Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bills aim to speed enviro-cleanups in New Jersey

New Jersey has more than 20,000 contaminated sites that have been waiting in line for years for required reviews by experts in the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) site remediation program. With the state and the DEP facing yet another year of tighter budgets and shrinking staffs, the problem can only get worse.

What's been the legacy of the bureaucratic logjam?

* Cleanups are not being performed.
* Contamination remains in place and possibly spreads.
* Properties abandoned or unused
* Owners who want to clean up sites grow more frustrated each day.

On the horizon, however, is an innovative approach that could speed up the development, review and implementation of remedial actions at many contaminated sites.

It's being proposed by two environmental heavy-hitters, namely, the chairmen of the respective environmental committees in both houses of the state legislature-- Senator Bob Smith and Assemblyman John F. McKeon.

If the legislation (S-1897/A-2962) can overcome objections already being raised by environmental groups and get signed into law, it should help to reinvigorate the state's moribund remediation program. It also promises to generate a lot of new income opportunities for individuals and firms involved environmental cleanups.

How would it work?

The identical bills would establish a Licensed Site Professional program within the DEP. Among the requirements for obtaining a license, an applicant would be required to have:

- a bachelor's degree or higher in natural, chemical or physical science, or an engineering degree;

- 10 years of continuous full time employment in the field of contaminated site remediation during which the person has been responsible for managing the remediation of the sites on which the applicant has worked;

- a minimum of 5,000 hours of experience over the past five years of work on contaminated sites within the State, and

- other professional certifications and training, plus evidence of financial responsibility

The DEP would license Licensed Site Professionals (LSP) and require all persons applying for approval to remediate a contaminated site to use the services of an LSP. The LSP would review and submit all necessary paperwork to the DEP, develop remedial plans, supervise the cleanup and certify that it is performed in conformance with DEP's technical requirements.

The activities performed by the LSP presumably would free up DEP staff to perform an oversight role and speed up the entire process.

[NOTE: The legislation also creates a four-tier classification system for remediation sites and makes a number of other important changes to state's environmental cleanup laws, including the Spill Act, ISRA and the Brownfield redevelopment program. If you are an environmental attorney or consultant involved in remedial cases, click on the bill number S-1897 to view the entire bill]

The New Jersey legislation is based on a similar program in Massachusetts that has been operating for 15 years.

In a May 19 presentation to the New Jersey Senate Environment Committee, officials associated with that program said they found themselves, in the early 1990s, with a backlog of 8,000 sites and not enough staff to review all the reports that were coming in.

So they decided to partially privatize their remediation program by establishing the Site Remediation Professional program. Owners of contaminated sites in Massachusetts must hire an LSP to manage the remediation. The LSP can select the cleanup methodology but must assure that it meets DEP cleanup standards.

The result? In the 15 years since the program began, the Massachusetts DEP has witnessed the cleanup of some 30,000 sites. That compares to 500 under the old program. To hear the entire committee testimony click here.

S-1897 is scheduled to be discussed (no vote anticipated) by the Senate Environment Committee at 1 p.m. on Monday, June 16 in Room 10 on the third floor of the State House Annex in Trenton.

If you're interested in the proceedings but can't get to Trenton, you're not out of luck. The Legislature provides live (and archived) online feeds of all committee meetings.

Just log on to the Legislature's website at: Then select the link that says: "View or listen to live proceedings" and then click on "Senate Environment."

Massachusetts LSP Association
Massachusetts LSP licsensing board's website
Property owner's guide to hiring a LSP in Massachusetts
One New Jersey environmentalist's opposition to LSP's
Licensed Professionals To Review Brownfields

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