Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Getting to know NJDEP Chief Bob Martin

Bob Martin, the man awaiting legislative approval as the new  commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), knows he has a target on his back.  Some environmentalists are already focusing on it. 

The problem is that he’s also wearing a bulls eye on his chest at which the business community can take aim. 

Such is life for anyone in New Jersey who runs the agency that everyone loves to hate.

Martin told a luncheon audience of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey yesterday that he explained his twin-target fears to Governor Chris Christie when Christie asked Martin to take on the assignment.  Christie’s response, in essence, was: Join the club.  Martin did.

In the seven weeks since, he’s been working hard to implement one of his top goals: “Changing the culture at the DEP.”

What does he mean by that?  (Are you sitting down? )

The retired business executive says he want to turn the agency into one that:

- Treats the public (including businesses seeking permits) as “customers.”  DEP employees, he says, have to want to help and have to want to get things done.

- Bases its policies and decisions on science and metrics (not ideology). His team will be expected to measure all activities to determine when things get done, how they get done, and with what quality they get done.     

Develops rules and regulations based on common sense and a cost/benefit analyses.  Martin has already directed a review of all regulations and guidance documents.  What about regulations being developed but not ready for publication? He’s told his staff to stop.  Everything will get a new review before it goes out the door.

Listens to all constituencies – business, environmentalists and members of the community.  I’m big on listening, Martin says. I want to bring everyone to the table to talk about  rules before we propose them. I want to work with legislators up front rather than having the department reacting to legislation.

Martin knows what a heavy lift all this will be.  In functioning as a campaign advisor to then candidate Christie, he met with a host of interest groups to learn about their experiences with all branches of state government.  Over and over, he heard horror stories about the DEP, about how difficult and costly and sometimes contradictory its rules, policies and procedures could be, and how some DEP employees seemed bent on stopping economic activity rather than finding ways for it to happen.

All that is about to stop if Bob Martin gets his way.

If a single business person in the audience wasn’t delighted with what Martin was telling them yesterday, it’s only because they’ve already closed on the site in New York or Pennsylvania to which they’ll be moving their operations.

For everyone else, it appears that promising times lie ahead.

Tomorrow, we’ll have more about Martin’s presentation, including specifics about how he plans to transform his agency into one that supports economic development.

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