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OLS Audit: DEP Not Collecting Fines or Permit Fees, Letting Developers Off the Hook

Date : Wed, 17 Jul 2013 11:33:56 -0400

Letting Developers Off the Hook

For Immediate Release

July 17, 2013

Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

OLS Audit: DEP Not Collecting Fines or Permit Fees, Letting Developers Off the Hook

A report released by the State Auditor has found DEP is failing to collect revenue for fee permits and penalties.The report unveils $1 million in uncollected penalties under Coastal and Land Use Compliance and Enforcement along with 1,343 approved permits in the Division of Land Use Regulation with no paid bill.Further the deposit of some checks was unverifiable and fee required permits were being issued despite no payment being received. The report calls on DEP to verify that permit fees have been received by the DEP before the issuance of permits.The report is based on the DEP compliance and enforcement data for Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012.

"Not collecting fines sends a signal to violators that even if you get caught you are let off the hook.At a time when DEP is at one of the lowest levels for staffing and budget in decades, not to collect on fines not only hurts the budget but the environment.People who violate our environmental laws and regulations have seen a drop in enforcement actions and now they realize that even if they are assessed a penalty they do not have to pay it.This undermines compliance with our laws because when there is no force in enforcement people feel like they can get away with violations and more pollution," said Jeff Tittel, Director NJ Sierra Club.

Jeff continued, "Now you can get a permit from DEP without having to pay for it and now if you do not comply with the permit there may be no enforcement action or a penalty you do not have to pay."

The report calls for more increased oversight of the Coastal and Land Use Compliance and Enforcement collection of penalties as the unit had
$1 million in outstanding fees to be collected.The State Auditor recommends the DEP and Department of Treasury place liens on polluters' properties until payment is received and issue more penalties if settlement terms are not achieved.You can still come in and get a permit even if there is an unpaid fine against you.

"We have been calling for these reforms for years to make sure that those who violate our laws pay the fines that have been assessed to them but importantly go out a develop properties and apply for more permits when they are deadbeats," said Jeff.

Making sure people who violate our coastal laws and pay a penalty is even more important as we recover and rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.We need more enforcement and inspections in the aftermath of the storm to make sure rebuilding is being done right.It is especially important now with the Governor waiving permitting for rebuilding in his emergency orders.Letting violators off the hook without paying sends a very bad signal to people along the coast.At a time when they are so many out of state builders working down the shore, this sends a very bad signal that if you break our environmental laws you will get away with it.

"At a time when we are rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy strict enforcement is even more important, especially as you do not need a permit to rebuild.Without the threat of enforcement and oversight there will be more mistakes and violations made.We may end up paying the price with more building in the wrong places, the destruction of more natural resources, and more flooding," said Jeff Tittel.

The State Auditor report follows a DEP report that found overall enforcement actions by DEP have dropped by over half since 2008.There were 29,579 enforcement actions that year; in 2012 13,555 actions.This number is even more staggering since the number of inspections is actually up and the compliance rate stays the same. Inspections are down in some program areas, with the biggest drop in land use from 287 in 2008 down to 78 in 2012.Investigations in Land Use plummeted from 1174 in 2008 to 651 in 2012. In Land Use enforcement actions dropped from 703 in 2008 to 276 in 2012.

This lack of fiscal oversight comes as the DEP is cutting Enforcement staff and a political appointee has been named Assistant Commissioner.DEP Compliance and Enforcement programs are seeing significant staffing cuts, impacting their ability to investigate and monitor violations.Since 2005 the number of inspectors has dropped by one-fifth from 209 to 166.Total staff is down from 313 to 259 with the department's budget remaining flat since FY2008.With recent retirees those numbers could be lower.

This is part of the Christie administration rolling back 40 years of environmental protections.Polluters are being treated like customers.Under DEP Transformation if you report a violation you do not necessarily get an enforcement action or fine.If you do you get cited you can use the money to fix the problem even if you created it.They also allow alternative compliance such as planting trees instead of fixing the problem.Environmental protections are being gutted in the name of red tape.As inspections and violations are down, the DEP is rewriting key regulations to weaken protections.The Waiver Rule went into effect last year and will allow the DEP Commissioner to let polluters off the hook with waivers.

"With less oversight and no enforcement it means that not only is the fox guarding the hen house if he gets caught he doesn't have to pay,"
said Jeff Tittel.

Jeff concluded, "These reports taken together are a one-two punch about the Christie administration rolling back environmental protections and weakening enforcement.Now violators are called customers but evidently the customers do not have to pay."

To access the State Auditor report visit: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/legislativepub/auditor/421212.pdf

To access the DEP full Enforcement and Compliance report visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/enforcement/docs/FY11-12HighlightsReport.pdf

Kate Millsaps
Conservation Program Coordinator
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
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Received on 2013-07-17 08:33:56

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