Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ready for an $8,000-a-day NJ-DEP fine?

Some 950 businesses, local governments and other entities will soon be hearing from the state of New Jersey about environmental paperwork they have failed to update. And that failure could subject them to fines of up to $8,000 a day.

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says that, as of October 1, 2007, it will begin taking enforcement action against parties that have entered into environmental clean-up agreements with the state but subsequently failed to submit mandatory written reports updating the DEP on the progress of those remediations.

You'd expect a large number of gas stations and some chemical plants, manufacturers and other industrial facilities to be on the list. And they are. But others appear that you might not expect.

Here's just a small sampling of those among the 950 culled from just three counties:

The Atlantic City MUA water yard
Egg Harbor City
The Ventnor Fire Department
Elmwood Park High School
Horizon House Apartments in Fort Lee
Saint Mary's Church in Rutherford
Home Town Laundries in Teaneck
Farmland Dairies in Tenafly
Bass River State Police
Northern Burlington Regional High School
Medford Lakes Borough
Mount Laurel Township
U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Dix
Tacony Palmra Bridge
Willingboro Shopping Plaza
Chatsworth Deli
Camden Lutheran Housing Corporation
The Ben Franklin Bridge
Goodwill Industries

For some on the violators list, the news will come as a complete surprise, because they no longer own the property in question. In an alert to its clients, the law firm of Riker Danzig gave the following example of such an instance:

"If a party received a No Further Action letter in the mid-1990s, for example, the NFA would not have included the Biennial Certification requirements. If that party later sold its property, then it would not have received notice from the NJDEP of the new obligation. Thus, a party in this position could be facing an enormous penalty without being aware it is in violation."

Limited editorial reaction so far has ranged from supportive (Star-Ledger) to mildly critical (Gloucester County Times).

We imagine the phone lines at the DEP's enforcement section are already ringing off the hook. But the news isn't bad for everyone. The notices of violation no doubt will be a bonanza for environmental law firms and consultants whose panicked clients will be demanding quick responses to ward off or mitigate the size of possible DEP penalties.

Just think of all the individual case negotiations this will trigger at the DEP's offices in Trenton. And you thought finding a parking spot there was difficult before.

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