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[greenyes] The Unraveling of Regulation


DEP, lawmakers alter protections for environment
Critics decry outsourced tasks

A new style of environmental protection is quietly taking hold in New
Jersey, prompting applause from industry groups and jeers from
Recent changes at the Department of Environmental Protection have resulted
in more outsourcing -- builders' engineers certifying their own building
permits, toxic waste consultants reviewing their own cleanups and industrial
companies writing their own smokestack permits.
Surprisingly, the move to outsourcing has not come from Republican
small-government crusaders, but from Democratic governors, legislators and
DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, the force behind several of the changes,
said hewantsto save department staff from mountains of rote paperwork. That
leaves more time for real environmental protection, he said.
Jim Sinclair of the Business and Industry Association said that when it
comes to increasing the DEP's efficiency by letting companies share its
duties, the Democrats had outdone even the administration of Gov. Christie
Whitman, who famously declared the state "open for business" soon after
taking office.
"The Democrats have more leeway to use the tools," Sinclair said. "They're
sort of like Nixon going to China."
Some environmentalists, however, are unhappy. They say businesses always
will be looking for ways to build more houses, emit more pollution or cut
more corners on cleanups, and that giving them a role in their own
regulation provides them more opportunities.
"You don't get protection of public health and the environment by putting
more of the onus on the private sector. It just doesn't work," said Bill
Wolfe, a former aide to Campbell who is starting a state chapter of the
group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "It's a theme
that's being implemented across the department and it's very bad."
Of most concern to Wolfe and other critics is a provision in last year's
Smart Growth bill -- a Democrat-crafted law that fast-tracks building in
urban and suburban areas -- allowing builders' engineers to certify that
their permit applications are complete and meet all requirements.
"Very few people understand what that would mean on the ground," Wolfe said,
asserting it could reduce the opportunities for the public to speak out
against projects.
That change, which is yet to be implemented, came from lawmakers. Others
resulted from rule changes within the DEP. Campbell's Cleanup Star program
allows qualified environmental consultants to essentially approve their own
simple cleanups. Since the program began last year, more than 60 projects
have been approved, the DEP said.
Campbell also has crafted a secret agreement with the chemical industry,
early drafts of which allowed companies to follow security guidelines
recommended by industry trade groups rather than stricter guidelines created
by the government. Chemical plants capable of releasing deadly clouds of
toxic gas are seen as vulnerable terrorist targets, and there are at least
eight facilities in New Jersey that could release clouds deadly enough to
harm more than a million people in surrounding areas, the Environmental
Protection Agency has said.
For his part, Campbell said the state was forced by budgetary pressures to
do some creative thinking. In addition, Campbell said, his office has"set
the toughest standards and enforcement to protect public health and the
environment. Within that context, I make no apology for identifying those
areas where we are going to make more progress by using the resources of the
private sector."
Campbell also said the chemical-security agreement, though signed, has not
been implemented, and he was listening to critics who are calling for a more
public process and stricter standards. He also said he had reservations
about the fast-track legislation, and would do his best to implement it in a
way that did not compromise environmental protection.
That did little to quell the concerns of Jeff Tittel, head of the state
Sierra Club. He said the philosophical change is detectable in the language
it employs. A decade ago businesses that required environmental permits were
called "applicants," he said. Under Whitman that changed to "the regulated
community." More recently, the department has referred to them as "clients."
"Next year it's going to be bedfellows," Tittel said.
Alexander Lane covers the environment. He may be reached at
alane@no.address or (973) 392-1970.

Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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