they're not in an existing sewer service area. * Will result in more sprawl and water pollution, as overdevelopment threatens our water quality. Residents will be subjected to health impacts from drinking polluted water. There will also be more down stream flooding, threatening communities and their economies. * After the legislature tried to push through similar legislation, Governor Corzine vetoed the bill and the EPA came out against it because of the impacts it would have on our water supply and state's environmentally sensitive areas.

The Water Quality Management Planning Rules set up important steps to protect environmentally sensitive areas. They require that proper environmental analysis and planning be done prior to granting a sewer extension. The rules keep sewers out of environmentally-sensitive areas and ensure there is an adequate water supply for new developments to go forward. The rules, for the first time, would regulate development on septics, a major source of groundwater pollution in rural parts of New Jersey.

Commissioner Martin's order to delay implementation of these rules is not just bad for the environment but could jeopardize federal funding. The DEP has received $203 million of Federal Stimulus money for water projects, including $1.6 allocated for New Jersey's counties to complete watershed planning. The bill would delay implementation of those plans, not only violating federal law but jeopardizing New Jersey's ability to receive Federal Stimulus money.

"New Jersey has been paid to do the work and delaying these rules not only means more pollution but violates our agreement with the Federal Government," Tittel said.

Under the Water Quality Planning Rules, up to 300,000 acres of environmentally-sensitive lands were removed from sewer service areas because they consisted of high-value environmental resources, such as habitats for threatened and endangered species, Category One streams, contiguous forests, steep slope, aquifer recharge and many drained into drinking water supply intakes or reservoirs. These sites were originally put into sewer service areas back in the 1960s with no environmental analysis.

By grandfathering old sewer service areas, the sprawl line will be pushed out into environmentally sensitive areas. This Administrative Order will also cost the taxpayers millions because of upgrades and construction of new water treatment facilities.

In addition to imposing a delay on these critical rules and violating the Administrative Procedures Act, the Administrative Order breaches due process because it states that the DEP has 90 days to review and approve wastewater management plan amendments. It also goes against the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, since it puts a time frame on reviews and it says amendments have to be approved.

These rules have already been delayed long enough. In 1988, the EPA asked New Jersey to roll back sewer service areas and gave the state until 1994 to do so. It is now more than 15 years later and the DEP is again trying to prevent these rules from taking effect.

The Club plans to take legal action on the Administrative Order.

"This is part of an ongoing assault on the environment by the Christie Administration that started off with Executive Orders weakening environmental protections and includes cutting funding for clean energy and the Highlands, transition reports, a Red Tape commission and now this direct assault on our drinking water," Tittel said.

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 2010-03-29 10:54:22

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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