Monday, February 1, 2010

NJ's DEP needs radical change--yes or no?

A transition team deputized by New Jersey's new governor to review operations at the state's Department of Environmental Protection has produced a report with recommendations that have businesses shouting 'Yes indeed' and at least one environmental group muttering 'Oh, no you don't.'

The first two sentences in the report's opening paragraph signals that this is not your typical bureaucratic exercise.

" When the Department of Environmental Protection Transition Subcommittee began its intensive investigation five weeks ago into how the Department operates, based on our collective experiences we were skeptical if it could possibly be reinvented and survive. The Department has created cumbersome, confusing and often conflicting regulations that in some cases go beyond legislative intent, and in other, have no enabling legislation at all."

In an overview section addressing DEP performance, the report unsparingly notes:

" ... there is a widely held view that DEP's mismanagement and ineffectual leadership both compromises the Department's ability to protect the environment and hinders economic growth. This stems from a variety of factors including the failure to adhere to the Rule of Law, the misuse of science, the lack of real economic impact analysis, and the lack of transparency in the rulemaking process."

The 21-page document goes on to make specific recommendations under the general categories of : Leadership and Management; Regulatory Reform; Land Use Management; Site Remediation and Natural Resource Stewardship.

Some of the recommendations include:

* Eliminate the Office of Policy Planning and Science
* Establish an advisory panel of external experts
* Reinstate the Alternative Dispute Resolution program
* Review all existing guidance documents
* Create a business/project ombudsman in Governor's Office
* Allow for expanded use of Permits-By-Rule
* Establish electronic permitting
* Create a single Land Use Permit
* Eliminate duplicative reviews
* Suspend use of Landscape Project for species habits
* Revise Public Access rules
* Rescind Administrative Orders for 300-foot stream buffers

The Sierra Club responded with swift condemnation, calling the report "an outright attack on environmental protections and regulations " and declaring that the document was written, "for the most part" (another environmental organization participated on the subcommittee) "by special interests for special interests."

The recommendations are just that, recommendations, but they'll no doubt play a big role in the questions that Bob Martin, the governor's pick to lead the DEP, will encounter when his nomination is considered in the state Legislature.

Have you read the report? What do you think?

Use the comment box below to share your views. If you don't see one, click on the tiny 'comment' link.

Related environmental news:

Transition team's harsh words about environmental department
NJDEP under fire in Christie Administration report
Transition team calls Highlands Council 'a disaster'
Christie may 'rethink' Highlands Act

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